Who are the Anglo Saxons

Nov 2008
1,029
England
However, the commonly expressed notion, repeated in Gunn's collection by Elizabeth O'Brien/Briggs (can't quite recall the surname off the top of my head) that the Anglo-Saxon areas escaped the plague is not terribly convincing

Gildas mentions that the Christian shrines in western Britain were in lands occupied by the Saxons and were inacessible, inferring some form of "cold War". Never the twain shall meet, so to speak. Moreover, if the plague was pneumonic it needs close contact with other human being to spread. Bubonic plague is, as you know, spread by mammals such as black rats.
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
4,605
As I recall (and, again, I might be recalling wrong) the biological evidence is based partly on extrapolating the fifth-century situation from modern DNA studies. That isn't terribly safe either.
That is what he says and why that is why I wrote that he explains that the "calculations are as good as can be done with the data available at present " immediately under the paragraph about the dna.

However, that was in 2011 and since 2014 the data has become clearer.


Gregory of Tours reports the plague in Arles and Gaul more widely in the window 527-551 and even though some argue for zero contact between Britons and Anglo-Saxons, no-one argues for zero contact between Anglo-Saxons and Frankish Gaul.

No one argues that there were merovingian contacts with England in the 540s either, so it's an odd thing to say. The area to the west of Austrasia and to the north of of Neustria - only came under the control of the Franks after the plague. The original merovingian push into France was to the south, towards Paris and beyond. The westward movement was much later. In fact, when the merovingians took control of the area, they automatically claimed hegemony over east Kent, suggesting that there was a single kingdom on either side of the channel in the first half of the 6th cent. (E James, The Early Franks). No reason at all to see why this would be affteced by the plague. Look forward to any refernces to merovingian kentish contacts in the 540s.
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
4,605
However, the commonly expressed notion, repeated in Gunn's collection by Elizabeth O'Brien/Briggs (can't quite recall the surname off the top of my head) that the Anglo-Saxon areas escaped the plague is not terribly convincing

Gildas mentions that the Christian shrines in western Britain were in lands occupied by the Saxons and were inacessible, inferring some form of "cold War". Never the twain shall meet, so to speak. Moreover, if the plague was pneumonic it needs close contact with other human being to spread. Bubonic plague is, as you know, spread by mammals such as black rats.
The Justinian plague entered a country via trading ports and then moved inland, but it always peters out. It didn't continue inland indefinitely because the plague flea kills the rats that carry it. You can see from this map that it entered Spain and France, but didn't spread throught the country. When it enters its dormant phase, the bacillus can be carried from one area to another and, at some point, maybe 150 years later, it can break out again.




For it to spread, the rats have to be transported. As Rosen (Justinian's Flea) observes, rats generally do not travel more than 200 meters from their birthplaces over the course of their lifetimes. However, once aboard the grain boats and carts. Unless britons in the west were supplying the saxons in the east with goods or grains, the rats would not move to the east. There is no reason to expect that it would spread in that direction.
 
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MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,301
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
A Sutton Hoo type ship, Haesten, would have had a crew of about sixty. Just ten ships making one passage a year between - say - 450 to 580 would bring over 120,000 people. Two voyages during a sailing season would result in 240,000 migrants coming to Britain in that time. Clearly the capability existed. It most likely didn`t happen that way, but it was certainly possible.

Seemingly, Helena Hammerow, has an agenda to downplay the size of the Adventus Saxonum, which is not surprising really because she belongs to the New Archaeology school of thought. Times are changing though. The old idea of a small elite group of migrants arriving on Britain`s shores is outmoded, being replaced by a "reasonable number came over" theory. What they mean by "reasonable" is anybody`s guess.
There were probably hundreds of trading ships of the Blackfriars/Guernsey type, capable of ferrying huge numbers across the North Sea.

We know what happens when a minority elite language meets a majority underdog language. The majority wins.

Pleading in English Act 1362 - Wikipedia
It seems to me that immigrants and/or invaders from Jutland, Angeln, and Saxony might have traveled by land and/or sea west to the English Channel and the Straits of Dover and then acquired by various methods the use of various Gallo-Roman and Romano-British fishing and trading vessels that used those ports for the voyages across the Channel and along the British coast to their destinations.

