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 koshersalaami on February 2, 2018 at 6:20pm

So the Saxons have spent more time in Britain with the Normans than without them?

Comment by Rodney Roe on February 2, 2018 at 7:54pm

I keep threatening to get DNA tested.  Does horse thief show up?  My father always told me that I was descended from horse thieves and wouldn't want to know my genealogy.  

Thanks for the history.  I knew some of that, but some was completely new.

Comment by Maui Surfer on February 2, 2018 at 9:20pm

That matches very closely with what I've been reading and hearing all these years. One interesting thing, we usually go back with the UK to the Roman occupation, and sometimes mention the Druids, or the Celts and how they went as far East as was possible, but, not much seems to be truly known about the times when the Islands were still connected to the continent of Europe itself ... were all these descendants descendants themselves? Sure is great to know, Hawaiian legends have been absolutely proved by DNA and linguistics as well ... also interesting, us Home Sapiens seem to be twice as old as a species as was long thought, and we once shared the Earth with at least three other types of "Man" ... inquiring minds want to know, great post.

Comment by Boanerges on February 3, 2018 at 8:37am

I know enough about my antecedents to know I don't want to know any more.

Anyway, Saxon place names migrated to this part of southwestern Ontario. For example, Essex County begins about 200 yards west of here (we live in Kent County). Further, the local infantry regiment (now reserve) began life as the Essex Scottish (go figure) and is now the Essex and Kent Scottish. This is the original cap badge, which features the three seaxes:

For an interesting take on the Saxon invasions in post-Roman Britain, try Bernard Cornwell's trilogy centering on the Arthurian legend.

Comment by J.P. Hart on February 3, 2018 at 10:09am

Embarrassed that I was signed in round the clock. (Some call it sleep!) Another wonderful rendering Rob! The low hanging conversational fruit would be an abrupt question: any relationship to the crayola family? Beautiful (more so than not) when our science provokes thought and not violence.  Bill Mahr is back from hiatus, 61/2 days already. Last PM was one of the best, most classic really big shews. More on course, I'm happy to learn of your ancestry enthusiasm. Curious if you'd be recommending Ancestry.com over 23/1, please advise if you get a chance. Lucille and and me have been spatting all AM already.  Last will and testament revision. She's not quartering at all with my escalator to outer-space passion. Su·per·ca·li·fra·gil·is·tic·ex·pi·a·li·do·cious  that if genology were a sports team we're still a good 120 minutes from game time and Team Geneticists are gettin off the Greyhound. I've an older issue of Mother Jones somewhere with the known genetic acroynms---another great article replete with righteous controversy concerning pros-cons of designerism which possibly has demised to only one more predictable political ping-tong game with a bifurcatied red-blue ball.  Elsewhere we're cloning mamoths, sheep they say---while our vast resource remains evermore lopsided toward WMDs. I gotta get down to more Kurt Anderson and that Chinese gentleman sci-fi scribe: Cixin Liu, Three Body Problem...

Your shared scholarship is monofique & catalytic,  Inspires me to conclude my short story wherein vagabond 'cozys' up in a Duluth Trading Co. sleeping bag with with a black-haired beauty (non-English verbalizer) once upon a time on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Apple meant to type cherry blossom time.

Comment by Rodney Roe on February 3, 2018 at 12:00pm

Maui Surfer, the DNA testing in Ireland and Britain has revealed a startling fact.  Irish legend talks of ancestors who came from the South.  The latest DNA studies of the "Y" chromosome shows that the closest relatives of the Irish are in Galacia on the Iberian peninsula.  Further evidence that the Irish came from Spain, not from northern Europe.  Furthermore, some of the fauna in Ireland also came from Spain.  Badgers in England, for instance are English.  Badgers in Ireland are Spanish.  How did that happen?  One analyst thought they came on boats, but who would put a badger on a boat?  This conclusion was made based on there being no evidence of a land or ice bridge from Iberia to Ireland.

The assumption has been that the Celts were driven from the European continent and took refuge in Britain..  That doesn't seem to be the case.  Instead, it appears that native people, originally from Galacia, were occupied by Celtic speaking people and the result was replacement of the native language by the conquering elite.

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/genetic-studies-show-our-closest-re...

