The Not-As-Dark-As-Advertised Ages (At Least North of the Alps)

*I will probably be back to fully operational status — as much as I ever get — by tomorrow, but for now, enjoy:*

The Not-As-Dark-As-Advertised Ages (At Least North of the Alps)

A Guest Post by our very own: Alma Boykin

As everyone knows, when Odoacer deposed the Roman Emperor Romulus Augustalus in AD* 476 CE*, Western civilization disappeared, learning stopped, and life came to a halt, especially north of the Alps. Until Charlemagne’s coronation as Holy Roman Emperor in 800, darkness lay upon the land, barbarians roamed free, pirates plagued the Atlantic and Mediterranean, and the few people still alive sat around lamenting the Fall of Rome. Then came the Carolingian Renaissance and the sun rose, flowers bloomed, the three-field rotation and use of manure were discovered, literacy appeared, everyone began speaking Latin again, a sudden urge to build tall churches with lots of colored windows filled the land, and there was much rejoicing. Yeah.

At least, that’s sort of what historians in the 1700s, 1800s, and early 1900s thought. They had a few good reasons for calling the period between the Fall of Rome and Charlemagne “the Dark Ages,” and some not so great reasons. The good reason was that if you only have text sources to work from, then there is very little one can know about that time, especially north of the Alps and east of Britain. Obviously, if no one wrote anything, that must mean that no one was around to write, or who could write, which means no civilization (by the historians’ definition). And what sources did exist painted a pretty dim picture of the world, metaphorically and as it turns out, literally. Several centuries passed before Europeans began producing art and poetry that rivaled the styles of the Greeks and Romans. For historians who viewed Rome as a, if not the, pinnacle of culture and learning, what came after looked pretty darn dark.

Now, these historians missed a few things, as we historians are prone to do. First, the eastern Roman Empire, aka Byzantium, lasted until 1453 and produced a magnificent culture that can still be seen in scraps and bits here and there. Second, the fall of Rome did not happen in an instant, unlike the great series of paintings by Thomas Cole suggests. Third, daily life does not depend entirely on marble sculptures and flights of rhetoric. Fourth, there were plenty of bits of Rome still around, but the historians did not know where to look. Today we do, and the picture of life between Romulus Augustalus and Charlemagne is rather different. Empires don’t fall down in a puff of dust, crushing everything beneath them. They crumble, leaving foundations and inspiration.

So, what really happened when the “lights went out in Rome,” as Kipling put it? North of the Alps, the lights had been flickering since the Marcomannic Wars of 166-180, if not earlier. After that little bout of civil strife, massacre, arson, and looting, the area north of the Alps was reorganized, defenses beefed up, and populations shifted around. In 233 another round of Germanic tribes rushed the Limes, the borderline, and a few years later another, and another. These are the same peoples who would become the Lombards, Franks, Saxons, Bohemians (not the long-haired French kind, but the beer-drinking kind) and other modern inhabitants of Europe. When that flickering light in Rome finally went out, the people who had already been defending themselves continued defending themselves. They also kept farming, worshipping, trading and building.

Archaeology, anthropology, and climatology can fill in what historians can’t find. And once you start digging around, literally, you discover that the Dark Ages, or as they are now called, Late Antiquity, were not quite the nadir of European existence. The 350 years between Rome and Aachen do not mark a period of ease and longevity, for a number of reasons, but trade continued, learning continued, and the light of civilization kept burning. The Germanic, Slavic, and Asian tribes that pushed into Europe added their beliefs to the Roman foundation that remained. Roman ideas about law, organization, and religion endured, forming a framework for what came after. The people of the Great Migration (Volkerwanderung) recycled and built on ideas just like they recycled Roman stones.

Although their populations declined, the Roman cities and towns that are now Trier, Cologne, Frankfurt, Orange, Mainz, Augsburg, Regensburg, Kempten and others did not vanish. Much of their stone was recycled, timber and metal re-used, houses rebuilt upon over and over. New towns and strong-points appeared as new peoples moved in and settled, or moved through (like the Vandals and Huns). To this day, if you go to Vienna, Regensburg, and other cities, you can spot the Roman roads and city outline under the modern town. And under is the correct word, because as wattle-and-daub or wooden houses decayed, collapsed, or were burned down, people rebuilt on top of them. That’s one reason the 19th century historians couldn’t find a trace of Roman glory in, say, Vienna. They’d have to go down into the cellars and sewers to see it, and let’s face it, I just don’t see Gibbon or Toynbee as the crawl-through-sewers type. And where you had groups of people, you had commerce of sorts, and trade.

Trade continued, to the extent that Chinese silks have been found in Bavarian tribal members’ graves dating to the 6th century. Gemstones from India and Afghanistan found their way up the Rhine and Rhone, while amber, furs, and slaves went south and east. Now, the trade did not reach the scale of the Empire at its peak. Even if population shifts had not affected the “European” economy, the weather shifts in the late 400s and after 526 made life much harder on everyone. No more wine from Britain or up around Mainz, no more wheat exported from the Low Countries to Rome. But archaeologists find trade. And they find continuity.

People lived in the same places (or very close), farmed the same things, worshipped, buried their dead, and tried to carry on as they had before Roman power receded from northern Europe. Clothes did not change that much, for example. Archaeologists find the same style of pins, called “fibulae,” used by women in central Europe for a thousand years. Styles changed, the pins got bigger or smaller, fancier or plainer, as time passed, and different locations had their own designs, but the basic shape and function lasted for a millennium. Germans, Slavs, Magyars might pass through or settle, but women held up their pinafores and decorated their dresses with fibulae until the Middle Ages. People grew wheat, rye, dinkel (aka spelt), barley, oats, apples, pears, and peas, raised cattle and pigs and sheep, and fled from wild boar, wild cattle, and bears and wolves, just as they always had, even though their taxes went to the local strong man, instead of Rome.

The top layer of Rome had vanished, but the ordinary, tax-paying people remained, just in fewer numbers and more scattered. One reason for this, one that remained unknown until the 20th century, was a massive weather disruption. The climate had already changed, starting in the 5th century, as precipitation increased and temperatures declined in northern Europe. Shorter growing seasons and wetter soil, combined with population migrations caused in part by the worse weather, were not conducive to rapid population growth. And then in 526 the sun went away, dimmed by volcanic ash. Crop losses led to hunger which made plague spread more easily. These were the years of the Volkerwanderung, the population shifts that gave us the Lombards, Bavarians, Burgundians, Franks, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and other names, some of which linger on maps to this day. Tribal structures replaced provincial government but the ideas of Roman organization survived, if only in an attenuated form, and from this came the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire and its descendants.

