Wednesday, 10 February 2010

So who exactly are we? part 3

Britain was settling into a nice (ish) peaceful (ish) time of farming and small village communities. The "new" religion of Christianity was prevalent in almost all of the country of England, Ireland and Scotland (although some small pockets of the old religion flourished in more rural and isolated parts).

Of course there were wars between different groups within the country, but on the whole, it wasnt too bad a place to be.

Until in the 8th Century, bands of fierce raiders began to attack our coasts. They were the Vikings (or Norsemen).

Sorry about this - but does anyone else instantly think of Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis whenever anyone says "The Vikings"? Plus Im now humming the theme tune trying to write this hahaha

They came across the North Sea, just as the Anglo-Saxons had done 400 years earlier. Vikings is a generic term we use for them, but they were from 3 separate Scandinavian countries: Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

"From the fury of the Northmen deliver us, O Lord."

The first place the Vikings attacked in Britain was the monastery at Lindisfarne, a holy island situated off the Northumberland coast in the north east of England. A few years later the island of Iona (off the west coast of Scotland), came under attack and its monks were slaughtered.

Soon no region of the British Isles was safe from the Vikings. They attacked villages and towns in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man and England.

No matter how many times the Vikings were beaten, they always came back.

The last of the Picts appear to have vanished some time after the Viking invasions of Northern Scotland. Were they wiped out? Or did they just become swallowed up and inter-marry with the new rulers of their homelands? Possibly some clue can be gathered from the town names in places like Shetland and Orkney. They are mainly of Norse or possible even Celtic origin. There appear to be no remaining town or settlement names that sound remotely like anything else....which could indicate mass extermination of the race of Picts.

I only say this because if you look at places such as Australia, there are still many places with Aboriginal names because the Aboriginal people are still there. But in places like Tasmania, where the indiginous population was virtually wiped out, there are very very few.

Just a theory, but maybe the right one????

So a very few lucky people living today on these islands could have some trace of Pictish ancestry - but as we have no genetic markers to compare this against (at least not yet) I guess that whole point is just hyperthetical for the forseeable future.

There is no doubt that the Vikings slaughtered a whole lot of Anglo-Saxons, Celts, and the decendants of the Romans, but they didnt kill everybody.

Why not? Well there are indications that there was a pretty strong slave trade going on between Scandinavia and the British Isles. Very profitable! And also, how do new rulers build their empires and armies? On taxes and tithes - and you need people to work the land if you want to fill your coffers.

But they didnt defeat the entire country. Saxons still retained a strong hold in the south and so the country was divided into two.The area eventually settled by Vikings was called the Danelaw. It formed a boundary separating Anglo-Saxon England from Viking England and was defined in a treaty between the English King Alfred and Viking King Guthrum in 880 A.D. It lay north of Watling Street (a Roman road running from London north-west to Chester) and covered northern and eastern England. It included counties north of an imaginary line running from London to Bedford and then up to Chester.

We can tell where the Vikings settled by place names of towns and villages today. Some of the names of places in Britain are made up of Viking words.

Place names ending in –by eg. Derby, Rugby, Whitby, Selby, Grimsby
–by meant farm or homestead (village). These places mark the earliest Viking settlements.

Derby - A village where deer are found

Place names ending in –thorpe (or -thorp, -throp or –trop) eg. Scunthorpe and Grimethorpe-thorpe meant farms.

Place names ending in –toft or-tofts.
A -toft referred to the site of a house or a plot of land.

Some other lasting legacies of our Viking ancestors (or not if you still think you're not a mongrel at the moment)

The Vikings left their imprint on the island in many ways: in government, legal procedures, language, and even arithmetic.

They transmitted to the English with whom they dwelt, among other things, their duodecimal system (counting in twelves instead of tens); therefore, establishing to this day the marketing unit of a dozen, the measuring formula of 12 inches to a foot, the monetary equation of 12 pence to a shilling, and the legal entity of a jury of "12 good men and true".

Maybe they weren't THAT barbaric after all?

And another little snippet before I leave part 3........ Today all the multitudes of familiar English and American patronymic ending in son; such as Jackson, Robertson, Thompson, Stevenson, Johnson, etc. clearly manifest their Scandinavian origin.

But dont relax just yet, as I have more to add before we can try and figure out exactly WHO or rather WHAT we are !


  1. You are making our history very interesting and accessible. It certainly beats Henry V11's foreign policy which featured on both my O and A level courses!

  2. I remember actually falling asleep in an A level history lecture on the 100 years war when I was at Notre Dame. Luckily it was Miss Edmonson giving it, rather than Sister Jennifer, or Id have probably been made to stand in a corner (at 18yrs old may I add) for an hour :-). They made history so boring at school and college - and even though I have a natural love of it, I hated every single one of those lessons. You have to make it fun and concise if anyone is ever going to take it in, or want to learn more. Well, in my humble opinion anyway.

  3. I don't know about your Tasmanian name theory.
    First, the genocide of Tassie Aboriginals was no where near as complete as generally believed (I've known number of Tassie Aboriginals myself).
    Second, Aboriginal people were as effectively removed from most of mainland Oz, either by genocide or by the less direct method of confining them to missions (a practice that did not end until the 1970s in some states).
    I think the name thing comes from when an area was settled. Places settled early generally went for UK names and Tassie was settled early. Places that were settled later were more likely to retain their Aboriginal names. I think the early settlers simply got more used to the local names.
    Also we just began to run out of UK placenames to use. After all how many Richmonds (no less than four in the country) can you put up with?

  4. Hey Al, thanks for that. I was working off some studies we did of the continuation of place names when one culture absorbs another. Inter-marrying, co-existing, or paying respects to previous leaders or "famous" local heroes/legends, all generally lead to usage - or at the very least bastardisation - of an indiginous place name. And I suppose even aborigials confined to missions have still got the ability to influence place names, as they will call them by the name they have always known them by, and the settlers just slip back into using them too????
    Tasmania was one of the places that was highlighted when I began getting really involved in the whole culture of the British Isles, and comparisons between Pictland (as was) and other colonised countries. So I'm always very glad when one theory is questioned, as that now gives me yet another excuse to look for where my precious Picts went :-)


Thank you very much for taking the time to comment on my waffle. I'll reply when Im next online.