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Over the past week there have been three posts which I’ve put up which are related. Two of them have a straightforward relation, Britons, English, Germans, and collective action and Britons, English, and Dutch. But the third might not seem related to the other two, We stand on the shoulders of cultural giants, but it is. When we talk about things such as the spread of language through “elite emulation” or “population replacement” they’re rather vague catchall terms. We don’t decompose them mechanistically into their components to explore whether they can explain what they purport to explain. Rather, we take these phenomena for granted in a very simplistic black box fashion. We know what they’re describing on the face of it. “We” here means people without a background in sociolinguistics, obviously.

To give an example of the pitfall of this method, in much of Rodney Stark’s work on sociology of religion (the production before his recent quasi-apologetic material) his thinking was crisp and logical, but the psychological models were intuitive and naive and tended to get little input from the latest findings in cognitive science. In One True God he actually offers an explanation for why Christian Trinitarianism is psychologically more satisfying than the starker monotheism of the Jews and Muslims, or the more elaborated diffuse polytheism which predates monotheism. All I will say is whether you are convinced or not, Stark’s argument has some logical coherency and a level of plausibility, until you explore the literature in cognitive science on conceptualization of supernatural agents. The psychological literature as outlined in Theological Incorrectness indicates quite clearly that no matter the explicit philosophical nature of God as outlined in a given religion, cognitively the human mind has strong constraints in terms of how it represents abstractions, so that the vast majority of believers conceptualize the godhead in an invariant manner. To be more clear about it, even though Jews and Muslims are strict monotheists and some Hindus conceive of themselves as polytheists,* their concrete mental image of the divine doesn’t vary much from person to person and religion to religion. As a practical matter Hindus who may accept the reality of a nearly infinite number of gods on paper still exhibit personal devotion to only a few. Jews and Muslims who are strict monotheists nevertheless may have cults of saints and lesser supernatural agents in their mental universe. There is a difference between saying you accept the reality of millions of gods, and actually being able to mentally focus on millions of gods. The latter is not possible, and that has real world consequences, in that the concrete difference between an avowed polytheistic and monotheist in terms of mental state is minimal at most. So the psychological contrasts which Stark assumes motivate higher order social differences turn out to be superficial word games in pure cognitive terms.**

Similarly, we know intuitively what “elite emulation” means. It’s self-evident in that the mass of the population emulates the elite in terms of their folkways. But how does this really play out? The description is just a description, it doesn’t elaborate on the process of how you get from A to Z. When I try and find references in the ethnographic literature, generally what I encounter is in as an aside. What has been gnawing at me are cases like the Bulgar assimilation into the Slavic substrate, and the Magyar assimilation of their own Slavic and Latinate substrate. What distinguishes these two cases? They’re two instances of mobile populations from the western margins of Inner Asia erupting into the eucumene. Even if they were not pure horse-nomads in the vein of the Huns, they were clearly amongst the last of these class of peoples to force themselves into the heart of Europe after the fall of Rome because of their obligate male militarization and mobility. In the case of the Bulgarians all that remains of their distinctive identity as a mobile Turkic population is their ethnonym. In contrast in the case of the Magyars they imposed their Ugric language language upon the population which they dominated. Modern Hungarians don’t seem to be any genetically different from what you’d expect based on geography. This is in contrast with Anatolian Turks, who do seem to have a minority East Asian element. The emergence of a dominant Magyar ethnicity on the Hungarian plain in the early medieval period then is clearly an instance of elite emulation if there ever was one, in contrast to the absorption of the Bulgars into their substrate. But this is just a description, it doesn’t tell us why elite emulation worked in one zone, but not in another.

The reason that the three posts above are related is that mass cultural shifts don’t just happen on the individual level. A lot of one’s world view is absorbed implicitly from socialization in a group setting. And as noted in the paper on the transmission and evolution of culture you have very little conscious and reflective understanding of how different discrete elements cohere into a functional whole. This doesn’t mean that wholesale adoption of another culture is impossible, but one has to be aware of parameters which make such a transformation plausible. Consider a few examples. There are individuals who move from one nation to another as adults, and over time they assimilate by and large to the nation to which they have moved. It is a process which takes decades, but it does occur. But this requires total immersion in an unfamiliar set of folkways, until what was once familiar becomes alien, and what was once strange becomes second nature. In contrast, if you move from one nation to a Diaspora of your own nation in another nation, then the shift in values is likely to be far less. You have critical cultural mass and can self-select a social environment which doesn’t perturb your cultural presuppositions.

Let’s shift to another example which is somewhat different in its parameters. One can argue that the culture of black Americans is not predominantly African in origin, but a melange of Anglo influences. Remember that the vast majority of the ancestors of black Americans were likely in the United States of America well before 1800. The slave community of the early republic was already indigenous, with minimal ties to the African lands from which their ancestors had been transported. But how exactly did cultural change happen so rapidly to so many? In the case of black Americans their ancestors were brought over from different regions with little in common aside from being African. It has long even been argued by some that the slave owners were careful not to allow for the concentration of particular groups amongst the set of their human property lest they mobilize based on common ethnic bonds (apparently there were concentrations of Igbo in Virginia, which planters attempted to diminish by exportation to the Deep South). The black American culture emerged as a creole culture, drawing upon common African tendencies, but also English speaking and Christian, two traits derived from the society into which they were thrown. The main exception in the United States to this tendency of only superficial African culture traits are the Gullah people of Low Country South Carolina. Their culture seems to have some genuine connection to the folkways of the Guinea coast. It is also notable that the relationship of the slaves who were rice farmers of coastal South Carolina to their owners was very different from that of the norm across most of the South. The ancestors of the Gullah people were more like serfs than slaves. They were tied to the land, but were still given the space and liberty to have a modicum of normal family and social life, which was not necessarily the case with most American slaves. Much of this is based on the raw economics of rice farming, which was not as amenable as cotton and sugar production in turning human slaves into pure labor units of value which were perfectly interchangeable and expendable. Whatever the details of the economics, it is noteworthy that the American blacks who preserved the greatest proportion of African cultural traits are those who were the least dehumanized by the grinding logic of early modern cash-crop slavery.