So what, you ask? Well, for one thing, political and economic collapse did not mean Road Warrior with chariots. It happened gradually as Rome abandoned the frontiers, then the provinces, and finally could no longer administer most of the Italian peninsula. People stepped up to try and fill in, for better or worse. A wild card in the form of a volcano that made Krakatoa look small caused problems even the Romans at their peak would have had trouble dealing with. Individuals such as Boethius, Alfred of Wessex, Cassiodorus, monastic chroniclers, and other people whose work has not survived kept ideas alive. Latin was not a dead language, although it staggered (see Jan Huizinga for details). The light of learning flickered but did not die, because enough people remembered what had once been done, and thought about trying to recreate or improve it, that out of the “Dark Ages” came chivalry, Chartes Cathedral, the Niebelungenlied (it’s not what Wagner makes it out to be, really), and other things. The Late Antiquity, while not an era of sweetness and light, wasn’t as dark as it once seemed.


* I’m not going to argue dating systems. If Undead Gaius Iulius Caesar wishes to use years since the founding of Rome, he is free to do so.


166 thoughts on “The Not-As-Dark-As-Advertised Ages (At Least North of the Alps)

  1. This is all well and good, and I learned from it. However, Mrs. Hoyt, what I want to know is: Where is Colonel Kratman, and what have you done to him?

    1. er? Oh, his post? I’ll be putting it up later. I need to be clear headed for that, because we always get odd comments. But it’s one of his afterwords, so…

      1. An afterward as blog post. Neat. Good to read your feeling better. I was about to type hear, but realized it wouldn’t make sense would it.

      2. Oh, good. I was afraid that you had him duct-taped to a chair in the basement, with John Ringo thwacking him on the extremities with a piece of angle iron. No, wait, that’s W.E.B. Griffin.

  2. I think some of the most moving evocations of the fading of Rome in Northern Europe and the British Isles is in Rosemary Sutcliff’s “Sword at Sunset”. But then the British Isles really did have a dark period, since the Saxon invasions really did disrupt the old Roman order.

    1. Oh, yes! ‘Sword At Sunset’ is great, but I also really enjoy her other books about Roman Britain:

      The Eagle Of The Ninth
      The Silver Branch
      The Lantern Bearers
      Dawn Wind
      The Shield Ring
      Frontier Wolf
      The Mark Of The Horse Lord

      All highly recommended.

      1. I enjoyed them as a kid. As an adult, I started to notice a not exactly subtle anti-Christian animus.

        Might not even be her. A lot of the research, particularly religious, had a distinct bias in her day.

    2. 1. But then the British Isles really did have a dark period…

      That’s my impression. I wonder if it’s confirmed or refuted by the kind of in-depth archeology which the post mentions.

      2. If the Brit civilization had a major regression, it stands to reason that writers in English would generalize that to all of Europe.That might be another source of misconception.

      The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.The Decline and Really Fast Decline Followed by Stagnation of Roman Civilization doesn’t have the same zippiness.

      3. Still, living in a society whose birth rate drops due to imperial collapse, invasions, natural disasters, plague, etc. is no fun.

      4. It bears recalling that a civilization consists of (much) more than its cultural high points. Otoh, there’s the classic Heinlein quote that poverty is the normal condition of man etc. Though civilization persisted after the fall of Rome, one wonders how RAH’s tiny, essential, creative minority fared before, during and after the “fall”. (Maybe there are historical metrics which registered the fall merely as a glitch.)

      5. Thanks to AB for a thought-provoking post. While I was cranking this comment out, others preempted parts of it; no disrespect meant by my not acknowledging them.

      1. “I wonder if it’s confirmed or refuted by the kind of in-depth archeology which the post mentions.”

        Calleva Atrebatum — a decent-sized Roman town that was abandoned shortly after the empire withdrew. Lots of Roman farms and homes that exist today only in their outlines in fields. And to this day “hordes” are literally being plowed up or found by seriously dedicated guys with metal detectors — some of the hordes show sign of being buried in a hurry.

        1. some of the hordes show sign of being buried in a hurry.

          Didn’t bootleggers do that, too, when they knew they’d have to hoof it instead of take cars and the cops were closing in?

          There’s something in the human brain that goes “oh, crud, I gotta go fast– where can I hide this? I know, I’ll dig a hole! They’ll never look for over-turned earth!”

            1. Well, some of the hoards may have originally been under floorboards, or in the middle of a field.

          1. Over-turned earth on a working farm? As common as dirt.

            It wasn’t as if the could Western Union the money to their destination. (BTW – that was somewhat an innovation of the Jews, especially the Rothschild* brothers, who essentially invented international banking. It did little to endear the tribe. It becomes problematic to loot the local bank when his family can lend your opponents money and refuse funds to you.)

            *Niall Ferguson has written The House of Rothschild, an excellent history of the family’s banking adventures. It is a book I very much wish to have read but cannot bring myself to read.

            1. For that to hide it, it’d have to be in a “normal” place, which would mean that it’d run a chance of being dug up with normal farming– or that it’d have to be really deep, which would look different.

              True, I’m no expert in old style farming, but in new style stuff it’s pretty obvious… then again, how many raiders would be farmers?

              1. Take a few obvious and relatively stable points of interest — a tree, a stone, the corner of the field, whatever. Use them to locate the hiding spot.

                1. That’d work for the folks who thought ahead and buried stuff they didn’t need right now, because They Might Need To Move; I was focusing on the “oh crud, that’s a big bunch of folks!!!”

                  1. Well, the pillars of smoke on the horizon, and the leading edge of the refugee swarm, would give you warning. The Vikings were particularly frightening because, unlike a traditional raiding army, they could show up anywhere with a coast or deep enough rivers.

                    1. Which would still leave you with the “fresh dirt where it oughtn’t be, and anyone with a smack of knowledge will notice it” problem.

                    2. But you’re right Foxfier on its being the instinct. However, you’re missing some things — people buried stuff under mulched areas. They buried stuff in wooded areas thick with pine needles. they buried stuff in outhouse’s and storage sheds, lifting boards to get at dirt. The amazing thing is not how often you’re digging in Portugal, hear a “thunk” and there’s something someone buried (btw, depending on the time these might be, honest, a kitchen knife, and three ceramic plates) the surprising thing is that you can dig without finding it. (And when we cleared an unused “fallow, forever” field next door to my parents’ new house to plant, we found well… debris. It appears there was a great battle there in Roman times. Most of the remains/fibulas, etc were in the Roman cemetery down the road. But not all.

