I have seen many writers assume that the Hogwarts has remained exactly the same since the time of the founding. Fanfiction often describes the first students having very similar experiences to Harry.
Although the founders created what would become Hogwarts School, the modern school we see today evolved slowly over time. The original establishment had no resemblance to a modern boarding school with four houses. In fact it could not have been a school as we would understand it.
What the founders really set up was four different apprenticeship schemes with four different trade masters within in the same fortified town called Hogwarts.
- What existed on the site of Hogwarts before the founders
- Where the name Hogwarts comes from
- Why the founders choose to located their “school” a remote part of Scotland
- What the founders actually taught and the style of education the first students would have received
- What each founders actually did for a living – because there were no professional teachers in the Dark Ages.
Before the Founding
The founders lived over 1000 years ago from 1991 and most people imagine that Hogwarts castle was built around this time. Castles are a Norman introduction to the British Isles (post-1066), thus something must have existed on the site of Hogwarts castle long before it was built. There is nothing in the literature that states the founders established themselves on a brand new green field site and built everything from scratch.
If you were setting up any kind of new enterprise, wouldn’t it make more sense to choose somewhere that already had willing customers and all the amenities (like fresh drinking water and food)?
The school we see today is a huge complex according to both the books and the films. The buildings and grounds probably cover the area of a large village or small town. I believe that before the castle was built the site had been a substantial fortified settlement for millennia. Many British settlements today can trace permanent human habitation back to the Bronze Age or even further. The mountain on which Hogwarts stands may possess a source of ancient magic that drew pre-historic magical people there and slowly over time the first permanent dwellings grew up on the shores of the lake.
Over time the original settlement probably evolved into a Bronze Age/Iron Age hill fort that became an important site of commerce and social gathering for the magical peoples of the British Isles. Both the remoteness of its location and the fortifications of the later castle, suggests that this was an important refuge for magical peoples. Though wizards had magic, we have no idea how effective offensive magic was throughout history. Magic is constantly evolving and improving, it is likely that for most of history, wizards had the upper hand in single combat but may not have been able to defend their settlements from an invading army. Thus physical fortification was just as important to them as it was to muggles. Hogwarts may never have been an exclusively magical settlement but as probably dominated by magical peoples at most times in its history. The size and content of the settlement will have fluctuated greatly through the ages depending on the state of muggle-wizard relationships.
It was most likely at a time when the settlement had expanded to the largest it had ever been that the founders made the logistically sound decision to set up their “school” in the fortified hill town called Hogwarts.
Etymology of Hogwarts
If the settlement site of Hogwarts is as old I expect it probably went through several different names and reiterations. However the sorting hat does claim that the place was called Hogwarts during the founder’s day.
The prefix “Hog” could have any number of meanings. The most obviously one being pig. However this meaning was not used until the 13th century. It is also Middle English word, which would be an unusual place name in predominately Gaelic speaking Scotland.
Haug/Hoag/Hogg/Hogge was (and still is) a surname that is recorded in Scotland and England from around 1000. Although there is some disagreement most scholars believe it comes from Old Norse, which was bought to Scotland by the Vikings during their repeated incursions. Perhaps the Hog part is a derivative of the name of the leading family that lived in the area.
“warts” comes from the old norse world “varta” which means exactly the same as it does today: a small round protuberance.
So Hogwarts is probably the name for a hill in the land dominated by the Hoag/Hogg/Hogge family.
“School” is a very inappropriate term for what the founders actually set up. The concept of formal educational establishments died with the Roman Empire. Throughout the Dark Ages knowledge was controlled by the church and formalised education was largely confined to religious institutions. There were “schools” but only for the initiates of holy orders and the curriculum consisted only of Latin and Holy Scripture. The aristocracy educated their children at home through private tutors and not in any establishments resembling schools.
Even if the founders had wanted to set up a school, as we would understand, they would not have known where to start because the concept simply did not exist at the time. The original training (not education) offered by the founders would have been nothing like what is taught by a modern school.
