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|Publisher||Routledge (1997 2nd edition)|
|Dimensions||9¼ x 6¼ x ¾ inches; 1 pound|
|Title||An Archaeology of the Early Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms|
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"An Archaeology of the Early Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms" (Second Edition) by C. J. Arnold.
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DESCRIPTION: Softcover. Publisher: Routledge (1997). Pages: 260. Size: 9¼ x 6¼ x ¾ inches; 1 pound. Summary: "An Archaeology of the Early Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms" is a volume which offers an unparalleled view of the archaeological remains of the period. Using the development of the kingdoms as a framework, this study closely examines the wealth of material evidence and analyzes its significance to our understanding of the society that created it. From our understanding of the migrations of the Germanic peoples into the British Isles, the subsequent patterns of settlement, land-use, trade, through to social hierarchy and cultural identity within the kingdoms, this fully revised edition illuminates one of the most obscure and misunderstood periods in European history.
CONDITION: Unread (and in that sense "new") oversized softcover. Routledge (1997 2nd edition) 260 pages. Unblemished except for very mild edge and corner shelfwear to the covers. Pages are pristine; clean, crisp, unmarked, unmutilated, tightly bound, unambiguously unread. Condition is entirely consistent with new stock from a bookstore environment wherein new books might show mild signs of shelfwear consequence simply of routine handling and simply being shelved and re-shelved. Satisfaction unconditionally guaranteed. In stock, ready to ship. No disappointments, no excuses. PROMPT SHIPPING! HEAVILY PADDED, DAMAGE-FREE PACKAGING! #9040e.
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REVIEW: "An Archaeology of the Early Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms has for nearly a decade been used by students seeking an introduction to the field. In this new, fully revised edition of Arnold's essential text all of the key recent finds and developments in the field of Anglo-Saxon studies have been incorporated. With an expanded text and an increased number of informative illustrations, C. J. Arnold confronts the key questions facing students who seek to understand how the foundations of medieval England were laid: How did kingdoms form out of the chaos of the Dark Ages? How was it that a deeply superstitious people came to embrace Christianity? What was the fate of Britain's native populations at the hand of invading peoples?" Firmly basing its arguments upon archaeological evidence, the book introduces students to the fascinating dichotomies of Anglo-Saxon society. It acts both as a reliable guide to historical fact and as an invaluable introduction to the key debates currently spurring research in the field.
REVIEW: A guide to the major monuments of the period of the early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms - earthen and stone castles, moated sites, villages, towns, cathedrals, churches, tower houses, pottery kilns and mills.
REVIEW: Offering a view of the archaeological remains of the period and using the development of the kingdoms as a framework, this volume examines the material evidence and analyzes its significance to the understanding of the society that created it.
REVIEW: The second edition of a good introduction to the formation of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the 6th and 7th centuries. The book looks at migrations, agriculture, crafts and exchange, burial and belief. The revised edition has a fuller text incorporating recent research.
REVIEW: Routledge is the world's leading academic publisher in the Humanities and Social Sciences. We publish thousands of books and journals each year, serving scholars, instructors, and professional communities worldwide. Our current publishing program encompasses groundbreaking textbooks and premier, peer-reviewed research in the Social Sciences, Humanities, and Built Environment. We have partnered with many of the most influential societies and academic bodies to publish their journals and book series. Readers can access tens of thousands of print and e-books from our extensive catalogue of titles.
REVIEW: C.J.Arnold is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and is a widely regarded authority on Anglo-Saxon and medieval Welsh history. His numerous previous publications in these fields include Roman Britain to Saxon England (1984).
REVIEW: Christopher J. Arnold was formerly Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and Head of the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
List of Figures.
List of Tables.
Preface to the First Edition.
Preface to the Revised Second Edition.
1. History of Early Anglo-Saxon Archaeology.
2. Migration Theory.
3. Farm and Field.
4. Elusive Craftspeople.
-Iron Tools and Weapons.
-Textiles and Dress.
6. Topography of Belief.
7. Mighty Kinfolk.
-Identity and Status.
REVIEW: This is certainly a book which I would encourage students to read and discuss. It is full of ideas and should be welcomed as opening new and hopefully more fruitful debates in Anglo-Saxon archaeology. [Medieval Archaeology].
REVIEW: Archeologists are a unique breed. They are asked to lecture and to work out in the field during their summers. Their work forces them to be mathematical, detail-oriented, in order to record precisely where finds are made, on a three-dimensional model. And with that in place, they must determine what they have found and how it does or does not apply to the dig they are in the middle of. That last quality, of being imaginative, does not normally fall into the broad abilities of a typical archeologist. Nevertheless, they must have it to interpret the evidence in front of them with fresh eyes.
That most do not, and that the work is unusually taxing, has one foreseeable result; it is easier to find what someone else has decided and copy that down and most do. In many cases they are right, but that mindset also means that when artifacts do not match with the known facts they are often made to. Not so with Professor Arnold. This book is filled with innovative ideas that force the reader to look at the period from a different perspective, socially as well as culturally. I was deeply impressed with his handling of the materials. I am only disappointed that he didn't write more.
REVIEW: The Saxons were a Germanic tribe that originally occupied the region which today is the North Sea coast of the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. Their name is derived from the seax, a distinct knife popularly used by the tribe. One of the earliest historical records of this group that we know of comes from Roman writers dealing with the many troubles that affected the northern frontier of the Roman Empire during the second and third century A.D.
It is possible that under the "Saxons" label, these early Roman accounts also included other neighboring Germanic groups in the regions such as the Angles, the Frisians, and the Jutes; all these groups spoke closely related West Germanic languages that in time would evolve into Old English. Since the Saxons were illiterate, most of what we know about them comes from reports of a handful of writers (mostly bishops and monks) and also from archaeological research. The Saxons were among the "barbarian" nations that would engage against Rome during late antiquity, putting an end to the dying imperial order in the western realm of Rome, reshaping the map, and renaming the nations of Europe.
South of the territory where the Saxons lived on the continent were the Franks, a strong Germanic confederacy that had a solid presence occupying a territory between the Saxons and the Roman frontier. For this reason, expanding southwards was a problematic option for the Saxons, and a sea expansion was a more suitable alternative. Late in the third century A.D., Frankish raiders joined the Saxons in the southern part of the North Sea and the English Channel. They preyed on shipping lanes and also raided the coast of Britain and Gaul.
These attacks on Roman Britain during the late third century A.D. forced the authorities to build a network of forts with thick stone walls at coastal locations to repel these attacks, and the south coast of England became known as the Saxon Shore frontier. Generally located next to important harbours and river mouths, these forts not only served as strategic defenses against the raiders, but also as a means of securing the collection and distribution of state supplies.
Carausius, a Menapian commander of Roman legions under the future emperor Maximian, was given the task of eliminating the Frankish and Saxon pirates in 285 A.D. His mission was very successful and, by 286 A.D., he had broken the pirate's power at sea. He was accused, however, of being in league with the pirates and keeping their plunder for himself and so was condemned to death by order of Maximian (who was then emperor of Rome). Rather than submit to what he saw as unjust charges, he declared himself emperor of an independent Britain and reigned until 293 A.D., when he was killed in battle and rule from Rome was restored.
On the continent, meanwhile, the Saxon confederacy started to break up during the 4th century A.D. with an increasing number of Saxons (along with other Germanic groups such as the Angles) moving into Britain, while others remained in continental Europe. Around this time, we have official Roman records attesting to more Saxon raids in southeast Britain (Ammianus Marcellinus: 26, 4). Saxon soldiers had previously been employed by the Romans as legionaires in Britain, and the conflict between Carausius and Maximian may have encouraged those who had served to leave the area around the Elbe and relocate to an independent Britain under Carausius' reign. Even after Carausius' death, however, Saxon migration to Britain continued (often characterized by writers of that time as an invasion).
The southeast coast of Britain was not the only place affected by Saxon incursions. Not long after the death of Emperor Constantine (337 A.D.), the northern frontiers of Rome in continental Europe were also suffering the incursion of several “barbarian” groups, including the Saxons. The Roman historian Zosimus offers a summary of the challenges that Constantius, the Roman emperor who came after Constantine, had to face during the 350s A.D., in which the Saxons are mentioned as one of the many military threats hanging upon Rome.
But perceiving [Constantius] all the Roman territories to be infested by the incursions of the Barbarians, and that the Franks, the Alemanni, and the Saxons had not only possessed themselves of forty cities near the Rhine, but had likewise ruined and destroyed them, by carrying off an immense number of the inhabitants, and a proportionate quantity of spoils; [...] he scarcely thought himself capable of managing affairs at this critical period (Zosimus: Book 3, 1).
Early in the 5th century A.D., Roman control in Britain was waning, and most of Rome's military resources were allocated to the struggles in continental Europe. The Roman army withdrew from Britain completely in 410 A.D., and the occupied land was left in the hands of the Romanized Britons. The territory was divided into several small warring groups, both indigenous and invaders, fighting for political control. In the midst of this social and political strife, more Saxons migrated into Britain, expanding their territory and establishing a number of kingdoms which can be identified by the fact that most of their names contain the suffix "sex" (e.g. Sussex, Wessex).
Ancient sources provide different versions of how exactly the Saxons arrived in Britain and how they expanded. Three major works concerned with the Saxons in Britain have survived to the present day: the De Excidio Britanniae, written by Gildas; the Historia Ecclesiastica, by Bede and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a narrative with multiple authors. According to Bede, the famous British monk who lived in the early Middle Ages, the Britons were suffering attacks from the Scots and the Picts, so they decided to hire some of the Saxons as mercenaries to fight their enemies.
After completing their task, the Saxons turned against the Britons. Gildas, a 6th century A.D. British monk, describes the Saxons as savages similar to dogs and lions, and he adds that "nothing more destructive, nothing more bitter has ever befallen the land". Gildas saw the destructive advance of the Saxons as a form of punishment inflicted by God for the sins of the British, whom he compares with the Israelites of the Bible: "The people of the Angles or Saxons were conveyed to Britain in three long-ships. When their voyage proved a success, news of them was carried back home. A stronger army set out which, joined to the earlier ones, first of all drove away the enemy they were seeking [the Picts and Scots]. Then they turned their arms on their allies [the Britons], and subjugated almost the whole island by fire or sword, from the eastern shore as far as the western one on the trumped-up excuse that the Britons had given them a less than adequate stipend for their military services (The Greater Chronicle, cited by Higham and Ryan)."
In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle we read about the Saxons moving into Britain as successive "arrivals" by sea, under different leaders, and establishing small kingdoms in different areas of Britain: Hengest in 449 A.D., leading a force of three ships, ruling over Kent; Ælle in 477 A.D., leading a force of three ships, ruling over Sussex; and Cerdic, the founding figure of the West Saxon dynasty, leading a squadron of five ships and arriving in Britain in 495 A.D.
Cerdic is the most famous of the Saxon kings, reigning from 519-534 A.D. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle's entry for 519 A.D. states: "In this year Cerdic and Cynric obtained the kingdom of the West Saxons, and the same year they fought against the Britons at a place now called Cerdices-ford. And from that day on the princes of the West Saxons have reigned." He is said to have fought "the renowned King Arthur" in 520 A.D., but that date may actually be off by one year, and the battle with Arthur took place in 519 A.D.
Historian Robert J. Sewell notes that, "Cerdic met great resistance from the last of the Romano-Britons under a shadowy leader who lays as good a claim as any to having been the 'real' King Arthur". Cerdic either won the battle or declared a truce and was given the land by the Briton king identified with Arthur but, either way, he founded the kingdom of the West Saxons, Wessex, in Britain. While the date of 519 A.D. is cited in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles for the beginning of his reign, a date as late as 532 A.D. is suggested by other sources.
In 530 A.D., Cerdic conquered the Isle of Wight, employing his already established army and navy; he died two years later in 534 A.D. The earlier date, then, makes more sense than the later one in the narrative of Cerdic's life. The chaotic nature of the time, and conflicting accounts from different sources, quite often create very different narratives which have been followed, or combined, by later writers.
In the past, these traditional accounts were taken at face value, with writers rejecting one narrative in favor of another or combining two or more. Victorian writers accepted the "arrival" stories reported in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as historical truth, which they then modified to fit their own narrative ends. Because these older narratives often contradicted each other, later writers tried to blend them into seamless stories which provided them with a linear history of their past. This is how one may today read two very different accounts of the history of Britain which both claim to be the truth and both of which can point to older narratives for support of that claim. One must keep in mind the different versions and interpretations of the so-called "Saxon Invasions" when reading these various sources.
An example of this problem is the claim that the Saxons were hired by the Romans to fight in Britain. Since Rome at the time lacked troops in Britain, the account of the Saxons employed as mercenaries seems plausible: the Romanised Britons decided to hire barbarians as mercenaries for security reasons, which was a common Roman practice. Rather than reflecting mass migration, archaeological evidence of Saxon presence before 450 A.D. is very weak, which is consistent with the military conquest stated in the ancient accounts: as field army of the Britons, the number of Saxons could not have been initially more than a few thousand.
The Gallic Chronicle of 452 A.D., talks about the Saxons ruling over a large part of Southern Britain, also consistent with the rise of the number of Saxon archaeological material after 450 A.D. The earliest Anglo-Saxon burial in Britain has been dated by archaeologists to no later than 425-450 A.D. The burial practices of the Saxons (and the Germanic tribes in general) were markedly different from indigenous burials in Britain. North German cremation ritual was introduced into eastern England, but Germanic people gradually abandoned cremation in favor of inhumation, burying their dead with grave goods, a custom that was in place until about 700 A.D.; by the late 6th century A.D., furnished inhumation dominates the Saxon disposal of the dead.
Saxon burials did not develop from past indigenous practices; instead, they are connected to burials found on the other side of the North Sea. Late Roman burials in Britain had been largely unfurnished inhumations but, by the late 4th century A.D., we see the emergence of inhumations accompanied by weapons and belt fittings, often interpreted as the burials of Germanic mercenary soldiers, resembling other burials found in northern Gaul and other areas occupied by Germanic tribes. These burials relate to the development of Angle and Saxon burial rites detected between the 5th and 7th centuries A.D.: inhumation burials where men were usually buried with weapons, while women were buried with combs, brooches, and necklaces.