                    3. I honestly don’t know real natural pine areas because I grew up around post-Arbor-Day foundation forests, but every pine mulched area I’ve been around makes it really obvious no matter what effort you make to hide it.

                      I read too many fantasies, and so did my mom– we tried, with somewhat-expert my dad’s help, to hid some spring work we did that required digging. 🙂

                    4. You can do it in any pine area that’s over about 30 years old. It just has to look VERY well-traveled. It would require scuffing through the mulch all through that area, but once you did that (or perhaps drove the sheep/goats through it a couple of times), it would look like a place where people moved through it all the time.

                    5. According to Fred, our area was more like 40 (that would work for assuming the 60s) but American long-needle pines might be different from natural European pines.

                    6. Strange – I believe it is White Pine that my father planted 35 years ago, and I would say it could be done under them. Maybe your pines are too far apart to lay down a good thick layer?

                      I dunno – doesn’t matter much. Clearly a lot of stuff was successfully hidden,however it was done.

                    7. Too close, maybe? It was the classic “plant, two steps, plant” model where you’re in finger-touch to your neighbor doing the same. Staggered, if you’re lucky.

                    8. Hm…. maybe dig a hole, put your stuff it, move the burn pile on it and set it on fire?

                      If know-nothing house wife can think of it, they had to be able to as well….

                    9. Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Saga, telling the history of Alfred’s unification of Britain as witnessed by Uhtred of Bebbanburg addresses the hoard burial rite in appropriate context. Good reading, if you like that sort of Ringo-ish thing.

                    10. Unless your trees grow a lot farther apart than I am used to, digging a hole out in the woods can be a major pain, due to roots etc. Hiding stuff by burying it without being noticeable requires a few things, but mostly time. You simply can’t run out back and dig hole, put your valuables in it, fill it back in, and blend it, in the time between when the stableboy comes running up out of breath to tell you there is a band of strange men marching up the road, and the time they are pounding on your door.
                      It is very difficult to camouflage a burial site to pass immediate inspection, if you have a couple weeks and a good rain or two your scenario of burying in the woods and replacing the needles works, but only if you don’t have to worry about the neighbors wandering through the area and spotting the disturbance in that couple weeks. Same thing for burying out in the pig pen, if you have a week or two for the pigs to stomp mud back and forth over the hole (provided they don’t decide the fresh turned earth needs to be rooted out), but not if someone stops by in the evening after you spent all morning fighting the pigs off while you dug and refilled a hole in their living room. Burying stuff where fresh turned earth looks natural, like a field or garden plot also has it’s problems. Fresh turned earth only looks natural there at certain times of the year, if you try and bury something in the wheat field in August or January, it is going to stick out like a sore thumb, also if you dig deep enough to put your valuables below the level of earth disturbed by farming, in many areas you are digging below the topsoil layer, and a spot of different colored dirt stands out almost as bad in fresh turned field as a spot of bare dirt in a planted field does.
                      Thus the popularity of such hiding places as under the floorboards, in the privy, and burying in the haystack. Also traditional burying, doesn’t work well for items you need periodic or possibly short-notice access to.

                    11. Supposedly the hearthstone was a favorite place to pry up and look under once residences featured a hearth, and, as depicted in the scene in 1632, one can pretty easily predict that torturing the occupants to tell you where the stuff was hidden was the most common solution to any “I don’t know where else to look, chief” dilemma.

                      I can’t imagine any better bet for villagers than to be elsewhere while hoping they didn’t find your stash, rather than present for the search.

                      Note that in my understanding the Viking plunder found in modern times in stashes and God offering hoards back where they went a’Viking from is far more likely to be from target country churches than homes.

                    12. Churches were much more likely to have loot in precious metals and jewels. The only loot that Vikings were interested in that your average tenant farmer was likely to have was his daughter, and burying her kind of defeats the purpose.

              2. Wouldn’t have to be too deep to keep from being discovered by farmers. Especially if they thought to place a rock over top to keep it from surfacing. If you bury a rock a foot and a half deep and your hoard beneath that, it should be perfectly safe.

            2. When grandma’s floor boards where replace — house was already, then, over 100 years old — 120, I think — we found a jar with silver coins from all over the world. At a guess, buried during some war or disturbance, in the dirt, under the floorboards.

              1. I read a story last year about a small horde of coins being found in a British home, apparently stashed there by someone escaping the Holocaust. They were able to identify descendants/relatives and the heirs got the money.

        2. On the other hand, genetic evidence and the artifacts seem to point to the influx being very small, no more than the Norman influx later.

          Barbarians To Angels has some interesting stuff on this. Reviewed here

          1. I don’t have the book in front of me, but there’s a recent book out that argues that “English” shows evidence of intermixing between the Celtic language of the people in what is now England and the Germanic languages of the “Hordes”. That wouldn’t have happened if the “Hordes” had killed everybody.

            There are “features” in English (even pre-Norman invasion) that are foreign to any other Germanic language but appear to match features in the various Celtic languages.

      2. The tiny, essential, creative minority were busy making major inventions. For instance, they improved on the Roman scratch plow, which meant that large portions of Europe became arable for the first time. Also, although the water mill was known to the Romans, they considered it a curiosity, but when Europe emerged from the Dark Ages and started to leave records, there were scads and scads — thousands — of water mills, which mean that women were no longer spending hours grinding grain. Plus, of course, inventing serfdom. For the free peasants, a step down, but for the unfree ones, aka slaves, a step up.

        1. Some mosaics in Istanbul, dated to Justinian, feature a water wheel. Of course, they also feature a luckless couple of guys facing a Bengal tiger and what for all the world looks like the Krampus, so…

            1. The oldest grist mill found, thus far, in modern Bavaria dates to 696/697 (tree-ring date). Others have been found, but I don’t have dates on them.

            2. Depends on what time period you’re talking about. There were mills powered by water from aquaducts that besieging Goths cut in 537 A.D. Justinian’s general Belisarius introduced ship mills anchored in the Tiber to replace to replace the lost capacity. They spread repidly through Western Europe after that.

        2. 1. Plus, of course, inventing serfdom.

          Geeks doing cutting-edge data mining for the Obama campaign and the surveillance state: here we go again? There’s hope in noting that serfdom was not viable forever.

