Gothic Confusion

Dear Reader Derek asks,

Perhaps you can help me out here. For years I’ve been confused as to whether “Goths”, “Geats”, and “Jutes” are the same people with different spellings, related people with different spellings, or different people with coincidentally-similar names. Also, where “derek” (or “dietrich”, or “teodric”) comes from. Is it goth, or hun, or something else?

It’s really easy to get confused here, because we’re dealing both with historical reality and with historical fiction written a long time ago.

  • Goths: a Germanic-speaking ethnic group that took a major part in Migration Period politics in southern Europe. Their migrations can be traced back to a starting point in northern Poland in the 1st century. According to legends written down in the 6th century, the Goths believed that they had come from Scandinavia prior to that. But so did almost every other roving tribe at the time. Safest bet: the Goths came from Poland. (But in Scandinavia there were groups with similar names — in the 6th century.)

    “Goths” and “Gothic” have since acquired a number of secondary meanings, originally because historians of art chose to call the architectural style of the High Middle Ages with pointy arches “Gothic”. Then anything having to do with old romantic ruins came to be called Gothic, then anything horrific, then anything having to do with an 80s musical subculture. First and Last and Always is actually a pretty good album.

  • Geats: these are a semi-fictional group of the past spoken about by a few Anglo-Saxon writers in the later 1st Millennium, notably the Beowulf poet. What we’re dealing with is most likely the Anglo-Saxons’ poorly conceived idea of the Götar in current Sweden. The Beowulf poet clearly knew nothing whatsoever about Sweden.
  • Jutes: inhabitants of Jutland in Denmark. Anglo-Saxon writers in the later 1st Millennium believed that Jutes were among the Germanic-speakers who took power in the Isles after the Roman withdrawal in AD 409/410. Linguistic and X-chromosomal evidence suggests rather that the new lords came from Frisia.
  • Derek = Dietrich = Theodoric: a Gothic name meaning “people-king”, most famously worn by an Ostrogothic King, Theodoric the Great (454-526), who ruled Italy from his capital at Ravenna. In High Medieval historical fiction, he is dimly remembered as Dietrich von Bern.

Collecting links for all these things in Wikipedia, I find that much of what the encyclopedia says is woefully outdated, being based on old scholarship with poor standards of source-criticism, where old historical fiction tended to be used as sources of historical facts.


Mapping Swedes and Geats

i-f71297f20a134be2440adc0c02169f5d-Sweden's core provinces 11th century lores.gif

How the mighty have fallen. I used to do all my plans and maps in a hard-core CAD program using a digitising tablet, but then WinXP came along and my mid-90s software would no longer run. For years now I’ve been tracing maps onto translucent film with a pencil, scanning them and editing them in PhotoShop and Windows Paint. Here’s an example of my handiwork, and a snippet of the paper I made it for, submitted last week.

The first decisive step in the formation of the Medieval state of Sweden appears to have been taken about AD 1000 when two ethnic groups, the Svear and the Götar, elected a shared king: Olof Eriksson skotkonungr. The Svear lived around Lake Mälaren, the Götar on either side of Lake Vättern (fig. 1), and their fertile lands were separated by the rugged forests of Tiveden and Kolmården. At any one time during the later 1st Millennium these two groups most likely had several petty kings each, warlike characters whose exploits appear to be reflected dimly in the Scilfingas and Geatas of Beowulf. Written sources for the land of the Götar in that era are so few that the field of study is just barely proto-historical.

When the area enters the first flickering historical torchlight in the eleventh century, the lands of the Götar are divided into two halves separated by Lake Vättern: Västergötland and Östergötland. They somehow belong together as lands of the Götar, but the western part is politically and culturally orientated towards the Danish kingdom to the south-west, and the eastern part shows affinities with the Swedish kingdom to the north-east. Viking Period settlement in Östergötland is largely confined to a wide west-east plains belt through the province and was expanding up two river valleys in the forests to the south. The easternmost quarter of the fertile plains belt is a peninsula, Vikbolandet, where the sea is never farther off than 9 km (5½ miles). Vikbolandet was densely settled at the time. It is highly accessible from the Baltic, and thus vulnerable, and it was orientated immediately towards the lands of the Svear.