Comment by Rodney Roe on February 3, 2018 at 12:01pm

I hope I didn't add the previous comment twice. I didn't realize that you required approval.  If I did please delete one.

Comment by Anna Herrington on February 3, 2018 at 12:59pm

My area of study is mostly pre-Celtic 'Europe,' Celtic being used here as the umbrella term for many ancient European tribes and beliefs... who really were the some of the later Eurasian immigrants in times B.C. (around 4000-3500 BC... into western Europe after the megaliths were built...), coming in from the steppes: sheep herders, horse riders, bringing new beliefs of sky gods, father god, bird cults, sun worship, more pale skin, some of what we now consider modern pagan ritual and belief - they were post-early farmers from Anatolia settling SE Europe (7000BC - 5500BC), and very post-earlier hunter-gatherers who'd been in Europe for eons (through Ice Age) even then, and had features we don't really see today: very dark skin and *blue* eyes.

There's such a long prehistory of peoples on the globe, endlessly fascinating, imho.  Fun to learn about human roots, isn't it?

J.P.:  As far as I can tell, 23andMe is good if you're into medical markers knowledge, what your DNA tendencies for illness and medical conditions are (my brother did that one), ancestry.com is good if you're looking for modern links to living unknown relatives (my uncle did that one), while natgeo.com (the one I did) follows your ancient groups back into Africa if you're looking for really deep DNA history as well as modern history going back a couple hundred years....

So I guess it's about what you're looking for or interested in. I didn't care about medical markers or finding any long lost cousins, but found the deep migrations of humans fascinating, whether my own or not, so that's what I went with. Who knew about the ancient Romanian side?  Although, natgeo, not so much on modern lineages.

All just for fun (or to secretly gather DNA information on you as my inlaws are afraid of), anyway, as the accuracy is pretty narrow. They only test a small percentage of your DNA markers in the first place so you could take every test and come up with something completely different, I hear.

Comment by Rob Wittmann on February 3, 2018 at 1:03pm

Rodney: I know from my studies of Roman and Bavarian history that the Celts existed in Southern France, Bavaria and invaded Italy numerous times in antiquity. There's always been a strong cultural affinity between the Scottish, Irish and French and this is due, (in addition to mutual dislike of the English), to their common Celtic roots. Vercingetorix, the great Celtic leader from France, led the last great Celtic uprising against Rome, but was defeated by Julius Caesar. The celts in France were called Gauls, and France was known as Gaul. This is where we get the name for the celtic language--Gaelic.

Kosh--The Normans didn't have much of a genetic imprint, due to the fact that they didn't come over as a migratory horde, but as a small, concerted army of military conquest. When the Saxons came over, they came in the thousands, and it was men, women, children, horses, goats, etc....Their goal was settlement and colonization. The Normans sought only to decapitate the government and replace it with William of Conqueror, founder of what would become the Plantagenet dynasty.

My study of history tells me this: the truth shall set you free. People of European descent, even those who think they are ethnically "pure" are not. What is purity, anyhow? Does ethnic purity even exist? I find that it does not. It's an illusion. It only refers to a temporary state of genetic equilibrium, a biological lull between more constant states of migratory upheaval. The constant in British history is migration, cultural diffusion, invasion and the like. And these different cultural legacies make British history richer and more interesting I find. Migration is a given in human history. What's not a given is violence. Britain is fortunate that the vast majority of the current migrants are peaceful and assimilate into British society. They will leave their mark in a peaceful way, vastly different from the mark left by Vikings or Saxons.

Granted, the British are having a problem with Islamic Extremists, as well as with native-born right-wing extremists. Both disrupt harmony and should be weakened. I am reading a lot of Confucius lately, and really agree with many of his governing precepts from the Analects. Harmony and stability are the most important things. From them, all the fruits of civilization come.