The point of the two examples above is that we can see plainly how individuals in some contexts absorb by and large the values of other societies. If you are extracted from your society of origin and thrown into a new context, you slowly can absorb new cultural norms, explicitly and implicitly. If you are enslaved and thrown together into an undifferentiated mass with individuals with whom you share little culturally, then a common creole culture will emerge. It turns out that the creole is often, but not always, derived in its fundamentals from the enslavers, who often impose their language and religion upon those whom they enslave. How about other cases?

First, let’s consider the case of the Muslim world. The conquests between 650-750 pushed the dominion of Islam from the Atlantic to Sindh. Within the Afro-Asiatic zone there was a shift from non-Arab to Arab ethno-linguistic identity, concomitant with a conversion to Islam. In the Persian world there was a switch from Zoroastrianism to Islam. There are differences of detail here. We do know that Greek remained a language of administration in the Arab Caliphate into the early 8th century, at least two generations after the conquest. After the shift to Arabic the process of Arabicization of language and Islamicization of religion proceeded much further. It seems likely that the majority of individuals in the Levant and Mesopotamia identified as Arab Muslims sometime during the prime of Abbassid Caliphate, 150-200 years after the conquest. Nevertheless, substantial minorities in the Fertile Crescent zone remained Christian or Jewish, and preserved non-Arabic languages for centuries. A similar shift in Egypt can probably be pushed back by about 100 years. What you see is a gradual and synchronous shift toward identification as Arab and Muslim. Over time this marginalized the language of ancient Egypt, what became Coptic, and non-Arabic Semitic languages in the Fertile Crescent. The most recent phylogeography seems to suggest that this transformation was not purely cultural, insofar as there seem to be small, but consistent, differences between Muslim and non-Muslim populations (the Muslim populations are invariably more cosmopolitan, exhibiting signs of being impacted by gene flow across the Islamic international, from Inner Asia down to Sub-Saharan Africa).

Persia, what became Iran, is a different case. What occurred here is that there was a gradual shift in the peasantry to Islam, but by the mid-9th century there were no elite lineages which patronized Zoroastrianism. The last Zoroastrian principalities in the mountains of northwest Iran submitted by the middle of the 9th century (though there were Zoroastrian inspired rebellions drawing upon folk religion as late as the 10th century). Without elite patronage and protection Zoroastrianism seems to have lacked the institutional robustness to withstand Islamicization. The material I have seen suggests that Islamicization in the core Persian lands Islamicization occurred at around the same pace as Egypt, with a Muslim majority by 1000 at the latest. But unlike the Christians of Egypt the Zoroastrians of Iran almost disappeared, preserving themselves as relict populations in very isolated regions such as Yazd. One can give many explanations for this, but the connection between the Iranian elite and the Zoroastrian religion was traditionally very close, and once that connection was severed with the Islamicization of the Iranian-speaking elite it seems that Zoroasrianism simply withered for lack of patronage. This may have an analogy with the Church of the East, which unlike the Jacobites of Syria and the Copts of Egypt had no theological “sister churches” which were not under Muslim dominion. Interestingly the Persians did not abandon their language. One thesis proposed is that language shift was relatively easy for Syriac speakers, and perhaps even other Afro-Asiatic groups such as Coptic and Berber populations, but not for Indo-Europeans.

Another example which might give us further insight is the case of Latin America. By and large Iberian language and religion have superimposed themselves upon the region. How? In the southern cone of Latin America, reaching up into much of Brazil, it is through simple demographics analogous to the North American model. But in much of the rest of Latin America there has been a great deal of racial amalgamation. In particular, the mestizo populations tend to have male Iberian ancestors and female native ancestors. But culturally they are identified more with their Iberian ancestors than their Amerindian ones; at least in relation to civilizationally salient markers of note such as language and religion. Why is there such a disjunction between the genetic parity in terms of ancestry and cultural skew toward their Iberian forebears? Because genes and memes have different inheritance constraints. In particular, memes are far more flexible in terms of how they transmit, allowing for asymmetric vertical transmission (identify with the culture of one parent, not the other), as well as horizontal transmission (across peer groups). Consider for example a toy example: most socialization occurs in peer groups, which develop their own norms. But, those norms themselves cue on the modal cultural pattern of the previous cohort. What does this mean concretely? That peer groups are homogeneous evolutions from the dominant, but not exclusive, culture of the parental generation. To give a real world example, American children develop their own idioms, accents, and slang. But these linguistic tendencies themselves need the starting point of the dominant language of the society. The parental generation might be 10% non-native English speakers with all the peculiarities which that might entail, but the offspring generation might be impacted not at all by the 10% non-native English speakers, because they take their cue from the 90% of parents who are native speakers. Of course given enough demographic heft immigrants can change a language. So in Argentina the influx of Italians was so overwhelmingly that it reshaped the Spanish spoken in that nation. And yet Spanish is spoken in Argentina, English in the United States, and Portuguese in Brazil, despite the fact that the majority of the ancestry in these regions may not be from Castile, England, and Portugal, respectively.

