The Early English have one thing above all that separates them from the Brythonic peoples that preceded them on the Island that is England. They had the 19 volumes of Anglo-Saxon chronicles. It records their history and has caused much jealousy, as others did not record their own history. The English are a Germanic set of peoples – so the way they lived was reflected in the ‘Old Saxony’ in what is now Germany, and thus much of the religion, dress, and attitudes are known.
The English are formed of the original Saxon Confederation of Germanic Sea Tribes. The Eote or Yeten (Jutes) Friese (Friesians) Seaxe (Saxons) and the people of the God of the Sword – Ing – the Ing or the Engles. Sea Wolves – and pagans. Of no fixed abode. Nerthus (mother earth,) worshipping Wodenists. Attacking all down to the Iberian coast and beyond. Known collectively to this day as Saxons – The Sons of the Sword – a literal translation. Later called the English by Alfred the Great, their saviour and greatest King. This article will call them Saxon – English – Anglo-Saxon.
The English tribes began arriving in earnest in 449 AD and brought with them Germanic dialects and culture. It was like an explosion. 90,000 warriors used to fighting Romans and Hunnic tribes of massive numbers. Theirs was the war of total destruction. The idea of the hero and the heroic death. Of fighting for your war chief. Of comradeship found sailing their Kuyls (keel boats,) their ‘wave riders’ as they called them. Found also in fighting with their shoulder companions on the English Shieldwall. After 400 years of subjugation by and war with the Roman Empire, they hated all things Roman. They burnt the Roman palace at Fishbourne at Chichester in Sussex, destroyed Winchester and Londinium.They levelled the great Roman City of Eagles in Chester, one of the largest outside of Rome itself. Swept across Wales to the Isle of Anglesey. Carved White Horses into the hillsides and the hill forts they conquered. A warrior society that put swords and shields before fancy artefacts. Helmets before gold. Death before dishonour.
|On guard by an open fire. Saxon men sit contemplating the runes they have carved in trees near their burgh or defended community. The centre of the burgh a Long House or Lang Hus sits in the mid ground. The Old English inscription reads ‘Strong and True’. That saying aptly described Anglo-Saxons. Artist: Mark Taylor.|
What was early English or Anglo-Saxon literacy and language like?
The English were a society that could create jewellery so sophisticated that it can only be recreated with modern kilns. The recently found Staffordshire Hoard of nearly 2000 items is a good example of this. They could write in runes, and spoke a Germanic tongue called Old English. It is said that a person speaking in Old English can walk into a shop in parts of Engeln in modern Denmark and order a loaf of bread. But, generally they relied upon poetry and song, mostly of battle. They were a warrior race more akin to Spartans. Thus tales of heroism grew and so did the fame of their storytellers or scopes. Yet they also wrote famous texts such as the Exeter Gnomic Verses and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. They wrote poems of Battle such as Maldon and Brunanburgh. Their early English langauge was flowing and dynamic. It was audibly haunting. If you get the chance to listen to a recital of Old English – do not miss the opportunity.
What was early English or Saxon morality? What are or were Anglo-Saxon English values?
It is difficult to translate to describe early Anglo-Saxon morality as the whole of their society – like the Spartans – was geared to waging and winning war. They drowned lawbreakers or those outside the law (outlaws), in bogs. Many bodies have been found having met this fate in Denmark and Germany. They lived a life where men and women would live in separate Lang Hus. But, women had much power. See below. They had a moral code; known as the 9 English values, which, they would have been learned by rote since they were children.
1. Courage and selflessness
5. Discipline and Duty
What dress did the Anglo-Saxons wear?
The Saxon dress conformed to their social rank. Duller colours displayed lower rank. Light Blue and Purples denoted high rank, such as Thanes and Eorls. Both male and female.
|Re-enactors wear female Saxon dress. Saxon men and women would have looked very similar. Important for recognition at night and at distance. Important also to demonstrate values and belonging to the community and Anglo-Saxon society was founded upon community based nationhood. Is this true ethnic English national dress? Many now think it is.|
The early English wore leather shoes, and belt often with a pouch and a seax knife (for men and women,) and possibly a little tin containing a clothing repair kit with bone needles, and another with a bone comb and toiletries. Multi layers of well spun and well made and warm cloth would have been worn. The seax knife worm on the front or sometimes as a backdraw by women indicated a free English man or woman.
What sort of houses did Anglo-Saxons live in?
The early English lived in Burghs. Fortified wooden stockades, which protected the long houses (Lang Hus) and people and live stock. The people generally lived in Grubenhausen. These were wooden structures built around a pit so as to give wind proofing. The word Burgh gave the world the world Bourgeoisie – people of urban wealth – but in fact the people of early England shunned the old Roman cities such was the hatred of the Romano way of lufe that had been pushed on them for 400 years on continental Europe. Prior to The Coming of the English in 449 AD Roman Britannia was covered in villas and Roman Temples and towns. From the Isle of Wight to the Antonine Wall in what is called Scotland. The hatred of Romans and what the Roman Legions had done to their forebears in Germania led the Anglo-Saxons to bring the wrath of Woden onto the arguably weak (certainly militarily) Romano-Brythonic peoples of Britannia.
