Sunday, 15 May
As I’ve decided to study the local river more closely, I go and look at it where it curves around Old Uppsala close to my flat. The open countryside is green and soothing despite the uncertain weather and I see my first cowslips of the year. The place where the road reaches the river is marked as a bathing place but it’s bleak and uninviting. There’s no path here but it’s easy to follow the course of the river downstream. I’m curious to look at a dead straight road which crosses the river a mile or so ahead. It’s a straight line on the map for mile after mile and looks like a roman road but, of course, can’t be in these northern parts. There was, however, an indirect Roman connection as it was apparently ordered to be built by Queen Christina (though I don’t think she was planning to flee to Rome this way). The road was once the main road to the north before the motorway was built and I spend a while resting on the bridge imagining the Austins and Morrises of yesteryear chugging northwards (in the good old days before the Brits became zombie industrialists…).
After completing 11,500 steps, my body feels content and harmonious but my planned effortless switch to the life of the mind is sluggish and weakly perceptible. I work for a while translating a certificate for a private customer, sleep for a while, make food and then talk to my nephew in Somerset about some family matters, after a struggle with my mobile phone, which has become a serial autonomous muting device. But that was about it….not good enough.
I console myself that I have at least got to grips with T.M. Charles-Edwards “Wales and Britons 350-1064” which I’d almost given up on after I got bogged down in the language chapter.
I need to do some more work on this chapter but I got through it after struggling with my fricatives and plosives and the phonetic script. The following chapters on the shifting identities of the British Celtic population are fascinating. It took the Anglo-Saxons a couple of centuries to complete their conquest of what was to become England. They occupied early on the part of the then Britain which had been most Romanised language-wise and culturally. But there remained for a couple of centuries an uninterrupted Celtic Britain from Strathclyde down to Cornwall before the Anglo-Saxon victories led to them breaking through to the Bristol Channel. During these centuries, the Britons remained Christian while the Anglo-Saxons were initially pagan, Charles-Edwards discusses the extent to which the Celtic Britain retained their Roman identity after the Roman army left and discusses the conclusions that can be drawn from the written sources and inscriptions from analysing, for example, the gradual weakening and eventual disappearance of the Roman system of declensions.
Unlike the situation in France where the Gauls were more thoroughly latinised than the Celtic-speakers in Britain and fused with the Frankish invaders to speak a common post-Latin language, British Latin eventually became extinct, and the incoming Anglo-Saxons kept their Germanic language with Scandinavian influences, although with a heavy impact from French after the Norman conquest before it developed into English.
English national identity bears some imprint of its muddled origins. The Norman conquest of 1066 is a watershed year, later kings and queens are numbered from that time so that despite there being at least one Edward before the Conquest, Edward I is the first post-conquest Edward (and the royal family hasn’t shown much enthusiasm for names like Ethelred). But the incoming Normans were a thin layer of aristocrats and retainers and while they governed the country whose aristocracy was largely French-speaking for three centuries, the Anglo-Saxons continued to form the bulk of what was to become the English people.
And as English identity became stronger towards mid-millennium, the non-French part of our identity was pressed into use and some of the stories from the Anglo-Saxon period, from, for example, the time of King Alfred eventually became a more important part of England’s perceived history. There are also stories from Roman times and the Celts who opposed the Romans, for example, the victory of Vespasian in West England and Boudicca’s rebellion and the burning of Londinium. The post-Roman Celtic period is shrouded despite having been a society sophisticated enough to have institutions that could engage in complicated discussions on Christian themes. Before the Romans came, some Celtic tribes minted their own money and pottery was made in Britain, a skill that was later lost when Britain became integrated into the trading networks of the Roman Empire (as a student of India, this sounds familiar, but at least the Romans didn’t go rabbiting on about the wonderful system of roads they left for us). An interesting example of the combination of development and undevelopment that follows from being incorporated into the economic networks and interests of an empire.
Otherwise, I find a master’s thesis on the Battle of Fyrisvallarna, a critical survey of the state of research and sources, which sounds like the kind of guide I need to help me through the tangled net of ideology and history about a major battle close to what is now the Fyris river. And thought about place names along the river and which names are based on names of Nordic gods and goddesses reflecting their probable status as cult places. I need to know more about Nordic mythology and the Nordic sagas. I will sleep with my An Introduction to Old Norse under my pillow tonight and if that doesn’t help try Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus tomorrow night to see if I can negotiate another 24 years so that I have time to complete my plans.