          2. Note to self: Dig out and finish your copy of The Collapse of Complex Societies.

    3. As far as the Decline of Rome and its effects, I think very highly of Kipling’s The Roman Centurion’s Song:

      LEGATE, I had the news last night – my cohort ordered home
      By ships to Portus Itius and thence by road to Rome.
      I’ve marched the companies aboard, the arms are stowed below:
      Now let another take my sword. Command me not to go!

      I’ve served in Britain forty years, from Vectis to the Wall,
      I have none other home than this, nor any life at all.
      Last night I did not understand, but, now the hour draws near
      That calls me to my native land, I feel that land is here.

      Here where men say my name was made, here where my work was done;
      Here where my dearest dead are laid – my wife – my wife and son;
      Here where time, custom, grief and toil, age, memory, service, love,
      Have rooted me in British soil. Ah, how can I remove?

      For me this land, that sea, these airs, those folk and fields suffice.
      What purple Southern pomp can match our changeful Northern skies,
      Black with December snows unshed or pearled with August haze –
      The clanging arch of steel-grey March, or June’s long-lighted days?

      You’ll follow widening Rhodanus till vine and olive lean
      Aslant before the sunny breeze that sweeps Nemausus clean
      To Arelate’s triple gate; but let me linger on,
      Here where our stiff-necked British oaks confront Euroclydon!

      You’ll take the old Aurelian Road through shore-descending pines
      Where, blue as any peacock’s neck, the Tyrrhene Ocean shines.
      You’ll go where laurel crowns are won, but -will you e’er forget
      The scent of hawthorn in the sun, or bracken in the wet?

      Let me work here for Britain’s sake – at any task you will –
      A marsh to drain, a road to make or native troops to drill.
      Some Western camp (I know the Pict) or granite Border keep,
      Mid seas of heather derelict, where our old messmates sleep.

      Legate, I come to you in tears – My cohort ordered home!
      I’ve served in Britain forty years. What should I do in Rome?
      Here is my heart, my soul, my mind – the only life I know.
      I cannot leave it all behind. Command me not to go!

      1. I was going to say “where the heck was this when they were shoving drek at us in school?” Then I saw it’s Kipling. Sad, how that explains it. (No, I don’t know what they have against him.)

        1. Kipling – he was an Evil White Man, and an Imperialist, lording it over those Poor Defenseless Brown People in India.
          Yeah, I know – pure BS – but that has been the general feeling since about the mid-20th century. The fact that he wrote reams and reams of accessible poetry and prose, and could put himself into the voice and character of practically anyone at all, white, brown, black or anything in between – including polo ponies, wolves, and whatever – his towering skill at that doesn’t make up for being that ghastly and unclean creature – an Imperialist White Man.
          I’ve often used a liking for Kipling as a kind of short-hand key for sorting out whether or not I like, or feel a kinship with someone. Like and appreciate Kipling? My sister or brother from another mother!!! Give me the outraged lecture about Imperialist Male Hegemony … Ok; no intellectual kin of mine, then. Go on your way, these are not the ‘droids you were looking for.

          1. Joseph Conrad did not give outraged lectures about Imperialist Male Hegemony, but…Heart of Darkness, opening scene on the Thames:

            “And this also,” said Marlow suddenly, “has been one of the dark places of the earth.”

            “I was thinking of very old times, when the Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago—the other day. . . . Light came out of this river since—you say Knights? Yes; but it is like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in the flicker—may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday. Imagine the feelings of a commander of a fine—what d’ye call ’em?—trireme in the Mediterranean, ordered suddenly to the north; run overland across the Gauls in a hurry; put in charge of one of these craft the legionaries,—a wonderful lot of handy men they must have been too—used to build, apparently by the hundred, in a month or two, if we may believe what we read. Imagine him here—the very end of the world, a sea the color of lead, a sky the color of smoke, a kind of ship about as rigid as a concertina—and going up this river with stores, or orders, or what you like. Sandbanks, marshes, forests, savages,—precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink. No Falernian wine here, no going ashore. Here and there a military camp lost in a wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay—cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death,—death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush. They must have been dying like flies here. Oh yes—he did it. Did it very well, too, no doubt, and without thinking much about it either, except afterwards to brag of what he had gone through in his time, perhaps. They were men enough to face the darkness. And perhaps he was cheered by keeping his eye on a chance of promotion to the fleet at Ravenna by-and-by, if he had good friends in Rome and survived the awful climate. Or think of a decent young citizen in a toga—perhaps too much dice, you know—coming out here in the train of some prefect, or tax-gatherer, or trader even, to mend his fortunes. Land in a swamp, march through the woods, and in some inland post feel the savagery, the utter savagery, had closed round him,—all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men. There’s no initiation either into such mysteries. He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. And it has a fascination, too, that goes to work upon him. The fascination of the abomination—you know. Imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate.”

            He paused.

            “Mind,” he began again, lifting one arm from the elbow, the palm of the hand outwards, so that, with his legs folded before him, he had the pose of a Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a lotus-flower—”Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency—the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force—nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind—as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretense but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea—something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. . . .”

        1. You know, that there is a sad picture – poor Gaius Julius, forced to watch as first the legions voluntarily abandon the Britannia he first campaigned in, then lose the Gaul he conquered, get kicked out of the breadbasket that was North Africa, and finally fall at the gates of wherever-they-parked-the-capitol-this-week (Rome’s capitol isn’t Rome, you dumb barbarian, It’s now Mediolanum (Milan)! Wait, Now it’s Ravenna!) before rolling on to poor backwater Rome itself and sacking the place yet another time.

          One has to wonder if at the end he wasn’t rooting for the Ostrogoths, given the sad and sorry shape to which the current management had brought the Republic he loved.

            1. Well, nothing is ever really free, is it?

              Were someone to be dangling bait like that to an undead 2,113 year old (Ah! The 12th or 13th of July 100BC! Belated Happy Birthday!) former consul, most likely that someone would be fishing for reminiscences rather than creative writing…

              From a safe distance of course…

    1. Well, Ma’am, as you have been at pains to point out, Portugal is a special case among nation-states. You seem to be a special case among Portagees.

    2. Not to mention that lovely long coast line. Not only magnificent seafood, but when the urge to wander (aka go a looting) struck all you needed was a sword and a boat.

      1. I mind that scene in “Shogun” when the Portagee captain wishes to enter the Nip palace and has to surrender his weapons. Weal, there’s the pistols, the sword, the dagger, the extra dagger, the pocket knife… Then they pat him down and discover even more weapons. They end up with a pile of steel a foot or so high on the table before they are satisfied, and let him in. It was hilarious.