A final example I want to cover is that of the spread of the Turks. There seems a rough consensus that circa 2,000 years ago the progenitors of the modern Turkic languages was localized roughly to the region of western Mongolia and its environs. Much of western Eurasia which is now dominated by Turks was the domain of Indo-European speakers. With the expansion of the Turks between 500 and 1500 the zone of Indo-European speech from Inner Asia to the Mediterranean fragmented. By this, I mean that Indo-European did not disappear, but it was marginalized or absorbed by Turkic groups across much of its old zone. In Central Asia the Tajiks are the remnants of the dominant Iranian populations, along with isolates like the Yaghnobis who preserved themselves in mountainous redoubts. On the plains north of the Black Sea the Turks cleared out most of the Iranian populations. Groups such the Ossetians took refuge in mountainous zones as well. Of course this particular example of the spread of Turks has been somewhat erased by the later expansion of Slavs, and assimilation of many of the Turkic groups on the frontier of demographic expansion (though groups like Tatars and Chuvash remain). In Iran and Anatolia Turks and Indo-European speakers, whether it be Greeks, Armenians, and Persians, existed in symbiosis for centuries. Over time the northwestern Persian zone was fully Turkicized. But if you looked at a map of language distributions circa 1900 you’d see Turkic interlaced with various pre-Turkic Indo-European languages from the Aegean to Khorasan. In other words, the shift from Indo-European to Turkic has been halting, fragmentary, and incomplete, in many regions. But what about the genetic impact? Because Turks were originally East Asian that is not too difficult to ascertain. It seems that in Central Asia, what was once termed Turan by the Iranians, the impact has been substantial, and some cases dominant (e.g., the Kazakhs). This stands to reason because the migration of some groups, like the Kyrgyz, occurred in historical time. On the other extreme the Anatolian Turks seem to be ~5% or so East Asian. This seems a strong argument for elite emulation. But, it needs to be qualified by the fact that the arrivals of Turks to Anatolia occurred five centuries after their initial peregrinations out of Mongolia. In other words, the dilution of the genetic signal of the nomads who arrived after the defeat at Manzikert has to be kept in perspective insofar as these populations had already spent a substantial period of time amongst Iranian populations in Central Asia and Iran. That being said, it seems that Anatolia Turkish identity did emerge to a great extent out of assimilation of Greek, Armenian, Slavic, and Kurdish populations and individuals into a Turkish identity.

I review all this in detail because these are the sorts of scenarios and dynamics which go through my head whenever I attempt to evaluate inferences made from genetics, historical texts, and archaeology. From what I can tell there isn’t a good theoretical construct for how Magyars and Anatolian Turks could be created through assimilation over the period of centuries. This makes good sense, as how many anthropological field programs could afford to track the ethnogenesis of a group over centuries? (not to mention the fact that many disciplines were only invented in the 20th century!) In lieu of a robust theory we have to make recourse to looking over the empirical distribution on a case by case basis so as to make analogies to the underlying parameters which might align across two cases. In that way we can interpolate from one known case to an unknown one.

This is especially important when textual records are thin, and the genetic inferences are shaky. So when it comes to the case of the Anglo-Saxon conquest and assimilation of the British and the emergence of an English identity I attempt to compare it to other cases I’m aware of. There are two primary issues for me in this specific instance:

- The rapidity of the shift, from a predominantly non-German landscape in the 5th century to a German one in the 7th

- The cultural regress from a “high civilization” to a “low” tribal one

In two of the cases above, the transformation of Greek, Kurdish, and Armenian Anatolia, into Turkish and Kurdish Anatolia, as well as the evolution from the non-Arab non-Muslim world to the Arab Muslim world, the shifts occurred much more slowly than the British to English one. Focusing on the core Fertile Crescent zone I think a conservative estimate is that it took three centuries to accomplish the cultural transformation which occurred in Britain in one century. In the Turkish case it took somewhat longer, and wasn’t truly completed until the population exchange with Greece and the Armenian Genocide. The large Kurdish minority also indicates its relative lack of completion, though perhaps one can make an analogy between Wales and Kurdistan in terms of being peripheral. In the case of Hungary the issue is more confusing, especially because of nationalist biases among scholars. The area of Hungary, what was once Roman Pannonia, had been barbarized for centuries before the arrival of the Magyars. It was likely populated by Slavic tribes, the remnants of the Avars, and also a the Latinate residual of the post-Roman period (what became Vlachs and Romanians across the inland Balkans). It is a key point to remember that modern Hungarians seem to occupy the genetic position which isolation-by-distance models would predict. The intrusion by a population from the Urals had very little impact. This is the perfect case of elite emulation.

There are three papers of particular interest in relation to the “Anglo-Saxon question.”

- Evidence for an apartheid-like social structure in early Anglo-Saxon England

- Is it necessary to assume an apartheid-like social structure in Early Anglo-Saxon England?

- Integration versus apartheid in post-Roman Britain: a response to Pattison

Overall I would say that Mark Thomas, who makes the argument for a major demographic impact, gets the better of the exchange. I can’t really evaluate the linguistic and much of the archaeological evidence, but the overall big picture supporting papers which argue for major continuity across Europe from the Paleolithic which are appealed to in the second paper have now been thrown into sharp doubt. I do think that using “North Wales” as a “Celtic reference” may not be optimal, but Thomas et al. basically suggest that Y chromosomal lineages are sharply differentiated between some English towns and Wales, where the former cluster with Frisian samples. In 2011 I suspect we could get better geographic coverage, as well as more precise phylogenies. Thomas’ argument is rather simple insofar that demographic parameters can be easily modulated to explain how a minority of German males could have a quick impact on the dominant Y chromosomal signal among the English. Think the “Genghis Khan haplotype” writ small.