If a group was desperately wandering seeking someplace, anyplace, to conquer and/or settle in, it might have been quite accidental if they found sufficient available shipping to cross to Britain. But if a group was making a planned and perhaps prearranged move the shipping might have been prearranged. For example, if Vortigern invited Germanic mercenaries and their families he might have arranged shipping for them, and if a group of troublemakers kept pestering Aetus and/or Attila for permission to settle in Gaul they might have been told "No, you can go to Britain instead." and ships might have been provided just to get rid of those troublemakers. The idea that all of the Germanic invaders and settlers came to Britain in proto viking ships that they sailed straight across the North Sea is not proven.
 
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Jan 2014
2,042
Westmorland
No one argues that there were merovingian contacts with England in the 540s either, so it's an odd thing to say. The area to the west of Austrasia and to the north of of Neustria - only came under the control of the Franks after the plague. No reason at all to see why this would be affteced by the plague. Look forward to any refernces to merovingian kentish contacts in the 540s.
Could you perhaps clarify your post as I may be misunderstanding you? Are you asserting that the Franks were not in Northern Gaul in the pre-plague era and/or that there was no contact between Gaul and Kent in the 540s?
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
4,605
Could you perhaps clarify your post as I may be misunderstanding you? Are you asserting that the Franks were not in Northern Gaul in the pre-plague era and/or that there was no contact between Gaul and Kent in the 540s?
The Franks were in northern Gaul but their kingdoms didn't extend as far west as the coast. They entered from the north but drove south and south east. This from Edward James' book, The Franks.

sax1.jpg


The changing kingdoms below are from Ian Wood's The Merovingian Kingdoms 450 - 751

sax2.jpg

sax3.jpg


sax4.jpg

Chilperic is the one who extends his control in the north west and, although he achieved hegemony over the area that was later to become the March of Flanders, it was not settled by Franks. The original settlers are termed Saxons but there are 3 waves of them and they are really just north sea germanic speakers who are not Franks. However, many people rather loosely do refer to them as Franks, though in the mid 6th century they are still, enemies of the Frank. If East Kent and Flanders was a single Kingdom, they will have had trading contacts and it is highly likely that goods from Francia proper were traded via these proto flemmings. There is no contact with the mediterranean world however and no chance of plague spreading by this route. Gregory writing in Arles does not claim that the plague spread further north than the map previously posted. The sporadic finds of merovingian artefacts in the 6th century are merovingian artefacts from the north, Tournai and surrounds. The diplomatic efforts between the merovingians and Kent, start with Chilperic gaining political control after 561, after the plague. The artefacts that are found are always described as mid 6th century and probably due to Chilperic expanding his influence.
 
Nov 2008
1,029
England
Yes indeed. What 'mass migration' actually means in terms of absolute numbers remains a matter of debate, but we certainly see evidence in the fifth-century for relatively significant numbers of Anglo-Saxon migrants settling across southern and eastern Britain. I'm inclined to agree with Heinrich Harke's estimates on numbers, even though may thinks he puts it too high. He estimates migration at between 100,000 and 200,000 individuals over the course of a century. For a fuller exposition, see Heinrich Härke, “Anglo-Saxon Immigration and Ethnogenesis.” Medieval Archaeology, 55 (2011).

Some may have come as federates or warrior elites, but for the most part we appear to be looking at extended family groups living in small,, scattered and undefended agrarian communities. The archaeology suggests that until the mid sixth-century, status was expressed within the kin group rather than as between kin groups, although East Kent might be a notable exception. So, for the most part, we have leading individuals within each family group, rather than leading families per se.

One thing we do not have a great deal of clarity on (but which would be interesting to know) is how these fifth-century Anglo-Saxon groups interacted with one another. There is some evidence that the Old Saxons (the name given to the Saxons who stayed at home) came together to elect leaders in times of war or crisis and it may be that this was happening in Britain too.
The specific "mass migration" I was referring to was of the early English coming to Britain. I have read Harke`s paper, and it is available on Academia in anyone is interested. I`m not totally convinced by the argument that of small kin groups were not led by leading families ( or leaders) until the mid sixth century". Small groups tend to coalesce, and leaders always emerge and tend to fairly quickly, particularly if there is some stree such as warfare. Although we have to treat the written sources cautiously, they are consistent in describing conflict, and they cannot be dismissed lightly. The federates you mention are attested in archaeology. There is evidence that a fair number of Saxon mercenaries were present in the Dorchester region in the first half of the fifth century, somewhat earlier than the taditional mid century date given for the arrival of Hengest in Kent.
 