        1. Whistles. Innocently. I MENTIONED innocently, right? (The problem is when I forget some of the hardware before going on a plane. Even weirder is how many times I fly with it, and no one catches it. If you ever hear I’ve been arrested, it was from being absent minded about the sharp stuff.)

    3. I still remember how shocked I was to find out that the Alans are still alive, well, and living in the Chechnya-Dagestan area, as well as in the genes of half of Europe.

        1. True. They spoke an eastern Iranian language, and of course not all them left their homeland. The modern descendent of their language is Ossetian. Most Ossetian-speakers live in Georgia, but also some in Dagestan and Chechnya.

    4. Including, according to Irish legends, the branch of the Celts that settled Eire. Do Portuguese legends confirm this?

  3. Well, there’s some evidence that even in Britain things were as bad as has been claimed.

    1. True. I was looking at the broad sweep of life north of the Alps, and my special research area is between the Rhone and the Carpathians. If you were suffering under the combination of Saxons, bad weather, and plague, life was pretty grim compared to the glory days of the Roman empire (but even then see the new view of Roman occupied Britain coming out of the English universities. Salway’s book, I think it was.). David Keys, in his book “Catastrophe,” argues in part that the events of 536-550 in Britain led to the Arthurian/Welsh/Cornish legend of the Fisher King and the wounded land that cannot heal.

      1. What do you suppose the weather disruption did to the folks who made their living from the ocean? Even if they stayed in sight of land….

        1. Some historians think it pushed the development of more seaworthy boats, better able to handle rough water. (see Brian Fagan’s “Fish on Fridays” and Keys’ “Catastrophe.”) I don’t really “do” maritime history, so I don’t know what the latest research is.

              1. Ha. Ha. Haha.


                Since I started doing no carne Fridays, I’ve been shocked at how rare the traditional “Fish on Fridays” thing is… that, and trying to avoid the “all you can eat Fish” stuff. Kinda goes against the idea…..

                1. I think it’s regional, too. The more Catholics in the area, the bigger it is. Here in Cincinnati you get every fast food place pushing their fish sandwiches and every church, fire department, and township holding a fish fry.

            1. Foxfier, try looking up the title at It is a listing for all participating libraries and it is amazing what you can get from inter-library loan. Dad borrowed stuff from across the US when he was researching a book, but he pulled up the information on that site before trundling down to the library to ask for the inter-library loan.

              1. Oh, glee! I can ask for an interlibrary loan from the website!

                (Being a gov’t website, it’s not very well designed…but now I know another trick to using it!)

    2. Things were pretty bad in Britain though. Probably mre from climate change (e.g. as noted in the article no wine) than invasions. Plus of course the Anles and Saxons (and Jutes) only just about got themselves organized and able to have kingdoms bigger than a large Marsh when the vikings came along and wrecked it all again.

      Moreover it is absolutely clear that somehow the varius invasions caused people in Britian to forget how to make brick, cement and a bunch of other similar things.

    3. Part of the problem in Britain was the weather, which did get much worse. The end of the Roman Warm Period is about 350AD (it’s actually spread out over about 80 years, from about 330AD to about 410AD). Things got REALLY bad about 600 AD. At the same time, that was only one aspect of what was happening. When the Romans left, they left rather quickly, and all of them were gone by about 400AD. They left a power vacuum, which was filled by a series of minor lords. The Saxons complicated the problem by invading eastern England (the Saxon Shores, from about the Thames to the Nene River), and when the Romans left, the Celts and Picts once more came south from Scotland. Yeah. life got a little harsh. At the same time, the monastaries and other Church lands preserved as much as they could, but they, too, were looted or driven out. Some areas prospered, other areas were constantly fought over. Things didn’t really straighten out until after the Norman invasion of 1066AD.

      1. When the Romans left, they … left a power vacuum, which was filled by a series of minor lords.

        Sorta the way we just did in Iraq, are in the process of doing in Afghanistan and pushed Mubarak to do in Egypt?

        Geeze, is a good thing we be practicing that “smart” diplomacy else ways I would suspicion the people in charge were effing idjits.

  4. Speaking of Charlemagne, I’ve always enjoyed one of the reasons allegedly advanced for his canonization as St. Charlemagne (by a local bishop, as was customary in those days – possibly with his son’s sword at his throat at the time). It seems the late Charlie-boy was lauded as a highly successful missionary, making many converts to Christianity (a.k.a. Catholicism in those days).

    What the hagiographers failed to mention was his method. It’s claimed he’d line up all the surviving members of a Hun or Goth or Vandal tribe alongside the nearest body of water, and give them a choice: be baptized in it, or be drowned in it. Apparently the cries of “Hallelujah! Now I see it!” (or the Hun or Goth or Vandal equivalent) resounded for miles.

    Of course, whether or not his converts actually stayed converted after he and his army went back over the hill has never been satisfactorily analyzed . . .


    1. I have long been puzzled over the cinema’s preference for Arthur over Charlemagne. Credit Poul Anderson for leading the recent literary counter attack.

      1. RES, Arthur was British and his story was spread though-out the *English* speaking world. Charlemagne was French and the “French speaking world” is smaller than the English speaking world. For that matter, is Charlemagne as “famous” in France as Arthur is in England? I’ve gotten the impression that the French don’t treat Charlemagne the same way that the English treat Arthur.

          1. YES. I once told a German “classmate” (well, we were in a class together, I think) that Charlemagne was Germanic. He thought I was … badly mistaken, let us say.

        1. Arthur? British? And here I thought he was a Sarmatian cavalryman (or a recent descendent) transposrted from the Sarmatian plains long the Black Sea to the hills of England.
          That’s okay. He was still the Pendragon/Pan Tarken/Dragon Lord.

        2. The French had Arthur, too. And after 1066, separating the two would have required a garden hose and a strong stomach.

          FWIW, I think Arthur became the catch-all for the western European lost-king/great-king/golden-age myths. At least, for the English and French speaking bits.

          1. ” And after 1066, separating the two would have required a garden hose and a strong stomach.”

            Oh great, Arthurian slash fic.

            1. “Oh great, Arthurian slash fic.”

              Er, have you SEEN any “King Arthur” movie made in the last 40 years?

