From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search
The parade helmet found at Sutton Hoo, probably belonging to Raedwald of East Anglia c. 625. Based on a Roman parade-helmet design (of a general class known as spangenhelm), it has decorations like those found in contemporary Swedish helmets found at Old Uppsala (Collection of the British Museum)

Anglo-Saxons is the term usually used to describe the invading tribes in the south and east of Great Britain starting from the early 5th century AD, and their creation of the English nation, lasting until the Norman conquest of 1066.[1] The Benedictine monk, Bede, identified them as the descendants of three Germanic tribes: [2]

  • The Angles, who may have come from Angeln, and Bede wrote that their whole nation came to Britain [3], leaving their former land empty. The name 'England' or 'Ænglaland' originates from this tribe. [4]
  • The Saxons, from Lower Saxony (German: Niedersachsen, Germany)
  • The Jutes, from the Jutland peninsula.

They spoke closely related Germanic dialects and may have traced a common heritage to the Ingvaeones as described by the Roman historian Tacitus.

In contemporary usage, Anglo-Saxon is sometimes used to denote modern peoples or groups considered largely descended from the English, as in White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, and is sometimes used by non-English speakers, especially the French, to denote the Anglosphere.


[edit] Etymology

The term "Anglo-Saxon" comes from writings going back to the time of King Alfred the Great, who seems to have frequently used the title rex Anglorum Saxonum or rex Angul-Saxonum (king of the English Saxons). [5]

The Old 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. [6]

The indigenous British people, who wrote in both Latin and Celtic, referred to these invaders as Saxones, Saeson -- the latter is still used today in the Welsh word for 'English' people.[7] -- or Sassenach as still used in Scotland and Ireland.

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 Lombards, probably to distinguish the English Saxons from the continental Saxons.[citation needed]

There is a theory that the name of the Angles came from the Germanic and Indo-European root ang- = "narrow", i.e. "the people who live by the Narrow Water (i.e. the Schlei inlet)".[citation needed]

[edit] Anglo-Saxon history

The history of Anglo-Saxon England broadly covers Medieval England from the end of Roman rule and establishment of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the 5th century, until the Conquest by the Normans in 1066.

[edit] Origins (AD 400–600)

Migration of Germanic peoples to Britain from what is now northern Germany and southern Scandinavia is attested from the 5th century (e.g. Undley bracteate).[8] Based on Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, the intruding population is traditionally divided into Angles, Saxons and Jutes, but their composition is likely to have been less clear-cut, and may also have included Frisians and Franks. The Parker Library holds the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which is the first recorded indication of the movement of these Germanic Tribes to Britain.

Before the late 20th century it was thought that the Saxon migration was extensive, and that the previous inhabitants of Britain had either fled to Wales, Cornwall, and Scotland (the areas known as the "Celtic fringe") or had been killed. However, a consensus arose among historians in the late 20th century that the migration had been only of the elites - the only persons considered worth mentioning in most ancient histories - and that the common people did not flee; the existence of the Celtic fringe was therefore thought not to be caused by the Celts fleeing there but by the Saxon elite (and therefore Saxon culture) not reaching those areas. Recent genetic testing has suggested that the native English are genetically nearly identical to the Scots, Irish, and Welsh, and that a Saxon elite merely replaced a Celtic elite, leaving the common people (who were mainly of pre-Celtic ancestry) alone for the most part.[9] It may therefore be misleading to consider the Saxons as the "ancestors of the English" or to overemphasize the genetic differences (as opposed to cultural differences) between various areas of the British Isles.

[edit] Heptarchy (600–800)

The main Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms circa A.D. 600

Christianisation 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, though this term has now fallen out of academic use. The word 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 several other kingdoms were politically important across this period: Hwicce, Magonsaete, Kingdom of Lindsey, and Middle Anglia.

[edit] 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 AD brought intermittent peace, but with their foundation of Jorvik (Viking York) the Danes gained a permanent foothold in England.

An important development of the 9th century was the rise of the Kingdom of Wessex under Alfred the Great, and by the end of his reign Alfred was recognized as overlord by several southern kingdoms. Æthelstan of Wessex, Alfred's grandson, was the first king to achieve direct rulership of what is now considered "England".

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. After various fluctuations, by 1066 there were several people with a claim to the English throne, resulting in two invasions that year and the battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings, giving rise to the Medieval Anglo-Norman rule of England.

After the Norman conquest, many Anglo-Saxons are thought to have left England and joined the Varangian Guard. In 1088 a large number of Anglo-Saxons and Danes emigrated to the Byzantine Empire by way of the Mediterranean. One source has more than 5,000 of them arriving at Constantinople in 235 ships.[10]

[edit] Culture

[edit] Architecture

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 work.

The architectural character of Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical buildings ranges from Coptic influenced architecture in the early period; basilica influenced Romanesque architecture; to, in the later Anglo-Saxon period, an architecture characterised by pilaster-strips, blank arcading, baluster shafts, and triangular headed openings.

[edit] Art

Anglo-Saxon art before roughly the time of Alfred the Great (ruled 871–899 AD) is mostly in varieties of the Hiberno-Saxon or Insular 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 through illuminated manuscripts, including the Benedictional of St. Æthelwold (British 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 drawings.

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) as especially fine. Perhaps the best known piece of Anglo-Saxon art is the Bayeux Tapestry which was 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, ivory, stone carving, metalwork (see Fuller brooch for example) and enamel, but few of these pieces have survived.

[edit] Language

Old English, sometimes called Anglo-Saxon, was the language spoken under Alfred the Great and continued to be the common language of England (outside the Danelaw) until after the Norman Conquest of 1066 when, through contact with the Anglo-Norman language spoken by the Norman ruling class, it evolved into Middle English, between roughly 1150–1500.