In this paper I review the evidence for Vikbolandet’s relationship with powers from the sea in the Viking Period. We shall look at fortifications, boat burials, precious-metal finds, rune stones and the first royal manors of the united kingdom of Sweden.

The Onion on a Lovecraftian School Board Member

ARKHAM, MA–Arguing that students should return to the fundamentals taught in the Pnakotic Manuscripts and the Necronomicon in order to develop the skills they need to be driven to the very edge of sanity, Arkham school board member Charles West continued to advance his pro-madness agenda at the district’s monthly meeting Tuesday.

“Fools!” said West, his clenched fist striking the lectern before him. “We must prepare today’s youth for a world whose terrors are etched upon ancient clay tablets recounting the fever-dreams of the other gods–not fill their heads with such trivia as math and English. Our graduates need to know about those who lie beneath the earth, waiting until the stars align so they can return to their rightful place as our masters and wage war against the Elder Things and the shoggoths!


Gonzo Investment Suggestion

Eight years ago I sold half an apartment to my former wife and found myself, for the first time, with a sum of money to invest. I did what conventional wisdom recommended at the time: stuck all the money into a mutual fund. I chose an “ethical” one, that doesn’t invest in the arms trade etc., but I don’t think that’s the reason that the whole move proved to be a financial mistake. (The fund in question has a good Morningstar rating.) My share in that fund has never to my knowledge even been worth what I originally paid for it, and the simple reason is that apparently I bought near the top of the curve.

Today I got an investment suggestion that seems exceedingly silly to me. When I bought that share in the mutual fund, I in effect paid a trained person to perform a task for me that I lack necessary skills for: to act as a middleman and invest my money wisely in stocks. Though this guy did an industry-standard job, I still lost money. Today, a Swedbank representative suggested that I move the money into his bank’s meta-fund. I don’t know the correct word for this in any language, but the idea was that I would pay trained middleman #1 to invest my money wisely in various mutual funds, meaning that he would select a trained middleman #2 and pay him to invest my money wisely in stocks. And somehow the combined skill of these two groups of people would give me a better result than if only one middleman separated me from my investment decisions.

Actually, Mr Swedbank didn’t say that it would give a better result, only that he hoped so. And when I explained that I couldn’t see how introducing an extra middleman would improve my chances, he had no reply to give. So my money, what little is left of it after the credit crunch, still languishes in that old mutual fund.

I should just have bought gold and buried it somewhere.

Beer Geek Website

When I give talks about Internet subcultures I like to say that I could devote the entire talk to on-line forums for retired Spanish-speaking transvestites. That’s how niched groups a global communication network makes possible.

Myself, I’m on a Swedish site for skeptics, a US site for science bloggers and two sites for boardgame geeks (in English and Swedish). And now Dear Reader Tsu Dho Nihm tells me that there’s a beer geek site with a huge reviews database: Beer Advocate. Awesome! Beer as culture, beer as baseball stats, beer as philately. Though an abstainer myself, I highly recommend this site to all passionate ale heads out there.

Elusive Randomness

Computers are built to preserve information, not to be creative, and certainly not to be random. Therefore it is a problem to get a really random number into a computer when you need one. A common source, looking at the hundredth of seconds in the computer’s clock, is not all that good as it leads to predictability if you pull two numbers from the hat with a recurrent time interval between them. You really need to link the computer to something non-digital if you want real randomness.

A legendary 80s science fiction computer game, Elite, used pseudo-randomness to generate its world. The game has next to no data on-board as it wouldn’t fit into the tiny work memory of the era’s home computers. Instead it has a random-number generator that is hard-wired to start with the same input value every time it’s run. Thus, instead of generating a new set of numbers every time, it reliably recreates the same fictional universe with the star systems Lave and Leesti and its edible mountain poets.

I once came across a hypothesis (whose status among neuroscientists today I do not know) that the human brain likewise has a localised “crazy box” that allows for creativity while the rest of the wetware works on computer-like principles. According to this hypothesis, your creativity will increase if you perturb the brain’s function and allow the crazy box to have greater influence over the machine’s output. Thus the Skaldic Mead and Sgt. Pepper and On the Road. offers an on-line random number generator for all your creative needs. It takes the numbers from atmospheric noise picked up by three analog radio receivers. Better than perturbing your brain!

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