        3. There’s some scholars who thinnk that Arthur was French too. Not all of them are Breton patriots either.

          Charlemagne’s problem was that he definitely existed and had descendents so people who were trying to rule and weren’t descended from him had an incentive to denigrate his achievements. Arthur on the other hand is far more legendary and has no descendents so everyone can claim to be descended from him or something. Also Arthur was very handy to the Norman and then Tudor kings of England as a way to build a national identity in a way that wasn’t true for the French (particulalry when you think that Charlemagne could be claimed by pertty much any nation from France to Austria.

      2. King Arthur was taking over from Charlemagne even in the chivalric romances. He had two advantages.
        1. Charlemagne was merely true; Arthur was romantic, modern meaning.
        2. King Arthur was not politically loaded; you did not have worry about audience claiming descent from Charlemagne OR from his rebellious lords when you did a King Arthur tale, so it could be used more widely without getting another.

        1. The Matter of France tends to be a bit more earthy than the Matter of Britain. Embarrassing things happened to Charlemagne and his knights, and the magic wasn’t nearly as frou-frou.

          (Of course, the Welsh stuff could be similar, but Europeans probably weren’t reading much Welsh. Welsh stuff filtered through the English, the Bretons, the French, the Germans, etc. got different.)

      1. When it comes to gods, a lot of cultures believe that nothing succeeds like success. Or to put it a different way, that a god who isn’t strong enough to defend his people or drive out new gods isn’t the god you should follow. Believing that the gods were teaching you a lesson by not letting you win — didn’t show up much, except in Homer, and that was inter-pantheon warfare.

        But it’s also true that if you were already dissatisfied with your gods and your culture, you might be interested in the new boss’ new religion for your own reasons.

        It should also be pointed out that plenty of convert-kings throughout the world did the same thing with their own people. (Vladimir the Great of Kiev/Kyiv, for example.) Heck, the German princes who went Protestant demanded that their people follow them, and that was a long time after Charlemagne!

        1. I understand the Byzantines had quite a bit of success making Christian conversions in the Norselands (yes, their trade & influence went that far north) because the old Norse religion didn’t offer a lot to the women (being a wine-servant in Valhalla, at best), and the Christian heaven is gender-equal-opportunity.

          1. To be honest I’m shocked more males in the west aren’t converting to Islam because of a similar effect.
            Jerry Pournelle tells me those conversions were aided by all the kidnapped Irish, Portuguese, French, etc wives, with whom the guys ended up falling in love, and who were already Christian.

            1. No pork and no alcohol might be one reason for not having a massive wave of conversions to Islam yet.

              1. You can have my Bacon and my Scotch when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers! 🙂

              2. The pig, the tastiest animal on the planet.

                Three major religions can’t eat it.

                OTOH, the eating of pork is considered one of the pleasures of Norse “heaven”.


    2. The other story I’ve heard is that Charlemagne would have the defeated locals march across the stream – while his soldiers held naked blades out level and just above the water. If you ducked into the water to avoid decapitation, you’d just been baptized! Very efficient… totally unsure whether it’s true or not.

  5. I recall in the mists of ancient tomes read in the distant past that at one point in time the Bishop of Paris boasted a library of six volumes. At that same period the Sultan of Constantinople (or was it Byzantium back then?) had a library with tens of thousands of books and scrolls.
    And then there was that highly regarded French Catholic nun who’s main claim to fame was abstaining from full body bathing from the point that she entered the order on. Seems at the time the bath was associated with pagan Romans so the avoidance of soap and water was somehow more christian. I suspect that and a belief that cats were witch’s familiars had more than a bit to do with some of the recurring plagues common to the period.
    Never ceases to amaze me how we humans can twist our beliefs into all sorts of pretzelly shapes, Islam and Christianity being two fine examples. Add in pseudo religions such as communism and the green movement and you have a solid basis for some of the worst sins perpetrated by humanity against itself. Greatest achievements as well, but often sadly lacking in balance.

    1. Some people turned against bathing. Others kept it up. Some Roman baths in the Rhineland were maintained and used until 1326, when the massive earthquake in the lower Rhine Rift fouled up the geology and ruined the hot springs that fed and heated the baths.

      1. Saunas, with some slight variations, seem to have been common once in most parts of northern Europe. One reason they are called by the Finnish name now is that my ancestors were living in the back of beyond and local peasants never quite managed to catch up with the current fashions, until it became fashionable to start promoting all kinds of things which made one different from the neighboring people by which time people here were among the few who still used them.

        (Local winters may have had an influence, being able to go inside a place that hot when you have been more or less cold the whole day is a pleasure which would be hard to give up for something like that maybe they are not considered really civilized or some other trivial reason like that)

        1. I was going to say, I think in southern Europe people just “went skinny dipping” and such a lot. And in winters such as I experienced in Portugal, a bath in front of the stove was enough. (It was what we had when I was little, too.)

          1. I lived in an apartment with no shower for over a decade, and managed reasonably well with sponge baths and washing my hair in a bucket. Plus being a pain in the a** for my friends because I was always asking to use theirs. 🙂

      2. Actually, some of the baths in Wiesbaden date to before the birth of Christ, and are still being used. Wiesbaden was known in Roman times as Aquas Mattaicus, and was famous even then for its hot baths. They missed the fate of many of the baths (bads) in Baden and Bavaria (and also in Wurttemberg) that had the flow of hot water disrupted.

    2. As far as I can tell, there really wasn’t an association between bathing and the plague. Constantinople had at least one large public bath, the Baths of Zeuxippus, up until the early 700s. They had at least one bout of plague during that time. Arguably it may have come in the period that particular bath was out of commission (Nika riots), but I have a hard time believing there weren’t other baths in the city.

      I’ve also read that the “Turkish bath” came from the Turks making use of the Roman baths in the regions they conquered, which suggests the custom was in full swing all the way up to the end. I know the Byzantines had multiple waves of the plague during those 700 years.

      1. Plagues went through the Finnish peninsula the same way they went through any other neighboring areas, and people here did bathe regularly, at least the peasants seem to have. And most old folk healing advice collected do include getting into the sauna, sweating and scrubbing.

      2. Problem is, Roman-style baths in places without natural hot springs require a lot of firewood – to minimize the cost, the same water tends to get reused a lot, with fresh water added mostly just for replacement. This in turn means such baths become an efficient way of sharing diseases, rather than a way of improving hygiene.

    3. Full body bathing wasn’t something you could do by walking into a room in the house and turning on a faucet; from memory, the bathhouses tended to be very popular hookup spots.

      Just because you don’t take a bath doesn’t mean you’re not clean.

