August 8th, 2013


The Romance of Britain?

Thanks to everyone who gave me such useful replies to my classical query yesterday. One part of the discussion reminded me of something else I've always wondered about - I suspect even on this LJ - but of which I don't think I've ever heard an entirely satisfactory explanation.

A topic that came up yesterday was the length of time that subjugated peoples feel resentment. Would someone on the coast of Transalpine Gaul feel as if they were under occupation a couple of centuries after the Romans took over? When exactly did Saxon resentment of the Normans cease to be a live issue (if it has)? What about the Welsh today?

This prompts a few anodyne general thoughts, and one much more specific question. General thoughts first:

a) it's going to depend to some extent on how people are treated. I don't suppose the Helots ever really "got over" being taken over by the Spartans, for example.
b) not everyone is going to feel the same way. Some will come to terms with the new dispensation, while others continue to seethe. Even within individuals there will be some matters of relative indifference while others stir a visceral passion.
c) the extent to which people resent being a member of a subject people may be affected by the extent to which it is possible to change the situation - or to conceive of changing it. Servitude may be less bearable if escape is almost within one's grasp.
d) some communities have a history of surviving under successive elites. If I were an Egyptian at the time of Actium, I don't suppose I'd have been particularly worried that this was going to turn my life upside down. The Romans would simply replace the Greeks, who replaced the Persians, etc. Can being a subject people become a way of life in itself? Or were they still very angry about the removal of Nectanebo II?
e) ignorance renders most of these questions rhetorical, because for the vast majority of people we don't know how they felt. Maybe they were too busy swinking and sweting in the fields to worry much about the political dispensation; maybe they thought of little else. No one capable of wielding a pen cared enough to do a vox pop.

Okay, now the specific question, which may or may not relate to the above, but was in any case brought to mind by it.

Why is there no British Romance language? Britannia was a province for almost 400 years. I can't think of another place in the Western Roman Empire (i.e. the part that didn't use Greek as a lingua franca) that was held securely for that long and yet didn't develop one. Can you?

I seem to remember that the Romans stationed large numbers of troops here throughout their time, which suggests that there was potentially quite a bit of quelling to be done, but after the first century or so was the main part of Britannia, away from the Wall, particularly rebellious?* Did the Romans treat the Britons differently from the way they treated, say, the Gauls - keeping them more at arm's length? Was that extra century or so the Gauls had of being in the Empire what made all the difference, linguistically speaking? Or were the British simply practising early their genius for not learning foreign languages? This has bothered me for years!

*ETA By "rebellious" here I don't mean "given to declaring people Emperor" - which could only happen because there were loads of troops here. I mean "wishing to throw off the shackles of Empire altogether."

Twit, Twitter, Twittest

I had hoped that after his Dear Muslima letter a couple of years ago Richard Dawkins might manage to stop being so shrill and strident. I hoped in vain. Today he apparently tweeted:

All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.

First, let me note that Trinity College has never won a Nobel Prize, even if some of its graduates and Fellows have. Since institutions regularly win Nobels, the point is worth making. And yes, I know it's only 140 characters, but no one forced Dawkins to use Twitter.

So what's he saying here? As the screenshot shows, several of his more adulatory groupies have taken the line that if something is factual, no one can possibly object to it. Context, implication, intent - all these are irrelevant in respect of the grand shining Fact, to which we should all do unthinking obeisance.

I'm uncertain whether Dawkins is more or less subtle than his disciples. If tomorrow he tweets that black people have comparatively flat noses, we'll know for sure. Until then, I'll provisionally adopt the more obvious interpretation, which is that he is a tedious old bigot.