But it isn’t the genetics which really motivates me to explore the topic of the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain. It is the cultural parameters. In the case of the Magyars you have a situation where the Ugric ruling caste was overlain on a predominantly barbarized substrate. By this, I mean that these populations had lost their contact with Romanitas, which by the 5th century included Christianity. The Avars and Slavs who arrived after the collapse of Roman power had never been in contact with this cultural complex, but the Latinate population of the Balkans and Pannonia had. What happened to it? We know that it persisted linguistically, because the Romanians and Vlachs are the descendants of the Balkan Latins, who contributed many emperors, from the 3rd to the 6th centuries (e.g., Justinian the Great was of Latin speaking background from Macedonia). But there is some suggestion that these populations lost their connection to Christianity in the interregnum. This is not totally shocking, insofar as Christianity’s hold on Roman identity was newfound and tenuous when the Empire withdrew from Pannonia and ceded it to barbarians.

Interestingly there is one dynamic which I do want to mention in relation to the “eastern front” of the Roman Empire, and that is the de-Germanization of much of this region between the 5th and 10th centuries, before the push during the medieval period of German settlers in their “drive to the east.” In Empires and Barbarians the historian Peter Heather suggests that these sorts of ethnic shifts were a matter of the translocation of militarized mobile elites. In other words, when the free warrior peasants atop the German status hierarchy emigrated to the lands of the collapsing Roman Empire to serve in the retinues of the Franks, Vandals and Goths, they left the more marginal Germans without a leadership class. These individuals were eventually assimilated into the simpler subsistence lifestyle cultural complex of the Slavs who were pushing in from the east, and eventually dominated by Inner Asia populations such as the Avars and Magyars. Without a mobilized elite it may be that elite emulation occurs rather easily as pre-literate subsistence level groups shift identities.

This may be at work in post-Roman Britain. In preparation for this post I read some archaeological papers. I won’t repeat what I read because it is difficult for me to make coherent sense of much of the data, except to say that there did seem to be a collapse of long distance economic ties which characterized the Late Roman Empire. This is most evident to archaeologists in terms of ceramic styles and standardization. It is known that some of the same Saxon tribes which presumably arrived in Britain also served in the armies of Theodoric the Ostrogothic warlord who ruled Italy in the 6th century. In fact there is evidence that communication networks were robust enough that when Ostrogothic power collapsed some Saxons decamped for Britain via Germany, in search of greener pastures.

What Britain may have been subject to was not the influx of amorphous Saxon hordes, but well armed and coherently mobilized groups of free warriors. And who did they encounter once they arrived on British shores? There are some conjectures that security and safety in the Roman Empire had made the indigenous British soft and weak. This is pejoratively put, but the reality is that once cultural folkways are lost, it may not be easy to reconstruct them de novo. What I’m referring to is the process whereby militarily robust groups which are “raw” are “cooked” by civilized conditions, and so rendered less easily mobilizable in subsequent generations. The armies of the Roman Empire were overwhelmingly Italian in the 1st century, but were predominantly non-Italian, with a substantial number of barbarian “federates,” by the 3rd century. A similar shift occurred in the Islamic world, where an Arab military caste became civilian rentiers, ceding ground to a Turkic slave caste, who eventually took power. Though Ibn Khaldun examined the rise and fall of asabiyyah in the Maghreb, perhaps the best illustration of this phenomenon is in Inner Asia. The Xiongnu were pacified by the Chinese not through military defeat, but gifts of luxury goods which became more salient markers of elite status than martial prowess. The Turks were a barbaric military elite across much of Asia, until many settled down and became sedentary farmers, as in Uzbekistan or in the Tarim Basin. They were easily smashed by the Mongol military formations, who were themselves only recent adopters of full-blown nomadism, having left a partially hunter-gatherer lifestyle on the Siberian fringe recollected in the insults hurled against them by their enemies. Finally, the descendants of Genghis Khan were assimilated into the Manchu Empire through promises of status and security, and turned against the more barbaric and militarily vital Oyrat Mongols of the Dzunghar Confederacy, who were not Genghisides, and were reputed to be more “raw” than the eastern Khalkha.

As the German military bands arrived on the British scene they certainly did confront a Romano-British elite, as remembered in the legends of King Arthur. But the existence of Brittany indicates that many of these individuals may not have been inclined to stand and fight, because they had other options. Like the German peasants of the east abandoned by their military elites, the British peasants, whether Latin or Celtic speaking, may have had no armed defenders who exhibited cultural solidarity with their folkways. An analogy here may be made to many Christian notables who fled the Islamic conquests for the Byzantine Empire, which offered them opportunity without abandoning their cultural identity as Christians. The emperor Leo the III may have been from such stock.

And yet as noted by Mark Thomas, and reiterated by the large genetic footprint of Turks and Mongols in Central Asia, an elite male lineage can have an outsized impact over the medium term because of reproductive differences across classes. In the modern developed world on average the highest fertilities are correlated with lower socioeconomic status. This seems to not have been the case in the pre-modern world, where those who were more prosperous tended to be more well fed, and so more likely to survive diseases. Note that despite the fact that ~1/3 of the European population reputedly died during the Black Death, only one reigning monarch seems to have succumbed. The medieval mind may have attributed this to divine providence, but it was probably more a function of higher nutritional levels which very elite individuals could take for granted.

