What Made the Anglo-Saxons Capable of Conquering the Britons?

Mar 2012
1,578
City of Angels
I thought it was consensus now that it was an assimilation, not a conquering? That the Saxons make up very little of DNA in current England, and that most bodies recovered from Saxon grave sites show no signs of death by blunt force-trauma.
 
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Haesten

Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
2,924
The Franks took over post roman Gaul with its institutions almost intact and still functioning, especially the christian church which followed Rome. The Franks were converted to christianity at an early stage, Silvanus in the 4th century and Clovis in 496AD. The church in Britain was not intact and the anglo saxons remained pagan, even in the 7th century. Clovis chose a functioning city as hi captital, Paris. Britain didn't even have one of those.
By the end of the 7th century the Franks were using Anglo-Saxon monks to subdue the pagan Friesians, Pepin of Herstal,/Willibrord of Northumbria against Redbad, King of the Frisians.
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,219
Yes, the anglo saxon missions start around 690 with Wilibrord. Boniface, Lullus, Alcuin all become established on the continent in the 8th cent. The Synod of Whitby in 664 was a major turning point in political direction for the newlt christianised anglo saxon kingdoms. Offa, as far as I recall, even proposed a common currency to Charlemagne when they decided to change the gold based system of Pepin, the sous and base it on a pound of silver. Charlemagne established a new standard, the livre carolinienne (from the Latin libra, the modern pound), which was based upon a pound of silver—a unit of both money and weight—and was worth 20 sous (from the Latin solidus, the modern shilling) or 240 deniers (from the Latin denarius, the modern penny). During this period, the livre and the sou were counting units; only the denier was a coin of the realm.
 
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Sep 2014
942
Texas
When the Anglo Saxons came along, the Britons were extremely civilized/Romanized. The Anglo Saxons were predators who didn't actually conquer all that much. What hurt the Celts was becoming peaceful.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,490
Dispargum
I thought it was consensus now that it was an assimilation, not a conquering? That the Saxons make up very little of DNA in current England, and that most bodies recovered from Saxon grave sites show no signs of death by blunt force-trauma.
That's my understanding as well. What I'm having a hard time understanding is how a weak Church, declining urban populations, etc convince people to stop speaking Latin or whatever other language they used to speak and to learn English instead. If the Saxons outnumbered the Britons I could see how a majority forced its will upon a minority, but I don't think that was the case.
 
Nov 2008
1,404
England
When the Anglo Saxons came along, the Britons were extremely civilized/Romanized. The Anglo Saxons were predators who didn't actually conquer all that much. What hurt the Celts was becoming peaceful.
When the Angles and Saxons started to arrive in substantial numbers, the towns were much decayed and civic society had all but vanished.
That the Saxons make up very little of DNA in current England, and that most bodies recovered from Saxon grave sites show no signs of death by blunt force-trauma.
Since the time of King Alfred, people in England have moved around a lot and also the racial mix today bears little similarity to what existed back then. Furthermore, why should Saxon body remains show a lot of blunt force trauma?
 

M9Powell

Ad Honorem
Oct 2014
4,451
appalacian Mtns
I'd say very few Saxons that died fighting in battles were buried in traditional graveyards. Mass graves at the site of the battle or food for the ravens.
 
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Peter Graham

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,626
Westmorland
That's my understanding as well. What I'm having a hard time understanding is how a weak Church, declining urban populations, etc convince people to stop speaking Latin or whatever other language they used to speak and to learn English instead. If the Saxons outnumbered the Britons I could see how a majority forced its will upon a minority, but I don't think that was the case.
Those things don't stop people speaking Latin, at least not directly. But I agree with you that no-one was forced to start speaking Old English.

What we need to understand is that Latin and British were not equally prestigious languages. Without wishing to get back into the whole debate as to what languages were spoken where, the basic position is that Latin was the high status language (or 'superstrate', to use the terminology of linguistics). British was the lower status language (or 'substrate'). Across the Empire, Latin had steadily gained ground at the expense of the 'native' languages of the various Roman provinces. Superstrates and substrates both affect one another, but in very different ways. Substrate languages can die out completely in time, as probably happened to Gaulish and as was probably about to happen to lowland British.

