Myths of British ancestry revisited

Prospect Magazine

Myths of British ancestry revisited


Stephen Oppenheimer responds to readers’ questions and comments on his October 2006 article on British ancestry

Discuss this article at First Drafts, Prospect’s blog

Stephen Oppenheimer’s article “Myths of British ancestry” in the October 2006 issue of Prospect attracted a huge online readership, and continues to generate comments and responses. Here, Oppenheimer replies to a number of them.

Q—Stephen Oppenheimer’s fascinating thesis helps to answer one of the most vexing questions of dark-age British history: why is there so little trace of Celtic culture in England and in the English language? The fact that so little remains of Celtic influence in England in terms of place names—outside Cornwall and Cumbria—and in the language points to a long process of cultural conquest by the 4th and 3rd centuries BC Belgic invaders, who were Germanic, as implied by Julius Caesar’s history of his British adventures. The cultural and linguistic origins of the English are thus pre-Roman. The Anglo-Saxon elite invasions of the 5th and 6th centuries AD reinforced, rather than created, a pre-existing difference between the proto-English and the culturally Celtic of the western fringes of the British Isles.

Mark Hudson

A—This letter draws attention to an aspect of the evidence that I understate in my book, namely the near-absence of Celtic influence in modern English place names. Whereas there are a couple of examples of near-complete “language shift” with absence of borrowing from a previous aboriginal vocabulary, indigenous place names are in general more resistant to extinction. This can be seen in America and Australia, which retain a considerable number of indigenous place names. These two examples are interesting, not only because massive replacement and genocide took place, but also because Australian and American English retain far more aboriginal vocabulary than native English retains Celtic. England itself retains pre-Indo-European place and river names, but few Celtic names, and the English language has literally only a handful of Celtic words.

The fact that England is such a “Celtic desert” is a problem for linguists who believe that Anglo-Saxon triumphed in what had been a totally Celtic-speaking region, even given the gory stories of massacre. This problem is because the Angles and Saxons apparently carried out a much better job of language extinction than in Australia and America, where genocide and massive replacement are so well documented. The “overkill” problem is acknowledged by English place name authority Richard Coates in a recent article “Invisible Britons: the view from linguistics,” where he concludes either that the genocide was complete or that there were few Britons actually living in England to interact with the invaders: “I argue that there is no reason to believe large-scale survival of an indigenous population could so radically fail to leave linguistic traces.”

Rather than pause to question scholarly assumptions that England had been 100 per cent Celtic-speaking until the 5th-century invasions, Coates prefers to use the linguistic evidence to challenge the genetic evidence: “These are the questions that need to be answered by those who propose a massive contribution of Britons to the “English” gene-pool.”

I guess I would see it the other way around. While there is no reason to expect that language change, resulting from invasion, should necessarily be massively reflected in the genetic picture, there is every expectation that complete genocide predicted by linguists should be—if it really happened.

Stephen Oppenheimer

Q—Oppenheimer’s article shows the futility of letting scientists loose on purely historical questions, which are better tackled by historians, archaeologists and linguists. There is no essential connection between where your ancestors came from in the Neolithic period and what language you speak or how you behave culturally. In any case, statistically all of us are descended from everyone: allowing 25 years per generation, in the 62 generations since 450AD, we have had 4.6 x 1016 direct ancestors, more people than have ever existed, and so we must be related to everyone on earth many times over.

Martin Nichols

A—From your first sentence it seems you must long for the good old days when historians, archaeologists and linguists could speculate on European invasions by Indo-Aryans, Kurgan horsemen and Celts, free of troublesome biological evidence. If you read my article and book, you will realise that your second sentence contains my starting point or null hypothesis: that connections between culture and genes are likely to be tenuous and that individual cases where this is claimed have to be tested appropriately.

Stephen Oppenheimer

Q—It is true that, “The genetic evidence shows that three quarters of our ancestors came to this corner of Europe as hunter-gatherers, between 15,000 and 7,500 years ago.” This is the R lineage group and most European males have an R Y chromosome. But it is rather silly to say that, “Our ancestors were Basques, not Celts. The Celts were not wiped out by the Anglo-Saxons; in fact, neither had much impact on the genetic stock of these islands.” Angles, Saxons, Celts and Basques are not lineage groups. They are ethnic groups that developed within the last 2,000 or 3,000 years. Like most Europeans, they probably belonged to the R lineage. Most Germans, Poles, French, Spaniards and Russians also belong to the R lineage group. None of this negates the established history of the British Isles.