It is clear both from historical sources and archaeological data that by the end of the 5th century A.D., southeast Britain was under the control of various Saxon groups. The spread of Saxon burial practices over places where only indigenous burials were previously recorded reflects the spread of the Saxons displacing indigenous Roman and Celtic groups. During the 5th century A.D., there are recorded hostilities between the Franks and the Saxons in continental Europe. Under the leadership of Childeric, the Franks supported Roman forces and helped them defeat a number of enemies including an army of Saxons at Angers in 469 A.D.
The Franks began a gradual process of absorption of the continental Saxons and, while this process was still ongoing during the 8th century A.D., those Saxons who migrated into Britain managed to build a solid presence. After several generations of conquest, alliances, and unstable successions, they established their rule over most of the indigenous groups. After the 9th century A.D. Viking invasions, the kings of Wessex (Alfred and his descendants) created the first strong West Saxon kingdom (south of the Thames) which, during the 10th century A.D., managed to conquer the rest of England creating the late Anglo-Saxon kingdom.
Britain was the only place in Europe that saw the formation of new states that had little in common with Roman principles. All nascent states in continental Europe that emerged after the decline of the Roman order were created on Roman foundations, sometimes with a clear Roman involvement or even retaining key aspects of Roman life. This was not the case with the Saxons who entered Britain and who were less familiar with the Roman ways. The movement of the Saxons and the Angles into Britain was a critical stage in the overall development of the English language.
If these Germanic tribes did not move into Britain, the English language as we know it would not exist today, and the dialects of the Angles and Saxons would have been gradually dissolved in the continental Germanic languages, possibly blended into the Low German and Dutch dialects. As they expanded across Britain, these Germanic groups displaced the local Celtic speaking communities. Old English, the language born of the Angles and the Saxons who entered Britain, gradually displaced the Latin and Brittonic languages across lowland Britain, and from there it eventually gained ascendency over most of the British Isles. [Ancient History Encyclopedia].
REVIEW: The Anglo-Saxons were a people 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 some aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture and language. 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 term Anglo-Saxon 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. It developed from divergent groups in association with the people's adoption of Christianity, and was integral to the establishment of various kingdoms. Threatened by extended Danish invasions and military occupation of eastern England, this identity was re-established; it dominated until after the Norman Conquest. The visible Anglo-Saxon culture can be seen in the material culture of buildings, dress styles, illuminated texts and grave goods.
Behind the symbolic nature of these cultural emblems, there are strong elements of tribal and lordship ties. The elite declared themselves as kings who developed burhs, and identified their roles and peoples in Biblical terms. Above all, as Helena Hamerow has observed, "local and extended kin groups remained...the essential unit of production throughout the Anglo-Saxon period." The effects persist in the 21st century as, according to a study published in March 2015, the genetic make up of British populations today shows divisions of the tribal political units of the early Anglo-Saxon period.
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 400 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. By the year 400, southern Britain – that is Britain below 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 migrations according to Bede, who wrote some 300 years after the event; there is archeological evidence that the settlers in England came from many of these continental locations. The traditional narrative of this period is one of decline and fall, invasion and migration; however, the archAeologist Heinrich Härke stated in 2011: "It is now widely accepted that the Anglo-Saxons were not just transplanted Germanic invaders and settlers from the Continent, but the outcome of insular interactions and changes.
Writing in about 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. The most developed vision of a continuation in sub-Roman Britain, with control over its own political and military destiny for well over a century, is that of Kenneth Dark, who suggests that the sub-Roman elite survived in culture, politics and military power up to about 570.
However, Nick Higham seems to agree with Bede, who identified three phases of settlement: an exploration phase, when mercenaries came to protect the resident population; a migration phase, which was substantial as implied by the statement that Anglus was deserted; and an establishment phase, in which Anglo-Saxons started to control areas, implied in Bede's statement about the origins of the tribes. Scholars have not reached consensus on the number of migrants who entered Britain in this period. Heinrich Härke suggests that the figure is around 100,000, based on the molecular evidence. But, archAeologists such as Christine Hills and Richard Hodges suggest the number is nearer 20,000. By around 500 the Anglo-Saxon migrants were established in southern and eastern Britain.
What happened to the indigenous Brittonic people is also subject to question. Heinrich Härke and Richard Coates point out that they are invisible archAeologically and linguistically. But based on a fairly high Anglo-Saxon figure (200,000) and a low Brythonic one (800,000), Brythonic people are likely to have outnumbered Anglo-Saxons by at least four to one. The interpretation of such figures is that while "culturally, the later Anglo-Saxons and English did emerge as remarkably un-British...their genetic, biological make-up is none the less likely to have been substantially, indeed predominantly, British".
The development of Anglo-Saxon culture is described by two processes. One is similar to culture changes observed in Russia, North Africa and parts of the Islamic world, where a powerful minority culture becomes, over a rather short period, adopted by a settled majority. The second process is explained through incentives. Nick Higham summarized in this way: "As Bede later implied, language was a key indicator of ethnicity in early England. In circumstances where freedom at law, acceptance with the kindred, access to patronage, and the use and possession of weapons were all exclusive to those who could claim Germanic descent, then speaking Old English without Latin or Brittonic inflection had considerable value.
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, which was inherited from the indigenous community. There is evidence for a fusion of culture in this early period.
Brythonic names appear in the lists of Anglo-Saxon elite. The Wessex royal line was traditionally founded by a man named 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. A number of Cerdic's alleged descendants also possessed Celtic names, including the 'Bretwalda' Ceawlin. The last man in this dynasty to 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". However, a ceorl, who was the lowest ranking freeman in early Anglo-Saxon society, was not a peasant but an arms-owning male with the support of a kindred, access to law and the wergild; situated at the apex of an extended household working at least one hide of land.
The farmer had freedom and rights over lands, with provision of a rent or duty to an overlord who provided only slight lordly input. Most of this land was common outfield arable land (of an outfield-infield system) that provided individuals with the means to build a basis of kinship and group cultural ties. 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. The assessments in the Hidage reflect the relative size of the provinces.
Although varying in size, all thirty-five peoples of the Tribal Hidage were of the same status, in that they 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 Bretwalda concept is taken as evidence of a number of early Anglo-Saxon elite families. What Bede seems to imply in his Bretwalda is the ability of leaders to extract tribute, overawe and/or protect the small regions, which may well have been relatively short-lived in any one instance. Ostensibly "Anglo-Saxon" dynasties variously replaced one another in this role in a discontinuous but influential and potent roll call of warrior elites.
Importantly, whatever their origin or whenever they flourished, these dynasties established their claim to lordship through their links to extended kin ties. As Helen Peake jokingly points out, "they all just happened to be related back to Woden". The process from warrior to cyning – Old English for king – is described in Beowulf (as translated by Seamus Heaney): "There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes, a wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes. This terror of the hall-troops had come far. A foundling to start with, he would flourish later on. As his powers waxed and his worth was proved. In the end each clan on the outlying coasts. Beyond the whale-road had to yield to him. And begin to pay tribute. That was one good king.
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. At this time, Augustine landed on the Isle of Thanet and proceeded to King Aethelberht's main town of Canterbury.
He had been the prior of a monastery in Rome when Pope Gregory the Great chose him in 595 to lead the Gregorian mission to Britain to Christianise the Kingdom of Kent from their native Anglo-Saxon paganism. Kent was probably chosen because Aethelberht had married a Christian princess, Bertha, daughter of Charibert I the King of Paris, who was expected to exert some influence over her husband. Aethelberht was converted to Christianity, churches were established, and wider-scale conversion to Christianity began in the kingdom. Aethelberht's law for Kent, the earliest written code in any Germanic language, instituted a complex system of fines.
Kent was rich, with strong trade ties to the continent, and Aethelberht may have instituted royal control over trade. For the first time following the Anglo-Saxon invasion, coins began circulating in Kent during his reign. In 635 Aidan, an Irish monk from Iona chose the Isle of Lindisfarne to establish a monastery and 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 (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.
By 660 the political map of Lowland Britain had developed with smaller territories coalescing into kingdoms, 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 WinwAed, 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 not only 106 kings and kingdoms by winning set-piece battles, but by ruthlessly ravaging any area foolish enough to withhold tribute. There are a number of casual references scattered throughout the Bede's history to this aspect of Mercian military policy. Penda is found ravaging Northumbria as far north as Bamburgh and only a miraculous intervention from Aidan prevents the complete destruction of the settlement. In 676 Aethelred conducted a similar ravaging in Kent and caused such damage in the Rochester diocese that two successive bishops gave up their position because of lack of funds.
In these accounts there is a rare glimpse of the realities of early Anglo-Saxon overlordship and how a widespread overlordship could be established in a relatively short period. By the middle of the 8th century, other kingdoms of southern Britain were also affected by Mercian expansionism. The East Saxons seem to have lost control of London, Middlesex and Hertfordshire to Aethelbald, although the East Saxon homelands do not seem to have been affected, and the East Saxon dynasty continued into the ninth century.
The Mercian influence and reputation reached its peak when, in the late 8th century, the most powerful European ruler of the age, the Frankish king Charlemagne, recognised the Mercian King Offa's power and accordingly treated him with respect, even if this could have been just flattery. MichAel Drout calls the period between about 660–793 the "Golden Age", when learning flourishes with a renaissance in classical knowledge. The growth and popularity of monasticism was not an entirely internal development, with influence from the continent shaping Anglo-Saxon monastic life.
In 669 Theodore, a Greek-speaking monk originally from Tarsus in Asia Minor, arrived in Britain to become the eighth Archbishop of Canterbury. He was joined the following year by his colleague Hadrian, a Latin-speaking African by origin and former abbot of a monastery in Campania (near Naples). One of their first tasks at Canterbury was the establishment of a school; and according to Bede (writing some sixty years later), they soon "attracted a crowd of students into whose minds they daily poured the streams of wholesome learning".
As evidence of their teaching, Bede reports that some of their students, who survived to his own day were as fluent in Greek and Latin as in their native language. Bede does not mention Aldhelm in this connection; but we know from a letter addressed by Aldhelm to Hadrian that he too must be numbered among their students. Aldhelm wrote in elaborate and grandiloquent and very difficult Latin, which became the dominant style for centuries. MichAel Drout states "Aldhelm wrote Latin hexameters better than anyone before in England (and possibly better than anyone since, or at least up until Milton).
His work showed that scholars in England, at the very edge of Europe, could be as learned and sophisticated as any writers in Europe." During this period, the wealth and power of the monasteries increased as elite families, possibly out of power, turned to monastic life. 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. These double monasteries were presided over by abbesses, some of the most powerful and influential women in Europe.
Double monasteries which were built on strategic sites near rivers and coasts, accumulated immense wealth and power over multiple generations (their inheritances were not divided) and became centers of art and learning. 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 Aethelwulf, 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 Aethelred, 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. Due to the plundering raids that followed, the raiders attracted the name Viking – from the Old Norse víkingr meaning an expedition – which soon became used for the raiding activity or piracy reported in western Europe. In 793, Lindisfarne was raided and while this was not the first raid of its type it was the most prominent. A year later Jarrow, the monastery where Bede wrote, was attacked; in 795 Iona; and in 804 the nunnery at Lyminge Kent was granted refuge inside the walls of Canterbury. Sometime around 800, a Reeve from Portland in Wessex was killed when he mistook some raiders for ordinary traders.
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. The rest of the army meanwhile continued to harry and plunder on both sides of the Channel, with new recruits evidently arriving to swell its ranks, for it clearly continued to be a formidable fighting force. At first, Alfred responded by the offer of repeated tribute payments. However, after a decisive victory at Edington in 878, Alfred offered vigorous opposition.
He established a chain of fortresses across the south of England, reorganized the army, "so that always half its men were at home, and half out on service, except for those men who were to garrison the burhs", and in 896 ordered a new type of craft to be built which could oppose the Viking longships in shallow coastal waters. When the Vikings returned from the Continent in 892, they found they could no longer roam the country at will, for wherever they went they were opposed by a local army. After four years, the Scandinavians therefore split up, some to settle in Northumbria and East Anglia, the remainder to try their luck again on the Continent.
More important to Alfred than his military and political victories were his religion, his love of learning, and his spread of writing throughout England. Simon Keynes suggests Alfred's work laid the foundations for what really makes England unique in all of medieval Europe from around 800 until 1066. What is also unique is that we can discover some of this in Alfred's own words. Thinking about how learning and culture had fallen since the last century, he wrote:
"...So completely had wisdom fallen off in England that there were very few on this side of the Humber who could understand their rituals in English, or indeed could translate a letter from Latin into English; and I believe that there were not many beyond the Humber. There were so few of them that I indeed cannot think of a single one south of the Thames when I became king."
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. Alfred saw kingship as a priestly office, a shepherd for his people. One book that was particularly valuable to him was Gregory the Great's Cura Pastoralis (Pastoral Care). This is a priest's guide on how to care for people. Alfred took this book as his own guide on how to be a good king to his people; hence, a good king to Alfred increases literacy. Alfred translated this book himself and explains in the preface:
"...When I had learned it I translated it into English, just as I had understood it, and as I could most meaningfully render it. And I will send one to each bishopric in my kingdom, and in each will be an Aestel worth fifty mancuses. And I command in God's name that no man may take the Aestel from the book nor the book from the church. It is unknown how long there may be such learned bishops as, thanks to God, are nearly everywhere."
What is presumed to be one of these "Aestel" (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.
"Therefore it seems better to me, if it seems so to you, that we also translate certain books ...and bring it about ...if we have the peace, that all the youth of free men who now are in England, those who have the means that they may apply themselves to it, be set to learning, while they may not be set to any other use, until the time when they can well read English writings."
This set in train a growth in charters, law, theology and learning. Alfred thus laid the foundation for the great accomplishments of the tenth century and did much to make the vernacular was more important than Latin in Anglo-Saxon culture. "I desired to live worthily as long as I lived, and to leave after my life, to the men who should come after me, the memory of me in good works."
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, AethelflAed, 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 AthelflAed 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 Aethelstan, 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. Aethelstan'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 recogniZed. 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 Aethelstan'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 Aethelstan, 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. In that court were two young men named Dunstan and Aethelwold who were made priests, supposedly at the insistence of Athelstan, right at the end of his reign in 939. Between 970 and 973 a council was held, under the Aegis of Edgar, where a set of rules were devised that would be applicable throughout England. This put all the monks and nuns in England under one set of detailed customs for the first time. In 973, Edgar received a special second, 'imperial coronation' at Bath, and from this point England was ruled by Edgar under the strong influence of Dunstan, Athelwold, and Oswald, the Bishop of Worcester.
