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Slaughtering conventional history’s sacred cows

"Slaughtering conventional history’s sacred cows" Continued...

For example, every British schoolchild knows about the invasion of the Angles and Saxons, two related Germanic peoples who arrived in England during the fifth century and took over, as demonstrated by the fact that their language (Old English) soon dominated. In fact, the word England means “land of the Angles.” The Anglo-Saxons’ arrival in England and their rise to power is carefully attested by the Venerable Bede (672–735) in his esteemed Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

But archaeologists now challenge the claim that a substantial Anglo-Saxon migration took place. As archaeology professor Peter S. Wells has documented, isotope studies of skeletons in what everyone has regarded as Anglo-Saxon cemeteries show “consistently that the individuals, whom earlier investigators would have interpreted as immigrants from the continent, were in fact local people.” Anthropologists now believe that the famous migrations “rarely, if ever, involved the large numbers that many accounts indicate, especially in western and northern Europe.” Instead, it now is believed that “small groups of elites, often with bands of their loyal warriors, sometimes moved from one region to another and quickly asserted their power over the peoples into whose land they moved.” That is, after the arrival of elite groups of Angles and Saxons, most people in England became Anglo-Saxons—or at least their descendants soon did.

Obviously there were various “barbarian” groups on the borders of the Roman Empire. Obviously, too, many of these groups were large enough to pose a serious threat to Roman areas. And clearly some of them did enter the empire in large numbers as Roman rule faltered—the Ostrogoths and Visigoths, for example. But in the post-Roman period, it is difficult to know whether large groups, or only elites, were involved in migrations. During the fifth century, did great Frankish migrations occur into northern Gaul, or did Frankish warrior elites simply carve out many small kingdoms populated by locals? Whatever the case, cultural diversity increased dramatically, which increased disunity.

The proliferation of European political units had several important consequences. First, it tended to make for weak rulers. Second, it offered people some opportunity to depart for a setting more desirable in terms of liberty or opportunity. Finally, it provided for creative competition.

Rodney Stark
Rodney Stark

Rodney is a distinguished professor of the social sciences and co-director of the Institue for Studies of Religion at Baylor University.

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