The Anglo-Saxons were a cultural group who inhabited Great Britain from the 5th century. They comprise people from Germanic tribes who migrated to the island from continental Europe, their descendants, and indigenous British groups who adopted many aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture and language; the cultural foundations laid by the Anglo-Saxons are the foundation of the modern English legal system and of many aspects of English society; the modern English language owes over half its words – including the most common words of everyday speech – to the language of the Anglo-Saxons. Historically, the Anglo-Saxon period denotes the period in Britain between about 450 and 1066, after their initial settlement and up until the Norman conquest. The early Anglo-Saxon period includes the creation of an English nation, with many of the aspects that survive today, including regional government of shires and hundreds. During this period, Christianity was established and there was a flowering of literature and language. Charters and law were also established.The%20Angl]]he term is popularly used for the language that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons in England and eastern Scotland between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century. In scholarly use, it is more commonly called Old English.
The history of the Anglo-Saxons is the history of a cultural identity.
Use of the term Anglo-Saxon assumes that the words Angles, Saxons or Anglo-Saxon have the same meaning in all the sources. This term began to be used only in the 8th century to distinguish "Germanic" groups in Britain from those on the continent (Old Saxony and from the Anglia region in Northern Germany). Catherine Hills summarised the views of many modern scholars in her observation that attitudes towards Anglo-Saxons, and hence the interpretation of their culture and history, have been "more contingent on contemporary political and religious theology as on any kind of evidence."
The Old English ethnonym "Angul-Seaxan" comes from the Latin Angli-Saxones and became the name of the peoples Bede calls Angli  and Gildas calls Saxones. Anglo-Saxon is a term that was rarely used by Anglo-Saxons themselves; it is not an autonym. It is likely they identified as ængli, Seaxe or, more probably, a local or tribal name such as Mierce, Cantie, Gewisse, Westseaxe, or Norþanhymbre. Also, the use of Anglo-Saxon disguises the extent to which people identified as Anglo-Scandinavian after the Viking age, or as Anglo-Norman after the Norman conquest in 1066.
The earliest historical references using this term are from outside Britain, referring to piratical Germanic raiders, 'Saxones' who attacked the shores of Britain and Gaul in the 3rd century AD. Procopius states that Britain was settled by three races: the Angiloi, Frisones, and Britons. The term Angli Saxones seems to have first been used in continental writing of the 8th century; Paul the Deacon uses it to distinguish the English Saxons from the continental Saxons (Ealdseaxe, literally, 'old Saxons'). The name therefore seemed to mean "English" Saxons.
The Christian church seems to have used the word Angli; for example in the story of Pope Gregory I and his remark, "Non Angli sed angeli" (not English but angels). The terms ænglisc ('the language') and Angelcynn ('the people') were also used by West Saxon King Alfred to refer to the people; in doing so he was following established practice. The first use of the term Anglo-Saxon amongst the insular sources is in the titles for Athelstan: Angelsaxonum Denorumque gloriosissimus rex (most glorious king of the Anglo-Saxons and of the Danes) and rex Angulsexna and Norþhymbra imperator paganorum gubernator Brittanorumque propugnator (king of the Anglo-Saxons and emperor of the Northumbrians, governor of the pagans, and defender of the Britons). At other times he uses the term rex Anglorum (king of the English), which presumably meant both Anglo-Saxons and Danes. Alfred the Great used Anglosaxonum Rex. The term Engla cyningc (King of the English) is used by Æthelred. King Cnut in 1021 was the first to refer to the land and not the people with this term: ealles Englalandes cyningc (King of all England). These titles express the sense that the Anglo-Saxons were a Christian people with a king anointed by God.
The indigenous Common Brittonic speakers referred to Anglo-Saxons as Saxones or possibly Saeson (the word Saeson is the modern Welsh word for 'English people'); the equivalent word in Scottish Gaelic is Sasannach and in the Irish language, Sasanach. Catherine Hills suggests that it is no accident, "that the English call themselves by the name sanctified by the Church, as that of a people chosen by God, whereas their enemies use the name originally applied to piratical raiders".
The Anglo-Saxons are the direct ancestors of the majority of the modern British people.
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.
Throughout the history of the Anglo-Saxons studies producing a dispassionate narrative of the people has been difficult.
The term Anglo-Saxon is sometimes used to refer to peoples descended or associated in some way with the English ethnic group, but there is no universal definition for the term. In contemporary Anglophone cultures outside Britain, "Anglo-Saxon" may be contrasted with "Celtic" as a socioeconomic identifier, invoking or reinforcing historical prejudices against non-English British immigrants. "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant", i.e. WASP, is a term especially popular in the United States that refers chiefly to old wealthy families with mostly English ancestors. As such, WASP is not a historical label or a precise ethnological term, but rather a (often derogatory) reference to contemporary family-based political, financial and cultural power— e.g., The Boston Brahmin.
Outside Anglophone countries 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–areas which are sometimes referred to as the Anglosphere. The term Anglo-Saxon 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. Variations include the German "Angelsachsen", French "Anglo-Saxon", Spanish "anglosajón", Portuguese "Anglo-saxão", Russian "англосаксы", Polish "anglosaksoński", Italian "anglosassone", Catalan "anglosaxó" and Japanese "Angurosakuson". As with the English-language use of the term, what constitutes the "Anglo-Saxon" varies from speaker to speaker.
In modern parlance, Anglo-Saxon is increasingly used to define a set of economic belief and systems rooted in anglophone countries.
Early Anglo-Saxon history (410–660)
The early Anglo-Saxon period covers the history of medieval Britain that starts from the end of Roman rule. It is a period widely known in European history as the Migration Period, also the Völkerwanderung  ("migration of peoples" in German). This was a period of intensified human migration in Europe from about 375 to 800. The migrants were Germanic tribes such as the Goths, Vandals, Angles, Saxons, Lombards, Suebi, Frisii, and Franks; they were later pushed westwards by the Huns, Avars, Slavs, Bulgars, and Alans. The migrants to Britain might also have included the Huns and Rugini.
By the year 400, southern Britain – that is Britain south of Hadrian's Wall – was a peripheral part of the western Roman Empire, occasionally lost to rebellion or invasion, but until then always eventually recovered. Around 410, Britain slipped beyond direct imperial control into a phase which has generally been termed "sub-Roman".