So why am I being so long-winded in this post? Because when I write about a lot of issues I explore here I really don’t explicitly expose you or myself to the internal calculations which I’m implicitly running to evaluate probabilities. Part of it this simply that I don’t have conscious access to a lot of the internal cognitive logic, but in this case I can touch upon issues and the dynamics which are always on my mind, because it’s rather cut & cried.

To me the collapse of Christianity among Britons makes sense only if all elite Christian institutions disappeared, in particular the sub-elites which would have patronized the local parish structures from the Roman period. It looks like that without such elite instruction the illiterate rural peasantry has a bias toward reverting to common universal pagan superstitions. One can see ethnographic evidence of this from Protestant European nations, which took a greater detailed interest in the 18th century of these instances of religious devolution and heresy which tended to crop up when there was at least one generation of lack of pastoral oversight. A newly, and perhaps nominally, Christianized population in the British countryside may easily have acceded to the gods of the Germans because their understanding of Christianity may have been little different from German paganism on the conscious level (I would argue that this was the universal case among peasants before the Reformations, Protestant and Catholic, and the spread of literacy). From what I have read on the transition of English peasants to Protestantism in the 16th century is that the major counter-response to the Reformation generally occurred when the pageantry and pomp associated with late medieval religion was stripped away by Puritan Reformers. The nominal switch of institutional allegiance from Rome to the monarch was of little concern to the subsistence farmer.

So we need to differentiate between the more coherent sense of national or ethnic identity which was existent as far back as antiquity among elites, to the more local self-conception of subsistence farmers. The dissolution of Christianity can then be explained by the institutional collapse combined with the novelty of the religion even during the 5th century (Rome itself was a pagan stronghold as late as 400 A.D., Christianity having deeper roots in the Eastern Mediterranean). Here you can make an analogy with what occurred to Zoroastrianism in Iran.

So can an elite emulation model explain the de-Christianization and Germanization of 6th century Britian? I think it could, but, we need to add in a few extra parameters to our model. From above we know that in a pre-modern environment elites, especially elite males, have higher fertility and reproductive value. A relatively small and coherent German military class could quickly have an outsized genetic and demographic impact. From what I can gather the German tribes at this period practiced partible inheritance, which would have pushed the elites outward to expand their domains. The example of Latin America shows the power of consistent male migration and polygny in changing the genetic landscape of a region.

Finally, we need to go back to the insight that structures above the level of the individual matter. If Peter Heather is correct it seems plausible that the German warrior bands arrived with women. This would have preserved German culture in a relatively pure form for several generations. Here we need to go to the Turkish example: it seems that a great number of Rumelian (Balkan) Turks may have been Islamicized Slavs and Albanians who shifted to a Turkish identity. This is classic elite emulation, as an ethnic and religious change were necessary for social advancement. But, this occurred centuries after the initial admixture of coherent Turkish tribes in Anatolia with the local substrate. By the time time that the Balkans were conquered a relatively undiluted Turkic identity existed in Anatolia into which one could assimilate.

Back to the Anglo-Saxon case, what may have occurred is that a relatively unadmixed German population was rooted on the old Saxon Shore. This population recreated in totality the folkways of northern Germany. With the evacuation and emigration of the Romano-British elites to the greener pastures of the continent this German warrior caste may have expanded outward in the 6th century, and then started to absorb the remnant British elites as well as the majority peasant population into its cultural complex. In other words, for Germanization to proceed in the fashion in which it did proceed one needed a relatively pure “anchor” group into which others could assimilate. This does not seem to be likely if the German conquest was a matter of a few tens of thousands of men. If that was the case, what probably would have occurred was what did happen with the Mongols in Central Asia and on the plains north of the Black and Caspian Seas: they would have been absorbed in all but name into the substrate.

If my model is correct then the majority of the ancestry of the people in some eastern English localities should cluster with Frisians, while very little of the ancestry of English people in regions like Devon may be German at all. As I have noted before the two parental populations are rather close, and we have the confounds of migrations before and after this admixture event. Hopefully with large data sets of British and German males we can get a sense of the mutational landscape with enough depth and precision to resolve the relationship of some of these lineages.

Update: If you’re read this far, please see this very interesting response/reaction from Brown Pundits.

* I am aware that most Hindus are monistic.

** To be clear, I think there are reasons that the “god of the philosophers” has become culturally hegemonic across the world. But I don’t think that that reason has much to do with innate individual psychology. Stark operates with on a “rational actor” model in mind, so it makes sense why he’d try to frame in such a manner. But it’s kind of like trying to build biochemistry on alchemy. The lower units of organization are not coherent.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
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Quite often rather amusing articles which operate in the malleable zone between genetics and nationalism pop into my RSS feed (thanks to google query alerts). But this piece from Spiegel Online article, Britain Is More Germanic than It Thinks, actually appeals to some legitimate research in making a tongue-in-cheek nationalistic argument that the affinity between the Germans and the English is stronger than the latter would wish to admit. The article starts out with the interesting nationalist back story:

Until now, the so-called Minimalists have set the tone in British archeology. They believe in what they call an “elite transfer”, in which a small caste of Germanic noble warriors, perhaps a few thousand, placed themselves at the top of society in a coup of sorts, and eventually even displaced the Celtic language with their own. Many contemporary Britons, not overly keen on having such a close kinship with the Continent, like this scenario.

Thomas Sheppard, a museum curator, discovered this sentiment almost a century ago. In 1919, officers asked for his assistance after they accidentally discovered the roughly 1,500-year-old grave of an Anglo-Saxon woman while digging trenches in eastern England.

