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Introduction to the Anglo
Saxons
(449-1066 A.D.)
There were 7 groups of peoples who invaded
and settled in Great Britain throughout its
history:
• Iberians (Spain)
• Celts (indigenous people
from British Isles)
• Romans (Italy))
• Angles (Germany)
• Saxons ( northern Germany
& the Netherlands)
• Vikings (Norway, Sweden,
and Denmark)
• Normans (northern France)
The Spirit of the Celts
• When Greek travelers visited modern Great
Britain in the 4 B.C., the group of warriors
they found there were called…
– Celts
– Brythons - Britons
The Spirit of the Celts
• The Celts followed a
religion known as
Animism or “spirit”
- They saw spirits in all
natural things
--ponds, trees,
fire, & thunder
• These spirits controlled all aspects of
existence & had to be constantly
satisfied.
The Spirit of the Celts
• Celtic priests were
called Druids
– Intermediaries between
the gods & people
– Druids memorized the
history of their people &
the secrets of their faith
• Ritualistic dances and
human sacrifices were
also used.
The Spirit of the Celts
• Some think a strange, stone-like structure
on the Salisbury Plain known as Stonehenge
was used by the Druids for religious rites.
• Some say it is an ancient clock.
The Celtic Heroes and Heroines
• Sir Thomas Malory was greatly
influenced by the legends of Celtic
heroes
– Example: Le Morte D’arthur – based on a
Celtic warrior named Arthur
• Celtic legends are full of strong women
– Example: Queen Maeve of Connacht
Boadicea
--Legends include fantastic animals, incredible
adventures, and magic.
•
Boadicea
Fierce female tribal warrior who rose up against the
invading Romans but was ultimately defeated.
– Boudica was a striking looking woman. - "She
was very tall, the glance of her eye most fierce;
her voice harsh. A great mass of the reddest hair
fell down to her hips. Her appearance was
terrifying." - Definitely a lady to be noticed!
– The Roman governor killed her husband and
publicly flogged and her in addition to her
daughters being raped by Roman slaves!
– Other Iceni chiefs suffered in a like manner and
their families were treated like slaves.
– Not surprisingly these outrages provoked the
Iceni, Trinobantes and other tribes to rebel
against the Romans- Boadicea led that rebellion
Celtic Warriors
• Used a blue dye known as woad to
give them such a terrifying
appearance in battle.
• They were very tall and athletically
built
• Fought naked
• Carried long spears
• Used a fierce battle cry to intimidate
their opponents
• Fought to show how brave they were,
not to gain land or riches
The Romans:
The Great Administrators
• Julius Caesar led the invasion of Briton
in 55 B.C.
• Introduced two architectural additions
to Briton
– Roads
– Defensive wall – Hadrian’s Wall
• Approximately 70 mile long wall was built by
the Roman Emperor Hadrian to keep the
'barbarian' Picts from Scotland out of Roman
Britain.
The Romans:
The Great Administrators
• Christianity became a unifying
force in Britain which caused the
“old ways” of the Celts to vanish
• Romans evacuated Britain in 409
A.D., without leaving a central
government there
– Britain became a country of
separate clans or tribes
– This made Britain so weak after the
Roman invasion that it was
susceptible to pagan invasions.
The Anglo-Saxons Sweep Ashore
• In the middle of the 5th century
Britain was attacked by
• Angles (Germany)
• Saxons (northern Germany &
Netherlands)
• Jutes (Denmark)
-Anglo-Saxon became the
dominant
language after these invasions
• The new name of Britain after
these invasions
– Engla land or England
The Anglo-Saxons Sweep Ashore
• The Celts retreated to Wales as a
result of the invasions from the
north
• Arthur – a Welsh chieftain –
developed in legend as Britain’s
“once and future king”
– Name of novel about Arthur’s life
by
T.H. White
Unifying Forces:
Alfred the Great and Christianity
• King Alfred of Wessex was
the Anglo-Saxon king who
led his people to victory
against the invading
Danes & established
England as one nation.
Unifying Forces:
Alfred the Great and Christianity
• The Irish and continental
missionaries were responsible
for converting the Anglo-Saxon
people to Christianity.
They used established pagan
holidays to partner with
Christian holidays to make
the conversion easier.
Unifying Forces:
Alfred the Great and Christianity
• Three things Christianity provided for
the Anglo-Saxon people:
– A common faith
– A common system of morality/ right
conduct
– A connection to England and Europe
Unifying Forces:
Alfred the Great and Christianity
• William, Duke of Normandy,
defeated the Danes in Britain in
1066 – Battle of Hastings
– Also known as William the
Conqueror
What Does Anglo-Saxon Mean?
• Anglo Saxon society developed from
kinship groups led by a strong chief
• People farmed, maintained local
government, and created fine crafts
especially metalwork.
• Christianity eventually replaced old
warrior religion, linking England &
continental Europe.
• Monasteries were centers fro learning &
preserved works from the older, oral
tradition.
• English – not just the Church’s Latingained respect a as a written language.
Anglo-Saxon Life as Described by the
findings at Sutton Hoo
• Warfare was a dominant
influence on daily life
• Law and order was the
responsibility of the leader of a
group- family, clan, tribe, or
kingdom.
• Fame and survival only
came from loyalty to the
leader (comitatus)
• Loyalty grew out of a need
to protect the group from
the enemy
Role of Women in Anglo-Saxon
Culture
• They had rights
– Could inherit & own property.
– Christian women could join religious
communities (convents) & even became
powerful abbesses.
Anglo-Saxon Religion:
Gods for Warriors
•
•
•
•
Warrior god
Dark
Fatalistic
Believed the greatest honor was
to die in battle and go to
Valhalla – warrior heaven
• Important virtues- bravery,
loyalty, generosity, & friendship
Anglo-Saxon Religion:
Gods for Warriors
• Odin (pronounced Woden) was the
most important Norse god
• He represented death, poetry, and
magic
• Thor or Thunor was the god of
thunder
– His symbols- hammer and swastika
Anglo-Saxon Religion:
Gods for Warriors
• Dragon (firedrake)–
Significant figure in
Anglo-Saxon
mythology personifies
“death the devourer”
– Guards the greave
mound of warriors’
ashes and treasure
The Bards:
Singing of Gods and Heroes
• Scops or bards told stories of AngloSaxon history and heroes through
oral tradition – memorizing stories &
passing them along by word of mouth
• Scops were very important in AngloSaxon culture
• The only thing that could help an
Anglo-Saxon’s memory live on after
death was to have his story retold in
poetry.
A Light from Ireland
• Patricus (Patrick) was the man
responsible for converting all of
Celtic Ireland to Christianity in
432 A.D.
– Taught pagans the concept of the
Trinity using a shamrock (3-leaf
clover)
• Three petals or leaves but one plant
– God, the Father
– God, the Son
– God, the Holy Spirit
• Known to us as Saint Patrick
A Light from Ireland
• Golden Age in Ireland– Irish monks founded monasteries that became
sanctuaries for learning for refugees
– Monasteries served as centers for learning
during the time period
The Christian Monasteries:
The Ink Froze
• Scriptorium: A writing
room used to copy
manuscripts by hand
• Monks wrote in Latin,
the language of the
Catholic Church
– as a result, it became
the language of
serious study in
England
The Rise of the English Language
• King Alfred had a c chronical
written of England’s history
from its earliest days until 1154
A.D.
– Anglo Saxon Chronicle
– As a result, English began to gain
respect as a language of culture
– Only then did the Old English
stories & poetry preserved by the
monks come to be recognized as
great works of literature.

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