The traditional narrative of this period is one of decline and fall, invasion and migration; however, the archaeologist Heinrich Härke stated in 2011:
Writing c. 540 Gildas mentions that, sometime in the 5th century, a council of leaders in Britain agreed that some land in the east of southern Britain would be given to the Saxons on the basis of a treaty, a foedus, by which the Saxons would defend the Britons against attacks from the Picts and Scoti in exchange for food supplies. The most contemporaneous textual evidence is the Chronica Gallica of 452 which records for the year 441: "The British provinces, which to this time had suffered various defeats and misfortunes, are reduced to Saxon rule." This is an earlier date than that of 451 for the "coming of the Saxons" used by Bede in his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, written around 731. It has been argued that Bede misinterpreted his (scanty) sources, and that the chronological references in the Historia Britonnum yield a plausible date of around 428.
Gildas recounts how a war broke out between the Saxons and the local population – Higham calls it the "War of the Saxon Federates" – which ended shortly after the siege at 'Mons Badonicus'. The Saxons go back to "their eastern home". Gildas calls the peace a "grievous divorce with the barbarians". The price of peace, Nick Higham argues, is a better treaty for the Saxons, giving them the ability to receive tribute from people across the lowlands of Britain. The archaeological evidence agrees with this earlier timescale. In particular, the work of Catherine Hills and Sam Lucy on the evidence of Spong Hill has moved the chronology for the settlement earlier than 450, with a significant number of items now in phases before Bede's date.
This vision of the Anglo-Saxons exercising extensive political and military power at an early date remains contested.
Scholars have not reached consensus on the number of migrants who entered Britain in this period.
What happened to the indigenous Brittonic people is also subject to question.
The second process is explained through incentives.
By the middle of the 6th century, some Brythonic people in the lowlands of Britain had moved across the sea to form Brittany, and some had moved west, but the majority were abandoning their past language and culture and adopting the new culture of the Anglo-Saxons. As they adopted this language and culture, the barriers began to dissolve between peoples, who had earlier lived parallel lives. The archaeological evidence shows considerable continuity in the system of landscape and local governance,Early%20Medieval%20Settlements%3A%20The%20Arch]]hich was inherited from the indigenous community. There is evidence for a fusion of culture in this early period.Wessex Cerdic, an undoubtedly Celtic name ultimately derived from Caratacus. This may indicate that Cerdic was a native Briton, and that his dynasty became anglicised over time.Celtic%20Culture%3A%20A%20Historical%20E]] Bretwalda Ceawlin o have a Brythonic name was King Caedwalla, who died as late as 689.
In the last half of the 6th century, four structures contributed to the development of society; they were the position and freedoms of the ceorl, the smaller tribal areas coalescing into larger kingdoms, the elite developing from warriors to kings, and Irish monasticism developing under Finnian (who had consulted Gildas) and his pupil Columba.
The Anglo-Saxon farms of this period are often falsely supposed to be "peasant farms".
The Tribal Hidage lists thirty-five peoples, or tribes, with assessments in hides, which may have originally been defined as the area of land sufficient to maintain one family.Dark%20Age%20Economics%3A%20The%20Origins%20o]]he assessments in the reflect the relative size of the provinces. y were areas which were ruled by their own elite family (or royal houses), and so were assessed independently for payment of tribute.  By the end of the sixth century, larger kingdoms had become established on the south or east coasts. They include the provinces of the Jutes of Hampshire and Wight, the South Saxons, Kent, the East Saxons, East Angles, Lindsey and (north of the Humber) Deira and Bernicia. Several of these kingdoms may have had as their initial focus a territory based on a former Roman civitas.
By the end of the sixth century, the leaders of these communities were styling themselves kings, though it should not be assumed that all of them were Germanic in origin.
The process from warrior to cyning – Old English for king – is described in Beowulf
In 565, Columba, a monk from Ireland who studied at the monastic school of Moville under St. Finnian, reached Iona as a self-imposed exile. The influence of the monastery of Iona would grow into what Peter Brown has described as an "unusually extensive spiritual empire," which "stretched from western Scotland deep to the southwest into the heart of Ireland and, to the southeast, it reached down throughout northern Britain, through the influence of its sister monastery Lindisfarne."
In June 597 Columba died.
In 635 Aidan, an Irish monk from Iona, chose the Isle of Lindisfarne to establish a monastery which was close to King Oswald's main fortress of Bamburgh. He had been at the monastery in Iona when Oswald asked to be sent a mission to Christianise the Kingdom of Northumbria from their native Anglo-Saxon paganism. Oswald had probably chosen Iona because after his father had been killed he had fled into south-west Scotland and had encountered Christianity, and had returned determined to make Northumbria Christian. Aidan achieved great success in spreading the Christian faith, and since Aidan could not speak English and Oswald had learned Irish during his exile, Oswald acted as Aidan's interpreter when the latter was preaching. Later, Northumberland's patron saint, Saint Cuthbert, was an abbot of the monastery, and then Bishop of Lindisfarne. An anonymous life of Cuthbert written at Lindisfarne is the oldest extant piece of English historical writing,  and in his memory a gospel (known as the St Cuthbert Gospel) was placed in his coffin. The decorated leather bookbinding is the oldest intact European binding.
In 664, the Synod of Whitby was convened and established Roman practice as opposed to Irish practice (in style of tonsure and dates of Easter) as the norm in Northumbria, and thus "brought the Northumbrian church into the mainstream of Roman culture." The episcopal seat of Northumbria was transferred from Lindisfarne to York. Wilfrid, chief advocate for the Roman position, later became Bishop of Northumbria, while Colmán and the Ionan supporters, who did not change their practices, withdrew to Iona.
Middle Anglo-Saxon history (660–899)
By 660 the political map of Lowland Britain had developed with smaller territories coalescing into kingdoms, and from this time larger kingdoms started dominating the smaller kingdoms. The development of kingdoms, with a particular king being recognised as an overlord, developed out of an early loose structure that, Higham believes, is linked back to the original feodus. The traditional name for this period is the Heptarchy, which has not been used by scholars since the early 20th century as it gives the impression of a single political structure and does not afford the "opportunity to treat the history of any one kingdom as a whole". Simon Keynes suggests that the 8th and 9th century was period of economic and social flourishing which created stability both below the Thames and above the Humber. Many areas flourished and their influence was felt across the continent, however in between the Humber and Thames, one political entity grew in influence and power and to the East these developments in Britain attracted attention.