Sheppard concluded that the woman’s bleached bones came from “conquerors from Germany” and announced: “These are our ancestors!” But the soldiers were thunderstruck. At first they cursed and refused to believe that they were related to the “Huns.” But then the mood darkened. The trip back to the barracks “was like a funeral procession,” Sheppard wrote.

It is a coincidence which must be acknowledged that the vogue for Germanophilia amongst the English corresponds neatly to the decades when Irish nationalism waxed in the face of British imperial domination. And that Germanophilia naturally abated with the two World Wars. In lieu of the vision of Saxons, Angles, and Jutes, driving the Celtic British into the sea, Germanization was conceived as a process where an elite band of warriors imposed their culture atop a fundamentally pre-German substrate. This model is reflected in the historical scholarship, for example Norman Davies’ The Isles, as well as the genetics treatments, most prominently Bryan Sykes’ The Blood of the Isles.

In terms of the history, we have to make due with archaeology and the rather thin texts of the Celts. From what I can gather the archaeology does imply a rapid shift in material technology and symbolic aspects of culture such as burial customs on the Saxon Shore. Linguistically the modern English language owes very little to the Celtic dialects. Finally, the Christian Church seems to have disappeared across much of the zone of expanding German territory, only to be re-planted in the early 7th century by Irish & Scottish missionaries, followed up by those from the European mainland. In the Spiegel Online piece an archaeologist quotes a number of “200,000″ for total migration for about a century, presumably inferring from the quantity of material remains, and what that implies about the numbers within the settlements which are indubitably German.

There are a few objections which crop up. Some scholars, such as Stephen Oppenheimer, argue that German speech was already common before the Roman conquest within the boundaries of England. Very few accept this position. A more mainstream argument is that like Gaul and Iberia much of Britain had been Latinized by the time of the German conquest. Because of their geographic isolation Cornwall, Scotland, and Wales, were the areas most insulated from both the German expansion and the dynamic of Latinization. Finally, some scholars have suggested that the outsiders get too much of the credit for the resurrection of the Christian Church in 7th century England, that an indigenous Christian culture persisted over the century of the British “Dark Ages” before the conversion of the Saxons.

The problem with each of these arguments is that they don’t cohere together very well. If Latin was the dominant language in Britain proper (i.e., outside of the “Celtic Fringe”) that begs the question why the Germans were not assimilated in Britain as they were in France and Iberia. Unlike the Saxons, Angles, and Jutes, the Frankish Empire was explicitly bicultural in that it spanned both Latinate Gaul and Germania. And yet the Franks who settled in Francia invariably adopted Latin and what later became French as their language. Additionally, Britain was one of only two regions of the Roman Empire where both the imperial languages (Latin and Greek) and the Christian Church disappeared with the barbarian invasion. The Balkans was the other zone.

Overall there is a sense that in Britain in the 6th century there was a massive cultural rupture, the extent of which is unparalleled in the post-Roman world before the rise of Islam except for perhaps in the Balkans with the migrations of the Slavs. Can just a rapid transition have been occurred without much demographic disruption? I doubt it. Such rapid language shift unaccompanied by wholesale absorption of indigenous lexicon seems rather peculiar if it was a matter of elite emulation. Additionally, shifting a society from an institutional religion back toward tribal paganism, as occurred in Britain, seems to also be implausible. There are certainly cases of Christians in Northern Europe becoming pagan, but these are almost always instances where individuals have “gone native” and assimilated into a different cultural norm from the one which they are raised. These individuals exist in isolation, and generally do not operate in mass action (the main exception to this are recently paganized peoples, where the populace generally wears its Christianity lightly, and reverts back to the old religion if given the chance or if the elite pressure is removed and reversed).

Sykes himself it in his work does acknowledge that in particular in the Y chromosomal lineages, the male line, that there is evidence of a German imprinting in much of eastern England, and to some extent as well as in the Danelaw. This may not be the dominant component, but it is significant. The genomics today could now rather easily test models of genetic relatedness across these populations, but to my knowledge there hasn’t been a thick-marker autosomal exploration of these issues with these populations in mind. Here are two edited figures from Geography mirror geography within Europe, and Correlation between genetic and geographic structure within Europe. The two dimensions just represent the largest components of variation within the data set, and you see labeled the “centers” of the distribution for each group in the national samples.

I don’t know if you can really conclude anything from these results. It’s kind of hard to track down the geographical origin of some of the national samples, but note the difference between northern (Kiel) and central-south (Augsburg) Germany in the second sample. To test the proposition of the German impact on the genetic heritage of the English, or vice versa, the non-German impact on the genetic heritage of the English, you need some reference populations, and also a fine-grained geographic coverage of the whole circum-North Sea zone, along with other areas of interest such as Ireland, greater Germany, Brittany, etc. These results use a huge European pooled data set, and you don’t really need to flesh out of the Spain vs. northern Europe axis, or the Finland vs. non-Finland axis, for the questions being addressed here. In terms of the reference populations, northern Europe is a pretty good place to get ancient DNA. At the very short time scales we’re talking about it seems that it would be feasible to aim for autosomal DNA, not just copious mtDNA. But even with present populations you could use the Cornish, who were not truly conquered by the English, so much as co-opted by the English state-system, as references for the Britons of yore. And the various north German and Frisian populations for the Saxons. But it would be very critical to sample a lot of England, and not just a London group, which might mix and match lots of regional diversity.

