Anglo-Saxons is the term
usually used to describe the invading Germanic tribes in the south and east of
Britain from the early 5th century AD, and their creation
of the English nation, to the Norman conquest of 1066.
The Benedictine monk
, identified them as the
descendants of three Germanic
Angles, who may have come from Angeln, and Bede
wrote that their whole nation came to Britain, leaving their former
land empty. The name 'England' (Anglo-Saxon 'Engla land' or
'Ængla land' originates from this tribe.
Saxons, from Lower Saxony (German:
- The Jutes, from the Jutland peninsula.
Their language (Old English
" West Germanic
transforms into Middle English
the 11th century. Old English was divided into four main dialects:
names seem to show that smaller numbers of some other Germanic
tribes came over: Frisians at Fresham, Freston, and
Friston; Flemings at Flempton and Flimby; Swabians at Swaffham; perhaps
Franks at Frankton
usage, Anglo-Saxon can be used in various contexts
to mean people predominantly descended from the English ethnic group, in England as well as
This usage is restricted to certain contexts in
Anglophone cultures, but this term and its direct translations are
commonly used in other languages.
The term "Anglo-Saxon" is from writings going back to the time of
King Alfred the Great
, who seems to
have frequently used the title rex Anglorum Saxonum
(king of the English Saxons
English terms ænglisc and Angelcynn ("Angle-kin",
gens Anglorum) when they are first attested had already
lost their original sense of referring to the Angles to the
exclusion of the Saxons, and in their earliest recorded sense
refers to the nation of Germanic peoples who settled England in and after
the 5th century.
The indigenous British people, who wrote in both Latin and Welsh,
referred to these invaders as Saxones
the latter is still used today in the Welsh word for 'English'
The term Angli Saxones
seems to have first been used in
continental writing nearly a century before Alfred's time by
Paul the Deacon
, historian of the
, probably to distinguish the
from the continental Saxons
There is a theory that the name of the Angles came from the
Germanic and Indo-European root ang-
= "narrow", i.e.
people who live by the Narrow Water (i.e. the Schlei
The history of Anglo-Saxon England broadly covers early medieval
England from the end of Roman rule and the establishment of
Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the 5th century until the Conquest by the
Origins (AD 400–600)
Migration of Germanic peoples
Britain from what is now northern Germany and southern Scandinavia
is attested from the 5th century
(e.g. Undley bracteate
). Based on
Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum
intruding population is traditionally divided into Angles, Saxons,
and Jutes, but their composition was likely less clear-cut and may
also have included Frisians
holds the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
contains text that may be the first recorded indications of the
movement of these Germanic Tribes
Main article: The
The main Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms circa
of the Anglo-Saxon
Kingdoms began around 600 and was essentially complete by the mid
8th century. Throughout the 7th and 8th centuries, power fluctuated
between the larger kingdoms. Bede records Aethelbert of Kent
as being dominant at
the close of the 6th century, but power seems to have shifted
northwards to the kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria.
Aethelbert and some of the later kings of the other kingdoms were
recognised by their fellow kings as Bretwalda
(=ruler of Britain). The so-called
'Mercian Supremacy' dominated the 8th century, though again it was
not constant. Aethelbald and Offa
the two most powerful kings, achieved high status. This period has
been described as the Heptarchy
this term has now fallen out of academic use.
arose on the basis that the seven kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, Kent, East Anglia, Essex, Sussex and Wessex were the main polities of south Britain.
More recent scholarship has shown that theories of the 'heptarchy'
are not grounded in evidence, and it is far more likely that power
fluctuated between many more 'kingdoms'. Other politically
important 'kingdoms' across this period include: Hwicce
Kingdom of Lindsey
and Middle Anglia
Viking Age (800–1066)
In the 9th century, the Viking challenge grew to serious
proportions. Alfred the Great's victory at Edington, Wiltshire, in
878 brought intermittent peace, but with their possession of
the Danes gained a solid
foothold in England.
important development in the 9th century was the rise of the
Kingdom of Wessex; by the end
of his reign Alfred was recognised as overlord by several southern
first king to achieve direct rule over what is considered
Near the end of the 10th century, there was renewed Scandinavian
interest in England, with the conquests of Sweyn of Denmark
and his son Canute
. By 1066 there were three lords with claims
to the English throne, resulting in two invasions and the battles
Bridge and Hastings, the results of which established Anglo-Norman rule in England.