The reign of King Aethelred 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. Raids began on a relatively small scale in the 980s, but became far more serious in the 990s, and brought the people to their knees in 1009–12, when a large part of the country was devastated by the army of Thorkell the Tall. It remained for Swein Forkbeard, king of Denmark, to conquer the kingdom of England in 1013–14, and (after Aethelred's restoration) for his son Cnut to achieve the same in 1015–16. The tale of these years incorporated in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle must be read in its own right, and set beside other material which reflects in one way or another on the conduct of government and warfare during Aethelred's reign.
It is this evidence which is the basis for Simon Keynes's view that the king lacked the strength, judgement and resolve to give adequate leadership to his people in a time of grave national crisis; who soon found out that he could rely on little but the treachery of his military commanders; and who, throughout his reign, tasted nothing but the ignominy of defeat. The raids exposed tensions and weaknesses which went deep into the fabric of the late Anglo-Saxon state and it is apparent that events proceeded against a background more complex than the chronicler probably knew. It seems, for example, that the death of Bishop Aethelwold in 984 had precipitated further reaction against certain ecclesiastical interests; that by 993 the king had come to regret the error of his ways, leading to a period when the internal affairs of the kingdom appear to have prospered.
The increasingly difficult times brought on by the Viking attacks are reflected in both Aelfric'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 Aelfric and Wulfstan writings, which is similar to that of Gildas and Bede. Raids were signs of God punishing his people, Aelfric 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 Aethelred died of illness, leaving his son and successor Edmund Ironside to defend the country. The final struggles were complicated by internal dissension, and especially by the treacherous acts of Ealdorman Eadric of Mercia, who opportunistically changed sides to Cnut's party. After the defeat of the English in the battle of Assandun in October 1016, Edmund and Cnut agreed to divide the kingdom so that Edmund would rule Wessex and Cnut Mercia, but Edmund died soon after his defeat in November 1016, making it possible for Cnut to seize power over all England.
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. Politically and chronologically, the texts of this period are not 'Anglo-Saxon'; linguistically, those written in English (as opposed to Latin or French, the other official written languages of the period) are moving away from the late West Saxon standard that is called 'Old English'. Yet neither are they 'Middle English'; moreover, as Treharne explains, for around three quarters of this period, "there is barely any 'original' writing in English at all". These factors have led to a gap in scholarship implying a discontinuity either side of the Norman Conquest, however this assumption is being challenged.
At first sight, there would seem little to debate. Cnut appears to have adopted wholeheartedly the traditional role of Anglo-Saxon kingship. However an examination of the laws, homilies, wills, and charters dating from this period suggests that as a result of widespread aristocratic death and the fact that Cnut did not systematically introduce a new landholding class, major and permanent alterations occurred in the Saxon social and political structures. Eric John has remarked that for Cnut "the simple difficulty of exercising so wide and so unstable an empire made it necessary to practise a delegation of authority against every tradition of English kingship".
The disappearance of the aristocratic families which had traditionally played an active role in the governance of the realm, coupled with Cnut's choice of thegnly advisors, put an end to the balanced relationship between monarchy and aristocracy so carefully forged by the West Saxon Kings. 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. By the time William from Normandy, sensing an opportunity, landed his invading force in 1066, the elite of Anglo-Saxon England had changed, although much of the culture and society had stayed the same.
Then came William, the Earl of Normandy, into Pevensey on the evening of St.MichAel's mass, and soon as his men were ready, they built a fortress at Hasting's port. This was told to King Harold, and he gathered then a great army and come towards them at the Hoary Apple Tree, and William came upon him unawares before his folk were ready. But the king nevertheless withstood him very strongly with fighting with those men who would follow him, and there was a great slaughter on either side. Then Harald the King was slain, and Leofwine the Earl, his brother, and Gyrth, and many good men, and the Frenchmen held the place of slaughter.
Following the conquest, the Anglo-Saxon nobility were either exiled or joined the ranks of the peasantry. It has been estimated that only about 8 per cent of the land was under Anglo-Saxon control by 1087. Many Anglo-Saxon nobles fled to Scotland, Ireland, and Scandinavia. The Byzantine Empire became a popular destination for many Anglo-Saxon soldiers, as the Byzantines were 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 – about 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 inhabitants of the North and Scotland never warmed to the Normans following the Harrying of the North (1069–1070), where William, according to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle utterly "ravaged and 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 Anglo-Saxons had always been defined very closely to the language, now this language gradually changed, and although some people (like the famous scribe known as the Tremulous Hand of Worcester) could read Old English in the thirteenth century. Soon afterwards, it became impossible for people to read Old English, and the texts became useless. The precious Exeter Book, for example, seems to have been used to press gold leaf and at one point had a pot of fish-based glue sitting on top of it. For MichAel Drout this symbolizes the end of the Anglo-Saxons.[Wikipedia].
REVIEW: Fifth-century Britain was a tumultuous place, wracked by violence, upheaval, and uncertainty. The Roman Empire was crumbling throughout western Europe as waves of barbarian invaders overran its borders. By A.D. 410, groups of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes began crossing the North Sea from Germany and southern Scandinavia to claim land in Britain that had been abandoned by the Roman army. These tribes succeeded Rome as the dominant power in central and southern Britain, marking the beginning of what we now call the Anglo-Saxon Age, which would last for more than 600 years.
While the story of this period is known to us in broad strokes, in archaeological terms, there remains much to uncover. The early Anglo-Saxon period is a time whose events are often shrouded in fantasy. This fantastical view can be traced to later, Christian writers who described the pagan world of the fifth and sixth centuries as being inhabited by wizards, warriors, demons, and dragons. Legendary tales, passed down, were often the subject of later Old English works of poetry. Perhaps the most famous of all is the epic work Beowulf, whose eponymous hero battles monsters and fire-breathing dragons.
But some of the details of early Anglo-Saxon life that have been gleaned piecemeal from texts are now being confirmed by archaeology. Such is the case with the recent surprising discovery of a Saxon royal feasting hall. For the last six years the Lyminge Archaeological Project has investigated the modern village of Lyminge, Kent, located a short distance from the famous white cliffs of Dover. Researchers from both the University of Reading and the Kent Archaeological Society are documenting Lyminge’s transition from a pagan royal “vill” into a significant Christian monastic center.
The settlement encompasses both the pre-Christian and later Christian Anglo-Saxon periods and is proving valuable in understanding the development of early English communities. According to Alexandra Knox, archaeologist and Lyminge Archaeological Project research assistant, the work there is supplying a key piece of the puzzle. “The history of the Christian conversion in Kent,” Knox says, “the historically earliest kingdom to be converted in the Anglo-Saxon period, is integral to our understanding of the creation of medieval and, indeed, modern England.”
The Christian Anglo-Saxon community in Lyminge founded an important “double” monastery—home to both monks and nuns—dating from the seventh to ninth century. The existence of this monastery has been known from at least the middle of the nineteenth century, when Canon Jenkins, a local vicar and amateur archaeologist, discovered the remains of the ancient monastic complex. But apart from these Christian ruins, little was known about Lyminge’s earlier history.
During the dark and violent times of the fifth century, pagan warrior kings ruled southern Britain. At Lyminge, current archaeological research is now making it possible to retrace the village’s early history to Anglo-Saxon settlers, just a few decades after the fall of Roman Britain. The recently discovered Anglo-Saxon hall, which researchers believe dates to about 600, would have been an essential feature of any important early Saxon settlement. In Old English poetry the hall is often the scene of royal feasts and banquets. In the story of Beowulf, the hero is tasked with slaying the monster Grendel, who has been terrorizing the famous hall of Heorot.
The royal feasting hall in Lyminge remained undisturbed for nearly 1,400 years, just a few inches below the surface of a village green that lies at the center of the modern town, and within view of the monastery site. It is the first of its kind to be discovered in England in more than 30 years. “Excavating large open areas in villages of medieval origin can be an extremely successful strategy in uncovering the evolution of the Saxon village,” explains Knox. “No large building was visible on the geophysical survey, so it was a great surprise to the team to uncover the full floor plan of such a significant structure.”
Large royal halls such as the one found in Lyminge are known to be associated with local elites and played a central role in early Anglo-Saxon society. The king and his guests would gather to socialize, celebrate victories, or listen to performances. The hall not only hosted legendary feasting parties, sometimes lasting days, but was also a key multipurpose assembly space for early Saxon communities. These halls were the site of essential political, social, religious, and legal activities. Since the feasting hall at Lyminge was constructed from timber and other perishable materials, only the foundation trenches and postholes remain visible.
Its rectangular plan measures approximately 69 by 28 feet, making it comparable to the grandest Saxon halls ever discovered, such as those at Yeavering in Northumberland and Cowdery’s Down in Hampshire. While halls of this type have generally yielded very few significant artifacts, in the case of Lyminge, archaeologists found one important object—an exquisite gilt copper-alloy horse-harness mount was discovered in one of the wall trenches.
The quality of its design, style, and craftsmanship indicate that it most likely belonged to an important Anglo-Saxon warrior, adding archaeological support to the stuff of legends. According to Knox, “This artifact is a direct link to the warrior ideal embodied in Beowulf.” Artifacts such as these are often seen in horse and warrior burials of the fifth and sixth centuries. “The Anglo-Saxon hall,” Knox adds, “provides clear evidence that elite individuals, most likely the kings of Kent, were staying at Lyminge in the pre-Christian period.”
The days of the pagan Anglo-Saxon kings were to be short-lived. After only one or two generations, the settlement that took the royal hall as its symbolic center was abandoned. In another part of Lyminge, on a spur of land above the old pagan village, a new community formed, this time concentrated around a newly built Christian monastery. The monastery at Lyminge has old and storied connections to the earliest Christian Anglo-Saxons.
While the populations of Roman Britain had already converted to Christianity following the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine in 312, the foreign tribes who invaded the island after the Roman collapse were pagans. St. Augustine of Canterbury was commissioned by Pope Gregory to travel to Britain to reestablish Christianity there and to convert the pagan Saxon communities. Shortly after his pilgrimage in the sixth century, the monastery in Lyminge was founded by Queen Æethelburga, daughter of King Aethelbert of Kent, who, in 597, became the first Anglo-Saxon king to be converted to Christianity.
Lyminge was transformed by its Christian monastic settlement, which brought about changes in lifestyle, identity, and behavior of the local population. Recent excavations have revealed a large granary and an industrial-sized ironworking facility that attest to the growth of Lyminge’s economy. The presence of fish bones and other marine evidence shows that the monastic community was connected to broader trade networks and was capable of exploiting coastal resources. This also indicates the impact that Christianity had on diet, as fish became a much more significant staple in the eighth and ninth centuries.
The transition from the Roman Age to the Anglo-Saxon Age in this part of Britain can be understood as a two-part process. The first was characterized by the dominance of pagan warrior kings and the second by the reestablishment of Christianity. The last days of the pagan Saxon kings and the great feasting halls of the age of Beowulf gave way to an era that would be even more influential in the construction of the modern English identity. All is finally visible in the village of Lyminge. [Archaeological Institute of America].
REVIEW: On the windswept northeastern coast of England, Bamburgh Castle rises high above a massive outcrop of black dolerite. Its brooding sandstone fortifications command sweeping views of the surrounding county of Northumberland, which was once the heart of the medieval kingdom of Northumbria. Visit the castle today, and what you see is an ornate Norman fortress that was extensively rebuilt by its owners in the eighteenth and early twentieth centuries, though traces of medieval masonry are still visible in many of the buildings. But view the site through the eyes of archaeologist Graeme Young, and a different vision of the castle emerges.
On his morning tea break, Young takes a few moments from supervising his crew to explain that he has spent 20 years excavating inside and around Bamburgh in an effort to understand the site’s 2,000-year history. Beneath the stately grounds of the modern castle, he and his team have unearthed the remains of a royal citadel from the early medieval period, when Northumbria’s Anglo-Saxon kings made this nearly impregnable volcanic plateau their seat of power. In the popular imagination, this era is the violent and barbaric Dark Ages, but Young suggests that discoveries here paint a more nuanced picture. “We’ve long known Bamburgh was an important site during the Anglo-Saxon period,” he says, “but we’ve discovered it was much more cosmopolitan that we imagined.”
Sitting in a small office tucked into the wall of Bamburgh’s west courtyard, Young tells the unlikely story of archaeology in the castle. It begins in the 1960s, when famously eccentric archaeologist Brian Hope-Taylor started to excavate inside the castle walls. He had previously dug at a nearby early royal Anglo-Saxon settlement called Yeavering that he believed was a co-capital with Bamburgh of the kingdom of Bernicia, which predated Northumbria. “He was one of the first archaeologists to seriously study Anglo-Saxon sites,” says Young.
“He really was a pioneer.” Scholars consider Hope-Taylor’s meticulous publication of the Yeavering excavation a landmark in Anglo-Saxon archaeology. Unfortunately, though he made several spectacular discoveries at Bamburgh, including the best-preserved Anglo-Saxon sword in Britain and a solid gold plaque depicting a stylized animal known as the “Bamburgh Beast,” he was not able to publish his results before his death in 2001.Letter From England Bamburgh Beast.
Young has a personal investment in Hope-Taylor’s work. He grew up visiting Bamburgh and credits the formative experience of exploring the castle as a boy with inspiring him to become an archaeologist. In 1996, he and his colleagues contacted the castle owners to request permission to follow up on Hope-Taylor’s excavations. “We didn’t know where he had dug,” says Young, “so we were hoping to use geophysics and small-scale excavation to determine that.”
The owners gave their permission, and the small team began their work. Twenty years later, Young shakes his head and smiles at the memory. “We were thinking of it as a short project that we’d do on weekends among friends,” he says. But that short project quickly bloomed into a much bigger effort when it became apparent to the team that the richness of the site meant it would take years to understand it properly. They also became the unexpected heirs of Hope-Taylor’s considerable legacy.
While searching for office space, Young and the castle’s groundskeeper broke the locks on the small rooms built into the castle walls that had sat unopened for decades. What they found inside was a kind of time capsule of Hope-Taylor’s fieldwork. Still astonished by the discovery, Young shares pictures of the rooms that show they were filled with dust-covered boxes of bones, artifacts, and soil samples, all excavated by Hope-Taylor.
A 1974 copy of the Daily Telegraph still resting on a chair helped establish the date of the last field season. “We’ve accidently inherited an enormous body of work at an extraordinary site,” says Young. Hope-Taylor’s students later found years’ worth of Bamburgh excavation notes, and even artifacts, such as a sword, in his apartment. Now, the Bamburgh team’s task is not only to understand their own excavations, but to synchronize their findings with the copious record Hope-Taylor left behind.