Has Oppenheimer read the research of Weale et al—”Y Chromosome Evidence for Anglo-Saxon Mass Migration” (2002)—which shows that the male populations in two central English towns were genetically very similar, whereas those of two north Welsh towns differed significantly both from each other and from the English towns? Using novel population genetic models that incorporate both mass migration and continuous gene flow, they concluded that this was best explained by a substantial migration of Anglo-Saxon Y chromosomes into central England—but not into north Wales.

Douglas Forbes

A—I cannot claim responsibility for your second quotation, which is from the article’s standfirst. As you must realise, authors of magazine articles rarely have control over these. I cannot disagree with your complaint, but hopefully you read the whole article.

On your second point, it is misleading for you to talk about frequencies of the R male lineage in different European countries as if this constituted a uniform genetic background, since there are actually two main R groups, which split tens of thousands of years ago outside Europe and had completely different modes of spread and present distributions in Europe. R1b expanded from the Basque Ice Age refuge and predominates in extreme western Europe, being found at only 20 per cent or less in Russia and the Baltic states. R1a1, on the other hand, predominates in eastern Europe, and to a lesser extent in Scandinavia. I deal with the spread of both major R lineages at length in chapters 3 and 4 of my book The Origins of the British.

I have indeed read the research of Weale et al. I discuss it and similar papers at length in chapter 11 of my book, where I register my disagreement with their method of reconstruction from relative gene group frequencies, presenting instead my own phylo-geographic re-analysis of their data, based on fine detail of individual founding lineages.

Stephen Oppenheimer

Q—Interestingly, Robert Graves, in his book The White Goddess, developed a theory about early settlement of these islands similar to Stephen Oppenheimer’s. Graves’s evidence is based on early literary sources, mythology, local tradition and the archaeology known at the time of writing. I gather that Graves is not popular among archaeologists. But if you are prepared to tease out strands of DNA from human body fluids, looking through The White Goddess should be no greater challenge.

Christine Peace

A—Thanks for this information. I have read several of Graves’s books, but not The White Goddess. I shall rectify. Incidentally, another European scholar, linguist Theo Venneman, has a reconstruction of post-Ice Age recolonisation of the British Isles, which gives a relative of the Basque language primacy of place as the first entrant. I outline his theory in the new paperback edition of my book The Origins of the British.

Stephen Oppenheimer

Q—Regarding your statement that 75-95 per cent of paternal genes in Britain are of Iberian origin, is this genetic material distinct and specific only among Basque-type peoples, or does some of it share features with other, non-Basque Europeans? If the latter is true, why is it omitted from your findings?

Timothy Burton

A—I do discuss the questions you raise, but in chapters 3 and 4 of my book The Origins of the British, not in the more condensed Prospect article. Part of the answer to your query is in my answer to Douglas Forbes above, but allow me to expand a little more here.

As you suggest, the re-expansion of paternal group R1b and maternal group H from the Basque Ice Age refuge spread up the coasts of all the countries facing the Atlantic, after the ice melted. The British Isles retained higher rates than the other countries, for several reasons related specifically to early movements directly from the Basque country rather than from general diffusion from western Europe. First, as a result of lower sea levels, the British Isles, in particular Ireland, were connected and at the furthest edge of the extended Ice Age European continent, and thus received the bulk of early coastal migration. Then, as sea levels rose, first Ireland then Britain became islands, relatively insulated from further migration from elsewhere in Europe, thus preserving their high rates of R1b and similarity to the initial settlements.

The means by which I could separate the R1b types in the British Isles from those on the other side of the channel is by the use of “Founder Analysis.” That is, looking at the detail of their gene types (so-called STR haplotypes). These revealed 21 founding clusters, which could only have arrived direct from the Basque country. Their descendant twigs are unique to the British Isles. Furthermore I was able to date the arrival of these individual clusters using their diversity.

