The sixth-century monk Gildas's tract "On the Ruin of Britain" and the Anglo-Saxon "Massacre" of Celts in England
By Stephen Oppenheimer
Stephen Oppenheimer, professor at Oxford University, is the author of 'The Origins of the British: A Genetic Detective Story'.
October 10, 2006
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Some excerpts :
My study also disproves another popular idea – that an aboriginal population was massacred by Anglo-Saxon invasions in the Dark Ages. The key historical source that has led to this conviction is the sixth-century monk Gildas's tract "On the Ruin of Britain".
The gory embellishments of this latter-day Job have led to the entrenched view that Angles and Saxons came over from the Continent, slaughtered the Celts in England and became the "English".
In the aftermath of the invasion, Gildas anticipates Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech, speaking of "fragments of human bodies, covered with livid clots of coagulated blood, looking as if they had been squeezed together in a press".
In schoolbooks the invasion is classed as genocide. Genocide means the deliberate extermination of a nation. If that means the death of more than 50 per cent of the people, I am certain, after studying the genetic story, that no such thing took place in Dark Ages England.
There is specific evidence of an invasion from the Anglo-Saxon homeland at the base of the Danish Peninsula, but on my estimation this amounts to only five per cent of male gene types in the British Isles.
This does not give enough genetic evidence for even a 10 per cent cull (that is, a decimation), except in parts of Norfolk and the Fens, which reached about that level of intrusion.
This means there was not just substantial continuity of population, but a survival of around 95 per cent of indigenous gene lines at the time. Even the Vikings achieved a higher estimated overall level of genetic invasion.
This new genetic evidence gives a fresh perspective on fears that immigrants are diluting what it means to be British. When Gildas spoke of the Anglo-Saxon invasion he exhorted the surviving and unrighteous British kings to "seek for the rule of right judgment [on] the proud, murderers, the combined and adulterers, enemies of God, who ought to be utterly destroyed and their names forgotten."
But should we lightly wish such a fate on foreign invaders? After all – Celts, Angles, Jutes, Saxons, Vikings, Normans and others – are all minorities in the modern British gene pool compared with the first unnamed pioneers from the Basque country who, 15,000 years ago ventured into the empty, chilly lands, so recently vacated by the great ice sheets.