University of Durham archaeologist and Anglo-Saxon expert Rosemary Cramp knew Hope-Taylor well and was glad to see archaeologists return to Bamburgh. “It really is a key site,” says Cramp, who visits the excavations but is not officially involved with the project. “High points like this are strongholds from prehistoric times onwards, but very few have the depth of Anglo-Saxon deposits that you have at Bamburgh. We still know so little about the early medieval period. There’s everything to find out, really.”
Though a fortress has probably stood above the crag at Bamburgh since prehistoric times, little is known about the site before the Romans arrived. Ancient historians record that the Britons built a coastal fort at the site and that it was the stronghold of the Votadini, a tribe that lived beyond the northern frontier of the empire, but whose leaders probably depended on Roman power for their authority. “Hope-Taylor discovered Roman-era pottery at Bamburgh,” says Young.
“That helps confirm that Britons living here were aligned with Rome. The Romans might have even been paying off warlords to help protect the frontier.” While the team has found stray Roman-era artifacts, such as pieces of glass, they have yet to dig as deep as Hope-Taylor did. For now, they are focused on the Anglo-Saxons. When the Romans abandoned Britain in the early fifth century, the Germanic Angle, Saxon, and Jute tribes, collectively called Anglo-Saxons, took advantage of the power vacuum and sailed across the North Sea to settle in England.
Much of what we know about the turbulent early Anglo-Saxon period comes from The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written by the Venerable Bede, the eighth-century monk known as the father of English history. A native of Northumbria, Bede left an especially rich (and some would say biased) account of the kingdom. “Bede often mentions Bamburgh as the kingdom’s ‘royal city,’” says Young. “That tells us that it was a high-status center.” The site first rose to prominence in 547, when an Angle warlord known as Ida the Flamebearer seized the Briton coastal fortress and founded a kingdom called Bernicia.
His grandson Æthelfrith brought the neighboring Anglian realm of Deira under his dominion around 604, creating the unified kingdom of Northumbria. Æthelfrith renamed the citadel Bebbanburgh, or Bebba’s fortress, after one of his wives. For the next three centuries it played a central role in English history, with its throne often changing hands between warrior kings. Remarkably, an early archaeological find at Bamburgh allows scholars to visualize exactly what one of those thrones would have looked like.
In the late nineteenth century groundskeepers clearing foliage discovered intricately carved stone fragments. For more than a hundred years they were thought to be the remains of a standing cross. But when Rosemary Cramp reexamined the pieces, she identified them as the arm of a stone chair dating to around 800. Similar carved stone chairs have been found at Northumbrian monasteries, and are thought to be bishops’ thrones.
Since Bamburgh was a secular site, such a throne would have been used by the Northumbrian kings themselves and likely played an important ceremonial role. “It’s an amazing artifact,” says Young. “These thrones were called gift-stools, and were central to a fundamental ritual during which a warrior would receive gifts from his lord in full view of the court, binding him to the king until death.” A replica of the throne now sits in the central courtyard at Bamburgh.
Perhaps the most famous of the kings to have sat on the Northumbiran throne was Æthelfrith’s son St. Oswald, a warrior king of great renown who was known as “Whiteblade.” As Bede tells it, when Æthelfrith was killed in battle in 617 by a rival king, Oswald fled north to seek sanctuary with the Irish. After 17 years, he returned to the kingdom and retook the throne by force. He also brought with him Irish monks who converted pagan Anglo-Saxons and founded a monastery on the island of Lindisfarne, which became an important center of medieval Christianity.
Oswald ruled from Bamburgh as the most powerful king in England for eight years, only to be killed in battle and have his corpse dismembered. Bede records that Oswald’s followers found his arm, which would not decompose. They brought this incorruptible arm to Bamburgh, where it was kept in a silver shrine. Oswald was later canonized and became the object of a cult that was venerated throughout Europe. When Young and his team conducted remote sensing at the castle’s twelfth-century chapel, they found that it was likely built on the remains of Bamburgh’s seventh-century church. “That was probably where Oswald’s arm was kept,” says Young.
Letter From England Bamburgh CemeteryAnother glimpse inside Bamburgh’s royal court came soon after Young’s project began, when a winter storm exposed early medieval burials outside the castle. The team excavated the site, known as the Bowl Hole cemetery, between 2001 and 2007, eventually recovering 91 skeletons. Durham University bioarchaeologist Charlotte Roberts led the team that studied the remains. They recently published their results: Most of the people buried in the cemetery were likely aristocratic members of the
“They were mainly well-nourished and of high stature,” says Roberts, “though many had severe tooth decay that could have been brought on in part by high consumption of mead.” Roberts’ team also analyzed strontium isotope levels in the teeth, which can pinpoint where an individual spent his or her childhood. The results showed the people buried at the Bowl Hole cemetery were a surprisingly diverse group. “We found that relatively few locals were buried in the cemetery,” says Roberts. “Most of these people came from other regions of the British Isles.”
Anglo-Saxon kings would often exchange children or close relatives as royal hostages to ensure that the terms of treaties were observed. Some of the individuals could have been staying at Bamburgh as just this kind of hostage. The team also found one man who came from the Outer Hebrides, near to where St. Oswald fled during his exile. Artifacts found with the burial and radiocarbon dating show that the man lived in the seventh century, around the same time as Oswald. Perhaps he accompanied the famous king back to Northumbria as part of his retinue. “That’s as close as archaeology can get us to the Oswald story,” says Young.
A few of the people interred in the cemetery came from even farther afield. “Some of the strontium signatures show childhoods spent in Scandinavian countries, and this is centuries before the Viking era,” says Roberts. Others were from the southern Mediterranean or North Africa. “And it wasn’t just men,” she says, “but women from Scandinavia and southern Europe as well.” Whether the people lived permanently at Bamburgh or died there while visiting, possibly while on a pilgrimage or working there temporarily, is impossible to know. But clearly, at its height, Bamburgh was a cosmopolitan place, with people from across Britain and Europe gathering in the great hall where the Northumbrian kings held court.
Young has even pinpointed just where those courtiers would have gathered. During a geophysical survey of the castle’s inner ward, the team discovered traces of a large royal mead hall. The Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf describes a similar royal structure as a “timbered hall, splendid and ornamented with gold. The building in which a powerful man held court that was the foremost of halls under heaven.” Some scholars have suggested that the poem may have been composed in Northumbria. “It’s possible,” says Young, “that around 1,200 years ago, a poet recited Beowulf for the king in that great hall.”
Not all the finds at Bamburgh relate to the royal Anglo-Saxon court. Just outside the office where he takes his tea breaks, Young and his team have unearthed a large metalworking area, littered with iron slag and cast-off metal artifacts, including some 300 styca, or Anglo-Saxon coins. “It might have functioned something like a mint,” says Young. “They were making so many coins here that they didn’t bother to pick up ones that fell on the floor.”
Walking around the excavation, Young points out sections Hope-Taylor originally explored, as well as subsoil that shows traces of intense burning. It’s possible that that burning could relate to a dark period in Bamburgh’s history, when the Vikings first raided and then settled in the kingdom. In fact, Northumbria was the first of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to be ravaged by the Vikings. From the castle’s battlements, visitors today can clearly see Lindisfarne, where, in 793, Norsemen carried out an infamous raid on the island’s monastery, a brutal event regarded as the beginning of the Viking Age.
While the descendants of the Northumbrian kings continued to rule the area around Bamburgh as earls after the Norse invasions, a Viking force successfully sacked the fortress in 993. The Vikings may have burned buildings when they took the citadel, but Young believes it is just as likely that the burned soil he’s unearthed is evidence of a massive fire that was caused by Bamburgh’s resident metalworkers themselves. “It may have been an industrial accident,” says Young, “rather than localized evidence of an attack.”
Fires would have been a constant threat to Anglo-Saxons, who have long been thought to have largely lost the art of making stone buildings and instead built almost exclusively with wood. But Young and his team are finding evidence that the people in Bamburgh knew more about stonework than was previously believed. “We think of Anglo-Saxon England as a wooden world, really,” says Young. “And originally we believed the citadel was defended mainly by a wooden palisade.” But evidence for batch production of mortar on a large scale at Bamburgh, first discovered by Hope-Taylor, led them to think stoneworking might have been more important than they realized
In 2008, during excavation around the castle’s chapel, they unearthed a stone wall dating to the eighth century. “We know there were Roman-style stone churches in Northumbria that were largely rebuilt,” says Young. “I think it was rare, but we still probably underestimate how much stone building was done by the Anglo-Saxons.” He thinks that Bamburgh’s stone walls were not only formidable defensive structures, but also a deliberate reference to the power of the Roman world, a showy display of authority that would have stood out dramatically on the landscape. Young continues his walk to a second large area under excavation, this one near an entrance to the castle that has been known as St. Oswald’s Gate since at least 775, when it is mentioned in a chronicle describing Bamburgh. Here the team has found trash deposits containing vast amounts of animal bones that show the castle residents were eating choice cuts of meat. They’ve found evidence here for a number of different grains, and even lentils, demonstrating that the court enjoyed a diverse diet along with its mead.
Near the trash deposits they have also unearthed the remains of two small halls, one timber and the other stone, where it’s likely Bamburgh’s gate wardens, who controlled access to the fortress, lived and worked. St. Oswald’s Gate is now largely made of eighteenth-century masonry, but as Young ducks through the small entryway, he recalls an earlier excavation he conducted under the steep steps leading away from the gate. “We took off the eighteenth-century paving and exposed the bedrock below,” he says.
What they found was a dolerite track polished to a sheen from hundreds of years of being trod upon. “Everyone who lived at Bamburgh would have come through this gate,” says Young. “All the people we found buried in the cemetery would have known this walk.” The steep path is stark evidence of how difficult it must have been for enemy warriors to approach England’s most formidable fortress, but it’s also a reminder that the citadel was once the home and workplace for generations of Anglo-Saxons, who would have struggled up this path every day.
Young begins to talk about how the Bamburgh Project is nearing the end of its excavation phase, and mentions that publication will soon be the focus of most of the effort. As he speaks, he stops and points to a church in the distance, located in the village that spreads out to the south of the castle. “All the people from the cemetery will be reburied there,” he says. With the study of their remains complete, the members of one of England’s greatest Anglo-Saxon courts, who came to the citadel from throughout Britain and Europe, will be returned to the earth. [Archaeological Institute of America].
REVIEW: Forensic experts at the University of Dundee have reconstructed the face of a Saxon man whose skeleton was unearthed at a previously unknown church discovered on the grounds of Lincoln Castle, which was built by William the Conqueror. Radiocarbon dating of the remains showed the man died sometime between A.D. 1035 and 1070, or just before the Norman Conquest. His skeleton, which showed a range of significant degenerative bone diseases suggestive of a strenuous life, was one of eight discovered at the site, and was unusually well preserved.
“His grave lay slightly under an important sarcophagus burial, which had resulted in excellent preservation of his skull [that made] it the best candidate among the skeletons for facial reconstruction,” said forensic artist Caroline Erolin in a University of Dundee press release. Osteological examination of the remains shows the man was between 36 and 45 years old when he died, and isotope analysis of his bones and teeth indicate that he was born and bred in eastern England. [Archaeological Institute of America].
REVIEW: An international team of scientists obtained whole genome sequences from ten skeletons unearthed near Cambridge. The skeletons ranged from the Iron Age, early Anglo-Saxon, and Middle Anglo-Saxon periods. The scientists then compared the ancient genomes with those from modern Europeans by looking at rare mutations. “We estimate that 38 percent of the ancestors of the English were Anglo-Saxons. This is the first direct estimate of the impact of immigration into Britain from the fifth to seventh centuries A.D. and the traces left in modern England,” Stephan Schiffels of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the Max Plank Institute said in a press release.
The genetic evidence, when combined with archaeological evidence, offers more information on how Anglo-Saxon immigrants adapted to life in Britain. “Genome sequences from four individuals from a cemetery in Oakington indicated that, genetically, two were migrant Anglo-Saxons, one was a native, and one was a mixture of both. The archaeological evidence shows that these individuals were treated the same way in death, and proves they were all well integrated into the Oakington Anglo-Saxon community despite their different biological heritage,” added Duncan Sayer of the University of Central Lancashire.
REVIEW: How Germanic is Great Britain really? Archeologists and geneticists have unveiled surprising revelations about the historical origins of people in the modern United Kingdom -- many of whom have ancestors who once crossed the North Sea. The fear of a violent conquest of their country is deeply engrained in the English psyche. One of the likely reasons for this fear is that their ancestors committed this misdeed themselves. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, two Germanic tribesmen, Hengist and Horsa, came ashore on the coast of Kent in southeast England in the year 449 A.D. They had sailed 600 kilometers (372 miles) down the coast from their native North Frisia, and had then made the crossing to a green and pleasant Britain.
The country they encountered was a cultivated place. Emperor Claudius had declared the island a Roman province in 43 A.D., and had introduced theaters and paved streets. There were 30,000 people living in Londinium in late antiquity. All of this was destroyed, however, when the adventurers -- who became more and more numerous as families were reunited -- arrived from across the sea. But how many people came to Britain across the North Sea in total? A thousand? Ten thousand? Or was it an even higher number?
Until now, the so-called Minimalists have set the tone in British archeology. They believe in what they call an "elite transfer", in which a small caste of Germanic noble warriors, perhaps a few thousand, placed themselves at the top of society in a coup of sorts, and eventually even displaced the Celtic language with their own. Many contemporary Britons, not overly keen on having such a close kinship with the Continent, like this scenario.
Thomas Sheppard, a museum curator, discovered this sentiment almost a century ago. In 1919, officers asked for his assistance after they accidentally discovered the roughly 1,500-year-old grave of an Anglo-Saxon woman while digging trenches in eastern England. Sheppard concluded that the woman's bleached bones came from "conquerors from Germany" and announced: "These are our ancestors!" But the soldiers were thunderstruck. At first they cursed and refused to believe that they were related to the "Huns." But then the mood darkened. The trip back to the barracks "was like a funeral procession," Sheppard wrote.
But there is no use in denying it. It is now clear that the nation which most dislikes the Germans were once Krauts themselves. A number of studies reinforce the intimacy of the German-English relationship. Biologists at University College in London studied a segment of the Y chromosome that appears in almost all Danish and northern German men -- and is also surprisingly common in Great Britain. This suggests that a veritable flood of people must have once crossed the North Sea.
