Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


THE NORMAN CONQUEST OF 1066 did more than introduce French words into the language becoming Middle English. As described by Michael Wood in BBC History, May 2022, “… when the Normans mercilessly harried the English population, many survivors saw no future staying in England once the Conquer’s grip was assumed. Norman historians tell how important figures sold their land and organised migrations of English people to other countries—to Denmark, to Scotland, and, most remarkably of all, to the Byzantine empire.”

Image from an earlier BBC History Extra, November 29, 2019.

Chroniclers’ Tales. Wood cites, “The 14th-century Icelandic Saga of Edward the Confessor and the anonymous Chronicle of Laon of c1220 both tell an almost unbelievable tale that leads us to Crimea.” 

Image from BBC History, May 2022.

In 1075, less than 10 years after the Norman victory at the Battle of Hastings, a flotilla of perhaps as many as 350 ships sailed from England to Constantinople. Then, Wood describes, “sponsored by the Byzantine emperor, they built new lives in a string of colonies in Crimea and round the Sea of Azov.”

A medieval migration. 

“These lands lie six days and nights sailing north-east from Constantinople,” says the Chronicle of Laon, “and the best of land is there, and those people lived there ever since.”

Image from Medieval Christianity.

A Thriving Heritage. The people built towns named after those in England: Londina, York. Wood says in this land of Saxons, “English was spoken as late as the 14th century. ‘Loyalty to the emperor,’ wrote the Byzantine princess Anna Comnena in the 12th century, ‘was a family tradition among them and a sacred trust handed down from generation to generation.’ At Christmas, they toasted the emperor in their native tongue!”

This and the following image from Stephen Liddell’s article on Nova Anglia.

Wood writes, “Migrants from England continued to replenish the stock of people in these colonies, which probably survived until the Black Death—perhaps longer. ‘New England’ and ‘Londina’ appeared on charts drawn by Italian and Greek sailors as late at the 16th century.”

Italian atlas of the Crimea from 1553, with locations of Susaco (Sussex) and Londina in Nova Anglia. Image from Stephen Liddell. 

“So,” Wood concludes “may we perhaps imagine that some of today’s heroic resistance to the Russians around Mariupol involves distant descendants of the Azov English? And when the war is over and Ukraine is being rebuilt, spare a thought for this particular corner of a foreign field that was—for a time, at least—New England.”

Vignettes of this kind appear in every issue of BBC History magazine. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022 

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