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

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,219
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

Well we are not supposed to discuss DNA but the figures I know of are around 54%.
 
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Peter Graham

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,626
Westmorland
They reject the idea of complete takeover, killing or expelling all the British but look for possible explantions for the lack of archaeology.
Another fine post, but it is perhaps worth flagging up a couple of caveats (which, I should hasten to add, authun may well agree with). Firstly, although post-Roman 'British' archaeology is ephemeral, it is slowly becoming less invisible. The dates for certain pottery styles are being pushed further and further into the fifth century and there is an increasing recognition that the composition of assemblages (rather than the dates of the individual items making them up) show evolving tastes in the fifth century. Dismissing Roman material as 'residual', rather than assessing whether it continued to be used in the post-Roman period, is no longer safe. Neither is the old assumption that the terminus ante quem of an artefact (the earliest date at which the artefact might have been produced) is the safest date to advance when proposing a relative chronology. In other word, a coin minted in 388 should not be assumed to have been lost in 388 and if there are other features suggestive of it being in circulation for some time (such as the coin being very worn), assigning it a later date of deposition is perfectly respectable.

It is only really in the last forty years that archaeology has begun to get good at identifying post-Roman British archaeology. It still isn't easy to spot and is often overlooked in favour of more archaeologically visible periods, but that doesn't mean it isn't there. It's perhaps even more difficult in the Anglo Saxon south and east of Britain, where the relative visibility of Anglo-Saxon culture contrasts sharply with the relative invisibility of British culture. Its not easy to appreciate the subtleties of a Brahms symphony on your mobile phone if you are attempting to listen to it whilst in the mosh pit at a Metallica gig.
 
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Nov 2008
1,404
England
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.
An excellent summary for what happened not just in Britain but also in the Roman Empire as a whole can be found in the book by Bryan Ward-Perkins The Fall Of Rome. Concerning Britain, your assessment is in agreement with that of Ward-Perkins. Something like a deep recession in the late fourth century, followed by the collapse that you mentioned. In fact Britain reverted to an economic condition similar to that of the Bronze Age.
 
Nov 2008
1,404
England
The problem with the theory is that for it to work and still be visible at the time of Ine's law code (the single documentary reference used to support the hypothesis), we'd have to accept that for a lengthy period of time measured in centuries, generations of Anglo-Saxon kings across different polities all wished to meticulously enforce apartheid and always had the means to do so. It's not impossible, I suppose, but it would be entirely singular behaviour for the post-Roman west and for that reason alone, seems highly unlikely. We see the odd law code outlining apartheid elsewhere in western Europe, but there is no suggestion that these things were ever that long-lasting or especially effective.
The similarity between the Gothic laws and those of the West Saxon king Ine are superficial. Those Gothic laws pertained to the late fifth and sixth centuries and they can only be judged in that context; and they were promulgated by Gothic kings ruling over a subject Roman population, and in areas of the former Roman Empire which still had civic life and a functioning bureaucracy staffed by former Roman citizens. The laws of King Ine placing Britons in an inferior position were promulgated in the late seventh century, just after the West Saxons annexed the eastern portion of the British kingdom of Dumnonia. Furthermore, King Alfred The Great incorporated these laws into his own some 170 to 180 years later. Evidently any Britons still living in Wessex during the reign of Alfred 871-900 were still like their forbears in an inferior position.
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,219
An excellent summary for what happened not just in Britain but also in the Roman Empire as a whole can be found in the book by Bryan Ward-Perkins The Fall Of Rome. Concerning Britain, your assessment is in agreement with that of Ward-Perkins. Something like a deep recession in the late fourth century, followed by the collapse that you mentioned. In fact Britain reverted to an economic condition similar to that of the Bronze Age.
It's not my summary Aelfwine, but Härke's in Invisible Britons. He starts with: "The archaeological sequence of the first half of the first millennium AD in England is, in itself, reasonably clear and unambiguous" and ends with "That much is not in dispute", so many others agree. It's 'the why?' that causes the probelm :)
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,490
Dispargum
In fact Britain reverted to an economic condition similar to that of the Bronze Age.
What do we mean by Bronze Age economy? No money, no specialized craftsmen, almost everyone produced what they needed for themselves without traders or merchants distributing surplus production, little if any taxation in the modern sense of the word. Any other characteristics of a Bronze Age economy?
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,219
Firstly, although post-Roman 'British' archaeology is ephemeral, it is slowly becoming less invisible.
It's also interpreting the archaeology that does exist. This is often explained using the prevailing thinking of the time. For example, Graham Webster in 'The Cornovii', Peoples of Roman Britain series cites Wroxeter in the last chapter, 'the late fourth and 5th centuries':