Middle-lowland Britain was known as the place of the Mierce, the border or frontier folk, in Latin Mercia. Mercia was a diverse area of tribal groups, as shown by the Tribal Hidage; the peoples were a mixture of Brythonic speaking peoples and "Anglo-Saxon" pioneers and their early leaders had Brythonic names, such as Penda. Although Penda does not appear in Bede's list of great overlords it would appear from what Bede says elsewhere that he was dominant over the southern kingdoms. At the time of the battle of the river Winwæd, thirty duces regii (royal generals) fought on his behalf. Although there are many gaps in the evidence, it is clear that the seventh-century Mercian kings were formidable rulers who were able to exercise a wide-ranging overlordship from their Midland base.
Mercian military success was the basis of their power; it succeeded against not only 106 kings and kingdoms by winning set-piece battles, but by ruthlessly ravaging any area foolish enough to withhold tribute.
Michael Drout calls this period the "Golden Age", when learning flourishes with a renaissance in classical knowledge.
Aldhelm wrote in elaborate and grandiloquent and very difficult Latin, which became the dominant style for centuries.
Anglo-Saxon monasticism developed the unusual institution of the "double monastery", a house of monks and a house of nuns, living next to each other, sharing a church but never mixing, and living separate lives of celibacy.
While Aldhelm was doing his work in Malmesbury, far from him, up in the North of England, Bede was writing a large quantity of books, gaining a reputation in Europe and showing that the English could write history and theology, and do astronomical computation (for the dates of Easter, among other things).
The 9th century saw the rise of Wessex, from the foundations laid by King Egbert in the first quarter of the century to the achievements of King Alfred the Great in its closing decades. The outlines of the story are told in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, though the annals represent a West Saxon point of view. On the day of Egbert's succession to the kingdom of Wessex, in 802, a Mercian ealdorman from the province of the Hwicce had crossed the border at Kempsford, with the intention of mounting a raid into northern Wiltshire; the Mercian force was met by the local ealdorman, "and the people of Wiltshire had the victory". In 829 Egbert went on, the chronicler reports, to conquer "the kingdom of the Mercians and everything south of the Humber". It was at this point that the chronicler chose to attach Egbert's name to Bede's list of seven overlords, adding that "he was the eighth king who was Bretwalda". Simon Keynes suggests Egbert's foundation of a 'bipartite' kingdom is crucial as it stretched across southern England, and it created a working alliance between the West Saxon dynasty and the rulers of the Mercians. In 860 the eastern and western parts of the southern kingdom were united by agreement between the surviving sons of King Æthelwulf, though the union was not maintained without some opposition from within the dynasty; and in the late 870s King Alfred gained the submission of the Mercians under their ruler Æthelred, who in other circumstances might have been styled a king, but who under the Alfredian regime was regarded as the 'ealdorman' of his people.
The wealth of the monasteries and the success of Anglo-Saxon society attracted the attention of people from continental Europe, mostly Danes and Norwegians.
Viking raids continued until in 850, then the Chronicle says: "The heathen for the first time remained over the winter". The fleet does not appear to have stayed long in England, but it started a trend which others subsequently followed. In particular, the army which arrived in 865 remained over many winters, and part of it later settled what became known as the Danelaw. This was the "Great Army", a term used by the Chronicle in England and by Adrevald of Fleury on the Continent. The invaders were able not only to exploit the feuds between and within the various kingdoms, but to appoint puppet kings, Ceolwulf in Mercia in 873, 'a foolish king's thane' (ASC), and perhaps others in Northumbria in 867 and East Anglia in 870. The third phase was an era of settlement; however, the 'Great Army' went wherever it could find the richest pickings, crossing the Channel when faced with resolute opposition, as in England in 878, or with famine, as on the Continent in 892. By this stage the Vikings were assuming ever increasing importance as catalysts of social and political change. They constituted the common enemy, making the English the more conscious of a national identity which overrode deeper distinctions; they could be perceived as an instrument of divine punishment for the people's sins, raising awareness of a collective Christian identity; and by 'conquering' the kingdoms of the East Angles, the Northumbrians and the Mercians they created a vacuum in the leadership of the English people.
Danish settlement continued in Mercia in 877 and East Anglia in 879—80 and 896.
More important to Alfred than his military and political victories were his religion, his love of learning, and his spread of writing throughout England.
Thinking about how learning and culture had fallen since the last century, he wrote:
Alfred knew that literature and learning, both in English and in Latin, were very important, but the state of learning was not good when Alfred came to the throne.
What is presumed to be one of these "æstel" (the word only appears in this one text) is the gold, rock crystal and enamel Alfred Jewel, discovered in 1693, which is assumed to have been fitted with a small rod and used as a pointer when reading. Alfred provided functional patronage, linked to a social programme of vernacular literacy in England, which was unprecedented.
This set in train a growth in charters, law, theology and learning.
Late Anglo-Saxon history (899–1066)
A framework for the momentous events of the 10th and 11th centuries is provided by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. However charters, law-codes and coins supply detailed information on various aspects of royal government, and the surviving works of Anglo-Latin and vernacular literature, as well as the numerous manuscripts written in the 10th century, testify in their different ways to the vitality of ecclesiastical culture. Yet as Simon Keynes suggests "it does not follow that the 10th century is better understood than more sparsely documented periods".
During the course of the 10th century, the West Saxon kings extended their power first over Mercia, then into the southern Danelaw, and finally over Northumbria, thereby imposing a semblance of political unity on peoples, who nonetheless would remain conscious of their respective customs and their separate pasts. The prestige, and indeed the pretensions, of the monarchy increased, the institutions of government strengthened, and kings and their agents sought in various ways to establish social order. This process started with Edward the Elder – who with his sister, Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, initially, charters reveal, encouraged people to purchase estates from the Danes, thereby to reassert some degree of English influence in territory which had fallen under Danish control. David Dumville suggests that Edward may have extended this policy by rewarding his supporters with grants of land in the territories newly conquered from the Danes, and that any charters issued in respect of such grants have not survived. When Athelflæd died, Mercia was absorbed by Wessex. From that point on there was no contest for the throne, so the house of Wessex became the ruling house of England.
