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Apartheid and Economics in Anglo-Saxon England


University of Saint Andrew

WHEN considering and discussing the fate of the Britons within AngloSaxon England, we invariably seem to find ourselves forced to choose between two hypotheses. The first of these, and perhaps currently the less fashionable, is that a ‘mass migration’ of Germanic peoples committed genocide against the inhabitants of the Insular territories they conquered, creating a situation in which all subsequent generations of Anglo-Saxons were descended entirely, or almost entirely, from fifth-century immigrants. The second, the ‘elite emulation model’, perhaps most clearly articulated in our editor’s 1992 monograph Rome, Britain and the Anglo-Saxons, holds that incoming Germans supplied only an aristocratic elite who farmed large estates tilled by native Britons, who gradually aped their lords and became culturally indistinguishable from them over time. Whilst the elite emulation model has become widely accepted amongst British archaeologists, who have, perhaps, become used to the concept of the diffusion of trends in material culture without recourse to models requiring large-scale population movement, it has proved less easy for historians and linguists to accept. This has largely been due to the perceived problem created by the AngloSaxon language: Old English seems far too close in both structure and form to its nearest Continental Germanic neighbours and to lack any substantive evidence of influence from either a Celtic or Romance substratum underlying it, which one would expect had large numbers of Britons switched language on passing acquaintance with their landlords then reinforced their competence only by practising amongst themselves. Archaeologists have tended to be dismissive of this evidence, Richard Hodges even describing language as an insoluble ‘conundrum’. To some extent this disciplinary divide is the result of natural selection. As youngsters beginning to show an interest in the past, most of us did not clearly distinguish between Archaeology and History, but at university, or shortly before, when we were forced to make the choice between the two, it was only natural that those of us who were more attracted to and had a greater affinity for material culture went down one route and those whose fascination lay with words down another. For this reason archaeologists and historians are likely to place different values upon linguistic evidence.

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