How old is English?



What is written in this section, the reconstruction of the 5th century, is easy to reject. The simple fact is that we have very little good information. There are almost no contemporary sources. Most texts were written much later and are neither precise nor clear.

Those sources (Gildas, Bede, Nennius, and later authors) sometimes contradict each other. The later the source, the more hear saying, myths and legends.

So, this reconstruction can be dismissed as unproven. But, please bear in mind that the quantity of proofs will not dramatically increase. So, the reader has a choice: or to say "no proof, so not true", or to consider this reconstruction as a good possibility to fill in the gaps. I remind the reader that the official interpretation of the events of the 5th century has the very same disadvantage: "no proof". But it has the advantage to be official...

[1] I'll demonstrate later that the word 'mercenary' does not reflect the reality.

Soldiers and Statistics

Historians have made statistics for all periods, all civilizations about the percentage of soldiers within a population. They came with the estimation that professional soldiers represent in general no more than 0,5% up to 1,5% of the total local population or tribe. A militia represents something between 5% up to 10% of the total population. The real figures depend upon a number of factors like a warrior tradition, social and administrative organization (to mobilize the men), the perception of danger, the availability of money. 10% is considered to be the upper limit.
In Western Europe, a militia, rounded up for a first battle, represents in general some 7% of the total population. When the war lasts longer, new mobilizations (general conscription) are organized and the 10% max. can be reached. Beyond that 10% the quality of the troops degrades rapidly.
1 professional soldier is worth 2 militia men. As modern Britain has about 60 million inhabitants, the British professional army should count between 300 000 up to 600 000 men (0.5%-1%), navy and airforce included.

[2] Given the very limited area where the Angles originally lived in, I estimate the total population at less than 50000. Derived from that number, the fully trained professional soldiers in the region could not exceed 500 men. They were policemen at the service of local rich landowners and politicians (called 'kings') when no war was at hand. The technical word for this occupation is housecarl. Only those who became unemployed would migrate to Britain. The proposed figure of available men is 10%, or some 50 out of 500. So, in theory, the east and north of England was conquered by no more than 'a few dozen men' !


Considering Anglo-Saxon migrations

Limited quantities

Until the early 20th century, historians had the idea that millions of barbarians migrated to the south at the end of the Roman Empire. More recently, that image changed. Today, most historians agree that no more than 350 000 up to 500 000 people migrated during the period of the ‘great migrations’.

That figure must be compared with the estimation of the total population of the total Roman Empire during its the last days: 50 million people, 30 million of them would live in the West. 96 % of them were farmers. So, half a million people would immigrate, or 2% of the local population at the utmost, and spread over a period of at least 150 years. This means an average of 5000 men, women and children per year, or 20 per day for the whole Western Empire! This percentage is not comparable with present day immigration. Today, immigration percentage is greater.

Travelling always was expensive. So, migrating people (called tribes) moved in large groups, wagon trails. To be able to supply themselves with food, they plundered the neighbourhoods when they passed. It is a myth that the Romans forbade immigration into the Empire. In fact, everybody was welcome into the Empire, as an individual or as a family and as a new taxpayer. Plundering groups were however not welcome for obvious reasons.

The surprisingly low migration rate is also valid for the Anglo-Saxons migrations into Britain.

For a calculation of the population of Britain in AD 428 click here

Estimation is that Britain had some 4 million inhabitants in AD 410. At least 2.7 million lived east of the Pennines. We know that Anglo-Saxons were invited in Britain as 'mercenaries'[1] even before the fall of the Roman Empire. And that they were still coming 150 years later. In reality, the total migration represented probably no more than 35 000 up to 50 000 men, women and children, although the majority must have been young men. The Anglo-Saxons came over 4 or 5 generations.

Therefore, we must divide the total by 4 or 5 to have a more precise idea about the real percentage of the Anglo-Saxons part of the local population at any time during that period. The equation (50 000 / 4 = 12 500 Anglo-Saxons per generation. 2 700 000 locals / 12 500 A-S *100=0,46%) gives us a continuous max. between 0,25% up to 0,46%. This percentage can be compared with the ‘classic’ 0,5-1,5 % percentage for professional soldiers.

So, the Anglo-Saxons must have represented no more than half of the professional soldier quantity in Britain, which is consistent with the new version of the events during the 5th century that I will develop next.

The number of North-Germans in Britain was way too small to have any impact upon the local language. Dr. Oppenheimer confirms that unambiguous North-German genetic markers are almost absent in modern Britain.

The idea of a possible half a million invading Anglo-Saxons is unlikely considering the fact that they had to come by small boats from deep within Germany. The number and size of the ships to perform such an operation would have exceeded 'Operation Dynamo’ (the Dunkirk-Dover evacuation of the British Army end May 1940). Technically, only a slow and continuous 'migration' was possible. This influx could therefore have been stopped easily by local Britons.

Recent scientific publications adopt the idea that the Anglo-Saxons had not an overwhelming power upon the local population. The main reason is very simple: the Anglo-Saxons had not enough people to do so. This gives us a important clue that the Anglo-Saxons had to keep the local population on their side. They simply were unable to cope with a mayor rebellion, a general upraise.

north Germany

The Fries lived amongst Angles and Saxons. The zones on the picture are approximate. The etymology of 'Angle' is 'narrow region', related to 'angle' (hook) [2].

Available men

How much Anglo-Saxons were available for Britain? The region they came from must have had some 0,7 - 1 million inhabitants. Extract 1 % professional soldiers = 7000 - 10000 men. Most of them already had work, were at the service of local 'kings' (see the Finnesburgh fragment). Britain needed experienced soldiers the most. So, we can estimate that 10% or an average of about 700 men were available, and possibly came over. The renewal of this 'source' was slow as a long training was necessary and people died young. The occupation of soldiery always was hazardous. 500 men maximum per year is the best estimation, 300 is more realistic.
The Romans actively recruited for their army. There are many examples of the fact that they sometimes compelled people to join the legions. The Britons had no other choice but to 'invite' soldiers passively. As Britain needed an estimated 2 legions or 10 000 men to defend itself, the whole operation 'Come and Join Us' needed 20 years at least, and at best. 30 years is closer to reality. Thirty years later, this Anglo-Saxon force represented 0,27% of the British population.
Compare: The size of the American Army in Iraq during the war represented some 1 % of the population, but they were unable to maintain law and order in the country. In fact, they were lucky that the Iraqi targeted primarily each other.

Gildas suggested strongly that the Anglo-Saxons were far from popular. But he lied. He hated the Anglo-Saxons for a reason unknown to us and portrayed them as terrible, devilish, bloodthirsty, brutal, uncivilised, pagans, you name it. Thing is that later historians believed him. Mind you: Gildas gave no serious facts in support of his condemnation of the Anglo-Saxons.

Reasoning further, it becomes clear that the late date of the Adventus Saxonum (AD 446 - proposed by Bede) is unlikely. The rebellion happened just a few years later. This implies that no more than 1500 Anglo-Saxons, at best, took over the country. This is hard to believe. The early date (428) is more realistic. But a take over was only possible by means of a concerted action. Only a strong concentration of Anglo-Saxons could have achieved the 'conquest'. Striking is that no early source mentions such a coordinated, central lead action. In fact, they relate a very chaotic series of events. Only the very late sources (Historia Britonum, Anglo-Saxon chronicle) mention some battles in Kent. Something similar in the rest of the country was not reported. There is also no sign that the Anglo-Saxons used Kent as a base for ensuing conquests.