Going back to the Germanness of the modern English, I believe that the majority of the ancestry of the native British does pre-date the Saxon period. But, that assertion has a major caveat insofar as there seems to be a lot of variation within the British Isles. East Anglia in particular may be the exception to the general rule, as that is where the Germans landed with force. But if the majority of the ancestry of modern Britons does not derive from Germans, how could the German culture be so powerful in language and religion? I think Peter Heather’s Empires and Barbarians tells the specific part of the story, and a broader theoretical understanding of how cultures might spread in some circumstances tells a more general one. Heather argues that the German invasions of the post-Roman period were “folk wanderings,” whereby men brought their women and children, to recreate their old societies anew in the post-Roman landscape. This is in contradiction to some historians who posit that the German “hordes” were actually only a small number of warriors, often with a ethnic and national identity created ad hoc to generate a fictive bond. If the Saxon hordes really were whole societies, villages that is, of Saxons transplanted to the British landscape that explains the the massive cultural disruption. The Saxon warriors were not taking native British wives, who might expose their offspring to Christianity, and terms which would result in the bleeding over into Old English of many terms of Celtic or Latin provenance. At least in the initial generations.

Eventually the English began to push the frontier between Briton and German outward. At this point the Germans began absorbing natives into their culture, but this was at a stage where the Germans were coherent, compact, and very efficient in collective action. This is in sharp contrast to a scenario where German warriors take native wives, and a hybrid society with mixed values develops early on. Because of the sensitivity to initial conditions it was essential that the Germans have brought their wives, to recapitulate in near totality their original culture. As they began to expand they overturned the local institutions, and at that point as a well established native ethnos they began to assimilate defectors from the local order at all levels of society, and conceded very little to these individuals because of the integrity of their own cultural complex. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that the House of Wessex itself has some pre-German origins, making it all the more interesting that this family also claimed mythical descent from the German god Woden!

In sum, more genetic research in this area has to be done. But, I think one insight that will emerge is that we have to recall that in many cases ethnogenesis and cultural turnover is a matter of collective action and group mobilization, less than mass action and force of numbers. In this way the Germanization of the British landscape may have more in common with the Latinization of Western Europe than not.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
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tonee Peter Heather’s new book, Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe, exhibits none of the minor faults which I noted in Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. Heather manages to robustly balance the need for both breadth and depth, and I would even offer that this semi-sequel to his previous book, The Fall of the Roman Empire, is a superior piece of scholarship in relation to its predecessor (if a bit less compelling as narrative because of the weighting toward archaeology as opposed to literary sources). The author reports that he’s been working for 15 years on Empires and Barbarians, and it shows in the wide spread of sources and multidisciplinary nature of the argument. And that argument is in short an overturning the post-World War II orthodoxy among archaeologists, and a lesser extent historians, that cultural evolution occurs overwhelmingly through a process of the diffusion of memes, and is rarely accompanied by the flow or replacement of genes. This model is a counterpoint to the pre-World War II conception of the shift of language being a consequence of the shift of nations; ergo, it was once presumed that the rise of the English and the fall of the Celtic British occurred via the driving out of the latter by the former toward the maritime fringes of Wales and Cornwall. After World War II the sources were reinterpreted so that the Anglo-Saxon tribes were refashioned into very small compact bands of warriors who toppled the old Roman-British elite, and imposed their own language and cultural forms on the local populace (Norman Davies’ takes this model as the default in The Isles). If this was the outlook when it came to Britain, which became England and witnessed the extinction of the Celtic and Latin languages as well as the Christian religion with the arrival of the Germans, then naturally an even more skeptical take on mass migration would hold for the post-Roman German states of the Franks, Visigoths and Lombards who had a far more marginal cultural affect on the local Roman population (in late antiquity and the early Dark Ages the sources distinguish between the indigenous Romans and the various Germanic tribes decades after the fall of the Western Empire). In Empires and Barbarians Peter Heather reiterates that the view that the German tribes replacing the Roman era populations is false. But, he also objects strongly to the post-World War II consensus which would tend to minimize the extent of migration, population movement, and demographic displacement. In short, Heather wishes to rehabilitate the Völkerwanderung.

800px-Invasions_of_the_RomaIn previous posts I have outlined a theoretical framework which implies non-trivial migration of peoples, so I am amenable to Heather’s revisionism. In fact, I was a bit surprised that Heather outlines a process very similar to what I envisage in its broad sociohistorical parameters, though his knowledge of the particular instantiations of the general processes in the context of post-Roman Central Europe naturally surpasses what little I knew. But before I get to that, I would like to enter into the record a major objection I have to the argument in Empires and Barbarians. Many times within the text Peter Heather contends that the centuries long linguistic continuity of particular Germanic tribes, for instance the Burgundians, necessarily entails that the barbarians had to have brought women on their migrations. He marshals plenty of other literary and archaeological data to support this contention. For example, literary sources and analysis of burial grounds of the Goths from this period in the Balkans attest to the existence of a wagon train of women (and children) who followed the barbarian warbands along the Roman roads. But the argument from linguistics seems very weak. We have copious cases where native-speaking women are not necessary, at least in preponderance, to perpetuate a language. Heather gives one example within the text itself, he notes that the current data seem to imply that the majority of the women whom the Norse brought to Iceland were not of Norse origin. Rather, they were likely to be Irish to British. And yet no one doubts Icelandic’s Scandinavian affinity as a language. Similarly, across much of Latin America the vast majority of the population derives from the unions of Spanish men with indigenous women. The offspring, and the societies they created, are Spanish-speaking (excluding the Guarani bilingualism in Paraguay). Someone with a better grasp of the details of sociolinguistics can enlighten us on the exact details of how language is transmitted, but I’m rather sure that women are not a necessary precondition for linguistic continuity. In fact, parts of Latin America, such as Argentina, offer up an example where a continuous flow of men could have resulted in a post-Roman Germanic society where most of the ancestry was German, even if all the female ancestors during the founding generation were Romans (Heather observes that in some cases such as England and northern Gaul it looks as if there was a continuous migration of Germans for decades, if not centuries).

