Their language, Anglo-Saxon or Old English, came from West Germanic dialects and transformed into Middle English from the 11th century. Old English was divided into four main dialects: West Saxon, Mercian, Northumbrian and Kentish.
The Anglo-Saxons displaced the Celtic tribes which had lived all over the British Isles. However, they never got to Wales, Scotland or Ireland, so their original tribes were more or less undisturbed.
Anglo-Saxon migration [change]
The first theories said large numbers of Anglo-Saxon settlers arrived, basically killing or moving the British people living in south and east of Britain. Such an idea is supported by the language related and place-name evidence. In terms of language, Old English became the language of the English kingdoms, but a few Celtic words became part of the language.
More recently the focus has shifted towards continuity, trying to place Britain in the context of European Late Antiquity. Some of this argument is based on scale. The population of Britain in 400 is unknowable, but is carefully guessed, based on land usage, to have been around 2 million people. It is thought to be unlikely that such a large population was all together killed or displaced between the 5th century and sixth century. Much of the argument for continuity is based on archaeological evidence.
Celtic words for the Anglo-Saxons [change]
The indigenous British people, who wrote in both Latin and Welsh (a Celtic language), referred to these invaders as Saxones or Saeson – the latter is still used today in the Welsh word for English people; In the Scottish Gaelic the word for English people, saesonach; and in Irish the word for English people, Sasanach.
Anglo-Saxon art before roughly the time of Alfred (ruled 871–899) is 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. 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 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 their coins. Anglo-Saxon artists also worked in fresco, ivory, stone carving, metalwork and enamel, but few of these pieces have survived.
Old English literary works include genres such as epic poetry, biography, sermons, Bible translations, legal works, chronicles, riddles and others. In all there are about 400 surviving manuscripts from the period.
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.
- Except they did get to part of south-east Scotland.
- Disease epidemics very much could have reduced the population of Britain. There is recent analysed evidence for multiple events of plague and famine - e.g. Irish Annals, Gildas, and Bede's account of the plague in his youth - which are also known from Mediterranean sources.
- John Davies 1990. The history of Wales. Penguin Books.
Other websites [change]
- On the origins of Britons - according to Brian Sykes
- Fides Angliarum Regum: the faith of the English kings
- Anglo-Saxon origins: the reality of the myth by Malcolm Todd