Edward the Elder was succeeded by his son Æthelstan, who Simon Keynes calls the "towering figure in the landscape of the tenth century". His victory over a coalition of his enemies – Constantine, King of the Scots, Owain ap Dyfnwal, King of the Cumbrians, and Olaf Guthfrithson, King of Dublin – at the battle of Brunanburh, celebrated by a famous poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, opened the way for him to be hailed as the first king of England. Æthelstan's legislation shows how the king drove his officials to do their respective duties. He was uncompromising in his insistence on respect for the law. However this legislation also reveals the persistent difficulties which confronted the king and his councillors in bringing a troublesome people under some form of control. His claim to be "king of the English" was by no means widely recognised. The situation was complex: the Hiberno-Norse rulers of Dublin still coveted their interests in the Danish kingdom of York; terms had to be made with the Scots, who had the capacity not merely to interfere in Northumbrian affairs, but also to block a line of communication between Dublin and York; and the inhabitants of northern Northumbria were considered a law unto themselves. It was only after twenty years of crucial developments following Æthelstan's death in 939 that a unified kingdom of England began to assume its familiar shape. However, the major political problem for Edmund and Eadred, who succeeded Æthelstan, remained the difficulty of subjugating the north. In 959 Edgar is said to have "succeeded to the kingdom both in Wessex and in Mercia and in Northumbria, and he was then 16 years old" (ASC, version 'B', 'C'), and is called "the Peacemaker". By the early 970s, after a decade of Edgar's 'peace', it may have seemed that the kingdom of England was indeed made whole. In his formal address to the gathering at Winchester the king urged his bishops, abbots and abbesses "to be of one mind as regards monastic usage... lest differing ways of observing the customs of one Rule and one country should bring their holy conversation into disrepute".
Athelstan's court had been an intellectual incubator.
The reign of King Æthelred the Unready witnessed the resumption of Viking raids on England, putting the country and its leadership under strains as severe as they were long sustained.
The increasingly difficult times brought on by the Viking attacks are reflected in both Ælfric's and Wulfstan's works, but most notably in Wulfstan's fierce rhetoric in the Sermo Lupi ad Anglos, dated to 1014. Malcolm Godden suggests that ordinary people saw the return of the Vikings, as the imminent "expectation of the apocalypse", and this was given voice in Ælfric and Wulfstan writings, which is similar to that of Gildas and Bede. Raids were signs of God punishing his people, Ælfric refers to people adopting the customs of the Danish and exhorts people not to abandon the native customs on behalf of the Danish ones, and then requests a 'brother Edward', to try to put an end to a 'shameful habit' of drinking and eating in the outhouse, which some of the countrywomen practised at beer parties.
In April 1016 Æthelred died of illness, leaving his son and successor Edmund Ironside to defend the country.
In the 11th century, there were three conquests and some Anglo-Saxon people would live through it: one in the aftermath of the conquest of Cnut in 1016; the second after the unsuccessful attempt of battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066; the third after that of William of Normandy in 1066. The consequences of each conquest can only be assessed with hindsight. In 1016, no-one was to know that whatever cultural ramifications were felt then, they would be subsumed half a century later; and in 1066 there was nothing to predict that the effects of William's conquest would be any greater or more lasting than those of Cnut's.
In this period and beyond the Anglo-Saxon culture is changing.
At first sight, there would seem little to debate.
Edward became king in 1042, and given his upbringing might have been considered a Norman by those who lived across the English Channel. Following Cnut's reforms, excessive power was concentrated in the hands of the rival houses of Leofric of Mercia and Godwine of Wessex. Problems also came for Edward from the resentment caused by the king's introduction of Norman friends. A crisis arose in 1051 when Godwine defied the king's order to punish the men of Dover, who had resisted an attempt by Eustace of Boulogne to quarter his men on them by force. The support of Earl Leofric and Earl Siward enabled Edward to secure the outlawry of Godwine and his sons; and William of Normandy paid Edward a visit during which Edward may have promised William succession to the English throne, although this Norman claim may have been mere propaganda. Godwine and his sons came back the following year with a strong force, and the magnates were not prepared to engage them in civil war but forced the king to make terms. Some unpopular Normans were driven out, including Archbishop Robert, whose archbishopric was given to Stigand; this act supplied an excuse for the Papal support of William's cause.
The fall of England and the Norman Conquest is a multi-generational, multi-family succession problem caused in great part by Athelred's incompetence.
After the Norman Conquest
Following the conquest, the Anglo-Saxon nobility were either exiled or joined the ranks of the peasantry.Engl]]t has been estimated that only about 8 per cent of the land was under Anglo-Saxon control by 1087.Ireland ScandinaviaByzantine Empire or many Anglo-Saxon soldiers, as it was in need of mercenaries. The Anglo-Saxons became the predominant element in the elite Varangian Guard, hitherto a largely North Germanic unit, from which the emperor's bodyguard was drawn and continued to serve the empire until the early 15th century. However, the population of England at home remained largely Anglo-Saxon; for them, little changed immediately except that their Anglo-Saxon lord was replaced by a Norman lord.
The chronicler Orderic Vitalis (1075 – c. 1142), himself the product of an Anglo-Norman marriage, wrote: "And so the English groaned aloud for their lost liberty and plotted ceaselessly to find some way of shaking off a yoke that was so intolerable and unaccustomed".The%20Ecclesiastic]]arrying of the North]](1069–1070), where William, according to the laid waste that shire".