Stephen Oppenheimer

Q—What about the genetic make-up of the Man Islanders? Did it suffer few modifications from its origins because of? geographical remoteness, or is it very different from the rest of the British Isles because of the impact of invasions (such as the Vikings) on a small population?

Alexandre Cogan

A—The simple answer is that your first suggestion is closer to the truth than your second. The Isle of Man received more Norwegian gene-flow than anywhere else in the British Isles, except for Shetland and Orkney, which received the most. This does not, however, account for more than 20-25% of the male Isle of Man gene pool. Fig 11.4b in my book gives a very approximate genetic distance map, illustrating this in more detail.

Stephen Oppenheimer

Discuss this article at First Drafts, Prospect’s blog

You can read more about Stephen Oppenheimer’s work here, at the Bradshaw Foundation website. And you can buy his new book at our online bookshop here

  1. October 29, 2010

    richad frost

    I got rid of the anglo saxon invasion myth after reading Renfrew on lan guage; and started an MA at an English university intending to develop my idea that England was populated by first farmers from east (Germanic speakers) and west (gaelic eventually).Only after I dropped the course did I find your book; which says nothing flattering about the archeologists who knew my interests and did not mention your book (then a year after publication) . Your work pushed my ideas back a few thousand years and, while I don;t understand the theory fully, I espouse it. I frequently write to TV programmes which continue to promote Bede’s invasion myth, and find they seldom respond. Why is the story so resistant to the evidence I wonder.
    Many thanks: you made my research unnecesssary but I contine to enjoy the debate.

  2. December 6, 2010


    i think the idea of english predating the anglo-saxons is rediculous.
    wouldnt the romano-britons have spoken mostly latin or somthing?

    • July 25, 2013

      Cynthia McLaglen

      The English ARE the Angles or ” Angels” which is the description that Roman writer and historian Scipio, I believe gave to the newly captured slaves. What most people know in thier history lessons are Frisians, Saxons, Angles, Germanians; Jutes are all the “Anglo-Saxons” from Scanda and Jute. The Ice age kept pusihng them down and when the Ice melted again they moved up again, like a giant washing machine they came into contact with Gaels, (from Basqueland) a few times as this happened over tens of thousands of years and were mixed over and over. That is why Helena and Veda are not only found in Basqueland but in North Scandinavia and as far South as Morocco. People do mix with one another and have done it since the beginning of time.

  3. February 25, 2011

    Mark Swanepoel

    The rival theories concerning the origins of European peoples are fascinating, given that provided one can trust the measured haplogroup frequencies, the same data are available to all scientists. I downloaded European Y and mtDNA haplogroup frequencies (NOT raw sample data!) from the internet, and basic statistical experimentation revealed that one arrives at different answers depending on the lower bounding frequency at which one excludes haplogroups from the analysis. I concluded that in a situation where there is a huge background degree of commonality in haplogroup frequencies, as in Europe, the correct procedure is not to exclude low frequency data, but to include it in correlations and comparisons by means of uncertainty-weighting factors proportional to sample size-dependent standard deviations. In other words in a straightforward correlation large haplogroup frequencies would be more highly weighted than small ones. Reducing analysis to just (say) three principal components risks error, because a small difference between two major components might in fact be less statistically significant than a larger difference between two minor haplogroups excluded from the analysis. (In fact there is a hint of this in the case of Scotland versus the rest of the UK and indeed Europe, but I do not have access to sample sizes to confirm it. If true, it would imply the existence of a small aboriginal population unique to Scotland, probably in situ since the last Ice Age – any such contribution is however close to being washed out through migration and interpopulation leakage.)

