Skip to main content

Anglo-Saxon History

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

The Anglo Saxon period is the oldest known period of time that had a complex culture with stable government, art, and a fairly large amount of literature. Many people believe that the culture then was extremely unsophisticated, but it was actually extremely advanced for the time. Despite the much advancement, the period was almost always in a state of war. Despite this fact, the Anglo-Saxon period is a time filled with great advancements and discoveries in culture, society, government, religion, literature, and art.


The Angles were a Germanic tribe that occupied the region which is now Scleswig-Holstein, Germany. With their fellow ethnic groups, they formed the people who came to be known as the English. The Saxons were a Germanic people who first appeared in the beginning of the Christian era. The Saxons were said to have lived in the south Jutland Peninsula in the north of what is now Germany, but the fact has not been proven. They attacked and raided areas in the North Sea throughout the third and fourth centuries. By the end of the sixth century, the Saxons had taken all of the Roman territory within north-west Germany, as far as the Elbe River. The Angles joined the Saxons in the invasion of Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries. British resistance to the 'Anglo Saxon' invaders in the second half of the fifth century ended with the Anglo Saxon's victory at the battle of Mount Badon. After the British were defeated, though, the Angles and the Saxons continued to fight over their religion for many years. (James Campbell, Eric John, Patrick Wormald, 1991)

Before the year 596, almost everybody had strong pagan beliefs. In 596 missionaries had begun to attempt to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. By the year 650, almost all of England had converted to Christianity- at least in name. Although almost everyone claimed to be strong believers in Christ and the church, most still held on to their pagan beliefs and traditions. No matter what they believed, everyone applied their religious beliefs to their everyday life. (Geoffrey Hindley, 2006)

Everyone in the age would always wear extremely modest clothing. The common garment for a man was the robe gathered at the waist, completed by hose and soft sandals. The same was for the woman, except their dress extended to the feet. The most common materials used to make clothing were linen and woolens, though the more expensive outfits were marked by colorful dyes and exotic borders (Pelteret, 2000). Usually then men would hide short spears under their clothing for added protection.

The common weapon in war was the spear. Conventional spears were seven feet long with an iron head and was used to be thrown and also to jab. Shields were plain and round, made of wood with an iron center. Only the rich and noble used swords, which were made of iron with steel edges. The Vikings were more heavily armed than the Anglo-Saxons, and they relied on chain mail and helmets as protection, and most people used a short stabbing swords as protection, although some used either a lance or a double-edged sword (C.J.Arnold, 2007). When the men weren't fighting, the favorite pastimes of the Anglo-Saxon period were dice and board game such as chess. Complex riddles were very popular, as well as hunting. At gatherings, the most common entertainment was the harp, as well as juggling balls and knives.

Little writing remains to be studied because England was still developing their written language during many of these years, and storytelling was generally in the oral tradition. The two types of poetry that was written during the time period was heroic poetry and Christian poetry. Only about 30,000 lines of poetry from the age have survived to this time, and the epic poem "Beowulf" makes up a large portion of that. It originated as a pagan saga transmitted orally from one generation to the next, and court poets known as ‘scops' were the bearers of tribal history and tradition. The newer version of Beowulf was composed by a Christian poet, sometime early in the 8th century. The Christian themes found in the epic, however, however are not integrated into the main part of the essentially pagan tale. Works such as Deor, The Wanderer, The Seafarer, and other poems follows the same basic theme as Beowulf. In these works, a happy past is contrasted with a precarious and desolate present. This type of heroic poetry celebrates great heroism even in the face of great danger and overwhelming odds. (C.J.Arnold, 2007)

Most of the Christian poetry is marked by the belief of a simple, relatively unsophisticated Christianity. The names of only two authors are known. Caedmon, whose story is told by the Venerable Bede, is the earliest known English poet. Not much is known about him, and almost all of his work has been lost. The other known poet is named Cynewulf. The only thing known about him is that he signed the poems Juliana, and The Fates of the Apostles. Poetry in the Anglo-Saxon period is very different from modern poetry (Pelteret, 2000). The verse form for old English poetry is a line of four stressed syllables and an unfixed number of unstressed syllables that are broken by a caesura. The lines are usually end-stopped and unrhymed. Although writing poetry was very popular in the age, people used more modern art to either make a living or as a hobby.