Many Anglo-Saxon people needed to learn Norman French to communicate with their rulers, but it is clear that among themselves they kept speaking Old English, which meant that England was in an interesting tri-lingual situation: Anglo-Saxon for the common people, Latin for the Church, and Norman French for the administrators, the nobility, and the law courts. In this time, and due to the cultural shock of the Conquest, Anglo-Saxon began to change very rapidly, and by 1200 or so, it was no longer Anglo-Saxon English, but what scholars call early Middle English. But this language had deep roots in Anglo-Saxon, which was being spoken a lot later than 1066. Research in the early twentieth century, and still continuing today, has shown that a form of Anglo-Saxon was still being spoken, and not merely among uneducated peasants, into the thirteenth century in the West Midlands. This was J.R.R. Tolkien's major scholarly discovery when he studied a group of texts written in early Middle English called the Katherine Group, because they include the Life of St. Katherine (also, the Life of St. Margaret, the Life and the Passion of St. Juliana, Ancrene Wisse, and Hali Meithhad—these last two teaching how to be a good anchoress and arguing for the goodness of virginity). Tolkien noticed that a subtle distinction preserved in these texts indicated that Old English had continued to be spoken far longer than anyone had supposed. In Old English there is a distinction between two different kinds of verbs.
The Germanic language spoken by the Anglo-Saxons, Old English, had always been a central mark of their cultural identity.
Life and society
The larger narrative, seen in the history of Anglo-Saxon England, is the continued mixing and integration of various disparate elements into one Anglo-Saxon people.
The development of Anglo-Saxon kingship is little understood but the model proposed by Yorke, considered the development of kingdoms and writing down of the oral law-codes to be linked to a progression towards leaders providing mund and receiving recognition. These leaders who developed in the sixth century, were able to seize the initiative and to establish a position of power for themselves and their successors. Anglo-Saxon leaders, unable to tax and coerce followers instead extracted surplus by raiding and collecting food renders and 'prestige goods'. The later sixth century saw the end of a 'prestige goods' economy, as evidenced by the decline of accompanied burial, and the appearance of the first princely graves and high-status settlements. These centres of trade and production reflect the increased socio-political stratification and wider territorial authority which allowed seventh-century elites to extract and redistribute surpluses with far greater effectiveness than their sixth-century predecessors would have found possible. Anglo-Saxon society, in short, looked very different in 600 than it did a hundred years earlier.
By 600, the establishment of the first Anglo-Saxon 'emporia' was in prospect.
By 800 only five Anglo-Saxon kingdoms are definitely known to have been still in existence, and a number of British kingdoms in the west of the country had disappeared as well.
This is the first written appearance of the division of society into the 'three orders'; the 'working men' provided the raw materials to support the other two classes.
Probably no one living in the eighth century would have predicted that the great Mercian empire would be destroyed and that the West Saxons with their poor track record for feuds and infighting within the royal house would emerge as the dominant kingdom in the ninth century.
The first of King Alfred's three-fold Anglo-Saxon society are praying men; people who work at prayer.
Early Anglo-Saxon society attached great significance to the horse; a horse may have been an acquaintance of the god Wodan, and/or they may have been (according to Tacitus) confidants of the gods. Horses were closely associated with gods, especially Odin and Freyr. Horses played a central role in funerary practices as well as in other rituals. Horses were prominent symbols of fertility, and there were many horse fertility cults. The rituals associated with these include horse fights, burials, consumption of horse meat, and horse sacrifice. Hengist and Horsa, the mythical ancestors of the Anglo-Saxons, were associated with horses, and references to horses are found throughout Anglo-Saxon literature. Actual horse burials in England are relatively rare and "may point to influence from the continent". A well-known Anglo-Saxon horse burial (from the sixth/seventh century) is Mound 17 at Sutton Hoo, a few yards from the more famous ship burial in Mound 1. A sixth-century grave near Lakenheath, Suffolk, yielded the body of a man next to that of a "complete horse in harness, with a bucket of food by its head." Pagan Anglo-Saxons worshipped at a variety of different sites across their landscape, some of which were apparently specially built temples and others that were natural geographical features such as sacred trees, hilltops or wells. According to place name evidence, these sites of worship were known alternately as either hearg or as wēoh. Almost no poem from before the Norman Conquest, no matter how Christian its theme, is not steeped in pagan symbolism and their integration into the new faith goes beyond the literary sources. Thus, as Lethbridge reminds us, "to say, 'this is a monument erected in Christian times and therefore the symbolism on it must be Christian,' is an unrealistic approach. The rites of the older faith, now regarded as superstition, are practised all over the country today. It did not mean that people were not Christian; but that they could see a lot of sense in the old beliefs also"
Bede's story of Cædmon, the cowherd who became the 'Father of English Poetry' represents the real heart of the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons from paganism to Christianity.
Monasticism, and not just the church, was at the centre of Anglo Saxon Christian life.
In the 10th century, Dunstan brought Athelwold to Glastonbury, where the two of them set up a monastery on Benedictine lines.
The second element of Alfred's society is fighting men.
Firstly, the mustering of armies.
Once they left home these armies and fleets had to be supplied, not only with food and clothing for the men but also forage for the horses which gave them mobility and were fitting to their Station.
Military training and strategy are two important matters on which the sources are more than usually silent.
A defensive strategy becomes more apparent in the later part of Alfred's reign.
There was another means of dealing with military issues.
The third aspect of Alfred's society is the working man.
The collection of buildings discovered at Yeavering, formed part of an Anglo-Saxon royal vill or king's tun. These 'tun' consisted of a series of buildings designed to provide short-term accommodation for the king and his household. It is thought that the king would have travelled throughout his land dispensing justice and authority and collecting rents from his various estates. Such visits would be periodic and it is likely that he would visit each royal villa only once or twice a year. The Latin term villa regia which Bede used of the site suggests an estate centre as the functional heart of a territory held in the King's demesne. The territory is the land whose surplus production is taken into the centre as food-render to support the king and his retinue on their periodic visits as part of a progress around the kingdom. This territorial model, known as a multiple estate or shire has been developed in a range of studies and Colm O'Brien, in applying this to Yeavering has proposed a geographical definition of the wider shire of Yeavering and also a geographical definition of the principal estate whose structures Hope-Taylor excavated. One characteristic that the king's tun shared with some other groups of places is that it was a point of public assembly. People came together not only to give the king and his entourage board and lodging; they 'attended upon the king' in order to have disputes settled, cases appealed, lands granted, gifts given, appointments made, laws promulgated, policy debated, and ambassadors heard and replied to. People also assembled for other reasons, such as to hold fairs and to trade.