The best training the vast majority of children could hope for in the Dark Ages was to be taught a useful trade. Magic must have been a skill that was taught within the family, but children could be apprenticed out to other families to learn a different set of skills. Magic was unlikely a trade onto itself but something that people used to booster their original trades. Magical blacksmiths might use the beginnings of alchemy to forge stronger swords. Magical farmers may use magic to hasten crop maturity or produce bigger vegetables.
Instead of actually setting up a school, what the founders actually did was turn up at the town and start taking personal apprentices. This was not out of the ordinary but the founders, unlike other tradesmen at the time revolutionised the way in apprenticeships worked.
The reason most traders limit their apprentices to one or two is because apprentices like all children require a great deal of supervision and they are as often economically detrimental as they are productive. The founders probably took a dozen or more apprentices each, and thus vastly expanded their services. All the founders took a great risk in taking on so many apprentices, but I believe it was the shrewd thing to do in the unsettled times of 10th century Britain.
At the start of the new millenium in 1000, the west coast of Britain was constantly under attack from Vikings. The Scottish Kingdoms of Alba and Fortriu were often at war, and in the England Ethelred the Unready was a notorious weak king leading to deep instability in his realm. Even with magic, I do not think wizards wanted to be in the firing line and children, with an unsteady grip of magic were most vulnerable, hence the attraction of sending children to a well-protected magical settlement to be taught by powerful sorcerers.
The scattered magical peoples of Great Britain probably started to retreat to the ancient sanctuary of Hogwarts decades before the founders arrived. What had essentially been a village on a hill, would have expanded many times over to become a large town. Hogwarts, well defended with a supply of clean water, was probably a lot safer than the areas the new comers had left, thus a baby boom occurred in the years of this expansion giving rise to a larger number of children than society knew what to do with.
The founders were fulfilling a huge demand for apprentice placements, as well as providing much needed service/resources for the vastly enlarge population of Hogwarts.
Additionally I believe that around this time some form of mass transit system had just been invented – most likely floo powder, which enabled a much larger number of children from further afield to travel to Hogwarts for training.
Not Schools but Businesses
Each founder would have been solely responsible for education of their own apprentices, as was the custom. Apprentices did not swap masters, or received a board education. Their instruction was limited to only what their masters knew and where willing to teach. In this era, muggle apprentices were often legally bound to their masters after paying a lump sum of money for the privilege of becoming their apprentice. It is not inconceivable that there was a parallel type of magical contract which did the same thing.
However the founders would not have worked and taught in isolation. It would have been more economical for the founders to share food, potions ingredients, dwellings etc. This may have been the actual beginnings of what would evolve into Hogwarts School.
We must not forget that each founder would have practiced a trade as their primary source of income even after taking apprentices. In a world where there was no formal education, none of the founders could have survived on being full-time professional educators. Nor would they ever have acquired students to teach because who would want to be apprenticed to a master without a useful trade?
The renowned sorting criteria for each house must have been directly linked to what trade each master was engaged in.
Gryffindor prized apprentices who were bold and brave because in his line of work he encountered a great deal of danger. I think Gryffindor was the settlement’s beast tamer/monster hunter. Ravenclaw prized wit and learning. She most likely fulfilled a role akin to that of maester in the Game of Thrones: scholar, healer, record keeper and general learned person. Hufflepuff wanted apprentices who were hard-working and unafraid of toil because her line of work required a great deal of physical work: most likely farming of mundane and magical crops or blacksmithing/magic forging.
I hesitate to speculate about Slytherin’s trade because the sorting hat has some very strange and contradictory things to say about Slytherin’s ideal apprentices, unlike the criteria for the other founders which are focused and consistent. On the one hand they had to be ambitious and cunning but on the other they had to be pureblooded. These things don’t necessarily match up as being from an ancient and noble line doesn’t exactly fire ones ambitions to become great, in fact it probably has the opposite effect. I think the sorting hat was only made after Slytherin had left Hogwarts town and the other founders were forced to cobble together a criteria from their own confused understanding and prejudice.
How Hogwarts became the modern school we see in the books will be explored in Hogwarts: a Unification