New isotope studies conducted in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries produced similar results. When chemists analyzed the tooth enamel and bones of skeletons, they found that about 20 percent of the dead were newcomers who had originated on mainland Europe. Archeologist Heinrich Härke of the University of Reading has now come up with a quantitative estimate of the migratory movement. He suspects that "up to 200,000 emigrants" crossed the North Sea.
The massive movement of people was apparently triggered in 407 A.D., the year in which the ailing Roman Empire withdrew much of its army from Britain. Soon afterwards, it stopped paying its soldiers altogether. As a result, the last legionaries took off. This left the island unprotected, an opportunity that the starving people on the continent couldn't pass up. Angles, Saxons and Jutes left their mound dwellings and broad bean fields in the wetlands of northern Europe in droves.
Entire family clans set out to sea, usually in the spring and summer when the water was calm. Their ships were bulging with household goods, cows and horses. According to an old chronicle, the land of the Angles was soon "abandoned". The new arrivals established their first cemetery around 410 in Dorchester-on-Thames, near Oxford. It was filled with the same kinds of urns, brooches and other ornaments found along the Elbe River in Germany.
Archeologists have now excavated such burial grounds in large numbers. The Germanic farmers of Spong Hill, in eastern England, remained in contact with their old homeland for two to three generations. Härke speculates that a steady stream of adventurers left the mainland between 450 and 550. Nevertheless, there are still inconsistencies. The estimated 200,000 intruders faced an overwhelming number of Britons, about a million, and yet the invaders triumphed. The kingdoms that soon developed, like East Anglia, Wessex (West Saxony) and Essex (East Saxony) were run by robust chieftains like Sigeric and Cynewulf.
The Celts were no match for these roughnecks. The Romans had taught them how to play the lyre and drink copious amounts of wine, but the populace in the regions controlled by the Pax Romana was barred from carrying weapons. As a result, the local peoples, no longer accustomed to the sword, lost one battle after the next and were forced to the edges of the island. The Old English heroic epic "Beowulf" suggests how coarse and combative life was among the pagan conquerors in their reed-covered huts. They had soon occupied eastern and central England.
The famous legend of King Arthur also originated in that era -- as a form of counter-propaganda. Historians characterize the work as a "defensive myth" created by the original Christian inhabitants (with the Holy Grail possibly symbolizing the communion cup). Perhaps the King Arthur legend is based on a mythical Celtic king who won a victory at Mount Badon around 500 A.D. In truth, however, the army of the Britons was usually in retreat. Many fell into captivity. According to Härke, the captured Britons lived a miserable existence as "servants and maids" in the villages of the Anglo-Saxons.
There were two types of grave in the cemeteries of the time: those containing swords and other weapons, and those with none. The local inhabitants, deprived of their rights, were apparently buried in the latter type of grave. The London geneticist Mark Thomas is convinced that the conquerors from the continent maintained "social structures similar to apartheid," a view supported by the laws of King Ine of Wessex (around 695). They specify six social levels for the Britons, five of which refer to slaves.
As a result of the brutal subjugation, the reproduction rate of the losing Britons was apparently curbed, while the winners had many children. The consequences are still evident today in the British gene pool. "People from rural England are more closely related to the northern Germans than to their countrymen from Wales or Scotland," Härke explains. According to Härke, every other man on the island carries the "Friesian gene". [Spiegel On-Line]
REVIEW: One day, or perhaps one night, in the late seventh century an unknown party traveled along an old Roman road that cut across an uninhabited heath fringed by forest in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia. Possibly they were soldiers, or then again maybe thieves—the remote area would remain notorious for highwaymen for centuries—but at any rate they were not casual travelers. Stepping off the road near the rise of a small ridge, they dug a pit and buried a stash of treasure in the ground.
For 1,300 years the treasure lay undisturbed, and eventually the landscape evolved from forest clearing to grazing pasture to working field. Then treasure hunters equipped with metal detectors—ubiquitous in Britain—began to call on farmer Fred Johnson, asking permission to walk the field. "I told one I'd lost a wrench and asked him to find that," Johnson says. Instead, on July 5, 2009, Terry Herbert came to the farmhouse door and announced to Johnson that he had found Anglo-Saxon treasure.
The Staffordshire Hoard, as it was quickly dubbed, electrified the general public and Anglo-Saxon scholars alike. Spectacular discoveries, such as the royal finds at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, had been made in Anglo-Saxon burial sites. But the treasure pulled from Fred Johnson's field was novel—a cache of gold, silver, and garnet objects from early Anglo-Saxon times and from one of the most important kingdoms of the era. Moreover, the quality and style of the intricate filigree and cloisonné decorating the objects were extraordinary, inviting heady comparisons to such legendary treasures as the Lindisfarne Gospels or the Book of Kells.
Once cataloged, the hoard was found to contain some 3,500 pieces representing hundreds of complete objects. And the items that could be securely identified presented a striking pattern. There were more than 300 sword-hilt fittings, 92 sword-pommel caps, and 10 scabbard pendants. Also noteworthy: There were no coins or women's jewelry, and out of the entire collection, the three religious objects appeared to be the only nonmartial pieces. Intriguingly, many of the items seemed to have been bent or broken.
This treasure, then, was a pile of broken, elite, military hardware hidden 13 centuries ago in a politically and militarily turbulent region. The Staffordshire Hoard was thrilling and historic—but above all it was enigmatic. Some pieces of the treasure were twisted or broken as if they had been forced into a small space.
Celts, Roman colonizers, Viking marauders, Norman conquerors—all came and went, leaving their mark on Britain's landscape, language, and character. But it is the six centuries of Anglo-Saxon rule, from shortly after the departure of the Roman colonizers, around A.D. 410, to the Norman Conquest in 1066, that most define what we now call England. Barbarian tribes had been moving westward across Europe since the mid-third century and may have made raids on Britain around this time. In the early fifth century the restless tribes menaced Rome, prompting it to withdraw garrisons from Britannia, the province it had governed for 350 years, to fight threats closer to home. As the Romans left, the Scotti and Picts, tribes to the west and north, began to raid across the borders.
Lacking Roman defenders, Britons solicited Germanic troops from the continent as mercenaries. The Venerable Bede—whose Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written in the eighth century, is the most valuable source for this era—gives the year of the fateful invitation as around 450 and characterizes the soldiers as coming from "three very powerful Germanic tribes, the Saxons, Angles, and Jutes." Modern scholars locate the homelands of these tribes in Germany, the northern Netherlands, and Denmark.
Enticed by reports of the richness of the land and the "slackness of the Britons," the soldiers in the first three ships were followed by more, and soon, Bede noted, "hordes of these peoples eagerly crowded into the island and the number of foreigners began to increase to such an extent that they became a source of terror to the natives." The British monk Gildas, whose sixth-century treatise On the Ruin of Britain is the earliest surviving account of this murky period, describes the ensuing island-wide bloodshed and scorched-earth tactics at the hands of the invaders: "For the fire of vengeance … spread from sea to sea … and did not cease, until, destroying the neighboring towns and lands, it reached the other side of the island."
According to Gildas, many in the "miserable remnant" of surviving native Britons fled or were enslaved. But archaeological evidence suggests that at least some post-Roman settlements adopted Germanic fashions in pottery and clothing and burial practices; in other words, British culture vanished at least in part through cultural assimilation. The extent of the Anglo-Saxons' appropriation of Britain is starkly revealed in their most enduring legacy, the English language. While much of Europe emerged from the post-Roman world speaking Romance languages—Spanish, Italian, and French derived from the Latin of the bygone Romans—the language that would define England was Germanic.
On a farm near his home Terry Herbert shows off the metal detector that led him to the gold. “I just couldn’t stop the items from coming out of the ground,” he says. He received half the treasure’s assessed value of almost $5.3 million. The discovery of a treasure hoard in an English field was not in itself remarkable. Such finds surface everywhere in Britain. Coins, silver objects cut up for scrap metal, dumps of weapons, even a magnificent silver dinner service—all from British, Roman, or Viking times—have been found in the soil. In the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf the warrior Sigemund has killed a dragon guarding "dazzling spoils," and the aged hero Beowulf battles a dragon guarding gold and "garnered jewels" laid in the ground.
Treasure was buried for many reasons: to keep it out of enemy hands, to "bank" a fortune, to serve as a votive offering. Given the era's scant documentation, the motive behind the burial of the Staffordshire Hoard is best surmised from the hoard itself. The first clue is its military character, which suggests that the assemblage was not a grab bag of loot. The nature of the hoard accords with the militarism of the Germanic tribes, which was impressive even to the military-minded Romans. The historian Tacitus, writing in the late first century, noted that "they conduct no business, public or private, except under arms," and that when a boy came of age, he was presented with a shield and spear—"the equivalent of our toga."
Warfare formed England. The consolidation of land gained by warfare and alliances was the likely origin of the tribal kingships of early Anglo-Saxon England. The first Mercians are thought to have been Angles who moved inland along the River Trent, establishing themselves in the valley in the vicinity of the hoard. Mercia was not only one of the most important of the seven principal Anglo-Saxon kingships into which England was roughly divided but also one of the most belligerent. Between A.D. 600 and 850 Mercia waged 14 wars with its neighbor Wessex, 11 with the Welsh, and 18 campaigns with other foes—and these are only the named conflicts.
The apex of Teutonic military craft was the long cutting sword. Averaging about three feet, blades were pattern welded, a sophisticated technique by which twisted rods and strips of iron or steel were hammered together. Forged from this intricate folding, the polished blades rippled with chevron or herringbone patterns. As one appreciative recipient recorded in the early sixth century, they appear "to be grained with tiny snakes, and here such varied shadows play that you would believe the shining metal to be interwoven with many colors."
Modern studies of wounds on skeletons found in an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Kent show that these beautiful swords also worked: "Male, aged 25-35 years … has a single linear cranial injury 16 cm long," states the clinical report. "The plane of the injury is almost vertically downwards." The number of sword pommels in the Staffordshire Hoard, 92, roughly corresponds with the number of men noted as making up one nobleman's troop of retainers.
The hoard, then, could represent the elite military gear that distinguished the retinue of a certain lord. Often a sword was issued by a lord to his retainers along with other equipment and even horses, together known as a heriot, repaid if the retainer died before his lord. In a will written in the tenth century a district official bequeaths "to my royal lord as a heriot four armlets of … gold, and four swords and eight horses, four with trappings and four without, and four helmets and four coats-of-mail and eight spears and eight shields." Swords were also buried with their warrior owners or passed down as family heirlooms.
But sometimes swords were buried without warriors. In a practice in northern Europe dating from the Bronze Age through Anglo-Saxon times, swords and other objects, many conspicuously valuable, were deposited in bogs, rivers, and streams as well as in the ground. "We can no longer see hoards only as piggy banks," says Kevin Leahy, an authority on Anglo-Saxon history who was entrusted with the task of cataloging the Staffordshire treasure.
Ritual deposits, as opposed to caches buried for safekeeping, are found not only in Britain but also in Scandinavia, homeland of some of England's Germanic tribes. Significantly, many weapons—and sometimes other objects, such as a craftsman's tools—were, like the objects in the hoard, bent or broken before burial. Perhaps "killing" a weapon dispatched it to the land of spirits or rendered it a votive offering to the gods, its destruction representing the donor's irrevocable surrender of the valuable weapon's use.
"This is a hoard for male display," says Nicholas Brooks, an emeritus historian at the University of Birmingham, who calls the glittering objects found in Staffordshire "bling for warrior companions of the king." Gold, weighing in at more than 11 pounds, accounts for nearly 75 percent of the metal in the hoard. According to Brooks, "the source is a mystery." The origin of most gold in England was ultimately Rome, whose later imperial currency had been based on the solidus, a solid gold coin.
Imperial gold had fallen to the Germanic tribes as plunder following the sack of Rome, and caches found in England may have been recirculated and recycled. By the date of the Staffordshire Hoard, gold supplies were dwindling, and silver and silver alloy were being used instead. Similarly, the source of garnets—like gold, a striking feature of the hoard—had shifted, from India to Bohemia and Portugal.
Historian Guy Halsall has estimated the value of the hoard's gold in its day as equivalent to 800 solidi, about 80 horses' worth. Modern valuation of the find has been set at £3,285,000, or just under $5.3 million. In its own time, however, the hoard's worth was surely calibrated by other considerations. The gold dazzles, but from a practical point of view the most valuable part of the weaponry—"the long, sharp, pointy bit you killed people with," as Halsall notes dryly—is not present in the hoard, and it is possible that the sword blades were cannily retained for reuse.
Above all, the pieces in the hoard were forged and buried in a world in which mundane events and acts could be suffused with magic; misfortune, for instance, was commonly attributed to tiny darts fired by malicious elves, and many charms against attacks survive. The magic properties an object possessed trumped its material worth. Gold was valued not only for being precious but also because, alluring and indestructible, it was infused with magic, and therefore used in amulets.
Germanic myths tell of the gods' great hall of gold, and as Christian churches and monasteries gained wealth, they acquired golden sacramental objects. In many cultures the very art of metallurgy is magical, and Nordic sagas have vivid details of the smith's magic arts, from Odin's spear and gold ring to Thor's hammer. Magic may also account for the only three obviously nonmilitary objects in the Staffordshire Hoard: two gold crosses and a slender strip of gold inscribed with a biblical quotation. Christianity first came to Britain with the Roman occupation, faded as the Romans faded, and was vigorously reintroduced to Anglo-Saxon England by missionaries, most from Ireland and the Continent.
There was a "perception of the conversion event as a spiritual battle," writes Karen Jolly, an authority on Anglo-Saxon popular religion. Conversion was a battle for the soul—effectively warfare, something the Germanic pagans understood. And the cross was a militarily useful symbol that had figured dramatically in actual battles. Bede tells the story of the Northumbrian king Oswald, who before the Battle of Heavenfield against the Welsh in 634 "set up the sign of the holy cross and, on bended knees, prayed God to send heavenly aid to His worshippers in their dire need." He and his men then "gained the victory that their faith merited." Remarkably, one of the hoard's two crosses was determinedly bent and folded, like so many of the other pieces in the hoard. Was this to "kill" its military potency, as with the swords?