Early Anglo-Saxon buildings in Britain were generally simple,
constructed mainly using timber with thatch for roofing. Generally
preferring not to settle in the old Roman cities, the Anglo-Saxons
built small towns near their centres of agriculture. In each town,
a main hall was in the centre.
There are few remains of Anglo-Saxon architecture, with no secular
work remaining above ground. At least fifty churches are of
Anglo-Saxon origin, with many more claimed to be, although in some
cases the Anglo-Saxon part is small and much-altered. All surviving
churches, except one timber church, are built of stone or brick and
in some cases show evidence of re-used Roman
The architectural character of Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical buildings
ranges from Coptic
influenced architecture in
the early period; basilica
in the later Anglo-Saxon period, an architecture characterised by
pilaster-strips, blank arcading, baluster shafts and triangular
Anglo-Saxon art before roughly the time of Alfred (ruled 871–899)
is mostly in varieties of the Hiberno-Saxon
style, a fusion of Anglo-Saxon and
Celtic techniques and motifs. The Sutton Hoo treasure is an exceptional survival of very early
Anglo-Saxon metalwork and jewellery, from a royal grave of the
early 7th century.
The period between Alfred and the Norman
Conquest, with the revival of the English economy and culture after
the end of the Viking raids, saw a distinct Anglo-Saxon style in
art, though one in touch with trends on the Continent.
Anglo-Saxon art is mainly known today
manuscripts, including the Benedictional of St.
Library) and Leofric Missal (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS
Bodl, 579), masterpieces of the late "Winchester style", which drew
on Hiberno-Saxon art, Carolingian art and Byzantine art for style and iconography, and combined both northern
ornamental traditions with Mediterranean figural traditions.
The Harley Psalter
was a copy of the
Carolingian Utrecht Psalter
— which was a particular
influence in creating an Anglo-Saxon style of very lively pen
Manuscripts were far from the only Anglo-Saxon art form, but they
have survived in much greater numbers than other types of object.
Contemporaries in Europe regarded Anglo-Saxon goldsmithing and
embroidery (Opus Anglicanum
especially fine. Perhaps the best known piece of Anglo-Saxon art is
the Bayeux Tapestry
commissioned by a Norman patron from English artists working in the
traditional Anglo-Saxon style. The most common example of
Anglo-Saxon art is coins, with thousands of examples extant.
Anglo-Saxon artists also worked in fresco
, stone carving, metalwork
for example) and enamel
but few of these pieces have survived.
English, sometimes called Anglo-Saxon, was the language spoken
under Alfred the Great and continued to be the common language of
England (non-Danelaw) until after the Norman Conquest of 1066 when,
under the influence of the Anglo-Norman language spoken by the
Norman ruling class, it changed into Middle English roughly between
Old English is far closer to early Germanic
than Middle English. It is less
Latinised and retains many morphological features (nominal and
verbal inflection) that were lost during the 12th to 14th
centuries. The languages today which are closest to Old English are
the Frisian languages
, which are
spoken by a few hundred thousand people in the northern part of
Germany and the Netherlands.
Before literacy in the vernacular Old English or Latin became
widespread, the Runic alphabet
called the futhorc
(also known as futhark
used for inscriptions. When literacy became more prevalent, a form
of Latin script was used with a few letters derived from the
The letters regularly used in printed and edited texts of Old
English are the following:
- a æ b c d ð e f g h i l m n o p r s t
þ u w x y
with only rare occurrences of j
, and z
Very few law codes exist from the Anglo-Saxon period to provide an
insight into legal culture beyond the influence of Roman law
and how this legal culture developed
over the course of time. The Saxons chopped off hands and noses for
punishment (if the offender stole something or committed another
crime). If someone killed a Saxon, he had to pay money called
, the amount varying according to the
social rank of the victim.
Old English literary works include genres such as epic poetry
translations, legal works, chronicles
, riddles, and others. In all there are
about 400 surviving manuscripts
period, a significant corpus of both popular interest and
The most famous works from this period include the poem
, which has achieved
status in Britain. The
is a collection of important early English history. Cædmon's Hymn
from the 7th century is the
earliest attested literary text in English.
