Early Britain eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 175 pages of information about Early Britain.

The Low Germans, in the third century after Christ, occupied in the main the belt of flat country between the Baltic and the mouths of the Rhine.  Between them and the old High German Swabians lay a race intermediate in tongue and blood, the Franks.  The Low Germans were divided, like most other barbaric races, into several fluctuating and ill-marked tribes, whose names are loosely and perhaps interchangeably used by the few authorities which remain to us.  We must not expect to find among them the definiteness of modern civilised nations, but rather such a vagueness as that which characterised the loose confederacies of North American Indians or the various shifting peoples of South Africa.  But there are three of their tribes which stand fairly well marked off from one another in early history, and which bore, at least, the chief share in the colonisation of Britain.  These three tribes are the Jutes, the English, and the Saxons.  Closely connected with them, but less strictly bound in the same family tie, were the Frisians.

The Jutes, the northernmost of the three divisions, lived in the marshy forests and along the winding fjords of Jutland, the extreme peninsula of Denmark, which still preserves their name in our own day.  The English dwelt just to the south, in the heath-clad neck of the peninsula, which we now call Sleswick.  And the Saxons, a much larger tribe, occupied the flat continental shore, from the mouth of the Oder to that of the Rhine.  At the period when history lifts the curtain upon the future Germanic colonists of Britain, we thus discover them as the inhabitants of the low-lying lands around the Baltic and the North Sea, and closely connected with other tribes on either side, such as the Frisians and the Danes, who still speak very cognate Low German and Scandinavian languages.

But we have not yet fully grasped the extent of the relationship between the first Teutonic settlers in Britain and their continental brethren.  Not only are the true Englishmen of modern England distantly connected with the Franks, who never to our knowledge took part in the colonisation of the island at all; and more closely connected with the Frisians, some of whom probably accompanied the earliest piratical hordes; as well as with the Danes, who settled at a later date in all the northern counties:  but they are also most closely connected of all with those members of the colonising tribes who did not themselves bear a share in the settlement, and whose descendants are still living in Denmark and in various parts of Germany.  The English proper, it is true, seem to have deserted their old home in Sleswick in a body; so that, according to Baeda, the Christian historian of Northumberland, in his time this oldest England by the shores of the Baltic lay waste and unpeopled, through the completeness of the exodus.  But the Jutes appear to have migrated in small numbers, while the larger part of the tribe remained at home in their

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Early Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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