Jan 2014
2,042
Westmorland
Thanks all for that information on early Kent. Very informative and useful,

The specific "mass migration" I was referring to was of the early English coming to Britain. I have read Harke`s paper, and it is available on Academia in anyone is interested. I`m not totally convinced by the argument that of small kin groups were not led by leading families ( or leaders) until the mid sixth century". Small groups tend to coalesce, and leaders always emerge and tend to fairly quickly, particularly if there is some stree such as warfare. Although we have to treat the written sources cautiously, they are consistent in describing conflict, and they cannot be dismissed lightly. The federates you mention are attested in archaeology. There is evidence that a fair number of Saxon mercenaries were present in the Dorchester region in the first half of the fifth century, somewhat earlier than the taditional mid century date given for the arrival of Hengest in Kent.
I dare say you are right, but we then have to ask what we mean by leaders. Are we talking war leaders elected during times of crisis (as Barbara Yorke argues on the basis if parallels with some Continental groups) or are we envisaging fully blown kingship, with power exercised through hereditary dynasty? Or are we envisaging something else? If we are arguing the latter, do we have any evidence for it before the mid sixth-century? I'd suggest that the archaeology implies not.

Agreed about Dorchester. I have probably mentioned it before, but Helena Hamerow (whose exhaustive work on the archaeology of early Wessex makes her an authority in this field) argues that Wessex may be an example of the situation described by Gildas, in which federates had an accord of some sort with the Romano-British authorities. However, she sees a strong British element in early Wessex kingship, suggesting a coming-together of two powerful groups rather than a federate revolt.

Insofar as the written sources are concerned, you mentioned the other day that in your view, Anglo-British relations was a case of "never the twain". I was reminded of the passge in which Gildas bemoans how certain Britons of his own day and thrown their lot in wth the barbarians (he doesn't put it in quite those terms, but I'm sure you know the passage I mean). Now, you and I have very different views about the value of the written sources as evidence of the adventus and of the nature of Anglo-British interaction. I'd be interested to know what you make of Gildas' comment. Is he talking about acculturation? An alliance? Intra-polity accommodation? Or is he mistaken?
 
Nov 2008
1,029
England
Thanks all for that information on early Kent. Very informative and useful,



I dare say you are right, but we then have to ask what we mean by leaders. Are we talking war leaders elected during times of crisis (as Barbara Yorke argues on the basis if parallels with some Continental groups) or are we envisaging fully blown kingship, with power exercised through hereditary dynasty? Or are we envisaging something else? If we are arguing the latter, do we have any evidence for it before the mid sixth-century? I'd suggest that the archaeology implies not.

Agreed about Dorchester. I have probably mentioned it before, but Helena Hamerow (whose exhaustive work on the archaeology of early Wessex makes her an authority in this field) argues that Wessex may be an example of the situation described by Gildas, in which federates had an accord of some sort with the Romano-British authorities. However, she sees a strong British element in early Wessex kingship, suggesting a coming-together of two powerful groups rather than a federate revolt.

Insofar as the written sources are concerned, you mentioned the other day that in your view, Anglo-British relations was a case of "never the twain". I was reminded of the passge in which Gildas bemoans how certain Britons of his own day and thrown their lot in wth the barbarians (he doesn't put it in quite those terms, but I'm sure you know the passage I mean). Now, you and I have very different views about the value of the written sources as evidence of the adventus and of the nature of Anglo-British interaction. I'd be interested to know what you make of Gildas' comment. Is he talking about acculturation? An alliance? Intra-polity accommodation? Or is he mistaken?
To answer you first point. I can only repeat what always happens and that is groups coalesce and a strong leader emerges. The charismatic leader may well indeed be elected, and we see this in early Germanic tribal societies. Furthermore, I cannot see how archaeology can possible tell us ,because early medieval kings were itinerant, not having any fixed abode. This state of affairs continued even as late as the time of Offa of the Mercians.

The accord you mentioned between the federates and British authorities would obviously have existed, because the Saxons were hired soldiers. That is until they revolted against their paymaster. Gildas mentions this and so do some continental observers. I cannot see anything controversial about some Britons becoming renegades and throwing in their lot with the Saxons, particularly during the confusion of the late fifth century . However, from what I have read from papers by Richard Coates and O. J. Padel, it seems unlikely there was much acculturation if any.
 

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