This possibility is made more compelling by the only other apparently nonmartial object: The slender strip of gold, inscribed on two sides with the same biblical quotation is, strikingly, also folded. "[S]urge d[omi]ne disepentur inimici tui et [f]ugent qui oderunt te a facie tua—Rise up, Lord, may your enemies be dispersed and those who hate you flee from your face." The quotation is from the Latin Vulgate text of Numbers 10:35 and the Psalm now numbered 68:1—verses that may have been put to unexpected use. Generally wielded with one hand, the single-edged seax was more versatile than a full sword, serving as a hunting knife as well as a dagger. A blade of finely patterned iron and steel would have been a valued part of such a weapon, but none was included in the treasure.
In the Life of Saint Guthlac, written around 740, Guthlac is beset by demons, whereupon he "sang the first verse of the sixty-seventh psalm as if prophetically, 'Let God arise,' etc.: When they had heard this, at the same moment, quicker than words, all the hosts of demons vanished like smoke from his presence." Even the hoard's nonmartial objects, it seems, might have had militarily useful, magical functions. Generally wielded with one hand, the single-edged seax was more versatile than a full sword, serving as a hunting knife as well as a dagger.
A blade of finely patterned iron and steel would have been a valued part of such a weapon, but none was included in the treasure. Generally wielded with one hand, the single-edged seax was more versatile than a full sword, serving as a hunting knife as well as a dagger. A blade of finely patterned iron and steel would have been a valued part of such a weapon, but none was included in the treasure. Hadrian’s Wall, named for the second-century Roman emperor who built it, stretches 73 miles across Britain. It separated the civilized realm of Rome from the “barbarians”— restless Picts in the north.
As the Romans withdrew, the northern tribes stormed across the border. The Mercians were aggressive border raiders—Mercia takes its name from the Old English mierce, meaning "frontier people"—which may account for the apparent range of regional styles in the hoard. "The hoard was found on a frontier zone, which is always interesting," Kevin Leahy says. Generally wielded with one hand, the single-edged seax was more versatile than a full sword, serving as a hunting knife as well as a dagger. A blade of finely patterned iron and steel would have been a valued part of such a weapon, but none was included in the treasure.
"It was on the border between Mercia and Wales." In other words, in contested territory. Around 650, in Staffordshire's Trent Valley near Lichfield, an obscure battle was fought involving the Mercians and their Welsh neighbors. Much plunder was carried away—possibly down the old Roman road Watling Street, which leads past the site where the Staffordshire Hoard was found. Event and place are commemorated in the Welsh poem "Marwnad Cynddylan—The Death Song of Cynddylan": "Grandeur in battle! Extensive spoils; Morial bore off from in front of Lichfield. Fifteen hundred cattle from the front of battle; four twenties of stallions and equal harness. The chief bishop wretched in his four-cornered house; the book-keeping monks did not protect."
The poem offers a tempting explanation for the hoard, an explanation, alas, built from slender, circumstantial evidence that has happened to survive from an era from which most evidence was lost. We can conjure other teasing theories. Our unknown travelers may have chosen the burial spot because it was obscure—or because it was conspicuous. The burial might have had a marker for rediscovery, or it might have been intended as an offering hidden forever to all but their gods. The hoard may have been ransom, or booty, or a votive thanks. It may have been a collection of Anglo-Saxon heirlooms buried at a later time.
Today the vanished Mercian landscape is evoked by surviving Anglo-Saxon place-names, such as those ending with "leah" or "ley," meaning "open woodland," like Wyrley, or Lichfield itself, whose name roughly means the "common pasture in or beside the gray wood." The hoard burial site is now a grassy field where Fred Johnson grazes horses. Odds are we will never know the story behind the Staffordshire Hoard, but in a world without magic spells or dragons, would we understand it if we did? [National Geographic Magazine].
REVIEW: When we hear the words “Anglo-Saxon literature,” Beowulf is probably the first thing that comes to mind. Then we might think of the beauty of illuminated manuscripts such as the Book of Durrow or the Lindisfarne Gospels. In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener talks with Professor Larry Swain of Bemidji State University about these works, as well as Norse and Irish influences on Anglo-Saxon literature and the significance of the Byzantines, Theodore and Hadrian, who came to Northumbria in the seventh century A.D.. Professor Swain recommends learning Old English in order to be able to read works in Old English, of course, but equally intriguing, to allow us to better express ourselves in modern English.
AHE (Ancient History Encyclopedia): Professor Swain, what do you find so compelling about the Anglo-Saxons and their literature? Have you always held an interest in their literature, or did your appreciation grow out of another discipline?
LS (Professor Swain): That is a difficult question to answer. For me, interest was piqued through the language. My undergraduate major was Religion-Greek and Linguistics, and I had to take a History of the English Language course where I was introduced to Old English. By that point, I had already had modern German in high school, and Latin, classical Greek, and Biblical Hebrew in college. So I found the sounds and grammar of the Old English language fascinating.
At roughly the same time, I discovered J. R. R. Tolkien, first through his essay “The Monsters and the Critics” and then Lord of the Rings. C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Charles Williams, George MacDonald, W. H. Auden and other authors more or less baptized my imagination, and their use of the English language continues to influence my own.
The more I learned of Old English, the more I wanted to learn about the people, history, and the literature. And since I was taught the Historical Critical Method in Biblical Studies, it was very easy to use skills developed there in linguistics, textual criticism, source criticism, and historical context in this new medieval field that had so drawn me all of a sudden. I have been studying the Anglo-Saxons and their culture ever since. Sometimes I think I will take up something else or return to Biblical Studies, and then I just read Beowulf in the original and I am right back into Anglo-Saxon studies.
AHE: Professor Swain, when most people think of “Anglo-Saxon Literature,” it is Beowulf that immediately comes to mind. Widely regarded as the first and oldest masterpiece in English literature, Beowulf is read and studied in school and universities worldwide. What is it that makes Beowulf the quintessential piece of Anglo-Saxon literature? Is it because the poem is full of rich sounds – alliterations and kennings?
LS: That, too, is a difficult question. Joseph Brodsky once said that poets’ biographies are like birds — the data is in the sounds they make. Certainly the sounds of Old English, and a good modern English translation, are hauntingly beautiful. In addition, the poem makes use of our “native meter” in terms of the poetry and alliterates, and when one hears or reads the poem, it becomes memorable. Haunting is a really very good word for this, methinks. Beowulf does indeed haunt the reader.
The source for this haunting goes beyond language and the mechanics of oral poetry. The poem has mythic power. Like all the best myths from Classical literature or the Bible, Beowulf’s three episodes, where the hero at different times in his life faces three extraordinary monsters, are mythic and touch chords in the human being as much as anything in The Odyssey and Epic of Gilgamesh. The sadness that pervades the poem, that mourns for a world already gone in the singer’s time and even more removed from ours, touches chords in our own soul, as our world changes so quickly and we look back to the not-so-long-ago that we have already lost. Not just a world lost, but the loss of friends and companions, and ultimately the loss of the hero himself, is also a theme in the poem that resonates with readers.
Getting back to language, you mention the kennings, and certainly the kennings are an attractive and fun feature of the poem. My own favorites are the kennings for the sea: whale-road, swan-path and the like. I could go on at some length, but suffice it to say that the poem creates images that for many readers carry a mythic power conveyed in a language that is beautiful and both known and unfamiliar.
AHE: Aside from the acceptance of Christianity in the seventh century A.D., which factors facilitated the effervescence of Anglo-Saxon literature and culture during the rule of the Mercian bretwaldas in the eighth century A.D.?
The majority of Anglo-Saxon poetry in existence dates from this era, as do important prose works like The Ecclesiastical History of the English People by St. Bede (673-735 A.D.). (It should be noted that this period produced exceptional works of art like the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Durrow, too.)
LS: The eighth century is a period of shift from Northumbrian hegemony to Mercian. The cultural effervescence that you refer to really begins in Northumbria in the seventh century A.D.. In practical terms, the Northumbrians were experiencing a number of successes in battle against the Picts to the North. This meant an influx of money and other goods into the kingdom. One thing a cultural explosion needs is money.
At the same time, there is an amazing confluence of cultural forces mixing in the kingdom. Christianity is the obvious one that you mention. Christianity brings with it a good dose of Near Eastern culture embedded in the Christian Old Testament. The ancient Hebrews were a tribal people whose culture had some affinities to Germanic peoples’ cultures of the early middle ages. So the Old Testament tales became a way that Christianity could be taught to the Germanic peoples.
Also with Christianity come an alphabet and literacy in Latin. The early medieval world was hungry for “Romanitas” and so while biblical and early Christian texts were imported to England and read and imitated, so were copies of classical Latin texts and Latin translations of Greek works. These, too, were read, devoured, and imitated. In fact, Alcuin, Bede’s intellectual grandson (Alcuin was a student of one of Bede’s students) will toward the end of the eighth century remind his students and fellow monks that as beautiful as the Aeneid is and as moving, it is not Scripture.
Scripture, he remarks, must always be the more important text. Of course, as he says this, he continues to allude to Vergil’s work, use Vergillian phrases, etc. Nor is Vergil’s great epic the only such work that they read and appreciated, but other great classics, and some not so classic, influenced their thought and intellectual culture. In addition to the native Anglo-Saxon culture, the Christian culture, and the Roman, the latter two conveyed through text, that is, through books, a good dose of Celtic culture and thought is added to the mix. In part, this comes from the people that the Anglo-Saxons ruled.
While the conquered quickly adapted to the culture and language of the rulers, wholesale abandonment of their previous culture could not happen. But again, more particularly, the Anglo-Saxon ruling house had close ties to parts of Ireland. So when King Oswald, who spent part of his youth in Ireland, comes to the throne in 635 A.D., as a Christian he wants to Christianize his people; so it is to the monks on Iona, Irish monks, that he turns. Iona sends Bishop Aidan to Northumbria, and in his wake follow many more Irish monks from Iona and from Ireland itself. The king gives the island of Lindisfarne to Aidan as his principal seat.
The depth of Irish influence on Northumbrian Christianity may be easily seen in the lives of two saints of the period: Wilfrid and Cuthbert. These men are in many ways opposites. Wilfrid is a supporter of the Roman rites, even calling the Irish “heretics”, and presents himself as a defender of the true faith. Yet, even in the story that relates his life written shortly after his death in 709 A.D., there are many practices from the Irish tradition that are presented in Wilfrid’s life as being quite normal, including hermits, deliberate physical hardship undertaken to aid in the sanctification of the soul, and other practices.
In addition, the author of Wilfrid’s life knows the lives of several Irish saints, especially that of St. Brigid, and imitates those lives in relating the story of Wilfrid. So even this “anti-Irish” saint is so closely tied to Irish cultural elements that he cannot really be maintained as “anti-Irish” at all. Cuthbert is probably one of the most important saints of the Anglo-Saxon period. Three lives of this saint are written in the thirty years after his death, two of them by the Venerable Bede! The first was most likely written in 698 A.D. or so, to commemorate the internment of Cuthbert’s remains in the church at Lindisfarne; certainly as Bede relates Cuthbert’s life story, the practices of the Irish church are evident as well.
All this cultural fusion and mixing is occurring at a time that there is some wealth to spread around. This creates a cultural explosion in Northumbria. We see the results in a large number of Latin works such as Bede’s corpus, the anonymous lives of St. Gregory and St. Cuthbert, Latin grammars and metrical instruction, and of course Bibles. We see the results in deluxe manuscripts such as the Codex Amiatinus, Lindisfarne Gospels, the Book of Durrow, among a number of other early and important illuminated manuscripts. We see the results in stone crosses such as Bewcastle Cross and the Ruthwell Cross.
In addition, we have artifacts from Cuthbert’s tomb, stained glass from Wearmouth-Jarrow, wall paintings from various churches, and other examples of an explosion of visual arts. Nor should we ignore the Staffordshire Hoard of which we have spoken before as an example of both the wealth and the artistry of this period in Northumbria. Last, but not least, there is the vernacular literature. Caedmon’s Hymn is probably the most well-known and comes from the middle of the seventh century A.D.. A version of the poem Dream of the Rood is carved in runes on the sides of the Ruthwell Cross also from the seventh century A.D..
We also have the “Epinal Glossary,” a collection of Latin words and their Old English equivalents from about 700 A.D.. Slightly later in the mid-eighth century A.D., we think that Beowulf was composed in more or less the form it will later be written in, along with the poems known as Genesis A, Exodus, Deor, Widsith and some other Old English charters. These latter, though, seem to be the last gasp of this cultural explosion that began in the century previous, as after the mid-eighth century A.D. , there is not much culturally until we reach the “Age of Alfred” in the ninth century A.D. So far, I have talked mostly about Northumbria. But the territory south of the Humber River had a cultural explosion as well, though smaller in scope. Here we have many of the same cultural forces as in the north coming together.
In contrast with the north, the south had an extra ingredient: Theodore and Hadrian. Theodore hailed from Tarsus, St. Paul’s hometown, and spent his early career in Byzantium, most likely leaving Tarsus when the Muslim invasions reached there in 637 A.D.. Theodore spent the next 25 years or so in the Roman capital studying. In the early 660s A.D., he went to Rome and there lived with a group of Eastern monks, becoming just as learned in the Latin language and literature as he was in Greek.
In 668 A.D., the see of Canterbury became vacant when the new archbishop, who was in Rome to receive the papal blessing and the accoutrements of his new office, suddenly died. The pope then selected Theodore as his replacement on the advice a counselor, Hadrian. In fact, the pope had offered the job twice already to Hadrian who had declined it. The pope appointed Theodore on condition that Hadrian accompany him because the latter “knew the road.”
Hadrian was a Berber from North Africa. Little is known of his early life, but he was abbot of a monastery near Naples in 668 A.D. and had a reputation as a scholar. He also obviously had strong connections in Rome and was both friend and counselor of the pope but also knew Theodore. The two arrived in Canterbury in 669 A.D. and taught Latin and Greek among other multiple subjects at the school that they founded. There continued to be Irish influences, though one of the students of this Canterbury school, Aldhelm, wrote a letter to his contemporaries pleading with them not to send their students to Ireland any longer but instead to Canterbury.
Out of this school, which Bede mentions very favorably, a number of important early scholars came, including Aldhelm. In addition to the Latin literature that was being produced in the south at this time, there were Biblical studies and documents on how to operate the church. In addition, there developed shortly after this school’s heyday a Southumbrian school of illumination in manuscripts. The earliest, eighth century A.D., manuscripts of this “Tiberius Group” are the Vespasian Psalter, Codex Aureus, and the Barberini Gospels.
