Pre-Germanic Britain

§ 89. The history of the English language begins with the invasi6n of the British Isles by Germanic tribes in the 5th c. of our era. Before describing these events it is essential to recall a few preceding facts of history relevant to the development of English.

Prior to the Germanic invasion the British Isles must have been in­habited for at least fifty thousand years. Archeological research has uncovered many layers of prehistoric population. The earliest inhabitants whose linguistic affiliation has been established are the Celts. The Celts came to Britain in three waves and immediately preceded the Teutons.

Economically and socially the Celts were a tribal society made up of kins, kinship groups, clans and tribes; they practised a primitive ag­riculture, and carried on trade with Celtic Gaul.

The first millenium B.C. was the period of Celtic migrations and expansion. Traces of their civilisation are still found all over Europe. Celtic languages were spoken over extensive parts of Europe before our era; later they were absorbed by other IE languages and left very few vestiges behind. The Gaelic branch has survived as Irish (or Erse) in Ireland, has expanded to Scotland as Scotch-Gaelic of the Highlands and is still spoken by a few hundred people on the Isle of Man (the Manx language). The Britonnic branch is represented by Kymric or Welsh in modern Wales and by Breton or Armorican spoken by over a million people in modern France (in the area called Bretagne or Brittany, where the Celts came as emigrants from Britain in the 5th c); another Britonnic dialect in Great Britain, Cornish, was spoken in Cornwall until the end of the 18th c.

§ 90. In the first century B.C. Gaul was conquered by the Romans. Having occupied Gaul Julius Caesar made two raids on Britain, in 55 and 54 B.C. The British Isles had long been known to the Romans as a source of valuable tin ore; Caesar attacked Britain for economic reasons - to obtain tin, pearls and corn, - and also for strategic reasons, since rebels and refugees from Gaul found support among their British kinsmen. Although Caesar failed to subjugate Britain, Roman economic penetration to Britain grew; traders and colonists from Rome came in large numbers to settle in the south-eastern towns. In A.D. 43 Britain was again invaded by Roman legions under Emperor Claudius, and towards the end of the century was made a province of the Roman Em­pire.

The province was carefully guarded and heavily garrisoned: about 40,000 men were stationed there. Two fortified walls ran across the country, a network of paved Roman roads connected the towns and military camps. Scores of towns with a mixed population grew along the Roman roads - inhabited by Roman legionaries and civilians and by the native Celts; among the most important trading centres of Roman Britain was London.

Evidently, the upper classes and the townspeople in the southern dis­tricts were to a considerable extent Romanised, while the Romanisation of rural districts was far less thorough. The population further north was but little affected by the Roman occupation and remained Celtic both in language and custom. On the whole, the Romanisation of distant Britain was more superficial than that of continental provinces (e.g. Gaul and Iberia, where the complete linguistic conquest resulted in the growth of new Romance language, French and Spanish).

The Roman occupation of Britain lasted nearly 400 years; it came to an end in the early 5th c. In A.D. 410, the Roman troops were offi­cially withdrawn to Rome by Constantine. This temporary withdrawal turned out to be final, for the Empire was breaking up due to internal and external causes, -- particularly the attacks of barbarian tribes (including the Teutons) and the growth of independent kingdoms on former Roman territories. The expansion of Franks to Gaul in the 5th c. cut off Britain from the Roman world.

After the departure of the Roman legions the richest and most civil­ised part of the island, the south-east, was laid waste. Many towns were destroyed. Constant feuds among local landlords as well as the in­creased assaults of the Celts from the North and also the first Germanic raids from beyond the North Sea proved ruinous to the civilisation of Roman Britain.

§ 91. Since the Romans had left the British isles some time before the invasion of the West Germanic tribes, there could never be any direct contacts between the new arrivals and the Romans on British soil. It follows that the elements of Roman culture and language which the new invaders learnt in Britain were mainly passed on to them at second hand by the Romanised Celts. It must be recalled, however, that the West Germanic tribes had already come into contact with the Romans, and the Romanised population of continental provinces, prior to their migration to Britain: they had met Romans in combat, had gone to Rome as war prisoners and slaves, had enlisted in the Roman troops, and had certainly traded with Roman, or Romanised Celtic merchants.

Thus, in a number of various ways they had got acquainted with the Roman civilisation and the Latin language.