The first creations of towns are linked to a system of specialism at individual settlements, which is evidenced in studying place-names.
Settlement patterns as well as village plans in England fall into two great categories: scattered farms and homesteads in upland and woodland Britain, nucleated villages across a swathe of central England. The chronology of nucleated villages is much debated and not yet clear.
Alfred's view of his society overlooks certain classes of people.
A certain amount of social mobility is implied by regulations detailing the conditions under which a ceorl could become a thegn.
Anglo-Saxon women appear to have enjoyed considerable independence, whether as abbesses of the great 'double monasteries' of monks and nuns founded during the seventh and eighth centuries, as major land-holders recorded in Domesday Book (1086), or as ordinary members of society.
Early Anglo-Saxon buildings in Britain were generally simple, not using masonry except in foundations but constructed mainly using timber with thatch for roofing. Generally preferring not to settle within the old Roman cities, the Anglo-Saxons built small towns near their centres of agriculture, at fords in rivers or sited to serve as ports. In each town, a main hall was in the centre, provided with a central hearth.
Only ten of the hundreds of settlement sites that have been excavated in England from this period have revealed masonry domestic structures and confined to a few quite specific contexts.
Anglo–Saxon building forms were very much part of this general building tradition.
The major rural buildings were sunken-floor (Grubenhäuser) or post-hole buildings, although Helena Hamerow suggest this distinction is less clear. Even the elite had simple buildings, with a central fire and a hole in the roof to let the smoke escape and the largest of which rarely had more than one floor, and one room. Buildings vary widely in size, most were square or rectangular, though some round houses have been found. Frequently these buildings have sunken floors; a shallow pit over which a plank floor was suspended. The pit may have been used for storage, but more likely was filled with straw for winter insulation. A variation on the sunken floor design is found in towns, where the "basement" may be as deep as 9 feet, suggesting a storage or work area below a suspended floor. Another common design was simple post framing, with heavy posts set directly into the ground, supporting the roof. The space between the posts was filled in with wattle and daub, or occasionally, planks. The floors were generally packed earth, though planks were sometimes used. Roofing materials varied, with thatch being the most common, though turf and even wooden shingles were also used.
Stone could be used, and was used, to build churches.
The building of churches in Anglo-Saxon England essentially began with Augustine of Canterbury in Kent following 597; for this he probably imported workmen from Frankish Gaul. The cathedral and abbey in Canterbury, together with churches in Kent at Minster in Sheppey (c.664) and Reculver (669), and in Essex at the Chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall at Bradwell-on-Sea, define the earliest type in southeast England. A simple nave without aisles provided the setting for the main altar; east of this a chancel arch separated off the apse for use by the clergy. Flanking the apse and east end of the nave were side chambers serving as sacristies; further porticus might continue along the nave to provide for burials and other purposes. In Northumbria the early development of Christianity was influenced by the Irish mission, important churches being built in timber. Masonry churches became prominent from the late 7th century with the foundations of Wilfrid at Ripon and Hexham, and of Benedict Biscop at Monkwearmouth-Jarrow. These buildings had long naves and small rectangular chancels; porticus sometimes surrounded the naves. Elaborate crypts are a feature of Wilfrid's buildings. The best preserved early Northumbrian church is Escomb Church.
From the mid-8th century to the mid-10th a number of important buildings survive.
From, the monastic revival of the second half of the tenth century only a few documented buildings survive or have been excavated, for example: the abbeys of Glastonbury; Old Minster, Winchester; Romsey; Cholsey; and Peterborough Cathedral. The majority of churches that have been described as Anglo-Saxon fall into the period between the late 10th century and the early 12th. During this period many settlements were first provided with stone churches, but timber also continued to be used; the best wooden survival is Greensted Church in Essex, no earlier than the 9th century, and no doubt typical of many parish churches. On the Continent during the eleventh century was developed a group of interrelated Romanesque styles, associated with the rebuilding of many churches on a grand scale, made possible by a general advance in architectural technology and mason-craft.
The first fully Romanesque church in England was Edward the Confessor's rebuilding of Westminster Abbey (c.1050s and following), while the main development of the style only followed the Norman Conquest. However, at Stow Minster the crossing piers of the early 1050s are clearly 'proto-Romanesque'. A more decorative interpretation of Romanesque in lesser churches can be dated only somewhere between the mid and late 11th century, e.g. Hadstock (Essex), Clayton and Sompting (Sussex); this style continued towards the end of the century as at Milborne Port (Somerset). At St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury c.1048–61 Abbot Wulfric aimed to retain the earlier churches while linking them with an octagonal rotunda: but the concept was still essentially Pre-Romanesque. Anglo-Saxon churches of all periods would have been embellished with a range of arts, including wall-paintings, some stained glass, metalwork and statues.
Early Anglo-Saxon art, as it survives, is seen mostly in decorated jewellery, like brooches, buckles, beads and wrist-clasps, some of outstanding quality.
By the later 6th century the best works from the south-east are distinguished by greater use of expensive materials, above all gold and garnets, reflecting the growing prosperity of a more organised society which had greater access to imported precious materials, as seen in the buckle from the Taplow burial and the jewellery from that at Sutton Hoo, c.600 and c.625 respectively. The possible symbolism of the decorative elements like interlace and beast forms that were used in these early works remains unclear, it is clear. These objects were the products of a society that invested its modest surpluses in personal display, who fostered craftsmen and jewellers of a high standard, and a society where the possession of a fine brooch or buckle was a valuable status symbol and possible tribal emblem – in death as much as in life.
The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork yet found. Discovered in a field near the village of Hammerwich, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire, England, it consists of over 3,500 items that are nearly all martial in character and contains no objects specific to female uses. It demonstrates that considerable quantities of high-grade goldsmiths' work were in circulation among the elite during the 7th century. It also shows that, superb though individual pieces may be in terms of craftsmanship, the value of such items as currency and their potential roles as tribute or the spoils of war could, in a warrior society, outweigh appreciation of their integrity and artistry.
The coming of Christianity revolutionised the visual arts, as well as other aspects of society.
