How old is English?


Co-hort: hortus = land. The literal translation is: fenced land, so: fenced part


Army officers come since thousands of years ago mainly out of middle and upper-class families. During the Roman period, this was not different. Aristocracy as a separate class didn’t exist (yet), so, all middle and upper-class people were richer farmers, and very rich farmers. Young Nervians from those social classes received from their parents a good education, including schooling. We speak about philosophy, rhetoric, literature, Roman law, etc., and of course the main living languages like Latin and maybe Greek. Some of those lads must have chosen for an military career. The long duration of existence of the Nervian cohorts proves that the Romans considered them to be reliable. Tacitus considered them as elite troops.

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Their real origin (1)

Franks were in the beginning (until the 4th century) for more than 80% northern Belgians (today: Flemish). They were former Nervians officers from within Nervian cohorts. After their pensioning, they established themselves on the other side (the German side) of the Rhine and started a business. A Roman officer could choose between land (a farm) or gold as a pension. Gradually their sons took over the business. Franks were mainly Belgian expatriates, mixed with people of other origins.

A cohort is normally a detachment of a legion, but external cohorts had been early on introduced. All members of such an external cohort belonged to the same ‘tribe’, including the officers. They were auxiliary troops. Tacitus estimated that the Nervian cohorts were more. According to him, they were elite troops. Each legion along the Rhine border (3 up to 5 depending upon the period) had its Nervian cohort. Other Nervian cohorts were stationed in Britain, along Hadrian’s Wall. In total, we know of at least 7 Nervian cohorts. One of them was a cavalry unit. All Nervians in the cohorts were trained by the Romans and wore a classic legionnaire uniform.

Roman officer in uniform
A Roman officer.
The efficient and practical coat of mail was continuously used until the Middle Ages.

An external cohort had between 500 and 1000 men. Beyond that, it was split. An exception were the cavalry cohorts. Horses require a lot of care and personnel. Cohorts within a legion had between 500 and 600 men. As a legion had 10 cohorts, a legion counted therefore between 5000 and 6000 men.

What was the importance of Nervian officers?

Their language skills would have been of great help for the Romans. As they spoke proto-Flemish, they must have understood the variant of German spoken in the Rhine region. As members of the Nervian upper-class, they were well educated people. They had learned Latin and probably also Gaul. The Roman Empire demanded import and export taxes on the Rhine border. This was an important source of income. Those taxes had to be explained to the merchants of German origin. So, the multilingual Nervians officers were very useful.

Once pensioned, many of the Nervian officers must have decided that they would not become farmers, like the rest of the family. After all, they had made a choice. Today, many pensioned army officers choose for business and that’s no coincidence.

The Nervian officers must have made the same choice. They settled on the east Rhine bank and started a business. By doing so, they broke with the Roman Empire and became even more ‘Francus’. At the same time, they were free of Roman taxes and meddling. The word ‘Frank’ is close to ‘free’. The similarity in pronunciation must not have gone unnoticed. The officers must have been jointed by lower ranking Nervian soldiers, who shared the same aversion towards farming. Gradually their sons took over, and the community on the east Rhine bank grew.

The west bank of the Rhine thrived during the Roman Empire due to 2 factors: the presence of the Roman army, and trade. Colonies with people from the whole Empire formed on the west bank. Those colonies were mirrored on the east bank. Except: the east bank had not to deal with Roman law and taxes. But your mentality needed to be reasonably close to the German mentality to be able to survive out there.

The Frank presence on the east Rhine bank must have been encouraged by the Romans, as they formed a buffer zone between the Rhine border and the German hinterland. In case of trouble, the legions did not hesitate to cross the border with the aim to stop threatening German tribes, and help the Franks in their defense. The Franks had become a extension of the Empire. They were protected by the Empire. Over time, they integrated themselves partially into the local tribes, but kept alive their origin and ambition. Their presence was well tolerated by the local tribes as they brought wealth and civilization. This partial integration must have been the cause of identification of the Franks with some local tribes: Chattuarii, Chamavi, Attuarii, Bructeri, etc.