  4. February 27, 2011

    Mark Swanepoel

    I have used the data at and to find the similarity between the haplogroup frequency profiles of European countries and England. Unweighted Pearson r correlations for 12 Y chromosome haplogroups yields: (1) Belgium 0.9985 P<0.001, (2) Scotland 0.9942 P<0.001, (3) Brittany 0.9932 P<0.001, (4) Ireland 0.9930 P<0.001, (5) France 0.9903 P<0.001, (6) Netherlands 0.9891 P<0.001, (7) Wales 0.9888 P<0.001, (8) West Germany 0.9854 P<0.001, (9) South Germany 0.9807 P<0.001, (10) Spain 0.9775 P<0.001, (11) Basques 0.97227 P<0.001, +45 others. The incredible similarity between these populations is obvious, but there were tiny and even negative correlations for expected outliers. When one corrects for relative uncertainties due to haplogroup sample sizes, the weighted Pearson r correlations are: (1) Belgium 0.9998 P<0.001, (2) France 0.9992 P<0.001, (3) Scotland 0.9990 P<0.001, (4) Brittany 0.9988 P<0.001, (5) Ireland 0.9987 P<0.001, (6) West Germany 0.9986 P<0.001, (7) Wales 0.9985 P<0.001, (8) South Germany 0.9983 P<0.001, (9) Basques 0.9982 P<0.001, (10) Spain 0.9981 P<0.001, (11) Switzerland 0.9970 P0.99 in a smooth progression, after which r falls by 0.009. These results are much less misleading than the direct correlations, and suggest that the men of Western Europe should be considered to be a single population. I won’t reproduce the mtDNA results for 13 haplogroups, but they are even more homogeneous. In the uncertainty-corrected correlations the first 21 territories all have r>0.99 and surprisingly the first real disjuncture in r occurs between Estonia and Finland. In the whole of Europe only Finnish, Bashkir, Volga-Finnic, and Adygey (North Caucasus) people appear to have mtDNA distinctly different to that of the main European population – otherwise there is just a very slight and smooth change in haplogroup frequencies. England’s mtDNA map is so closely correlated with those of so many countries right across Europe that any ranking would just be silly.

    Next I performed pairwise comparison of means tests on the data of England vs each other territory, and summed the probabilities that the haplogroup results are actually identical for each haplogroup, across all haplogroups. The results unweighted by the expected uncertainties are for Y chromosomes: (1) Scotland 0.6903,
    (2) Belgium 0.6824, (3) Ireland 0.6572, (4) Netherlands 0.5775, (5) France 0.5708, (6) Switzerland 0.5454, (7) Germany 0.5417, (8) Brittany 0.5314, (9) Galicians 0.5286, (10) West Germany 0.5120, (11) Spain 0.4944 (12) Denmark 0.4935, (13) Wales 0.4893, (14) North Germany 0.4676, +42 others. The uncertainty-corrected results are: (1) Belgium 0.6390, (2) Scotland 0.5717, (3) Spain 0.5341, (4) France 0.4872, (5) Galicians 0.4766, (6) Ireland 0.4756, (7) Netherlands 0.4320, (8) Brittany 0.4115, (9) West Germany 0.3745, (10) Germany 0.3730, (11) North Germany 0.3475, (12) North Italy 0.3082, (13) Wales 0.2922, and (14) Portugal 0.2902. The corrected comparison tests are extremely sensitive to differences between population haplogroup distributions.

    The uncorrected mtDNA comparison of means “sameness” results are: (1) Germany 0.8284, (2) Ireland 0.7496, (3) Norway 0.7358, (4) Scotland 0.6995, (5) Austria 0.6985, (6) Bosnia-Herzegovina 0.6723, (7) France 0.6642, (8) Italy 0.6528, (9) Poland 0.6499, (10) Netherlands 0.6439, (11) Switzerland 0.6398, (12) Denmark 0.6355, (13) Portugal 0.6339, (14) Wales 0.6136 +23 others. The Bosnia-Herzegovina result arises because of similarity in minor haplogroups. Correcting for haplogroup uncertainties yields: (1) Germany 0.8812, (2) Ireland 0.7629, (3) Norway 0.7493, (4) Scotland 0.7450, (5) Austria 0.7208, (6) France 0.6977, (7) Wales 0.6947, (8) Portugal 0.6915, (9) Macedonia 0.6869, (10) Poland 0.6684, (11) Iceland 0.6590, (12) Croatia 0.6581, (13) Netherlands 0.6514, (14) Italy 0.6478 +23 others.

