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- The Anglo-Saxon period
- Short History of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain
- Anglo-Saxon kingdoms
- King Alfred The Great
Key Facts And Information
Let’s find out more about the Anglo-Saxons!
- Anglo-Saxon is a term that is relatively new. It pertains to immigrants from the German states of Angeln and Saxony who arrived in Britain when the Roman Empire fell in AD 410.
- Anglo-Saxons were northern European immigrants who arrived in England in the fifth and sixth centuries. The Anglo-Saxons were initially divided into several tiny groups and kingdoms, but under the reign of King Athelstan (924—939), they were finally united into a single political realm – the kingdom of England.
They were the most powerful political force in England until Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon monarch, was killed by the Normans at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
The Anglo-Saxon period
- The Anglo-Saxon period in Britain spanned around six centuries, from 410 to 1066 AD. Due to the scarcity of written evidence for the early years of the Saxon invasion, the period was previously known as the Dark Ages. Most historians now prefer the terms 'early middle ages' or 'early medieval period.'
- They had to fight the Vikings for control of their kingdoms during this time, and they were forced to hand over power to a number of Danish rulers, notably King Cnut, who ruled over an empire that included England, Denmark, and Norway. The Anglo-Saxon era came to an end with William of Normandy's victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and a new era of Norman dominance started.
Climate change influenced the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain: Europe's average temperature was 1°C warmer after 400 AD than it is today, and grapes could be cultivated as far north as Tyneside. Warmer summers in northern Europe meant better crops and a rise in population.
- At the same time, the melting arctic ice caused more floods in low-lying areas, particularly in what is now Denmark, Holland, and Belgium. As a result, these people began looking for land that was less likely to flood as a possible settlement site. Following the departure of the Roman troops, Britain became a vulnerable and enticing option.
Around this time, Roman dominance in Britain began to disappear, leaving a power vacuum that immigrants from northern Germany and southern Scandinavia filled. The Anglo-Saxons were the invaders, and they ruled England over the next 600 years.
With the fall of Roman Britannia into various kingdoms, religious conversion, and, after the 790s, constant battles against a new set of invaders: the Vikings, it was a period of war.
The Anglo-Saxon period
- Discover the best representations of Anglo-Saxon architecture, from remarkable settlements rich in archaeological treasures to crumbling church steeples.
- The Anglo-Saxons made do with what they had, primarily using wood from the nearby forests to construct their structures. The ravages of time have taken their toll on most of their work. However, there are some incredible places to visit.
- The world's oldest wooden church, 'stave constructed' of gigantic split oak-tree trunks, may be seen in Greensted, Essex, near Chipping Ongar. Excavations have discovered two previous timber buildings from the 6th and 7th centuries, while the 51 planks on display now date from around 1060.
- Apsidal chancels, like St Paul's in Jarrow, have Roman influences, while square-ended chancels have Celtic echoes. Small, thin, and round- or triangular-headed windows, which are generally without glass.
- Roman brick from the walls of Hexham Abbey may well be blended into the 'new build' — recycling has always been fashionable! You might come across amazing 7th-century crypts hidden beneath such old structures.
- The noble tiny St Laurence in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, is one of Britain's most complete late Saxon churches, with lofty proportions.
- The font, twin windows, and sculpture of the Virgin and Child over the inner doorway at St Mary's Priory Church in Deerhurst, Gloucestershire, are all ornate Saxon elements.
- The country's best Saxon tower, All Saints, Earls Barton in Northamptonshire, contains magnificent 10th-century 'long-and-short-work,' a series of tall narrow stone followed by a short wide stone going up the tower's corners. Other stone strips, known as lesenes, form a diamond pattern.
- The ancestor of Middle English and Modern English is the Old English language, often known as Anglo-Saxon. It was spoken and recorded in England prior to 1100. It is classified as a West Germanic language belonging to the Anglo-Frisian group.
- Northumbrian, which is spoken in northern England and southeastern Scotland, Mercian, which is spoken in central England, Kentish, which is spoken in southeastern England, and West Saxon, which is spoken in southern and southwestern England, are the four dialects of Old English. The Anglian dialects include Mercian and Northumbrian. Most known Old English literature are written in the West Saxon dialect; the first significant period of literary production occurred during King Alfred the Great's reign in the 9th century.