The jamb of the doorway at Monkwearmouth, carved with a pair of lacertine beasts, probably dates from the 680s; the golden, garnet-adorned pectoral cross of St Cuthbert was presumably made before 687; while his wooden inner coffin (incised with Christ and the Evangelists' symbols, the Virgin and Child, archangels and apostles), the Lindisfarne Gospels, and the Codex Amiatinus all date from c.700. The fact that these works are all from Northumbria might be held to reflect the particular strength of the church in that kingdom during the second half of the century. Works from the south were more restrained in their ornamentation than are those from Northumbria.
Lindisfarne was a very important centre of book production, along with Ripon and Monkwearmouth-Jarrow. The Lindisfarne Gospels might be the single most beautiful book produced in the Middle Ages, and the Echternach Gospels and (probably) the Book of Durrow are other products of Lindisfarne. A Latin gospel book, the Lindisfarne Gospels are richly illuminated and decorated in an Insular style that blends not only Irish and Western Mediterranean elements but, incorporates imagery from the Eastern Mediterranean, including Coptic Christianity as well. Produced in the north of England at the same time was the Codex Amiatinus, which has been called "the finest book in the world." It is certainly one of the largest, weighing 34 kilograms. It is a pandect, which was rare in the Middle Ages: all the books of the Bible in one volume. The Codex Amiatinus was produced at Monkwearmouth-Jarrow in 692 under the direction of Abbot Ceolfrith. Bede probably had something to do with it. The production of the Codex shows the riches of the north of England at this time. We have records of the monastery needing a new grant of land to raise two thousand more cattle to get the calf skins to make the vellum to make the manuscript. The Codex Amiatinus was meant to be a gift to the Pope, and Ceolfrith was taking it to Rome when he died on the way. The copy ended up in Florence, where it still is today – a ninth-century copy of this book is even today the personal Bible of the Pope.
In the 8th century, Anglo-Saxon Christian art flourished with grand decorated manuscripts and sculptures, along with 'secular' works which bear comparable ornament, like the Witham pins and the Coppergate helmet. The flourishing of sculpture in Mercia, occurred slightly later than in Northumbria and is dated to the second half of the 8th century. Some fine decorated southern books, above all the Bible fragment, can be securely assigned to the earlier 9th century, owing to the similarity of their script to that of charters from that period; The Book of Cerne is an early 9th century Insular or Anglo-Saxon Latin personal prayer book with Old English components. This manuscript was decorated and embellished with four painted full-page miniatures, major and minor letters, continuing panels, and litterae notibiliores. Further decorated motifs used in these manuscripts, such as hunched, triangular beasts, also appear on objects from the Trewhiddle hoard (buried in the 870s) and on the rings which bear the names of King Æthelwulf and Queen Æthelswith, which are the centre of a small corpus of fine ninth-century metalwork.
There was demonstrable continuity in the south, even though the Danish settlement represented a watershed in England's artistic tradition.
By the early 11th century, these two traditions had fused and had spread to other centres.
Old English (Ænglisc, Anglisc, Englisc) or Anglo-Saxon is the early form of the English language that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons and their descendants in parts of what are now England and southern and eastern Scotland between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century. Old English is a West Germanic language closely related to Old Frisian and Old Saxon. It had a grammar similar in many ways to Classical Latin. In most respects, including its grammar, it was much closer to modern German and Icelandic than to modern English. It was fully inflected with five grammatical cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, and instrumental), three grammatical numbers (singular, plural, and dual) and three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter). The dual forms occurred in the first and second persons only and referred to groups of two.
Some of the characteristics of the language were: adjectives, pronouns and (sometimes) participles that agreed with their antecedent nouns in case, number and gender; finite verbs that agreed with their subject in person and number; and nouns that came in numerous declensions (with deep parallels in Latin, Ancient Greek and Sanskrit). Verbs came in nine main conjugations (seven strong and two weak), each with numerous subtypes, as well as a few additional smaller conjugations and a handful of irregular verbs. The main difference from other ancient Indo-European languages, such as Latin, is that verbs can be conjugated in only two tenses (vs. the six "tenses" – really tense/aspect combinations – of Latin), and have no synthetic passive voice (although it did still exist in Gothic). Gender in nouns was grammatical, as opposed to the natural gender that prevails in modern English.
Many linguists believe that Old English received little influence from the local insular languages, especially Common Brittonic (the language that may have been the majority language in Lowland Britain, although it's also possible that British Latin had already replaced it in this region). Linguists such as Richard Coates have suggested there could not have been meaningful contact between the languages, which is reasonable argued from the small amount of loanwords. Recently a number of linguists have argued that many of the grammar changes observed in English were due to a Brittonic influence (see Brittonicisms in English). John McWhorter suggests that the language changes seen later in English were always there in vernacular speech and this was not written, especially since those who did the writing were educated individuals that most likely spoke a standard form of Old English. The speech of an illiterate ceorl, on the other hand, can not be reconstructed. The progressive nature of this language acquisition, and the "retrospective reworking" of kinship ties to the dominant group led, ultimately, to the "myths which tied the entire society to immigration as an explanation of their origins in Britain".
What survives through writing represents primarily the register of Anglo-Saxon, and this is most often in the West Saxon dialect. Little is known about the everyday spoken language of people living in the migration period. Old English is a contact language and it is hard to reconstruct the pidgin used in this period from the written language found in the West Saxon literature of some 400 years later. Two general theories are proposed regarding why people changed their language to Old English (or an early form of such): either, a person or household changed so as to serve an elite; or, a person or household changed through choice as it provided some advantage economically or legally. Over time, Old English developed into four major dialects: Northumbrian, spoken north of the river Humber; Mercian, spoken in the Midlands; Kentish, spoken in Kent in the far southeastern part of the island; and West Saxon, spoken in the southwest. All of these dialects have direct descendants in modern England, and American regional dialects also have their roots in the dialects of Old English. "Standard" Modern English (if there is such a thing), or at least modern English spelling, owes most to the Anglian dialect, since that was the dialect of London.
