German Memories - Ancient Germans Migration

Rajkumar Kanagasingam

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I remembered an incident in my CARE days, when I visited an NGO near Nallur, the once flourishing city of the Nagas in the coastal Jaffna lagoon. I asked an elderly person who had an inkling of history as to what happened to the Nagas and the Yakkas. He told me they were all in our blood.

The assimilation transmitted genetically beneficial traits among the people all over the world and an interesting study recently revealed in the ice age old Europe, how the Germanic element of the genes helped for the survival of the dying Finns.

As ice melted about 10,000 years ago, stone-age men, perhaps early Finns, occupied the rich new lands between Norway and the Urals. Other wanderers in the North, many of whom were Germanic, followed them into those areas. According to Matti Klinge of the University of Helsinki, the dominant “genetic element" in Finland today is Germanic.

Germanic people had followed the Finns northward since the dawn of history and were accepted there amongst them. When the waves of disease swept over Europe, it is possible that the Germanic genetic traits which was the ones carrying specific immune factors, such as blood type A, survived because the immune factors were already there and did not have to be produced by a human immune response.

Even during the second and fifth centuries as the western Roman Empire lost military strength and political cohesion, numerous Germanic tribes migrating en masse in far and diverse directions, taking them to England and as far south through present day Continental Europe to the Mediterranean and northern Africa passed on the beneficial Germanic genetic elements to other tribes.

The Germanic tribes intruded into other tribal territories, and the ensuing wars for land escalated and then the wandering tribes began staking out permanent homes as a means of protection. Much of this resulted in fixed settlements from which many, under a powerful leader.

A defeat meant either scattering or merging with the dominant tribe. In Denmark the Jutes merged with the Danes; in Sweden the Geats merged with the Swedes; in England, the Angles merged with the Saxons to form the Anglo-Saxons.

Outside of Scandinavia, present-day countries speaking a Germanic language have mixed ethnic roots not restricted to the earliest Germanic peoples. Germanic peoples were often quick to assimilate foreign cultures.

There were Romanized Norsemen in Normandy, and the societal elite in medieval Russia among whom many were the descendants of Slavified Norsemen, though it was contested by some Slavic scholars in the former Soviet Union calling it the “Normanist theory”.

In England assimilation happened by the migrating Angles, Saxons and Jutes who merged with the indigenous Celtic speaking Britons, resulting in an English identity for the inhabitants of that land.

In the latter part of mid-11th century, French-speaking Norsemen arrived and similarly altered what was known as Anglo-Saxon England and set the English language on the path from Old English to Middle English.

As in England, Scotland's indigenous Brythonic Celtic culture succumbed to Germanic influence due to Teutonic invasion; while the Scottish Highlands and Galloway retained a Gaelic heritage due to the recent invasions from Ireland which supplanted the British culture there, the Scottish Lowlands became English speaking.

France saw a great deal of Germanic settlement, and even its namesake the Franks were a Germanic people. Entire regions of France (such as Alsace, Burgundy and Normandy) were settled heavily by Germanic peoples, contributing to their unique regional cultures and dialects. But most of the languages spoken in France today are Romance languages, while the people have a heavy Gallic substratum that predates Latin and Germanic settlement.

Portugal and Spain also had a great measure of Germanic settlement, due to the Visigoths and the Suevi (Quadi and Marcomanni), who settled permanently. The Vandals were also present, before moving on to North Africa, where they were absorbed into the local population. Many Spanish words of Germanic origin entered into the Spanish language at this time and many more entered through other avenues (often French) in the ensuing centuries.

Italy, especially the area north of the city of Rome, has also had a history of heavy Germanic settlement. Germanic tribes such as the Visigoths, Vandals, and Ostrogoths had successfully invaded and sparsely settled in Italy in the 5th century AD. Most notably, in the 6th century AD, the Germanic tribe known as the Lombards entered and settled primarily in the area known today as Lombardy. The Normans, a partially Germanic people, also conquered and ruled Sicily and parts of southern Italy for a time.

Germany itself assimilated Slavic and Baltic peoples to the east in medieval and modern times; after World War II their descendants spread to other parts of Germany.

Going further back, most of the current territory of Germany was occupied by Celtic and Nordwestblock tribes who were eventually linguistically assimilated into the Germanic peoples.

Rajkumar Kanagasingam is author of a fascinating book - “German Memories in Asia" - and you can explore more about the book and the author at AGSEP


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