Independent of this movement and earlier in Southumbria, we should mention two likely related archaeological finds that demonstrate the wealth and artwork of this region during the sixth and seventh centuries in spite of Northumbrian hegemony. Sutton Hoo and the Prittlewell sites both are graves of kings and/or princes of some note and contain a rich find in artifacts, some from far away in the Eastern Roman Empire, that show both a lively native culture that yet has contacts to the North in Scandinavia as well as the kingdoms of the Franks, Visigoths, and even the remnants of Rome in the east.
I will not dwell on these finds, as we could have whole articles about them, but suffice it to say that they are important to fill out our picture of this early period. So to answer the question, there were a number of forces that came together at a propitious moment in time that produced a vibrant culture, one of the results of which was the production of literature in Latin and in the vernacular English.
AHE: The Anglo-Saxon era in England is contemporaneous with the “Age of Saints” in Ireland. Given the proximity of the Anglo-Saxons to their Celtic neighbors in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, I am curious to know if any Celtic influences can be detected within the corpus of Anglo-Saxon literature. Cannot the Irish, rather than the English, claim to have the oldest vernacular literature in western Europe?
LS: I addressed that a little in my answer above. But before enlarging, it actually is not the Irish who can claim the oldest vernacular literature in Western Europe. Irish as such is represented in Ogham inscriptions consisting of personal names and not much else. The earliest of these date to the late fourth century A.D., but are on the island of Britain, not Ireland, and so are not properly Irish. Nor could one really call these a “literature.” While there is very little English, nearly contemporaneous in the fifth century A.D. are the first runic inscriptions on the island in what can then be called “English.”
When we look at what we can call actual literature, English here meets Irish. English literature, whether written in runes or in the Latin alphabet, is contemporaneous with anything in Irish. The earliest example of English we have, though preserved in a twelfth century A.D. manuscript, are the Laws of Aethelberht, the king who received Augustine of Canterbury in 597 A.D.. About the same time, the poem Amra Choluim Chille, an elegy on Columba, is composed, thought to have been written very shortly after his death. The attribution of this poem to the poet Dallan Forgail who died in 598 A.D. cannot be verified.
But all agree that it was composed somewhere around 600 A.D., making it a contemporary of Laws. In addition, we have two certain literary texts written in runes that date to the seventh century A.D.: the “Dream of the Rood” version written on the Ruthwell Cross and the texts of the Franks Casket. Let me be clear: examples of Primitive or even Old Irish language exist in Ogham that predate examples of English language inscriptions, though not by much. Examples of English literature are contemporary with examples of Irish literature, however, but there is more English literature of the seventh century than Irish, at least in the vernaculars.
A third issue is this: Irish vs. English authors writing in Latin. Here, the Irish predate the English with important authors such as Columba, Columbanus, Sedulius, and possibly Pelagius, are all Irish writers writing in Latin. The earliest English writer in Latin is second half of the seventh century A.D., so the Irish win that one. There is a great deal of national and ethnic pride involved in assessing these claims about which language is attested first, which language has the first literature etc and that pride is further fueled by the long political issues that have existed between Ireland and England since the Normans came in.
If we ask the question what is the earliest vernacular written in Northwestern Europe, hands down it is vernacular or vulgar Latin in Gaul. Certainly the sermons of Cesarius of Arles and Gregory of Tours, Clovis, and other samples of non-literary Latin in the late fifth and the sixth centuries illustrate that there is a non-literary language being written, a vernacular of the time before it became French. So all the national/ethnic angst about the earliest written vernacular is unnecessary.
But as interesting as that is, your question was about Irish influence in Old English literature. There is absolutely no question of such influence, both early and late, and in Anglo-Latin as well as Old English. I have already mentioned key elements of Irish influence on Latin lives of important English saints in the seventh and eighth centuries A.D., Wilfrid and Cuthbert. I could add the influence of a writer called Pseudo-Augustine on other writings of Bede, such as his De Natura Rerum, On the Nature of Things, and exegesis.
Irish influence on Anglo-Saxon religious texts is obvious and easy to find. In fact, throughout the Anglo-Saxon period, there is certainly a relationship of Irish scholars being teachers of Anglo-Saxons whether through the written word or more directly. Again, I have mentioned above the influence in Northumbria, but we could add Irish scholars visiting the courts of Alfred and his grandson, and Irish scholars teaching St. Dunstan, the scholar who started the Benedictine Reform movement in England. Penance and penitentials, guide books to assess the degree of sin and how to atone for it, owe their origin to the Irish church, and the Anglo-Saxons adopted these quickly.
Influence on homiletic material is likewise significant, especially in famous sermon collections such as the Vercelli Homilies where the ideas behind certain of the homilies or even whole homilies come from Irish tradition. We can see the influence of Irish texts on the Old English Martyrology; Alfred the Great in translating the first fifty psalms used an Irish source as his prefaces to each psalm indicate, and some have argued that he was influence by Irish sources for his preface to his law code. The works Adrian and Ritheus and Solomon and Saturn are heavily influenced by Irish lore.
That is a very quick overview and consists of influences we are fairly certain about. Some scholars have argued for Irish influence on Old English secular texts with less success. But there can be no question that Irish scholars and authors had a wide influence in Anglo-Saxon period throughout the period.
AHE: Old English was heavy influenced by Old Norse as a direct result of the Viking invasions of the British Isles. One might be inclined to suspect that similarities exist between Anglo-Saxon literary styles and those found in Viking Age Scandinavia as a result, but is this truly the case?
LS: I would take this back a bit further, as you know the Anglo-Saxons and the Norse share cultural roots. Both linguistic communities come from what is now northern Germany and descend from Proto-Germanic. In fact, when in the eighth century A.D. St. Boniface evangelizes among the Frisians and Saxons, closely related language-speakers to Old English speakers, he notes how easily they are able to understand him. So the similarities in style that we find are more due to this shared cultural inheritance than direct influence of Old Norse on Old English.
There are literary differences too. These differences in large part though may be put down to the deliberate “Christianization” and “Romanization” of the culture, making Anglo-Saxon culture a fusion of native Germanic, Christian, and Roman, at least in terms of the literary remains. But that process of fusion certainly does change Anglo-Saxon culture significantly.
A different but just as important question to ask is how Old Norse language influenced Old English, that is more important than an influence on literary styles. Old Norse contributed to the breakdown of the inflections we mentioned above as well as contributed a number of common words to the English vocabulary. That is the short answer anyway.
AHE: What challenges have you experienced when working with Old English, and what recommendations can you share with those studying Old English to read Anglo-Saxon literature? Old English is a highly inflected language that has more in common with Icelandic and German than modern American or British English.
LS: I think the most significant challenge has been a sea-change in our culture. Whereas once, one could assume a knowledge of Greek and/or Latin and a good grounding in grammar as prerequisites for college students learning Old English, that simply is no longer the case. It is often a significant struggle for students to get over the initial hump of learning to think about the grammar of their language in a way they have not been previously taught. Once over that hump, the rewards of learning to read Old English become obvious to them, however!
Another challenge is a general one that all of us who study the Humanities and specifically study the past encounter often: What “good” is studying that? Why would anyone want to study Beowulf in the original when we have such good translations and movies? Of course, the connection between those translations and someone who studied Old English well enough to tackle the poem and render a good translation never dawns on such critics. But this is a challenge we face in society at large and in academic institutions in general.
I recommend to students to stay with it! Yes, learning a language, even an earlier form of one’s own language, can be challenging and having one’s instructor consistently ask about “what is the verb in this clause” day in and day out may not be the most scintillating of topics on the surface, but the rewards, I think, are certainly worth it. Another recommendation I would offer is make certain to avail oneself of the many really great tools that are available. In this day and age, many of those resources are available readily online.
Third, I recommend developing an aesthetic sense. Most of us know beauty when we see it. One of the things that can become lost in studying Old English, or any language, is the sheer beauty of the sounds and the imagery. So I recommend to students that when feeling overwhelmed, be still and let the sounds resonate, let the images form in your mind and appreciate them. Having said that, I chafe at the idea that Old English has more in common with German than its own descendant, modern English.
Certainly there is more inflection in modern German than in modern English, but there is so much more to a language than mere inflections. Old English is inflected, but not as inflected as say Latin or classical (or even Koine) Greek, and in the Old English period we already see many of those inflections breaking down. The inflections are surface changes in many ways. One of the most significant changes between Old and Modern English is the dependence on word order after the inflections have been collapsed.
Old English is a language in flux moving from a Subject-Object-Verb language in large part to our familiar Subject-Verb-Object and we begin to see that transition in the Old English period itself. In fact, once the vocabulary is mastered, most students have little difficulty translating Old English prose even without mastering the inflections just because of sense and word order.
AHE: Why we should read and study Anglo-Saxon literature in your opinion, Professor Swain? What rewards and pleasures can it afford those who study it, and how should we assess and analyze its importance?
LS: That is a question that gets us to the very heart of studying anything in the Humanities. Why should we look into anything literary, other than enjoyment and so forth. But let me be specific to the study of Old English if I am able. For Old English specifically, I would say first that studying Old English will automatically mean that the student learns Modern English that much better. Since Modern English is the language in which the student expresses his or her thoughts, feelings, communicates to others, etc., it follows that a better understanding of that language and a deeper knowledge of the background will only enrich the student’s expression of thoughts, feelings, and communication with others, whatever form that may take.
One often hears or is told that nothing compares to Shakespeare or the King James Bible for beauty and influence on English. Studying Old English means that reading Shakespeare or the King James Bible suddenly becomes quite easy rather than difficult and challenging. In fact, mastering Old English all but guarantees mastery of subsequent periods of the language. That in itself is a great advantage.
Finally, it is beautiful and interesting. I love reading Old English aloud, especially in class. The language and literature are meant to be performed aloud; and at least for me and many others, we study this because we find a beauty in it that attracts the mind and the soul. We are not supposed to admit that because it sounds unscholarly, but to be honest that lies at the heart of why anyone does anything they want.
There are other things that may attract someone to study Old English: interest in the period, or entering in a teaching career in English at some point, or an interest in the literature, or liking the professor, or interest in Tolkien, or other reason specific to the individual. But those three above may fit anyone. [Ancient History Encyclopedia].
REVIEW: The remains of what may be among the oldest Anglo-Saxon churches in Northumbria have been discovered on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, according to a report from Chronicle Live. An excavation led by Richard Carlton of Newcastle University has uncovered sandstone blocks that are around three feet long, foundations that measure more than three feet wide, what appears to be an altar base, and the division between the church’s nave and chancel.
The church was located on the Heugh, a ridge on the island offering a vantage on Bamburgh, where the Northumbrians had their royal capital. The church is thought to date to between A.D. 630 and 1050, most likely on the earlier end of the span, and may have been built on the same site where St. Aidan raised a wooden church in A.D. 635. “There are not many churches of potentially the seventh or eighth Centuries known in medieval Northumbria, which stretched from the Humber to the Forth,” said Carlton. “It adds another chapter to the history of Holy Island.” [Archaeological Institute of America].
REVIEW: A 1,300-year-old Anglo-Saxon cemetery of 55 burials has been unearthed in southeast Wiltshire. The cemetery dates from the late seventh to early eighth centuries, and includes the remains of men, women, and children. Another Anglo-Saxon cemetery from the same time period was found nearby on the Salisbury Plain last month. “We now have the opportunity to compare and contrast the burial practices of two communities living only a few miles apart.
They would almost certainly have known each other,” project manager Bruce Eaton of Wessex Archaeology said in a Culture 24 report. The graves also contained iron knives, spears, a shield boss, bone pins, beads, coins pierced for necklaces, and combs. A large spear head and shield boss had been buried with a tall man who may have been a warrior; a high-status woman’s burial included bronze jewelry, beads, a bone comb, a chatelaine, and a bronze workbox. [Archaeological Institute of America].
REVIEW: A team of archeologists believe they have unearthed a lost Anglo-Saxon royal palace, located only 6 km (four miles) from the famous Sutton Hoo burial site. According to BBC, the researchers have been working in the area of Rendlesham, which is located close to the Sutton Hoo burial site, known for its undisturbed ship burial, magnificent Anglo-Saxon helmet, and the hoard of ornate artifacts of outstanding historical and archaeological significance. It is one of the most famous discoveries ever made in Britain.
The project co-ordinator, Faye Minter, reported that her team discovered the remains of a 23m (75ft) by 9m (30ft) structure, which could have once been a royal hall or palace. She concluded that it was possible that there are other royal burials similar to Sutton Hoo, which was excavated for the first time in 1939 and dated back to the 7th century. It consists of about 20 burial mounds and the excavations revealed many fascinating and impressive treasures. This time the researchers hope to find even more burials, which could have been placed along the River Deben. Ms Minter, of Suffolk County Council's archaeological unit, suggested that the discovered "palace" may be the place described by The Venerable Bede dated back to the 8th century.
"We have discovered what we think is a large Anglo Saxon Hall, which could be the palace itself, if you could call it that,” said Faye Minter. “We're convinced we've found a royal settlement of very high status, and I suppose it would be a large hall rather than a palace as it would spring to mind to us." As the researchers announced during the conference in Bury St Edmunds, the remains of the palace cover 120-acre (50 ha) site and were discovered due to the analysis of the aerial photography and geophysical surveys.
Until now about 4,000 items, including intricate metalwork, coins and weights, have been found at Rendlesham. However, only about 1,000 of them are Anglo-Saxon. According to Dr Helen Geake of the British Museum the discovery of the palace was an "incredibly exciting" moment. The researchers suppose that there may be a few more palaces or halls like this dotted in this area. Those times the king would have toured his kingdom in order to show his power, magnificence, charisma and the reasons to follow him by his people. Therefore, it seems to be logical to have lots of palaces to base himself around the area which belonged to him.
It is another surprising discovery related to Anglo-Saxons. In April 12, 2016, Natalia Klimczak from Ancient Origins reported the surprising discover of cemetery. She wrote: "A group of more than 40 skeletons was found during the building of a new toilet for the parishioners of a church in Hildersham, Cambridgeshire, UK. The remains are about 900 years old. According to the BBC, the burials are dated to the 11th or 12th century. Some of the graves lay 45 cm (18 in) below the path outside the Holy Trinity Church.