Near the end of the Old English period the English language underwent a third foreign influence, namely the Scandinavian influence of Old Norse. In addition to a great many place names, these consist mainly of items of basic vocabulary, and words concerned with particular administrative aspects of the Danelaw (that is, the area of land under Viking control, which included extensive holdings all along the eastern coast of England and Scotland). The Scandinavians spoke Old Norse, a language related to Old English in that both derived from the same ancestral Proto-Germanic language. It is very common for the intermixing of speakers of different dialects, such as those that occur during times of political unrest, to result in a mixed language, and one theory holds that exactly such a mixture of Old Norse and Old English is thought to have accelerated the decline of case endings in Old English. influence of Old Norse on the lexicon of the English language]]has been profound: responsible for such basic vocabulary items as .
Nick Higham has provided a summary of the importance of language to the Anglo-Saxon culture:
Helena Hamerow has made an observation that in Anglo-Saxon society "local and extended kin groups remained...the essential unit of production throughout the Anglo-Saxon period". "Local and extended kin groups" was a key aspect of Anglo-Saxon culture. Kinship fueled societal advantages, freedom and the relationships to an elite, that allowed the Anglo-Saxons' culture and language to flourish.
The ties of loyalty to a lord, were to the person of a lord, not to his station; there was no real concept of patriotism or loyalty to a cause.
The ties of kinship meant that the relatives of a murdered person were obliged to exact vengeance for his or her death.
This emphasis on social standing affected all parts of the Anglo-Saxon world.
The most noticeable feature of the Anglo-Saxon legal system is the apparent prevalence of legislation in the form of law codes.
Although not themselves sources of law, Anglo-Saxon charters are a most valuable historical source for tracing the actual legal practices of the various Anglo-Saxon communities.
The royal council or witan played a central but limited role in the Anglo-Saxon period.
Below the level of the shire each county was divided into areas known as hundreds (or wapentakes in the north of England).
Oath-helping involved the party undergoing proof swearing to the truth of his claim or denial and having that oath reinforced by five or more others, chosen either by the party or by the court.
The ordeal offered an alternative for those unable or unwilling to swear an oath.
Old English literary works include genres such as epic poetry, hagiography, sermons, Bible translations, legal works, chronicles, mainly the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, riddles and others. In all there are about 400 surviving manuscripts from the period, a significant corpus of both popular interest and specialist research. The manuscripts use a modified Roman alphabet, but Anglo-Saxon runes or futhorc are used in under 200 inscriptions on objects, sometimes mixed with Roman letters.
This literature is remarkable for being in the vernacular (Old English) in the early medieval period: almost all other written literature was in Latin at this time, but due to Alfred's programme of vernacular literacy, the oral traditions of Anglo-Saxon England ended up being converted into writing and preserved.
There are four great poetic codices of Old English poetry (a codex is a book in modern format, as opposed to a scroll): the Junius Manuscript, the Vercelli Book, the Exeter Book, and the Nowell Codex or Beowulf Manuscript; most of the well-known lyric poems such as The Wanderer, The Seafarer, Deor and The Ruin are found in the Exeter Book, while the Vercelli Book has the Dream of the Rood, some of which is also carved on the Ruthwell Cross. The Franks Casket also has carved riddles, a popular form with the Anglo-Saxons. Old English secular poetry is mostly characterized by a somewhat gloomy and introspective cast of mind, and the grim determination found in The Battle of Maldon, recounting an action against the Vikings in 991. This is from a book that was lost in the Cotton Library fire of 1731, but it had been transcribed previously.
Rather than being organized around rhyme, the poetic line in Anglo-Saxon is organised around alliteration, the repetition of stressed sounds, any repeated stressed sound, vowel or consonant, could be used.
The line above illustrates the principle: note that there is a natural pause after 'hondum' and that the first stressed syllable after that pause begins with the same sound as a stressed line from the first half-line (the first halfline is called the a-verse and the second is the b-verse).
There is very strong evidence that Anglo-Saxon poetry has deep roots in oral tradition, but, keeping with the cultural practices we have seen elsewhere in Anglo-Saxon culture, there was a blending between tradition and new learning. Thus while all Old English poetry has common features, we can also identify three strands: religious poetry, which includes poems about specifically Christian topics, such as the cross and the saints; Heroic or epic poetry, such as Beowulf, which is about heroes, warfare, monsters, and the Germanic past; and poetry about "smaller" topics, including introspective poems (the so-called elegies), "wisdom" poems (which communicate both traditional and Christian wisdom), and riddles. For a long time all Anglo-Saxon poetry was divided into three groups: Cædmonian (the biblical paraphrase poems), heroic, and "Cynewulfian," named after Cynewulf, one of the only named poets in Anglo-Saxon.The most famous works from this period include the epic poem Beowulf, which has achieved national epic status in Britain.
There are about 30,000 surviving lines of Old English poetry and about ten times that much prose, and the majority of both is religious.
Symbolism was an essential element to Anglo-Saxon culture. Julian D. Richards suggested that in societies with strong oral traditions, material culture is used to store and pass on information and stand instead of literature in those cultures. This symbolism is less logical than literature and more difficult to read. Anglo-Saxons used symbolism, not just to communicate, but as tools to aid their thinking about the world. Symbols were also used to change the world, Anglo-Saxons used symbols to differentiate between groups and people, status and role in society.
The visual riddles and ambiguities of early Anglo-Saxon animal art, for example has been seen as emphasing the protective roles of animals on dress accessories, weapons, armour and horse equipment, and its evocation of pre-Christian mythological themes.
Conventional interpretations of the symbolism of grave goods revolved around religion (equipment for the hereafter), legal concepts (inalienable possessions) and social structure (status display, ostentatious destruction of wealth).
The word bead comes from the Anglo Saxon words bidden (to pray) and bede (prayer).
Symbolism continued to have a hold on the minds of Anglo-Saxon people into the Christian eras.
The most distinctive feature of coinage of the first half of the 8th century is its portrayal of animals, to an extent found in no other European coinage of the Early Middle Ages. Some animals, such as lions or peacocks, would have been known in England only through descriptions in texts or through images in manuscripts or on portable objects. The animals were not merely illustrated out of an interest in the natural world. Each was imbued with meanings and acted as a symbol which would have been understood at the time.
- Anglo-Saxon dress
- Coinage in Anglo-Saxon England
- Anglo-Saxon military organization
- Burial in Anglo-Saxon England
- States in Medieval Britain
- Timeline of Anglo-Saxon settlement in Britain