    What do we make of all this? (1) Corrections have only been made for relative uncertainties – I need raw numbers to make better, absolute corrections. (2) The fact that the distribution of haplogroup frequencies in England most closely resembles that in e.g. “country W” is useless information when the same distribution can be obtained by mixing the distributions of invading populations X and Y with that of the indigenous population Z. And this is the case of England – several different scenarios can be envisaged on the basis of exactly the same genetic data, because of the number of invasions/settlements and vanishingly small differences between many European territories, especially in mtDNA. (3) There is no evidence of distinct Celtic and Germanic populations, although their language groups are distinct. (4) The mtDNA hints that the whole of Europe was once settled by a single primary population that edged outwards across the continent. This population presumably encountered and absorbed much smaller aboriginal groups as it expanded. (5) Slightly greater variation in the Y DNA distributions might result from significantly male dominated groups moving between specific sites in Europe, with the founder effect thereby coming into play.

    Personally I found the low rankings of Wales and especially of Denmark surprising – although European populations are so similar that any “imprint” would easily be washed out by even small changes to a population in the base country, or that being compared.

  5. September 19, 2011

    Geoffrey Tobin

    When I first read of this Atlantic coastal population hypothesis, I was intrigued but sceptical.

    However, this year I’ve researched my family tree, particularly the Tweed line, which is recorded under that surname to 1200, and through the received accounts of their origins among the ruling families of Brittany who trace their origins back to the movement of Romano-British troops by Magnus Clemens Maximus to Armorica in AD 383.

    In the Welsh and Breton oral and written stories, and in the medieval records of England, France, Normandy and Brittany, and in the surviving records of the Roman and Byzantine empires, the leading Breton families are stated to have intermarried several times with the Basque royal house of Navarre, and with the aristocratic families of the (formerly Basque speaking) region of Aquitaine.

    Julius Caesar noted that travel and trade across the Channel was frequent between the peoples of southern Britain and Armorica (Brittany). On the historic evidence, the same was true across the Bay of Biscay.

    On a related topic, there may have been rather more Angles and Saxons in England before the Norman Conquest, because the rebellions in the early years of William I’s reign were quashed “with heavy slaughter” by all accounts. The Bretons who had come over with William were very zealous, swift and thorough at punishing any “audacity” by those who self-identified as Saxons or Angles. Some modern estimates are that in the Harrying of the North, alone, about 150,000 Angles and Danes were killed.

    Since Rollo I the Viking landed in northern France, the Normans themselves heavily intermarried with the Bretons, and conversely, so they should show considerable genetic similarity. William I himself had more Bretons in his family tree than Normans.

    My own surname, Tobin, is said to be derived from one or more of the towns in Upper Normandy called “de Saint Aubyn”, which commemmorate Saint Alban of third century Britain. Many of the prominent citizens of Normandy in the later first millenium had land holdings in Brittany, due to that line of their descent.

    • July 25, 2013

      Cynthia McLaglen

      Not only did the Bretons cross over the sea to Britain but when the land was one and there were no islands people could walk to Cornwal or even Ireland. Thus the Paleogeography is essential to history and to the Human story. People hunted in what is now the North sea. This is when the first mixing of Gaels or Basqueland people and Anglo Saxon people began. Dop not forget that such names as “Anglo”, Saxon; Jute; Frisian; Roman; Basque, would be either not invented yet or have completely diffeent sounding names and therefore would be irrelevant. The people hunted where the north sea is now as there were many mammoths, hyenas wooley rhino and big cats and people who drew on the bones as theses have all been dredged up from the North Sea.Proof of what I have stated.

    • July 25, 2013

      Cynthia McLaglen

      This mixing happened long before the name “Bretons” or “Normans” came into being. I know that my Scottish mother had a mother who was descended from Normans but my grandmother looked like a French lady. She had descended from Vikings or Normans from France, but my mother who looked Scottish like her father, is originally from Basquland. My maternal Grandfather whom I have just mentioned looked Anglo-Saxon but is a Gael.

  6. September 19, 2011

    Geoffrey Tobin

    Mark Swanepoel, how do the results for Turkey and Russia compare to the rest of Europe? Do we have data for smaller regions? Russia and Turkey are large areas with apparently diverse populations.

    • July 25, 2013

      Cynthia McLaglen

      Russian and Turkey did not exist then, but the Majority came originally from India and crossed to Turkey and then to the Caucasus and the Balkans or along the Med and its coastal areas. There are some “I” groups who went via Sicily and then upwards and then driven down to Basqueland or the Balkans. The details we will never know but we know genrally where they went. We cannot accept that there were no countries as we recognise them today and the people were coming into contact and mixing or fighting. That has always been the way. Men were killed and women taken captive to join the new group.

