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The Anglo-Saxons were a Germanic people who inhabited Britain from the mid-5th century AD. Anglo-Saxon occupation of Britain is traditionally considered the origin of the modern English nation.

Table of contents
1 The Anglo-Saxon Invasions
2 Anglo-Saxon Religion
3 Anglo-Saxon Language
4 Use of the term "Anglo Saxon" today
5 See Also

The Anglo-Saxon Invasions

In 410, the Roman emperor Honorius had replied to a petition for help from the inhabitants of Britain that they should "look to their own affairs"; from this brief mention, historians have assumed that Roman rule in Britain ended, although some experts claim to have found signs that the Roman authorities briefly returned to the island in the following years. Into this vacuum, the Anglo-Saxons came and settled in the island, primarily on the east and south coasts. The exact details of their arrival are unclear, although their migration was part of the widespread movement of Germanic and similar peoples on the mainland of Europe at this time (see Migrations Period).

Where reliable history fails us, legend offers us a narrative, and many have argued that there is some kernel of truth in the legend. At least as early as Bede, the tradition relates how at a council of war, Vortigern, leader of the by then effectively self-governing Britons, granted Thanet in Kent to the Anglo-Saxon warrior leader Hengist as a permanent possession, in return for his followers' help to defend the province against Germanic and Celtic raiders from beyond its borders. Archeological explorations have indicated that Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were established in Kent, Sussex, Middlesex, and Essex in the later part of the 5th century, as well as East Anglia, Lindsey (now Lincolnshire), Deira (now East Yorkshire) and the Isle of Wight.

Organised British resistance, first led by Ambrosius Aurelianus (according to Gildas), and then by King Arthur culminated in the Battle of Mons Badonicus. This succeeded in halting the invasion. The leaders who fought with Arthur at this and other battles may have given rise to his fabled "Knights of the Round Table."

The fate of Britain was still in the balance as late as 590, with King Urien of Rheged besieging Lindisfarne, the stronghold of Bernicia, and other Celts recently victorious at the Battle of Fethanleag (Stoke Lyne, 5km N of Banbury in Oxfordshire). In the previous 120 years, the Anglo-Saxons had added only Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire to the area under their firm control. But Urien was murdered by a rival among his compatriots, and Anglo-Saxon control of most of what is now England was cemented over the next 70 years. Perhaps in memory of this eventual defeat by the Anglo-Saxons, the modern Welsh word for England, "Lloegyr", means "the lost lands".

The process by which they came to occupy this island is sometimes known as the Saxon conquest, although this is perhaps a misnomer: other tribes, such as the Frisians and perhaps the Franks, are known to have taken part, but the details of their role in the process are unknown. The various tribes established a large number of kingdoms in what today is known as England, which were popularly described to have later consolidated into seven states traditionally known as the Heptarchy (but see that article for modern reservations about the term).

According to tradition, Kent was established first by a group known as the Jutes, led by a King Hengest. Another Jute king, Horsa, may have taken part; the name may refer to Hengest's brother.

East Anglia's beginnings are unknown and very little record survives of its foundation or of the fate of the native Britons, the once mighty Iceni tribe, who had dwelt there before. The name Mercia may mean "marches": a frontier area facing the Celtic Romano-British or Welsh. Deira and Bernicia appear to be Anglian corruptions of older British geographical names and the two states merged to form the kingdom of Northumbria.

The fate of the Romano-British population is a matter of conjecture. At one point, historians believed the account of Gildas uncritically, and thought that the invaders slaughtered all whom they encountered in an act of genocide. More recent historians, such as H.P.R. Finberg, have argued that they largely survived, and lived under the Anglo-Saxon invaders as slaves or serfs. By the time reliable historical records begin once again, it is clear that the territory of the native inhabitants had been reduced to just Cornwall and Wales in the west of the island and Strathclyde and kingdoms further north in Scotland. Recent genetic testing of the inhabitants of England, Wales and the Low Countries does seem to show, according to some specialists, a large scale displacement of the earlier British populations out of England at some point in time in favor of people who are very closely related to the people inhabiting modern Friesland.

Anglo-Saxon Religion

Four of the Anglo-Saxon gods have given the English language names for days of the week:

Anglo-Saxon Language

Anglo-Saxon was the language spoken under Alfred the Great and lasted as the common language of much of Britain – mostly what is now known as England – until the Norman Conquest (A.D. 1066) morphed the language of Britain into "Anglo-Norman". Also known as "Old English" (OE), as distinguished from "Middle English" (ME), or Anglo-Norman, Anglo-Saxon is far more Germanic (i.e. less Latinized) than Middle English.


The letters regularly used in printed and edited texts of OE are as follows:

a Š b c d ­ e f g h i l m n o p r s t ■ u w x y

The following are rarely used: k z

Use of the term "Anglo Saxon" today

Today the term "Anglo-Saxon" is used to refer to the English ethnic group, as opposed to "Scottish", "Irish", "Welsh" and "Cornish" (which was otherwise known as British).

For over a hundred years, "Anglo-Saxon" has been used as pertaining to the Anglophone cosmopolitan societies of predominantly Western character, (North America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the British Isles) describing their intellectual traditions and national characters, as opposed to "Gallic", "Lusitanic", "Hispanic".

"Anglo-Saxon" can also mean the original Germanic component of the English language, as opposed to the many loanwords the language has obtained, especially from Viking and Romance languages. (see also Old English language)

See Also