Old English is far closer to early Germanic than is Middle English, being less Latinized and retaining many morphological features (nominal and verbal inflection) which were lost during the 12th to 14th centuries. The languages today which are closest to Old English are the Frisian languages spoken by a few hundred thousand people in the northern part of the Netherlands and Germany.

Before literacy in the vernacular of Old English or Latin became widespread, the Runic alphabet - called the futhorc (also known as futhark) - was used for inscriptions. When literacy became more prevalent, a form of Latin script was used, with a few letters derived from the futhork: 'Eth,' 'Wynn,' and 'Thorn.'

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, k, q, v, and z.

[edit] Law

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 wergild, the amount varying according to the social rank of the victim.

First page of the epic Beowulf

[edit] Literature

Old English literary works include genres such as epic poetry, hagiography, sermons, Bible translations, legal works, chronicles, riddles, and others. In all there are about 400 surviving manuscripts from the period, a significant body of both popular interest and specialist research.

The most famous works from this period include the poem Beowulf, which has achieved national epic status in Britain. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a collection of important early English history. Cædmon's Hymn from the 7th century is the earliest attested literary text in English.

[edit] Religion

The indigenous pre-Christian religion of the Anglo-Saxons was a form of Germanic paganism, closely related to the Old Norse religion as well as to other Germanic pre-Christian cultures.

Christianity (particularly the Roman Catholic Church) gradually replaced the indigenous religion of the English around the 7th and 8th centuries. Christianity was introduced into Northumbria and Mercia by monks from Ireland, but the Synod of Whitby settled the choice for Roman Christianity. Because the new clerics became the chroniclers, the old religion was partially lost before it was ever recorded, and today our knowledge of it is largely based on surviving customs and lore, texts, etymological links, and archaeological finds.

One of the few recorded references is that a Kentish King would only meet the missionary St. Augustine in the open air, where he would be under the protection of the sky god, Woden. Written Christian prohibitions on acts of paganism are now one of the main sources of information on pre-Christian beliefs.

Despite the prohibitions, numerous elements of the pre-Christian culture of the Anglo-Saxon people survived the Christianisation process. Examples include the English names for some of the days of the week:

  • Tiw, the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Tyr: Tuesday
  • Woden, the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Odin: Wednesday
  • Þunor, the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Thor: Thursday
  • *Fríge, the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Frigg: Friday

Kathleen Herbert in her book 'Lost Gods of England' explains that the Anglo-Saxons also worshipped a god called Ing who is equated with the Norse god Frey. This is due to Frey being worshipped as Ingvi-Frey in Sweden, along with the same symbolism found in Beowulf (among other sources) regarding the boar as Frey's symbol and his role in fertility.[11] She also connects Ing to Nerthus, and quotes the following from Tacitus:

They worship the Mother of the gods. As an emblem of the rite, they bear the shapes of wild boars [...].[12]

Herbert discusses the goddess Nerthus recorded by Tacitus. She suggests that it is likely that the Anglo-Saxons, like their continental ancestors, worshipped Nerthus as the Earth Mother making reference to charms and harvest festivals held hundreds of years later.

'On September 14th, 1598, a party of German visitors was going to Eton. One of them reported the following; we were returning to our lodging house; by chance we fell in with the country folk celebrating their harvest home. The last sheaf had been crowned with flowers and they had attached it to a magnificently robed image, which perhaps they meant to represent Ceres. [...] They carried her hither and thither with much noise; men and women together on the wagon, men servants and maid servants shouting through the streets [...] About 1,500 years after Tacitus described the Nerthus rite, already long established among the continental English, the insular English had a goddess of the fruitful earth still riding in a wagon, making a random progress amidst public rejoicing.'[13]

[edit] Contemporary meanings

"Anglo-Saxon" in linguistics is still used as a term for the original West Germanic component of the modern English language, 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 philology, and is sometimes so used at present.

"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. In contemporary Anglophone cultures outside the United Kingdom, the term is most commonly found in certain contexts, such as the term "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant" or "WASP". 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.

Outside 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 United 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.

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ BBC - History - Anglo-Saxons
  2. ^ English and Welsh are races apart
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ [3]
  6. ^ [4]
  7. ^ The History of Wales, John Davies, Penguin Books, 1990. ISBN01.2570 1
  8. ^ Ancient Britain Had Apartheid-Like Society, Study Suggests
  9. ^ "A United Kingdom? Maybe". Nicholas Wade, The New York Times, March 6, 2007.
  10. ^ Stephen Turnbull, The Walls of Constantinople, AD 324–1453, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 1-84176-759-X
  11. ^ Herbert, Kathleen. (1994) Lost Gods of England pg 30-32
  12. ^ Herbert, Kathleen. (1994) Lost Gods of England pg 31
  13. ^ Herbert, Kathleen. (1994) Lost Gods of England pg 19-20

[edit] References

  • Oppenheimer, Stephen. The Origins of the British (2006). Constable and Robinson, London. ISBN 1-84529-158-1

[edit] Further reading

  • Whitelock, Dorothy (ed.) (1955) English Historical Documents c. 500–1042, London: Eyre and Spottiswoode
  • Stenton, F. M. (1971) Anglo-Saxon England, 3rd edition, Oxford University Press
  • Bede (1990) Ecclesiastical History of the English People, trans. L. Sherley-Price, London: Penguin Books
  • Campbell, J., et al. (1991), The Anglo-Saxons, London: Penguin Books
  • Lapidge, M., et al. (1999) The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford: Blackwell
  • James, E. (2001) Britain in the First Millennium, London: Arnold
  • Henson, Donald (2006) The Origins of the Anglo-Saxons, Hockwold-cum-Wilton, Norfolk: Anglo-Saxon Books

[edit] External links

Personal tools