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Who are the true Britons?

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message 1: by Old-Barbarossa (new)

Old-Barbarossa Tough question. We can only really go by written Hx which starts with, amongst others, Romans (like Tacitus) and later assorted monastic annals.
South of the Forth/Clyde valleys (a wee bit North of the wall), which provided a natural barrier, were the Britons who it is thought spoke a language (or group of languages, termed Brythonic) that evolved into Welsh. North of this were the Caledonian people who probably were the same as the Picts, their language is unknown, possible a style of Brythonic tongue.
Ireland was populated by folk that spoke a Goidelic language which became Gaelic.
The origins of these people are anyone's guess. The Irish have a bunch of legends collected in a manuscript called The Book Of Invasions, they mix legends with probable invasions from continental Europe and Scandinavia by sea raiders.
Anyway...
Some Romans came over and stayed for a while, only wandered up so far then built a wall.
The Scots (a tribe from Ulster in Ireland) nipped over to the West of what is now (strangely enough) Scotland.
A bunch of Germanic speaking tribes sauntered over from mainland Europe and started to settle in East Anglia and their culture started to spread throughout mainland Britain.
Some Scandinavians settled on a bunch of the islands round the coasts and then gained toe holds on the mainlands of Britain and Ireland (significantly York and Dublin).
This is a fairly simple view of a complex time when people swept across Europe in waves.
In summary: probably the Welsh were the true Britons on the mainland, but their language and culture was pushed from most of the country into the area that is now Wales and Cornwall (Welsh and Cornish having the same roots).
A similar story happened to the Picts after the Scots invaded.
Ireland remained fairly untouched apart from the waves of Viking raiders and their settlement in Dublin.
But then it all changed when the Normans turned up...but that's a different story.


message 2: by Manuel (last edited Nov 02, 2008 02:26PM) (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments I remember hearing a story on the BBC about modern day Britons and who makes up that population today.

I was surprised to hear from a young teenaged ethnic Indian girl, living in Northern Ireland. Apparently her family had lived in London for several generations and her parents had only just recently moved to Belfast to open up a Curry Restaurant.

She considered herself British (her accent was very British) even though she got double-takes from Irish Unionists and Irish Nationalists, not to mention her older family members.


I suppose its something the British have had to face considering they planted their colonial flags on every continent on the planet.

A few years ago, there was a scandal because Hong Kong Chinese who held British passports would not automatically be accepted into Britain, after Hong Kong was handed over back to China. Ironically; Macao Chinese who held Portuguese passports were allowed to move to Portugal if they wished, theoretically as members of the EU, they would have been allowed to travel to Britain at will. (something their Hong Kong neighbors didnt have)



message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

In The Farfarers Before the Norse, Farley Mowat makes the farfetched claim that the Picts were the indigenous people of western France, who had moved to Scotland shortly before the Roman invasion. Still, if the Scots didn't always live in Scotland, maybe we shouldn't be too surprised if the Picts didn't either.


message 4: by Duntay (last edited Nov 02, 2008 04:02PM) (new)

Duntay It depends on how far back you want to go! Britain wasn't always an island. At the end of the last ice age,( about 12,000 years ago) what is now Britain was part of the European landmass. It was attached to what is now Northern Europe by Doggerland, the area called 'Dogger Bank' in the shipping forecasts which is still a big sandbank. Various bits and pieces dredged up from the North Sea would indicate human occupation until the Mesolithic until the seas rose again, about 8,000 years ago. So there was a lot of moving back and forth, especially as folk were hunters and gatherers.

People settled down and started farming in the Neolithic - about 6,000 years ago. Not overnight - it took a few thousand years to catch on. It used to be thought an influx of new people from the continent were the farmers, but now that DNA and stable isotopes can be looked at it seems like onlt a few people came, with new ideas. It is looking like a similiar story for the Bronze Age.

So there was a lot of going back and forth - sea travel has always been important, but there have also been quite a few people who stayed put : there is a 9,000 year old skeleton from Cheddar Gorge in Somerset known as "Cheddar Man". DNA tests have shown that a history teacher in the local school is his direct descendant.


message 5: by Duntay (new)

Duntay The Picts are generally accepted to be descendants of the indigenous Iron Age population and their origins probably go back to at least the Bronze Age. There is no reason to think otherwise at the moment.

The name "Picts" was given to them by late Roman authors - so technically there were no "Picts" before the Romans because they made up the name.

No one knows what they called themselves.



message 6: by Old-Barbarossa (new)

Old-Barbarossa Duntay good point about Cheddar Man...was he really made of cheese? (Sorry...)
Curse you and your reliance on scientific method and archeology...my linguistic and written source analysis fails again...pesky archeologists (I'm now taking off my Scooby Doo style Viking mask).
As the DNA shows, some invasions must have been largely cultural as opposed to military. A bit less genocide than the traditional view of the Anglosaxon conquest. With people emulating the powerful and adopting language and traditions...a Dark Ages "keeping up with the Jonses"...OK, maybe not Jonses, Hengests? Bloodaxes?
A modern equivalent would be someone in India speaking English and drinking Coke, this wouldn't make them English or American.


message 7: by Will (new)

Will Kester | 1047 comments This is certainly not my area of expertise. I thought the people were Angles, invaded by the Saxons and the Norms. The Romans called them all Picts. They were Druids. No? Okay, shows what I know, huh?


message 8: by Old-Barbarossa (new)

Old-Barbarossa Duntay, was it Cheddar Gorge where they found human bones that looked as though they had been split to get at the marrow? That had markings consistent with butchery?
Seem to remember it from an episode of Time Team.


message 9: by Duntay (new)

Duntay Yes - the museum there is actually called the "Cheddar Man and the Cannibals" museum!


message 10: by Old-Barbarossa (last edited Nov 03, 2008 11:39AM) (new)

Old-Barbarossa Speaking of cannibals, there's a restaurant called "Sawney Bean's" in Dumfries...don't think they serve long-pig though.
So was the Cheddar scenario ritual or subsistance/starvation cannibalism? Does anyone know? Suppose the number and types of bones would point at one or other?


message 11: by Duntay (new)

Duntay I don't think there is enough evidence of Mesolithic burials to know if it was burial ritual or not. The theories run from starvation cannibalism as you say to the local clan of "Sawney Bean" brigands rewarding their dogs.


message 12: by Max (new)

Max I suppose the question isn't the right one. In my opinion the question should be, is there something like essential true britons. Can't be, if we just historicize the population of the british island, how it's done here. Additionally we can claim, that "the britons" are just an "imagined community" which is an expression of sociocultural labelling in a specific historical context.
So one can argue, the britons in 950 are Anglo-Saxons with a large portion of celtic roman culture in them (compare for example Beda Venerabilis or the Beowulf tale) in 1100 Anglo-Saxon - Normans + ...


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