- Unlike Modern English, Old English had three genders for nouns and adjectives (masculine, feminine, and neuter), and nouns, pronouns, and adjectives were inflected for case. The four cases of noun and adjective paradigms were nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative, respectively, while pronouns also had instrumental case forms. Strong verbs were more common in Old English than they are in Modern English. Many strong verbs in Old English have become weak (regular) verbs in Modern English.
- The Saxons were pagans when they first arrived in Britain. This implies that they worshiped a variety of gods. Their religion was referred to as 'paganism.'
- Elves, goblins, and dragons were all thought to exist by the Saxons.
- The Anglo-Saxons were superstitious and believed in the power of lucky charms. Rhymes, potions, stones, and gems were considered to protect them from evil spirits and illness.
- The gods Tiw, Woden, Thor, and Frig were revered by the Anglo-Saxons. The names of our days of the week are derived from these words: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The majority of the weekdays are named after Saxon gods.
Short History of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain
- Gildas, also known as Gildas the Wise or Gildas Sapiens, was a 6th-century British monk best known for his religious polemic De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, which narrates the history of the Britons prior to and during the arrival of the Saxons.
- The Anglo-Saxons had previously served in the Roman army on the island, thus they were no strangers to the country.
- Even before the Roman forces left, they began progressively settling in Britain. Despite this, historical evidence implies that they were invited to protect the country against invasion.
- Following the Roman troops' withdrawal, Germanic-speaking Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Frisians appeared in Britain on their own.
- They began as small groups of invading invaders, but their numbers gradually increased.
- Despite their defenselessness, the British people answered with a resolute defiance.
- Around 500 AD, however, the invaders were decisively rejected by the Romano-British.
- Nonetheless, in the mid-sixth century, Ambrosius, now known as "Arthur," a British Christian leader, mobilised the Romano-British against the invaders.
- The writings of the monk Gildas, as well as Ambrosius' victories in twelve engagements during the rally, were used as proof.
- The Anglo-Saxons were separated into tribes after successfully invading Britain and settling in various sections of the country.
- They divided into various kingdoms, each of which was continuously changing and at odds with the others. The Bretwalda, one of these countries' rulers, was occasionally referred to as a "High King" by these kingdoms.
- There were seven different kingdoms by 650 AD, as below:
- Kent, a county in England that was
founded by the Jutes. Around 595
AD, St Augustine converted Ethelbert
of Kent, the first Anglo-Saxon monarch,
- Mercia, whose most famous ruler,
Offa, built Offa's Dyke along the
Welsh-English border. This vast empire
encompassed the Midlands.
- Northumbria, where the monk Bede
(c. 670-735) lived and wrote his
Ecclesiastical History of Britain.
- East Anglia, where the famous Sutton Hoo ship burial was found. The Angles ruled the kingdom.
- Essex or East Saxons is where the famous Battle of Maldon was fought against the Vikings in 991.
- The Sussex is where the South Saxons made their home.
- Wessex or the West Saxons was later referred to as King Alfred's kingdom. King Alfred was the only English king to be referred to as "The Great." His outstanding grandson, Athelstan, was the first to claim the title "King of the English."
King Alfred The Great
- Alfred the Great was King of the West Saxons from 871 to c. 886 and King of the Anglo-Saxons from c. 886 until his death in 899. He was the youngest son of King Æthelwulf and his first wife Osburh, who both died when Alfred was young.
- The construction of a succession of fortifications (burhs) and a powerful army strengthened his kingdom's defenses.
- He also helped to establish the English navy by building ships to defend against Viking invasions at sea.
- King Alfred understood the value of education. He even translated some books into English as a result of this.
- He commissioned the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a historical account of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain.
- The Anglo-Saxons' history became connected with the Vikings' when the Vikings raided Lindisfarne Monastery in 793. They shared many characteristics, including as language, religious beliefs, and Northern European heritage, yet they were not identical. They were two distinct groups of individuals in our history since they infiltrated Britain at different times.
- For a variety of reasons, King Alfred, a king of the kingdom of Wessex, received the moniker "the Great."
- At the Battle of Edington in 878, he led his forces to victory over the Vikings. He was able to retake London from the Vikings as a result of this.
- Between the Saxons and the Vikings, he was effective in defining boundaries. The Danelaw was the name given to the Viking-dominated territory.