They destroyed all. Notable victims were the Roman palace at Fishbourne in Sussex and the great ‘City of Eagles’ of Chester, complete with Colosseum – all were levelled. Instead they preferred a rural life. Think heavily armed hippy looking people and non-Christian at this point. Forest and forest clearings were their home. A good test is this. If you have a love of music, song, dogs, horses, fishing, woods and green fields. If you can stand in a forest without fear. If you value your trusty Leatherman or pocketknife more than your car. If you love the sea or living by water. You are reaching into your Anglo-Saxons roots. Your Anglo-Saxon ethnicity.
|An early Saxon Grubenhausen.|
|An early Anglo-Saxon house (Grubenhausen) under construction.|
|Early English Langhus sits within a burgh which is uner construction.Anglo-Saxons would have built these structures quickly and with ease.|
What religion and Gods did the Anglo-Saxons believe in?
Initially the Anglo-Saxon English were pagans. They believed in Germanic Gods, which were reflected in the runes they wrote in. The runes had meaning, which could mean written meaning, but also a religious meaning. Thus the up arrow of the God Tiw or Tyr– is the sign of the Sky Father. The friend of the Saxons.
Tiw represents war, courage, glory, daring, confidence, heroic, but also values such as order, justice, community, customs, law, honour, peace, freedom. Gods / runes / runic symbols / entwining values were all thus linked into strong meaning.
But, the main God of the Anglo-Saxons in England was Woden. A real man born in Odense in the 2nd Century. A was the supreme poet and warrior God of the Germanic tribes. Known as Odin in Scandinavia, Wotan (pr. Voetan,) in Germania, and Woden in England.
|The one eyed God. Woden – God of the Dead. God of battle. A poet, shaman and healer. Woden flies through the sacred grove held aloft by Black Ravens. A Saxon warrior fresh from battle wonders if he is to join him or live. On dark stormy nights he flies with Valkyries- Daughters of the Night. Artist: Mark Taylor.|
Later, Christian missionaries began to arrive beginning with Augustine’s mission in Kent in 597 AD. Converting the Anglo-Saxons as they went. Often lead by courageous Irish Monks and others from the continent, it must have been like converting North American Indians to new ways. With King Penda of Mercia (Middle Angles,) being the last pagan English King to convert. It is through this adoption of Christianity that the English people began to properly flower through manuscript, church, jewellery making and psalm.
What were the Anglo-Saxon days of the week?
Note how the letters ‘a’ and ‘e’ are conjoined to pronounce the modern letter ‘a’.
|Anglo-Saxon days of the week|
|Modern English||Old English||Meaning|
|Monday||Monandæg||Day of the Moon|
|Tuesday||Tiwesdæg||Day of Tiw (war-god)|
|Wednesday||Wednesdæg||Day of Woden (god of magic and death)|
|Thursday||Þunresdæg (pr. Thun..)||Day of Thor (thunder-god)|
|Friday||Frigedæg||Day of Frige (love-goddess)|
|Saturday||Saturnesdæg||Day of Saturn|
|Sunday||Sunnandæg||Day of the Sun|
How did the Anglo-Saxons write? What poetry and literature did the Anglo-Saxons write?
Contrary to myth the Anglo-Saxons wrote thousands of texts. They mastered poetry and innuendo. They used the lettering below. Examples of Anglo-Saxon lettering from Anglo-Saxon manuscripts are below.
Example of Anglo-Saxon Manuscript.
|An example of Anglo-Saxon manuscript painfully handwritten, as there was no printing. There are thousands of such verses.|
Some titles of what the early English wrote are:
The Vercelli Manuscript – The Exeter Gnomic Verses – The Beowulf manuscript.
Some of the poetry:
What were Anglo-Saxon early English families like? What names did the Anglo-Saxons use?
The Fæder, Modor, Swoester (sister,) Dohtor, Sunu, existed as a monogamous family group. Ealdafæder or Grandfather, and Steopfæder or stepfather.
Today Anglo-Saxon names exist but in modified form. Matilda – ‘battle power’, Gertrude – ‘power of the spear’, Rudolf – ‘wolf of glory’, Roger – ‘spear of glory’. The base of Anglo-Saxon society was the concept of the cynn, or the ‘kindred’ or your kin as we call it today. The family. Hence Anglecynn.
What were Anglo-Saxon attitudes towards women?
The Old English word mann means ‘adult human’ of either gender. And thus men and women had equal standing both legally and within the community. Women could own property and were often educated. They could practice professions and run societies. There are even instances of women being buried with weapons, which indicated that they fought. That is certainly known of Queen Athelflæda, dohtor of Ælfred the Great. It was not equality as we strive for. But, it was equality in a society that valued all ‘adult humans’, whether they were Weapon Men or Wife Men.
|Who are you? What is your history? What is your ethnicity? English women should be proud of theirstrength. Artist: Skworus|
Women could not be pressed into marriage. It is only the Norman invasion and the Catholic Church’s attitude towards women reinforced by the feudal system that suppressed women for 1000 years, led by appalling devices of female suppression such as the ducking stool. Not until 1978 did women regain the same rights as the enjoyed in free Anglo-Saxon society.
Not until the Golden Age of Elizabeth I did England once again see a woman of the strength of Athelflæda. She led the Mercian army against the last vestiges of Vikings in what was the Dane Law in England. The deduction from that is that English women must have been cultured into certain military arts. Some must have worn armour and fought. That indicates an acceptance by Anglo-Saxon men of womanhood as equals and of Anglo-Saxon woman of the discipline and commitment to battle alongside men.
To be foolish enough to think that an enemy could wonder into an early English burgh when there were no men around would have been a mistake. Both the early English women and children were lethal. Norman knights learned to their cost the same lesson.
|Deadly to the touch. Depiction of a Saxon female defending her cynn and home. Artist: Skworus.|
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "Life in Anglo Saxon England" https://englishhistory.net/middle-ages/life-in-anglo-saxon-england/, February 17, 2022