  7. September 6, 2012


    Will I totally agree and the more evidence I look at the more likely a form of English language was spoken in Britain that pre-dates anglo-saxons and the anglo-saxons reinforced this already germanic linguistic society (as said by Oppenheimer and the, I would say people were culturally celtic, in other words people in western europe and british isles etc s wella s elsewhere in europe were culturally celtic, this celtic cultural was not tied to language (culture means common humour, practices etc) As argues people were linguistically germanic but more culturally celtic, so La Tene people were culturally celtic but linguistcally germanic. The english are simply unique. The Dutch has 70% R1b and fit the west atlantic model too like the British. Dutch R1b is slightly different subclade though. I agree with who say that there were azelians who spoke non-indo-european languages and then maglemosians who spoke an early form of proto-indo–european, they suggest the ‘are’ form of ‘to be’ say in scandinavian languages and northern english comes from an old indo-european language and then later with agriculture a 2nd wave came (words and ideas not people) britain and holland etc were azelians and with some northern maglemosian people in the north however all adopted a form of germanic, this would explain why western germanic languages are different from inland germanic in words and sounds etc depending whether they were maglemosian or azelian speakers. Looking at it though in Doggerland it was a mixed picture.

    However from friends who are researching I haplogroup and who are from that group they suggest Doggerland was relatively ice free. From other evidence I have seen as in cave art etc, I would suggest Oppenheimers views on people all being in a ‘basque’ refuge are also wrong, firstly as most hunters were nomadic and travelled from area to area and from cave art being found throughout northern europe both before, during and after the ice age. Hunters were much more adaptable and followed herds they simply weren’t stuck in an area. It would be wrong to, to use modern labels like Basque. People simply didn’t call themselves Basques, neither is there evidence they all originated in one place, looking at people in north west europe today, they look distinct from basques, yes people have dark hair mostly but this could be said for russians and indians many of whom are r1a. What about blue eyes, red and blond hair which did not originate in the basque country, where did these originate?, the subclades are related yes, but this is probably due to winter and sumemr camps and general genetic relation. The ice age too, isolated haplogroups and generally in these circumstances haplogroup ages and diversity get less before exploding again after growing population numbers, the agricultural revolution also increased numbers not through mass migrations but through more food being available, people become fixed in one area etc. Unlike r1a which did come from east to west, r1b actually does the exact opposite in that it becomes more not less in the west, so peoples ideas of r1b coming more recently from west asia makes no sense in a logical population movement model, it should actually get less the further west not more, whereever a population of something starts from it always decreases the further it moves out. r1a for example is high in india and then in eastern europe suggesting two founder effects rather than simply one movement from east to west. cheers

    • July 25, 2013

      Cynthia McLaglen

      Oppenheimer is not wrong. There were times when all humans and animals were driven from the North completely. It was extruciatingly cold. Snowden had miles of ice on it as did Scandinaia and also in America. The sea was sucked up by the ice 22,000 years ago and did not begin to melt until about 18,000 years ago. then it began to melt and the place gradually became more habitable until the next “mini” Age about 13,000 years ago and this began to melt and d created the terrible tsunamis written about in India the Rig Veda and the Mahabhurata, and Sumer, (in Clay tablets found by Sir Leonard Wooley in the 1920s on clay tablets in Cunieiorm, and the Old Testament by Abraham, (he was from Sumer). These tsunamis were also happeneing in the northsea and geographical and geological evidence shows this. In the Isle of wight in the sea between the Isle and the mainland there is evidence of a boatyard which was inundated. All these happened at different times of course but all too often people forget that archeological evidence has been loct to the sea.

  8. September 6, 2012


    saying people are basques is simply putting a modern label on an ancient people and also given the huge northern european material with fair skin, blue/green eyes, red and blond hair it would suggest people who were dark haired originally moving around, women maybe who stood out, gradual gene flow etc as well as some r1b groups being isolated further north who developed characteristics. Why couldn’t r1b groups be in pockets throughout europe rather than simply all coming from the basque country. Friends from 1 haplogroups suggest 1 haplogroups actually moved north to south and that Doggerland contained many i haplogroups before spreading elsewhere (i haplogroups in the balkans are younger than those elsewhere and one i haplogroup is unique to Britain, another has the same mutation as r1b haplogroup 159.2 or 159.1

    • July 25, 2013

      Cynthia McLaglen

      Just look up ther Basques on You Tube as they look now. We have not changed that much. Also look up Pashtun people. That was a relevation to me. I always knew there was a connection to india as our features are so much the same in many cases. Skin colour is irrelavent!.