But that is a minor quibble in a book which is dense with data and rich with analysis. Heather’s argument is eminently reasonable and moderate. Many of the more extreme advocates of a post-modern understanding of ancient tribal identity presume that groups such as the “Goths” could emerge almost spontaneously from a welter of infinitely diverse populations (you know someone has lots of method but little knowledge when they constantly use quotations around the most banal and unproblematic terms). Examples of Roman senators raising their sons wearing trousers and speaking in Gothic can be offered up as the norm, so that a Gothic elite could emerge from the local population almost immediately. All that was required was a tiny elite of warriors to trigger the emulation from below. In this way cultural forms of the Vandals, Goths, and Anglo-Saxons swept across Europe with only trivial flows of people. It also dovetails with the revision that the Roman Empire did not fall, that it was not invaded, rather, it evolved and transformed. Heather is not convinced that the persistence of tribal identities such as that of the Goths for centuries in an environment where they were heavily outnumbered by Latin speaking natives could have persisted if their original identity was so tenuous, fluid and open. Rather, he seems to argue that there was an ethic core, to which some could assimilate, but which had at its heart an original demographic pulse from Central Europe. I find this persuasive because I have become convinced that cultural ideas move across societies far less quickly, at least in the pre-modern past, than we had long assumed. The Goths and other barbarians brought a suite of particular, distinctive, linguistic, religious and sartorial characteristics as an integrated unit, and persisted in their distinctiveness for generations, and sometimes centuries. In the post-Roman world of continental Western Europe they were eventually assimilated by the Roman substrate, and I see little evidence of their genetic impact. They were truly dwarfed by the local populations, but that can remain true even if a whole Central European tribe moves en masse into the Roman Empire. A tribe of 50,000 is a drop in the bucket demographically in many Roman provinces, but if 10,000 of those were men under arms, in the late Roman period this entailed significant capability of projecting and enforcing force. In Britain the case is somewhat different, there are genetic data which imply that some substantial replacement did occur, in particular on the “Saxon Shore.” These data are perfectly understandable when one considers the near total abolition of Romano-British norms and forms from the lowlands of what became England by the 7th century, at sharp variance with the dominance of Romanitas among the Franks, Lombards and Visigoths.

To me the falsity of the post-World War II archaeological consensus in the case of the fall of Roman Empire is so probable that Heather’s debunking is not of particular interest. Rather, I was more curious as to the underlying rationale or causes he provides of the migration. His argument is complex and multi-layered, but one aspect which I found congenial was his contention that the relatively low intensity form of agriculture practiced in German Central Europe did not produce sufficient surplus to satisfy the demand for luxury goods by the free class of German males. The taste for luxury goods emerged due to proximity to the Roman Empire, which exported them in return for region-specific luxuries (amber) or commodities. The migration of adventurers and soldiers from beyond the limes into the Roman Empire, often in military service, predates the barbarian migrations. Rather, Heather argues that the push of the Huns in the late 4rd and early 5th century, combined with the economic pull of the wealth of the Roman Empire, caused mass simultaneous movement of warrior elites from the German heartland during this period. A movement of peoples, not a band of brothers. While the Roman state could have handled one or two tribes, as it had in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the simultaneous push from the mouth of the Rhine down to the mouth of the Danube was too much. Though some of the German groups were defeated, others were not, and once the initial breakthrough occurred there was a positive feedback loop as other tribes rushed in to take advantage of the weakness of the Empire.

The selective migration of warrior elites and their families during this period had major long-term effects. Heather suggests that it was during this period that one saw the transition of much of East-Central Europe, from Poland down to Bohemia and the north Balkans, from being one of Germanic speech to Slavic speech. German peasants no doubt remained after the emigration of their elites after the collapse of the Roman limes. And Heather does not believe they were exterminated, rather, he points to literary and archaeological evidence which suggest that there was a set of norms among Slavic migratory bands to absorb and assimilate other marginalized groups (interestingly, this was definitely the case with the Russian expansion into Siberia, where many Muslim Turkic groups were absorbed into a Russian Orthodox identity and became Cossacks). Heather implies that part of the Slavic expansion was fueled by a change in mode of production, a switch to more intensive farming techniques which produced population growth and demic diffusion in all directions, in particular toward Poland and the Baltic more generally. Because of the relative lack of literary evidence this section of the book is not totally persuasive, but the fact remains that much of what was German in 500 was Slavic in 1000.

Empires and Barbarians concludes at the year 1000. By this time intensive farming and urban civilization, at least in fragments, had reached most of Europe. Local elites were no longer transitory in their expectations, so a mass migration of a whole ethnic group was no longer in anyone’s interest (much to gain, but much to lose!). The non-Mediterranean farming system of three-fields, as well as improved plowing technologies, had shifted the demographic center of gravity north. Extreme gradients of elite wealth and social complexity which had characterized the Europe of the Pax Romana were no longer operative. Without gradients there would naturally be less flow. The great chaotic demographic transient between the rise of Rome and the emergence of medieval Europe was over.

Note: Empires of the Silk Road and The Horse, the Wheel, and Language are excellent complements to Empires and Barbarians .

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(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
• Category: History, Science • Tags: Barbarians 
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