They were dug into the chalk, with the bodies laid directly in the cavity. Most of the skeletons were of adults, but five of the individuals were children. The researchers examined 19 skeletons dated to the 9th or 10th century, predating the church by several hundred years, but they left 24 graves intact. The graves are said to be Anglo-Saxon, although Cambridge University Archaeological Unit experts who examined the site dated the bones to the 11th or 12th century. Until the discovery was made, there was no proof for the existence of a cemetery in this area. The researchers believe that the graves belonged to villagers who lived outside the walls of what was probably an Anglo-Saxon church. [AncientOrigins].
REVIEW: Archaeologists have made an exciting discovery in a river valley in Norfolk, England. They have unearthed a previously unknown Anglo-Saxon cemetery dating from the 7th-9th century AD. Moreover, they also found remarkably preserved tree-trunk coffins and rare ‘plank-lined’ graves. A Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) press release says that archaeologists found 81 dug-out coffins and six plank-lined graves in the waterlogged river valley when they were called in to excavate at Great Ryburgh in Norfolk. The excavations were funded by Historic England and took place as works began on a conservation/fishing lake and flood defense system.
This is a rare discovery as previous Anglo-Saxon wood coffins have only been identified by stains on the ground from the decayed wood. As James Fairclough, archaeologist from MOLA, said in the press release: “The combination of acidic sand and alkaline water created the perfect conditions for the skeletons and wooden graves to survive, revealing remarkable details of Christian Anglo-Saxon burial practices.” The coffins are made of oak tree trunks that were split in two then hollowed out.
The MOLA press release says that while they are not decorative, the coffins certainly would have taken a large amount of effort to make – about four days of hard work. They note in the press release that this type of burial pre-dates Christianity and may be an example of mixing Pagan and Christian traditions. In contrast, the plank-lined graves are the earliest of their kind to be found in Britain to date. These graves were lined with timber planks (which are currently undergoing tree-ring analysis). The deceased person was placed on top of the timber, and a “cover” of planks was placed over them.
Although analysis has just begun, the discovery is already providing new information on the unknown Christian site and life in an early Christian rural community. As Tim Pestell, Curator at Norwich Castle Museum, where the discovered artifacts will be held, said in the MOLA press release: “This find is a dramatic example of how new evidence is helping to refine our knowledge of this fascinating period when Christianity and the Church were still developing on the ground. Detailed analysis of the cemetery provides the hope of better understanding the actual people living according to this new religion.”
Pestell also explained how the discovery may help to fill in some blanks about the history of the region. He said: "The site was in use in the heyday of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia and positioned next to a strategic river crossing. As with much of East Anglia at this early date, we have no documentary sources that relate to this site and so it is archaeological finds like this that are crucial in helping us to understand the development of the kingdom.”
Sutton Hoo is another archaeological site located in East Anglia, England. It is found near the town of Woodbridge in Suffolk and is famous for its Anglo-Saxon burial mounds. The best known of the graves at Sutton Hoo is an elaborate ship burial which was believed to have belonged to an Anglo-Saxon king. The exquisite grave goods that were discovered in the ship’s burial chamber shed some light on the elites of early Anglo-Saxon England. But what about other individuals who lived more modest lives?
Researchers from the Great Ryburgh site will perform a series of tests such as ancient DNA, stable isotope, and dental calculus analysis to try to learn more about the individuals buried in the Christian cemetery. In the future, the archaeologists hope that they will be able to say where the deceased came from and their relationships to each other, as well as their diet and health conditions while they were alive. [AncientOrigins].
REVIEW: The UK now has a female prime minister and Elizabeth II has been queen for more than six decades, but few would associate Anglo-Saxon England with powerful women. Nearly 1,100 years ago, however, AethelflAed, “Lady of the Mercians”, died in Tamworth – as one of the most powerful political figures in tenth-century Britain. Although she has faded from English history, and is often seen as a bit-part player in the story of the making of England, AethelflAed was in fact a hugely important figure before her death in 918, aged around 50.
Indeed, the uncontested succession of her daughter, Aelfwynn, as Mercia’s leader was a move of successful female powerplay not matched until the coronation of Elizabeth I after the death of her half-sister Mary in 1558. So, while Bernard Cornwell’s novels and the BBC series The Last Kingdom are cavalier with the historical facts, perhaps they are right to give AethelflAed a major role. AethelflAed was born in the early 870s. Her father, Alfred “the Great” had become King of the West Saxons in 871, while her mother, Eahlswith, may have been from Mercian royal kindred.
At the time, Anglo-Saxon “England” was made up of a series of smaller kingdoms, including Wessex in the south, Mercia in the Midlands and Northumbria in the far north. All faced encroachment by Viking forces that were growing in strength and ambition, as outlined in Charles Insley’s article The Strange End of the Mercian Kingdom and Mercia and the Making of England by Ian Walker. AethelflAed spent most of her life in the Kingdom of Mercia married to its de facto ruler, Aethelred. Mercia had seen some dark days by the time of her marriage.
In the eighth and early ninth centuries, the Mercian kings had had good cause to consider themselves the most powerful rulers in southern Britain. But by the 870s, the kingdom had suffered dramatically from the Viking assaults which had swept across England.One king, Burgred, had fled to Rome, and his successor, Ceolwulf II, was seen as a mere puppet by the West-Saxon compiler of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and disappeared between 878 and 883. Soon, the East Midlands were ruled by Scandinavians – what became known as the “Danelaw” – and so the kingdom ruled by AethelflAed and Aethelred was by then just the western rump of the old Mercia.
Nevertheless, AethelflAed and Aethelred together engaged in massive rebuilding projects at Gloucester, Worcester, Stafford and Chester, overseeing the refounding of churches, new relic collections and saints’ cults. Famously, in 909, the relics of the seventh-century saint, Oswald were moved from Bardney, deep in Scandinavian-controlled Lincolnshire, to a new church at Gloucester. Perhaps appropriately, for a couple facing the Vikings, AethelflAed and her husband had a great attachment to the saint, a warrior king and Christian martyr. Aethelred was buried alongside Oswald in 911, and AethelflAed joined him seven years later.
At the time, Athelred and AethelflAed did not call themselves king or queen, nor do the official documents or coins refer to them as such. Instead, they used the title “Lord/Lady of the Mercians”, because Alfred had extended his authority over Mercia and styled himself “King of the Anglo-Saxons”. But they acted like rulers. AethelflAed, with her husband and her brother Edward the Elder, King of the Anglo-Saxons, launched a series of military campaigns in the early tenth century. These brought all of England south of the Humber and Mersey river under Anglo-Saxon control and rolled up the Scandinavian lordships which had been established in the East Midlands and East Anglia.
These advances were backed up by an energetic programme of fortification, with burhs (fortified towns) built in places such as Bridgnorth, Runcorn, Chester and Manchester. But while she called herself a “lady”, outsiders, especially the Welsh and Irish, saw AethelflAed as a “queen” and she surely wasn’t just her husband’s subservient wife. As Alfred the Great’s daughter, the role Mercia and the Mercians would play in the kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons was at stake.
But AethelflAed really came into her own following her husband’s death in 911, although it seems that he had been in poor health for the best part of the previous decade. The Mercian Register in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, certainly celebrates her deeds from 910 onwards. In 915, she successfully campaigned against the Welsh and the major Welsh kings, and in England she began further to expand her kingdom. In 917-8, her army took control of Viking-occupied Derby and Leicester, and just before her death, the “people of York” – that is, the Scandinavian lords of southern Northumbria – also agreed to submit to her.
For a brief moment, she had authority not just over her own territory in Mercia, but over the Welsh, the Scandinavian East Midlands and possibly part of Northumbria, making her perhaps one of the three most important rulers in mainland Britain – the others being her brother Edward king of the Anglo-Saxons and Constantin II macAeda, King of the Scots. This made her a major political actor in her own right, but also a respected and feared figure. Even more remarkably, she passed her authority on to her daughter, Aelfwynn, who was around 30 when her mother died.
The rule of Aelfwynn in Mercia, which attracts virtually no comment at all from historians, lasted about six months before her uncle Edward launched a coup d’état, deprived her of all authority and took her into Wessex. AethelflAed’s legacy is enigmatic, wrapped up in the “making of England”. But she was a ruler of consequence in an era defined by male authority. Indeed, her project to rebuild the kingdom of Mercia and the Mercians might have placed midland England at the heart of later history. [Ancient Origins].
REVIEW: Preparations for two new Cambridgeshire housing development projects have uncovered a fine collection of precious ornamental items and weaponry from Anglo-Saxon times and rare Roman era domestic artifacts. The finds provide new insight on the fashion and lifestyle of the wealthy who lived in the area during the 5th-7th centuries A.D. The discoveries were made in Cambridge and near Soham in Cambridgeshire, England.
Heritage Daily reports that the Anglo-Saxon objects were likely owned by nobles and include several well-preserved items. The jewelry they found at the sites includes beaded items made of glass, amber, jet, and amethyst, silver wrist clasps, bone pins, and rings. Cambridge News says that one of the brooches found at the Soham site holds special importance for researchers as it still has textile fragments, which they can use to recreate Anglo-Saxon clothing.
Some of the Anglo-Saxon domestic artifacts of the Soham site are a decorative bone comb, tweezers, buckets, and buckles. As for the weaponry, the team of archaeologists from the University College London (UCL) discovered a dagger, iron shield bosses, and spear heads at the Soham site. A final discovery of importance at the site near Soham was an Iron Age enclosure which measured at least 50m (164 ft.) by 20m (65.6 ft.) and was 2 m (6.6 ft.) deep. The archaeologists believe “The enclosures form part of a productive agricultural landscape with finds of quernstones for processing grain, animal bones and other domestic refuse, and pits possibly used for grain storage. Although no buildings were identified, it is likely a settlement focus was located nearby.”
Assistant director of UCL’s Archaeology South-East, Louise Rayner, told Cambridge News that the archaeologists were expecting to find something at the Soham site, though they were surprised to find as much as they did: “The site was expected to contain archaeological remains after a large excavation immediately to the south-east had previously uncovered extensive evidence for the Late Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman periods, but it was great to discover such a range of artifacts”. Following the Roman departure from the area, Anglo-Saxons arrived in Soham and surrounding areas around 411 AD. It is believed that they probably re-used the Roman villas they found.
In contrast, pottery vessels were found at the Cambridge housing development site, such as a rare glass claw beaker (named due to the claw-shaped handles which were attached to the conical walls near the stem of the vessel). The History blog states these “vases were very highly prized, probably imported from Germany, and have mainly been found as grave goods in 5th and 6th century Anglo-Saxon burials.” Cambridge News adds that “These elaborate drinking vessels are normally found further south east such as in Kent, northern France, the Netherlands and Germany.”
Duncan Hawkins, Head of Archaeology and Build Heritage for CgMs discussed some of the Anglo-Saxon structures and features discovered during the Cambridge excavations: “The site fell out of use in the 7th century but we discovered evidence of 8th century Middle Saxon activity including post-built structures, possibly workshops and livestock pens. Pits dug in this attest to local industrial activity and further processing of soil samples should help us understand what these were used for.”
Archaeologists were also delighted with the discovery of a Roman era pottery kiln and some plates, as well as a ditch delignating a field from the Late Iron Age and Roman times (all found at the Cambridge site). As Hawkins told Heritage Daily: “Evidence of the time period 5th to 7th century AD is almost non-existent so this gives us a highly important window into understanding how people lived in that era, their trade activities and behaviors. The academic value of this collection is therefore immeasurable.” The Cambridge site is located on the western edge of a Middle Saxon settlement previously found near Church End. It formed part of a 9th to 10th century manor.
The Domesday Book shows that it was known as Hintona by 1086. Now that the artifacts have been recorded and removed from both of the Cambridgeshire sites, the builders have been given the go-ahead for their work. As development of the area continues, David Ivell, technical director at the Bovis Homes site, said: “We’re delighted that it uncovered items of interest that will help future generations to understand how the land here has changed over many centuries, from an agricultural settlement for Roman families, right through to becoming the modern new homes site we are building here today.” Heritage Daily reports that the fascinating collection of Anglo-Saxon and Roman artifacts will be housed in local museums. [Ancient Origins].
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ABOUT US: Prior to our retirement we used to travel to Europe and Central Asia several times a year. Most of the items we offer came from acquisitions we made in Eastern Europe, India, and from the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean/Near East) during these years from various institutions and dealers. Much of what we generate on Etsy, Amazon and Ebay goes to support The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, as well as some other worthy institutions in Europe and Asia connected with Anthropology and Archaeology. Though we have a collection of ancient coins numbering in the tens of thousands, our primary interests are ancient jewelry and gemstones. Prior to our retirement we traveled to Russia every year seeking antique gemstones and jewelry from one of the globe’s most prolific gemstone producing and cutting centers, the area between Chelyabinsk and Yekaterinburg, Russia. From all corners of Siberia, as well as from India, Ceylon, Burma and Siam, gemstones have for centuries gone to Yekaterinburg where they have been cut and incorporated into the fabulous jewelry for which the Czars and the royal families of Europe were famous for.
My wife grew up and received a university education in the Southern Urals of Russia, just a few hours away from the mountains of Siberia, where alexandrite, diamond, emerald, sapphire, chrysoberyl, topaz, demantoid garnet, and many other rare and precious gemstones are produced. Though perhaps difficult to find in the USA, antique gemstones are commonly unmounted from old, broken settings – the gold reused – the gemstones recut and reset. Before these gorgeous antique gemstones are recut, we try to acquire the best of them in their original, antique, hand-finished state – most of them centuries old. We believe that the work created by these long-gone master artisans is worth protecting and preserving rather than destroying this heritage of antique gemstones by recutting the original work out of existence. That by preserving their work, in a sense, we are preserving their lives and the legacy they left for modern times. Far better to appreciate their craft than to destroy it with modern cutting.
Not everyone agrees – fully 95% or more of the antique gemstones which come into these marketplaces are recut, and the heritage of the past lost. But if you agree with us that the past is worth protecting, and that past lives and the produce of those lives still matters today, consider buying an antique, hand cut, natural gemstone rather than one of the mass-produced machine cut (often synthetic or “lab produced”) gemstones which dominate the market today. We can set most any antique gemstone you purchase from us in your choice of styles and metals ranging from rings to pendants to earrings and bracelets; in sterling silver, 14kt solid gold, and 14kt gold fill. When you purchase from us, you can count on quick shipping and careful, secure packaging. We would be happy to provide you with a certificate/guarantee of authenticity for any item you purchase from us. There is a $3 fee for mailing under separate cover. I will always respond to every inquiry whether via email or eBay message, so please feel free to write.
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