  9. October 6, 2012


    Of course the Anglo-Saxons landing in England post 1410 encountered a general population speaking a Germanic language. The Belgae (a Germanic tribe) were already present in Britain when Julius Caesar arrived, and his continental jumping off point Portus Itius > Gesoriacum > Bononia Germanorum > Boulogne was in the territory of the continental Belgae who were some pretty rough customers.

    Thus over centuries the Romans gradually marginalized the Celtic Britons with a lot of help from the descendents of the Belgae.

    I can just see the recruiting posters on the walls of Portus Itius in the year 43 AD – Oom Claudi heeft je nodig (Uncle Claudius needs YOU).

  10. April 19, 2013


    I’m an Australian with mixed scottish,Welsh and English ancestry,but have always been fascinated by what their ancestry was.
    When the Romans pulled out in 410,did that mean the general population of Roman ancestry also return to Rome,or did they remain in Britain and contribute to the current mix of what is now seen as proper white British?
    Given that the British(excluding recent immigrants) resemble Norwegians,Germans,French,Northen Italians and Spanish,I’d have to say British are the desendants of people from all these countries.
    I’m very proud to have this mix in my ancestry.
    Remember this-many Spanish and Italians have blond hair,blue eyes and fair skin.
    Many British(of British ancestry) have dark hair,eyes and skin.
    I know this…….I’m of European ancestry.

    • July 25, 2013

      Cynthia McLaglen

      Most of the “Romans” were not Italian. They cleverly did not have British trained soldiers in Britain but elsewhere; and Germania and other nationalities in Britain; and this is because you cannot have ethnic soldiers fighting against their own kind. An interesting find genetically’ is the African Haplogroup found in a family in Yorkshire. Now, of course they all look like Yorkshire folk, having bred with Yorkshire type people for just under 2000 years! There are plenty of Caribbean looking people who have Haplogroups that are from their British ancester who were an overseer in the Caribbean who could be Anglo Saxon or Gael and even have a name like Eric Hamlet! As we mix, getting the Haplogroups recorded before they disappear into a puzzle becomes more important.

  11. August 27, 2013

    christopher Ellis

    Why didn’t the Romans notice that eastern Britons spoke a Germanic language? They were good observers of this sort of thing and they knew the difference between the Gauls and the Germanic tribes. Why then does Tacitus say that the languages of Gaul and Britain are alike?
    Maybe the Belgae were germanic speakers but they only occupied Kent and Sussex and if I remember rightly were the last “celtic” group to arrive..
    The idea just doesn’t seem to work.
    I don’t understand the genetic evidence but my impression is that, for the moment it remains a matter of controversy and doubt and I await further clarification/certainty.
    An easier explanation is that the anglo saxons replaced the existing culture & language of England rather than entirely displacing its population. Even a 5% influx (if it is in fact 5% and if it is the dominant 5% and mostly male) could have this effect. A bit of kiling; a bit of slavery/oppression; a bit of population shifting and a bit of taking British wives and Bob’s Your Uncle.
    The traditional view is not dead yet I think.

  12. November 26, 2013

    James Ensor

    I do not speak a word of Basque. But I have heard that the following phrases exist.

    etortzen naiz : I come
    ikusten dut : I see

    etortzen ari naiz : I am coming
    ikusten ari naiz : I am seeing .

    English does not really use I am seeing – although I have been seeing is common.

    I am unaware of other European languages that use quite this form – certainly neither German nor French does. So here is a small link between the Basque and English use of grammar, which is hard to explain through other influences.

    Do similar phrases occur in Welsh?

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  • Do China’s youth care about politics? asks Alec Ash
  • Joanna Biggs on Facebook and feminism
  • Boris Berezosky was a brilliant man, says Keith Gessen—but he nearly destroyed Russia