      1. Yeah, bathhouses started to decline into prostitution late in the Middle Ages, as the old water systems in many cities became inadequate. If the water carries cholera, then yeah, it’s unhealthy to bathe. Just like if you’ve got malaria mosquitoes flying around, it’s unhealthy to leave the windows open, even though you’re not right about the problem being “bad air” (mal aria).

        As long as firewood and peat were fairly easy to get in Ireland, there were tiny sod bathhouses even out in the country. When the peasants really started starving and having trouble getting peat for the house fire, then yeah, bathing declined. But hot food, fresh dry clothes, and a bath before the fresh clothes, were the three basic duties of hospitality to the guest in medieval Irish law.

  6. The top layer of Rome had vanished, but the ordinary, tax-paying people remained,

    An important point: historians and intellectuals typically focus on the superstructure of a civilization while ignoring the foundations, basements and lower floors. Of course, since the intellectuals tend to occupy the ivory towers they are naturally as unaware of History’s “underclasses” as they are of the underclass of their present.

    Recent historical focus on the lives of ordinary people is a partial corrective but, as such things typically are, is overdone.

    1. “Recent historical focus on the lives of ordinary people is a partial corrective but, as such things typically are, is overdone.”

      And often, I fear, as mistaken as they are about contemporary ordinary people.

  7. ” I’m not going to argue dating systems. If Undead Gaius Iulius Caesar wishes to use years since the founding of Rome, he is free to do so.

    Oh, I have given up my … err, … the old Roman calendar. “When in Rome …” you know.

    1. My cool and nasty old High School Latin teacher made us date our papers in AUC sometimes, just to be mean. Ah, yes, she was a grumpy old Southern Lady. She would bring a briefcase to school every day with exactly three things in it; a brown bag containing her lunch, a file folder containing our corrected work, and a revolver, presumably containing ammo. (This was before the Gun Control Act.)

      1. P.s. She caught a guy reading a f#*k book once. She grabbed it, carefully perused it, then tore it to pieces and threw it into the wastebasket. She then said, “If you want to read that kind of stuff in this room, you should sign up for Third-Year Latin and read Suetonious with me!” Ah, Mrs. Reynolds, I miss her so much!

  8. The OP wrote “out of the ‘Dark Ages’ came chivalry […] and other things.”

    We have incomplete knowledge of the development and spread of unglamorous but important innovations such as knitting, and improvements in plows and horse-related technology such as stirrups and harnesses, but they seem to have been spreading effectively through the region at the time. Compared to the spread of modern innovations — e.g. the spread of railroads or automobiles or cellular phones— the spread seems glacially slow, but despite the advertised advantages of Roman imperial rule for commerce and communication, such spread doesn’t seem particularly slow compared to times before the fall.

    1. (William, your pardon if I misunderstood your comment.)
      How fast technology spread and was adopted depended on where you were. For example, the Bavarians and other Central European peoples were using a form of swidden agriculture (slash and burn) apparently into the late 800s or early 900s, and later in some pockets. The Russians did not pick up the full three-field and manure system until the 1700s, if then, in large part because they did not have enough livestock or enough people. The spread of technology, notably military-based tech, was relatively fast under the Romans and comparatively slow afterwards until the communication networks really got stabilized (900s-1000?)

      My point was to contrast the ideas of the Dark Ages many of us grew up learning, with the current state of knowledge. The old view: everything stagnated or regressed until after 800, if not later (“Gothic” was an epithet as well as a designation). The current view: things were not as bad as first thought, and a lot of things continued as they had been with slow improvements and adaptations, then really flowered in the period between 1000-1300.

      1. I think people are gleefully willing to adopt any techniques that mean their children are less likely to starve. Balanced against, of course, the likelihood of the peasants down the street going all crab-bucket and accusing them of witchcraft.

        1. Yes, but farmers didn’t travel into the real boonies much, and neither did merchants or anybody else. If you live way back in the waybacks, it might take a while for news important to you to get there. (Of course, if you lived in a really deserted and scary place, monks or hermits might just move into the howling wilderness next door, in which case you might hear and see some really interesting things about farming.)

          1. There was considerable trade throughout the period. Traders visited not only towns and cities, but frequently any cluster of three or more houses. They were usually the source of news as well as whatever was new or in fashion. There is evidence that some trade routes were even hereditary entitlements, passed down from father to son for generations.

            1. There’s a big difference between “rural area,” “rural area that’s in the boonies but has rich natural resources,” and “rural area that’s in the boonies at the end of the road down a holler never visited by sunshine until noon, and with nothing anybody really wants or can’t get elsewhere with less trouble.”

        2. You leave out the chance that the techniques will crash and burn and so make their children more likely to starve.

          When Zimbabwe threw out the white farmers, a nearby African country offered them low-interest loans to buy farms. Not only did this mean they hired locals and so increased the economy, they also did new stuff so that the farmers could see that it worked.

      2. Not sure what sort of “slash and burn” they used, but burning can be very, very important if what you’re planting isn’t able to overpower the local plants– burn a field and you get rid of weeds.

        1. Back in the day, we’d start tobacco plants in plots that were first burnt clear and then covered with a plastic sheet.

        2. Ahem, bluegrass? Also burning releases nutrients into the soil, most plants grow much better in a fresh burn, unless you add lots of ‘nasty chemical’ fertilizers to unburned ground. They also carry a lot more of these important nutrients in the plants themselves. For an interesting example of this look at the record book entries for Blacktail deer, for about twenty years there were a large number of entries from the area burned in the Tillamook Burn (Western Oregon) before the burn there were almost none from the area, starting a few years after the burn, the nutrient rich plants growing in the burn provided an abundance of nutrients for superior antler growth, as time went on and the vegetation in the burn area matured this overabundance of nutrients faded away, and the number of record book entries tapered of in corollary.

    2. I worked on an archeological “dig” in Raunds (eastern Northhamptonshire) when I was stationed in England in 1987-89. The site was unusual, and some of the finds were quite controversial. There was a neolithic burial mound and three small Anglican villages (10-14 buildings each), within 300 yards of one another. There was a Roman villa less than a mile south, and a Danish 9th-century trading post about a half-mile west of the area. One of the people helping us on the dig found a Scottish broach, and some of the archaeologists found what turned out to be a brewer’s waste mound, indicating that someone (group) engaged in commercial (?) brewing, possibly for as long as 100 years at one village. The plague of 1365-66 destroyed the villages, with less than 15% of the population surviving.

  9. This is very interesting. It’s a period that received so little attention in my “World History” classes that it’s pretty much a huge blank in my mind.

