Wednesday, May 30, 2018
The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe 1st Edition by Michael Pye (Pegasus Books).... a review by Stephen Darori (#StephenDarori), The Bard of Bat Yam (#BardOFBatYam) , Poet Laureate Of Zion (#PoetLaureateOfZion)
Entertaining peek at the civilization of Northmen
So history readers … we have to admit that Western history is Mediterranean centric. Greco-Roman history frames nearly all of our understanding. But it's the subtle and rebellious nuance of the North Sea peoples that's not much considered within the whole of Western civilization. The North Sea civilizations populated a larger geographic area than the Mediterranean. The Northmen would write the last chapter of Rome and the Roman Med. Early Greeks and the Roman Army simply did not 'discover' the North Sea peoples ... they encountered them and unlike so many discovered peoples, the Northmen lived on independent. They often won but just as often were defeated. By the fortune of Latin and Greek being widely written, so history was written. The Med-centric world-view did not defeat or possess the Northman.
Michael Pye is has an interesting story to tell here. As limited as the documented North Sea history is, Pye pries loose what can be known. The Med-centrics of course funded the writings that survived and we rely upon. The horrid climate of North Sea nations and Baltic simply did not cooperate with preserving organic media. Julius Caesar was the beneficiary of timing by invading the splintered and already defeated Celts/Gauls/Germanics. The tribes were torn apart as a people after coming up on the losing side of some vast, pre-historic, multi-generational era of Northern European total war. The integrity of the Venerable Bede (in the pay of Rome), et. al. are challenged by modern archaeological understanding. The genetic record reports a different story. History as we know it becomes different with the modern efforts of Pye and others.
So, the evidence presents peculiar conflicts with written history. The Venerable Bede suggests his Saxons and Celts exterminated the Britons. But an enclave remained to evidence 600,000 Brits directly descended from a 9000-year old Britonic tooth that can beg to differ. Celts, likely from Brittany, are evidenced to have invaded England and the Northern Iberia in the region of the Basques during the Celtic flight west and north from mainland Europe and gaining an English foothold centuries before the Romans and a millennia before the Vikings. The Northmen descended from a highly sophisticated multi-millennial civilization of trade linked by a 4-5 day sea journey and wind.
The "Edge of the World" is a study in common market economics. Family, small unit, village, town and port city survival was superordinate in these stormy, sub-zero, seashore footholds. The real story of the cod & slave civilization seems likely consistent to Pye's portrayal within a fraction of a standard deviation.
An unknown North Sea 'Lingua Franca' existed; a sort of North Sea pidgin. A common tongue that likely quickly evolved. English is a good candidate to have survived whatever was common tongue. Whatever it was, it changed quickly and served the instant need for commerce. It is remarkable that institutions existed to salvage the relatively small number of non-religious references that exist. Evidences suggest that the most distant trading outposts in the most Northern Scandinavian indeed lost the ability to remain in the civilization as they lost the Lingua Franca. Pye shows how the pidgin generationally evolved very unlike Latin. Iceland is said by the first Vikings to have been home to Irishmen with an ancient pidgin dialect unintelligible at the time … the Irishmen packed up and left. The modern evidence for the pidgin is surely the super-hybrid language of English we inherited.
Pye is to be commended for departing from the mostly highborn narrative to consider the everyman part-time fishmonger and sailor and the part-time seasonal warrior. Pye provides some excellent snapshots. Frisians and Britons and Saxons and Vikings transacted in an accepted common currency of modern conceptual 'money' as the storage and transactional exchange of wealth. The 'seashore' is a thoroughly modern image of the place to convene with natures beauty. From 1750, the seashore domains reeked of fish, humans and animals so terribly that it was feared that letters sent from the seashore would stink-up the farmstead or castle when read ... not that anything before 1900 had much of anything that smelled societally good where boats and people transacted. We have an opportunity to share an isolated family unit/tribe and city whose life was chasing a moving sand spit in the modern Netherlands.
Pye reveals numerous fascinating archeological sub-lines to confound written history. It was never 'dark' as in ages but always present and directed at surviving the next night. Is it really a surprise to find a prehistoric Irish horse bridle repurposed to a prehistoric Viking broach? It was the great North Sea civilization of the cod & slave. Pye speculates a 'pre-historic' foundation for the amalgam of North Sea centric civilizations. The Hanseatic League first reflected sophistications indicative of thousands of years a highly sophisticated ancient acceptable, trusted into a long developed ‘uniform commercial code’ of North Sea value.
5-star entertainment. Grasping the evolution of North Sea civilization is extremely difficult and dynamic with archaeological surprises still abundant.