So, in the early fifth-century, you have a Romano-British population using high status Latin and low status British. The south and east of the country was (and always had been, in my view) linked in to developments in Gaul and western Europe more widely. In common with those areas, southern Britain began experiencing Germanic migration. As Latin lost relevance (no bureaucracy, few trade networks, no military administration), new high status, Germanic languages came to the fore. Just as many people in Gaul consciously adopted a Frankish identity in order to get on in the world, so people in lowland Britain steadily adopted a more Germanic culture. This doesn't preclude violence, but it doesn't require it in all cases.

In northern and western Britain, there was little or no early Germanic migration. Those parts of the country had always been culturally distinct from the lowland zone, but they had no universal new high status language to use as a proxy. Irish may have been available in some areas (and appears on carved stones, suggesting it was regarded as high status), but in areas where there was less Irish influence, the only available language was British, which thereby saw a sudden change in its declining fortune. These things took time - it may not have been until the mid sixth century that British (or Brittonic, as it was by then) was regarded as suitably illustrious for the written word - but nevertheless it happened, giving us the origins of the English/Welsh split which survives to this day.
 
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authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,219
When the Anglo Saxons came along, the Britons were extremely civilized/Romanized. The Anglo Saxons were predators who didn't actually conquer all that much. What hurt the Celts was becoming peaceful.
No, peaceable, extremely civilised and romanised Britons is far from the case. There is no evidence for it at all. The archaeological sequence of the first half of the first millennium AD in England is clear and unambiguous: Roman material culture up to the beginning of the fifth century; then a black hole, a ‘post-crash gap’, in the first half of the fifth century, first punctuated, and then followed, by AngloSaxon material culture from the second half of the fifth century. Understanding the widespread social and economic collapse that affected much of Britain half a century before the appearance of the first germanic archaeology is key to to understanding how the anglo saxons became dominant when they arrived.

Although popular history refers to Gildas, his adventus and the 'three keels' starts at chapter 23. In the preceding chapters he writes of the tyrants, repeated devastation, the second revenge, the third devastation, the growth of crimes among the britons, famine and plague and describes the population of Britain as a miserable remnant. Gildas blames the picts, the irish and the self serving british tyrants and portrays them as God's punishment for having abandonned Rome's peaceable nation. Vortigern, described as an arrogant usurper gets the blame for inviting the aid of the impious saxons to help him in Chapter 23.
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,219
That's my understanding as well. What I'm having a hard time understanding is how a weak Church, declining urban populations, etc convince people to stop speaking Latin or whatever other language they used to speak and to learn English instead. If the Saxons outnumbered the Britons I could see how a majority forced its will upon a minority, but I don't think that was the case.
There is paucity of romano british archaeology in many places for a period which lasts for around half a century before the arrival of the first anglo saxons. It is why people like Higham use the term 'Invisible Britons'. They reject the idea of complete takeover, killing or expelling all the British but look for possible explantions for the lack of archaeology. West Heslerton, an early anglian site which grew around a earlier settlement which included a roman shrine is described "as one of continuity of place, with a dichotomy between ‘late Romans’ and the new settlers". There are many reasons why this conclusion is drawn and the pottery archaeology is typical: "No links could be found between the late Roman pottery and the Anglian that followed - nothing ‘sub-Roman’; the general impression is still of a social and economic collapse in the latest 4th-early 5th century, with a parallel collapse of Crambeck and other pottery industries."

There can be no understanding of why the anglo saxon culture came to dominate without an understanding of what post Roman Britain was like and it was nothing like Gaul. The Gallic Chronicle of 452 states that Britain suffered various disaster, misfortunes and miscalculations and, whattever the author was referring to, the fact is Gaul still had chroniclers following a roman tradition of writing annals. There is nothing like this happening in Britain in the 5th century and Britain and Gaul are different worlds.