Sometime back, I took an Ancestry.com DNA test, which said that my genetics were 62% similar to modern-day inhabitants of Great Britain, and 32% similar to those from Greece and Italy. Due to the fact that 3/4 of my family tree was of German extraction, I found this to be somewhat puzzling.

I contacted a geneticist I knew (a friend of my wife's) and he said this was normal for certain groups of people of German descent who take the ancestry.com genetic tests, due to the great genetic diversity of Germany, a veritable cross-roads in European history, crisscrossed by hundreds of migratory groups throughout prehistory and antiquity. As a result, many people in Great Britain are genetically indistinguishable from sizeable portions in certain regions of Germany.

The geneticist told me that I was most likely of Saxon extraction and that the heaviest concentration of original Saxon markers was probably in Great Britain, even though the Saxons originated in Germany. This was because the Saxons migrated to Britain in the 300s and 400s. As the Roman Emperors faced attack from the Huns, Persians, and Germanic tribes from all over the Empire, they decided to recall many of the Legions, and they abandoned the least defensible parts of the Empire in order to focus on the defense of Italy, the Alps, and the southern portions of the Rhine and Danube. As a result, even though the Romans had been in Britain for over 300 years and the population of England and Wales had been heavily Romanized, they were abandoned. As the last Roman legions left, Germanic tribes from the Jutland Penininsula area, such as the Angles, Jutes and Saxons, decided that the civilized regions of Roman Britain--now without protection---would be easy pickings. They invaded and within 100 years they established new Germanic kingdoms. These were the Saxon kingdoms of Sussex, Wessex, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, East Anglia, Middle Angles, and many others.  These tribes were initially pagan, but were quickly Christianized by Irish bishops and monks, who encouraged the "horde" to settle, become agricultural, and stop the life of nomadic plundering.

The Saxons who remained in northern Germany remained pagan for a few hundred years, and helped destroy the last vestiges of Roman rule in northern Germany. After the fall of Rome, they fought incessantly with Slavic tribes to the East, as well as that other Germanic tribe--the Franks, to the West.

By the 700s, the Franks had unified most of France under the Merovingian and later, Carolingian dynasty. After the rise of Charlemagne, they sought to "reunite the Roman Empire" and waged holy war on all the remaining non-Christian groups in Europe. Special animosity was held for their old enemy, the Saxons, who would eventually be annihilated in their home territories of Germany in an almost genocidal religious war between 772 and 810 AD. As a result, many of the inhabitants of the modern-day Saxon states of Germany, Lower-Saxony (Niedersachsen), Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt) and Saxony (Sachsen) are somewhat more mixed than their forebears, due to the rapid loss of as much as 1/3 of their male population in war. As a result, modern inhabitants of the Saxon regions of Germany have a large amount of Frankish (Western European) DNA in them, not to mention Southern European (Roman genetic presence in parts of German preceded that of the Germans) and Celtic (who inhabited these lands before both the Romans and the Germans).

Much like the Franks, the Saxon tribe received its name from their prefered form of weaponry. Whereas the Franks used a battle axe known as a Francisca, a throwing-axe, the Saxons received their name from the Seax, which was a medium-sized dagger carried by all members of the tribe.

The county of Essex, in Great Britain, is the descendant of one of the old Saxon Kingdoms established there in the 400s. The name itself is a derivationx of the Saxon name for "Eastern Saxony" in Old English/Old German. Ost-Seachs. The flag contains a depiction of the Seax, which has been on Essex heraldry for almost 2,000 years. As an aside, the counties of Middlesex, Sussex and old English kingdom of Wessex also have names with the same directional connotations in Old German/Old English. Sussex meaning "South Saxony," Middlesex meaning "Middle Saxony," and Wessex meaning "West Saxony."

Saxon Steed

In addition to the Seax, many Saxon regions of Germany and Great Britain have the crest shown above, which is known as the "Saxon Steed," or "Sachsenross." It's present on the flag of the old Duchy of Saxony, the Hanoverian Coat of Arms, and the crest of Westphalia and the County of Kent, in Great Britain.

Coat of arms of Kent

Kent County Arms

Due to the Hanoverian monarchs ascending to the throne of Great Britain in 1712, it is now also present on the crest of the House of Windsor--the British Royal Family (properly known as the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gothe). 

Royal Standard of Windsors

Old Saxony banner.png

First Saxon flag, 700s

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Comment by Rob Wittmann on February 4, 2018 at 6:18am

lots of people are surprised by their tests, and dont realize that deep ancestry goes back further than the 1700s. it goes back thousands of years. also, an often overlooked cause of surprise is the fact that a family tree or marriage/birth certificate may say one tbing about paternity, but biology and reality may say something different. historically, without a dna trst, we can only really be sure about the maternity of ancestors

Comment by Ron Powell on February 4, 2018 at 7:33am

I find the use of the etymology re the term "Saxon" and "Franc" quite intriguing.

The fact that these groups were identified by the name of their preferred weaponry is fascinating...

So perhaps you'll ponder this:

There were intractable black-and-white distinctions made between Christians and Saracens during the medieval period beginning with the Fist Crusade.

The term Saraceni may be derived from the Semitic triliteral root srq "to steal, rob, plunder", and perhaps more specifically from the noun sāriq (Arabic:سارق‎), pl. sariqīn (سارقين), which means "thief, marauder, plunderer".[7]

By the 12th century, "Saracen" had become synonymous with "Muslim" in Medieval Latin literature. Such expansion in the meaning of the term had begun centuries earlier among the Byzantine Greeks, as evidenced in documents from the 8th century.[1][4][5]In the Western languages before the 16th century, "Saracen" was commonly used to refer to Muslim Arabs, and the words "Muslim" and "Islam" were generally not used (with a few isolated exceptions).[6]

In additiin, by the 12th century, Medieval Europeans had more specific conceptions of Islam and used the term "Saracen" (interchangeably with the term "Muslim") as an ethnic and religious marker.[1][16]

In some Medieval literature, Saracens—that is, Muslims—were described as black-skinned, while Christians were lighter (white)- skinned. An example is in The King of Tars, a medieval romance.[17][18]The Song of Roland, an Old French 11th-century heroic poem, refers to the black skin of Saracens as their only exotic feature.

On November 27, 1095, Pope Urban II makes perhaps the most influential speech of the Middle Ages, giving rise to the Crusades by calling all Christians in Europe ( white people) to war against the Saracen Muslims (black people) in order to reclaim the Holy Land, with a cry of “Deus vult!” or “God wills it!", and
a promise of eternal salvation and entry into heaven for all who took up arms against the dark-skinned (black, barbarous ) infidel.

Saxons, Francs, Germanics, and Iberians were among the white peoples of Western Europe who responded and undertook to engage in the First Crusade.

These "Crusades"  became the most protracted organized military action in human history lasting nearly 200 years....1095 – 1291AD.

More on the Crusades and the concept of "Race" in a future post.

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