"The skeletons found by Wright in the basement of a hypocaust of the baths are difficult to explain. The discovery of two females and an old man was made in the tepidarium of the added bath suite of the west side of the main block. Near the old man was the remains of a small wodden box with a heap of 132 coins, the latest of which was of Valens [364-378]. To a nineteeth century antiquary, this was graphic evidence. These poor folk, crawling for safety into the hypocaust system with their life savings had been suffocated by the building being burnt over their heads."

As more data is accumulated, the interpretation changes however. The city contracted and parts of it were levelled to create space for growing food within it. The tiles and floor were broken up to reuse the materials and the space underneath was used for the burials. There is likely a period of time between the levelling and the burials. It is just avilable space. The coins were near the body but not next to it. They too could easily be a deposit relating to a different time.

Interpreting the evidence from archaeology or history or language against a prevailing model invariably presents additional problems and raises new questions. In his paper on Invisible Britons, the view from linguistics, Coates points out that the change of language is difficult to explain by a prolongued process of acculturation. The evidence is, is that it was swift, with little flow of Brittonic into English.

"How did the majoritarian Welsh adopt English in such a Germanic form without formal instruction, without a substantial immersion programme for all speakers, and without making it more like Welsh? These are the questions that need to be answered by those who propose a massive contribution of Britons to the “English” gene-pool.

On the other hand, absence of Britons is a sufficient condition for the absence of Brittonic-coloured English!"
 
Last edited:
Apr 2019
171
Europe
Well we are not supposed to discuss DNA but the figures I know of are around 54%.
I found 30% with a spread from 20% to 40% depending on individual (which makes the English less Anglo-Saxon than Mexicans are Spanish):

"(...) To quantify the ancestry fractions, we fit the modern British samples
with a mixture model of ancient components, by placing all the samples on a
linear axis of relative Dutch allele sharing that integrates data from allele counts
one to five (Figure 2b). By this measure the East England samples are consistent
with 30% Anglo-Saxon ancestry on average, with a spread from 20% to 40%."
 
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Peter Graham

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,626
Westmorland
TThe laws of King Ine placing Britons in an inferior position were promulgated in the late seventh century, just after the West Saxons annexed the eastern portion of the British kingdom of Dumnonia. Furthermore, King Alfred The Great incorporated these laws into his own some 170 to 180 years later. Evidently any Britons still living in Wessex during the reign of Alfred 871-900 were still like their forbears in an inferior position.
I accept that you make a good point, but the issue here is not that these laws existed, but the related assumptions that:-

1) They must always have existed and only become visible in the time of Ine; and
2) The same sort of thing had to be going on outside Wessex too; and
3) They operated so as to deliberately hinder acculturation or social movement.

We also need to question what the writers of the law codes understood a Briton to be. Was it just someone who spoke Brittonic or someone who was living in a British region? Or was it a cultural definition? These questions aren't easy to answer. By way of an example, I live in England and sound English, but my father was born in Scotland. If we substitute 'Briton' for 'Scot', do we argue that under Ine's laws, I get lower weregild than you? In other words, is my ancestry inescapable or is it the case that my overt English-ness means that it doesn't matter who my parents were and I get the same weregild as you? Or do we say that it could never have been countenanced for me to pass as English, so I would have to be sat here in a kilt and Tam O' Shanter so no-one was in any doubt that I was the 'other'.

I feel that these are important questions which are rarely, if ever, addressed when the apartheid model is discussed.
 
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