Monday, June 9, 2014

Place-Names and Settlement History: Aspects of Selected Topographical Elements on the Continent and in England

Recently, I have stumbled upon a very interesting work - master thesis of Susan Hilsberg from the University of Leipzig:

Thereto she created the website dedicated to her dissertation and that amazing problematics:

I quote from the first page plus copy-paste her great maps:

Concerning the early settlement of England by Germanic tribes  there are three questions of great importance:
1. Who were these Germanic settlers exactly? (Angles? Saxons? Jutes?)
2. Where was their continental starting point? and
3. When did they arrive?
Fig. 1: Anglo-Saxon Settlers (
The usual starting point for trying to answer these questions is the wide-spread and popular view based on the traditions of the Venerable Bede and his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (731). In this Bede gives the famous year of ad 449 for the arrival of the early Germanic settlers of England. According to Bede these early settlers came from three powerful tribes—the Saxons, the Angles, and the Jutes (Book I, chapters 14-6). He further provides detailed information as to their continental homelands and their settlement in England. From this it has emerged that the early settlers originated from        the Jutland peninsula, i.e. the area of modern                    Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark. Since “[...] this is the only definite and comprehensive statement regarding the origin of the invaders which has come down to us [...]” (Chadwick 1924: 51), it seems natural that such a precise statement about an otherwise very obscure age is easily accepted by scholars. Thus, it has been widely acknowledged and also found its expression in several illustrations as in Fig.1 above.
Yet, when investigating Germanic place-names the picture of this movement towards England looks different. When checking the maps of Susan Hilsberg's master thesis there seems to be an obvious movement across the Channel between Northern France and England and not a movement across the North Sea…

Can place-names reveal a connection with settlement movements? Are they suitable for this type of investigation? Why is the focus on topographical elements in this dissertation?
These and further questions have been answered in the present work and can be downloaded here:

I liked this work a lot, it produces and presents maps revealing the interdependencies of toponymic systems between England and the continental Europe. We're aware that the oldest settlement names known, for example, in Denmark are the ones ending in -inge, -um, -løse, -lev and -sted. These name types have been used during various periods since the first century AD and until the beginning of the Viking Age. But often, it is also possible to date Danish place names according to whether the same type of names appear in areas conquered by Danish Vikings in England, called the Danelaw, and in Normandy. When Danish place names are found in these areas, the name types in question must have been used in Denmark at the same time. So, we may conclude that this topic had been worked out pretty well, but one-sidedly or partially. I know a lot of similar charts demonstrating Viking placenames in England, but I have never met a map showing their distribution in Denmark or Germany. I suppose it's not a problem to collect the oldest placenames of Danemark, I am even sure it has been already done, but I doupt if anybody has already mapped that kind of correlation between Danemark and England. Do you know any relevant works on it? Maybe there are any aspects to be highlighted for a narrow group of toponyms?
Please, enjoy classic maps on the theme: 

Well, a strongly appriciated topic. Thank you, Susan!!!