The indigenous pre-Christian
system of the Anglo-Saxons was a form of Germanic paganism
and therefore closely
related to the Old Norse religion
well as other Germanic pre-Christian cultures.
Christianity gradually replaced the indigenous religion of the
English around the 7th and 8th centuries. Celtic Christianity was introduced into
Northumbria and Mercia by monks from Ireland, but the Synod of
Whitby settled the choice for Roman
As the new clerics became the chroniclers,
the old religion was partially lost before it was recorded, and
today historians' knowledge of it is largely based on surviving
customs and lore, texts, etymological links and archaeological
One of the few recorded references is that a Kentish King would
only meet the missionary St.
in the open air, where he would be under the
protection of the sky god, Woden. Written Christian prohibitions on
acts of paganism are one of historians' main sources of information
on pre-Christian beliefs.
Despite these prohibitions, numerous elements of the pre-Christian
culture of the Anglo-Saxon people survived the Christianisation
process. Examples include the English language names for days of
- Tiw, the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Tyr:
- Woden, the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of
- Þunor, the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Thor:
- *Fríge, the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Frigg: Friday
"Anglo-Saxon" in linguistics is still used as a term for the
original West Germanic
component of the modern English
, which was later expanded and developed through the
influence of Old Norse
and Norman French
, though linguists now
more often refer to it as Old English
In the 19th century the term "Anglo-Saxon" was broadly used in
, and is sometimes so used at
present. In Victorian Britain, some writers such as Robert Knox
,James Anthony Froude
, Charles Kingsley
and Edward A. Freeman
used the term "Anglo-Saxon" to justify
, claiming that the "Anglo-Saxon"
ancestry of the English made them racially superiorto the colonised
peoples.Similar racist ideas were advocated in the 19th Century
United States by Samuel George
"Anglo-Saxon" is sometimes used to refer to peoples descended or
associated in some way with the English ethnic group
. The definition
has varied from time to time and varies from place to place.
cultures outside the United Kingdom, the term is most commonly found in certain
contexts, such as the term "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant"
Such terms are often politicised, and bear little
connection to the precise ethnological or historical definition of
the term "Anglo-Saxon". It often encapsulates socio-economic
identifiers more than ethnic ones.
Anglophone countries, both in Europe and in the rest of the world,
the term "Anglo-Saxon" and its direct translations are used to
refer to the Anglophone peoples and societies of Britain, the
States, and other countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
The term can be used in a variety of
contexts, often to identify the English-speaking world's
distinctive language, culture, technology, wealth, markets,
economy, and legal systems. Local variations include the French
"Anglo-Saxon" and the Spanish "anglosajón".
As with the English language use of the term, what constitutes the
"Anglo-Saxon" varies from speaker to speaker. For example, in
Spain, the term can also include Ireland and its peoples and cultures.
- BBC - History - Anglo-Saxons
- English and Welsh are races apart
- Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England Chap XV
- The Monarchy of England: Volume I – The
Beginnings by David Starkey (extract at Channel 4 programme
- The Life of King Alfred
- Page not found
- The History of Wales, John Davies, Penguin Books, 1990.
- Ancient Britain Had Apartheid-Like Society, Study
- Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism, 1830-1914
by Patrick Brantlinger. Cornell University Press, 1990
- Race and Empire in British Politics by Paul B. Rich. CUP
- Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial
Anglo-Saxonism by Reginald Horsman.Harvard University Press, 1981.
- Oppenheimer, Stephen. The Origins of the
British(2006). Constable and Robinson, London. ISBN
- D. Whitelock, English Historical Documents c.500–1042,
(London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1955)
- Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People,
trans. L. Sherly-Price, (London: Penguin, 1990)
- F.M. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, 3rd edition,
(Oxford: University Press, 1971)
- J. Campbell et al., The Anglo-Saxons, (London:
- E. James, Britain in the First Millennium, (London:
- M. Lapidge et al., The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of
Anglo-Saxon England, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999)
- Donald Henson, The Origins of the Anglo-Saxons,
(Anglo-Saxon Books, 2006)
- * Huge Anglo-Saxon gold hoard found, BBC News,