Even Germany's ethnic background is amazingly diverse. The concept of German ethnicity and "race" was an artificial construct, developed in a top-down fashion, during the 19th century to help further the cause of, and ensure the efficacy of "German" unification, the impetus for which began during the Napoleonic Era and the 1813 Wars of National Liberation. Fichte played a key role here, and later, Wagner and the liberal nationalists of 1849. What's interesting here is that, prior to Napoleon, most Germans didn't really think there was such a thing as German ethnic identity. They had ethnic cultural identity, but not "German" identity. They spoke closely related languages, that were Germanic in nature, but no more similar to eachother than Dutch or Old English was to Old Saxon. Bavarian was highly unintelligible to people from Berlin, no different than English or Norwegian. The thing is, only when the elites started pushing unification between these different peoples and countries (in what we now call Germany) did these languages start to become molded into eachother, and become more uniform. It doesn't mean they're the same. It would be akin to Russia conquering Poland, and after a 100 years or so, homogenizing these languages into a new hybridized form. Luckily, Polish and Russian are quite close, as was Saxon and Bavarian and Late Prussian. The names and titles we give things are arbitrary. Bavarians will be the first to tell you that they don't speak German, that they speak "Bavarian."  Hell, the name of the city of Berlin is actually slavic in origin.

The same sort of thing happened in France. Burgundy, Brittany, Normandie, and various regions of France spoke Celto-Germanic-Romance languages, depending on their geography. They were often mutually unintelligible. Only after the French Revolution was there an effort to homegenize all of them, and force them to all speak a standard, official tongue or lingua franca, which they called "proper French," but which was only the language of the capital of the region the unified France---Paris, of the Isle de France.

I think that many of European extraction have been blinded as to the historical constant of diversity, due to the fact that we exist in the wake of the great Nationalistic revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, which created the false idea of homogenous ethnolinguistic nations. This concept is more the product of state-building propaganda than anything else. Literature, movies, plays and the like have all served to reinforce these ideas.

I mean, look at our concept of "English" or "Englishness." We may look back on history and think of "great English kings," like King Arthur, or Edward I (Longshanks, from Braveheart). But the thing is, none of these guys spoke a language, or had a culture, in reality, that anybody today would consider English. King Arthur was probably of Middle Eastern and Welsh extraction, spoke Latin and Welsh, and wasn't Anglo-Saxon by any definition of the word. In fact, he fought against the Angles and Saxons. Longshanks spoke Middle English, which is a lot like German. Here's a paragraph about a nativity scene in middle english:

Forrþrihht anan se time comm
  þatt ure Drihhtin wollde
ben borenn i þiss middellærd
  forr all mannkinne nede
he chæs himm sone kinnessmenn
  all swillke summ he wollde
and whær he wollde borenn ben
  he chæs all att hiss wille

If we traveled back in time to the middle ages, we'd have no way of communicating with these people, even if we come from the same country. Most geographical regions in Europe, over time, especially in England, France and Germany see not only their language change, but also their ethnicity, to a degree.

I think there are very few places on earth that have any claim toward homogeneity. The Han Chinese have been consistently uniform for about 3,000 years---the longest continuous, solid line of existence for any of the world's peoples. While the written language has changed, it hasn't changed by much and literate Chinese can roughly make-out the writings of ancestors from 2,000 years ago. Japan and Korea claim to be ethnically and linguistically homogenous, but we know that their language is closely related to Central Asian Turkik and that Korean and Japanese, too, are closely related to eachother. Plus, they took their writing system from the Chinese.The only really homogeneous groups in Europe, I believe, are the Irish (to a degree, but even they have strong genetic imprints from Vikings and English) and maybe the Norwegians/Swedish (who the hell wants to migrate to a place that is on the arctic circle?).

So, here's the kicker---I have no idea why all these NeoNazis go on and on about racial or ethnic purity. It's imaginary. 99% of European-Americans have a highly mixed ethnic background. Even if it says you are 90% British, this still means you have about 4 or 5 different ethnicities in your past.

Maui: I'd like to know more about Hawaiian history, legends and culture. I am very ignorant about the subject.

Boanger: I didn't know that about Canada, but it makes sense.

Comment by Boanerges on February 3, 2018 at 2:31pm

You are 100 per cent correct about so-called racial "purity" -- it's codswallop, to use another good English expletive. Those people give me heartburn -- or worse. My own lineage is English, French, Scots, and Irish, with perhaps a bit of Polish/German and maybe Welsh for good measure. Don't really care -- I'm Canadian, through and through, and don't identify with any ethnic group at all.

Red (a passport-holding citizen of the Republic), has said she thinks the strong Iberian connection with, well, Hibernia, is the result of survivors of the Armada who washed up on Ireland's shores.

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