    1. There’s a lot of new, neat stuff out there, if you are fluent in German, Dutch, or French, or have the budget and patience to track down specialized academic publications. The most readable English, easily-available-in-the-US book I’ve found (note it does not cover Britain) is by Peter S. Wells. “Barbarians to Angels” is short, illustrated, and very readable. Even his academic books are pretty readable as academic books go, if you are interested in the field.

    2. Part of the problem is that we know so little about the years from fourth century through about the sixth century in Europe. Few good records survive, there are entire years post sacking of Rome where the Roman “empire” still exists and yet we know absolutely nothing about what happened.

      We probably know more about every single month of Cicero’s life than years of those later periods.

      1. Still, it’s pretty freaky when you’re reading some early early medieval saint’s life among the Franks or Visigoths, and they’re all like, “Yeah, and then they were chatting with this nice lady from Syria who was a wealthy merchant and gave them some good advice….” And you’re thinking, “In the middle of France in an inland river port? No way!” And yet there you go, very matter-of-fact thing.

        1. I think he was an Irish saint living among the Franks. He torqued off one of the more b*tchy Frankish queens as well as many of the kings, and ended up being exiled for making too many chiding comments about royal lifestyle. So the Franks retaliated by saying that monks were breaking hospitality laws by only guesting people in the guesthouse and not letting laypeople into the actual cloistered area. So he and all his monks left their big monastery that they’d built from scratch and met a lot of interesting people in towns along the way, IIRC. But I can’t remember any of the names for search purposes.

          I did find St. Gondulf, however. Yay! St. Gondulf of Metz.

            1. Suburban — I think I asked before, but who was St. Gemil, and can he have had any connection with Portugal? The name is NOT Portuguese, but the very bad area where mom grew up was Sangemil. I never thought of it as a saint/name because Gemil is not a Portuguese name, but it CLEARLY is that. Also, btw, the area down the street with lots of names like Ibraim is Saomamede Infesta. (St. Mohammed in Feast.) Somehow I guess it wasn’t a CHRISTIAN saint. (Though I could be wrong. Could be a convert/martyr. The area was frontier between moor and Christian a long time.)

              1. Off the top of my head, unless the “every third guy is named Mohammad” thing is a modern trend, there are a lot of saints-by-martyrdom Mohammads.

              2. I’m not Suburban, but are you sure of that spelling? I tried to find “Saint Gemil” on-line but I can’t find one. I’ve seen names similar but not that name.

              3. St. Gemellus, maybe? Came from Ancyra/Ankara, Edessa, and Paphlagonia, martyred under Emperor Julian the Apostate, Dec. 10. His name means “twin.”

                St. Mamertus, Mammertus, or Mammertius of Vienne is a fairly popular saint in Germany (he’s one of the “ice saints” because you could plant without frost after those saint’s days – he’s May 11). He re-popularized Rogation Days processions, among other cool things.

                Re: saints — is a good quick reference source. A lot of saints’ days were changed in the Vatican II reorganization, and it only lists the current feastdays and not old ones, local ones, etc., but it’s a good start. There are also bigger saint references online, like Butler’s Lives of the Saints, various “dictionaries” of saints (Agnes Dunbar’s two volume one is great for women saints), local martyrologies, local missals for priests, etc.

                1. Gemellus makes sense… I’m almost sure though that Mamede was the local form of Mahomed (Maomed or Maomet) Mind you the word is pronounced Samba-Mede-Infesta. So until I was ten or so, and actually saw it written, I thought it was an infestation by Brazilian dancers.

                2. I’m trying to think where I’ve seen some St. Mohammed martyrs listed. I think one of ’em was an Ottoman scribe who converted and got caught, so I may have to go looking for him. Maybe his baptismal name was John?

                  There’s also St. Mommolenus/Mummolinus (monk, Scot in France, Oct. 16) and St. Mummolus/Momleolus/Mumbolus/Momble (monk, Irish in France, Nov. 18). Both have monk names using the popular “mo-” (my) endearment phrase used by one’s disciples. So really their names were Mo Molen and Mo something hard for French people to pronounce.

          1. In defense of those following the crazies…. (while, as the saying goes, teaching grandma to suck eggs….)

            Look at Zimmerman. Would you be able to tell his grandma is black, this “white Hispanic”?

            Now extrapolate across centuries….

              1. My neighbor-one-house-back has a daughter that’s a nurse. They started asking couples in depth about their background and warning them that human genetics are freaky after two blond-hazel-eyed folks had a “black” baby who was genetically proven to belong to both parents. Each had something like a great-great grand that was “black”.

                Then there’s the very black (can’t remember what country in Africa, but– wow, total Drizzt double) dad and very Irish (strawberry rather than red hair, IIRC) mom that had twin boys…. one “white” and one “black.”

                There’s a reason I try to remember to use quotes around the words.

                1. In Charles C Mann’s “1493” he devotes a section of a chapter to how the Spanish govt eventually tried to classify the race-mixing of white, black, and red after a couple of centuries in Central/Southern America. They came up with 16 different combinations, and yet those 16 completely ignored the fact that there was a lot of yellow in the mix, and after 2 generations it all completely fell apart anyway since there were so many stories like those y’all are describing where 2 children from the same parents wouldn’t appear to be “the same.”

                  Here’s the list:

                  Mestizo: Spanish father and Indian mother
                  Castizo: Spanish father and Mestizo mother
                  Espomolo: Spanish mother and Castizo father
                  Mulatto: Spanish and black African
                  Moor: Spanish and Mulatto
                  Albino: Spanish father and Moor mother
                  Throwback: Spanish father and Albino mother
                  Wolf: Throwback father and Indian mother
                  Zambiago: Wolf father and Indian mother
                  Cambujo: Zambiago father and Indian mother
                  Alvarazado: Cambujo father and Mulatto mother
                  Borquino: Alvarazado father and Mulatto mother
                  Coyote: Borquino father and Mulatto mother
                  Chamizo: Coyote father and Mulatto mother
                  Coyote-Mestizo: Cahmizo father and Mestizo mother
                  Ahi Tan Estas: Coyote-Mestizo father and Mulatto mother

        2. One of my favorite “Wait, what?!” archaeological finds is the statuette of Lakshmi they found at Pompei.

  10. Oh yeah and thanks for sidetracking me into Wikipedia’s articles on everything from the Battle of Tours/Poiters to Glastonbury via St Botolph

  11. I didn’t realize all politicians have an agricultural background until I read your article, but they all have manure spreading down to a fine art.

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