Art in the Anglo-Saxon period was influenced from many places. The three greatest influences were the Celtic arts of the Britons, the Christian church in Rome, and the Norse arts following the Viking invasions. Their manuscript painting, sculpted crosses and ivories, and enamel designs demonstrate a liking for intricate and interwoven designs. In the manuscripts of southern England, one can see how the way of writing changed. Before the 9th century, the writing was fairly plain. A somewhat different style emerged mid-9th century, with delicate, lively pen-and-ink figures and heavily decorative foliage borders. Much of the metalwork from the age has also survived over the years (Geoffrey Hindley, 2006). It consisted of bronze brooches of simple design, and circular silver brooches decorated with gold and silver jewels with inlays of garnet and also decorated with interlaced gold filigree. Much of their metalwork has survived over the ages, and the famous ship burial excavated at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, in 1939 has provided the finest examples of the Saxon goldsmiths' art discovered. Many other samples of their metalwork have been found in burial sites, along with samples of their pottery.

Pottery in the Anglo Saxon period was a very popular form of art of the age. The Saxons produced small handmade pots that were commonly used to hold things such as food and hot coal. Around the year 650, they began to be made on a wheel, as they are commonly made today. The pots were commonly plain, but some had simple decorations on it and a green or yellow glaze. The pottery was commonly buried in graves, along with glass art. Glass was widely used and had many purposes. It was used for jewelry, drinking vessels, and very commonly for windows, especially colored glass in churches. Most of the fine glassware was imported from the Rhineland. The amount of detail that was put into their glass was as precise as their architecture.

Architecture in the Anglo-Saxon period had to be very sturdy, because the frequent warfare often caused buildings to collapse. Because of the war so the people had to find a relatively cheap and easy way to reconstruct buildings. Their solution was to build most of their buildings out of wood with wattle and daub walls. These buildings were relatively inexpensive to build, yet they were extremely flammable. When the Vikings came through, they burned all the buildings that could be destroyed. The Anglo-Saxons seemed to adapt to rebuilding structures often, and the only structures that they made out of stone were their monasteries and churches.

Almost all homes in the age were made about the same way. Even the homes of the nobles were very simple, with just a central fireplace and a hole in the roof to let smoke escape. Even the largest structures were not divided into more than one room. Frequently, buildings would have sunken floors with planks covering them. These pits may have been used for storage, but many of them appear to have been used for filling with straw to be used as winter insulation. Several structures have sunken holes up to nine feet deep, suggesting a storage or work area below the suspended floor. (Joel Thomas Rosenthal, 1985)

Daily life was far from easy for people in Anglo-Saxon England. Women especially had a high mortality rate because of the dangers of pregnancies, miscarriages and childbirth - lack of iron has also been suggested to as one reason. Examination of skeletal remains has revealed that common ailments included earache, toothache, headache, shingles, wounds, burns, and pain in the joints. Another source of information on this subject is manuscripts offering medical advice; some remedies deal specifically with female matters, often mixing common sense and superstition (Anonymous, 2004). Here is an example of quite practical advice for women. A pregnant woman ought to be fully warned against eating anything too salt or too sweet, and against drinking strong alcohol: also against pork and fatty foods; also against drinking to the point of drunkenness, also against travelling; also against too much riding on horseback lest the child is born before the right time. Urban life from the twelfth century onwards opened up more opportunities for women as shopkeepers, cloth-makers, entertainers, etc. - only when married, of course. The only alternative to marriage were cloisters, but nunneries had fewer patrons than monasteries and thus had to struggle with a constant lack of resources. Women's access to schooling was very limited. Illness and early death were common; women's ailments were not considered worth studying and treating so they had to retreat to private traditions of healing. For many women, Anglo-Saxon England was a golden age of power and wealth, culture and education; women's role in marriage had (for the free-born) immense potential. Unfortunately, the Norman Conquest and the Gregorian Reform caused literature to lose touch with reality and women to lose their status in reality. (Anonymous, 2004)

In conclusion, the technological advancements and discoveries of the Anglo-Saxon period set the stone for today's society. The age had all of the parts of their culture that we have today. Their period set the foundation for art, society, literature, and culture of what we have today. America would be a very different place if it was not for the impact that the Anglo-Saxon period had society.

Anglo-Saxon culture

“When Rome was weakening early in the fifth century, troops in the outlying regions, including the British Isles, were withdrawn.”Political" power fell to unstable tribal units. Vortigern, "invited" Angles, Saxons, and Jutes to join his military power, so the land saw a swell of invasions by Jutes -- a Germanic tribe from Denmark -- in 449, followed soon by Angles and Saxons. These hordes settled in and pushed the Celts into Cornwall, Wales, Ireland, and to the north. King Arthur grew from legends of one Celtic chieftain who held out better than most.” (Johnson, David and Elaine Treharne, 2005.)

  • Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Penguin, 1990)
  • J. Campbell et al., The Anglo-Saxons, (Penguin, 1991)
  • E. James, Britain in the First Millennium, ( Arnold, 2001)
  • F. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, 1st 2nd and 3rd edition
  • D. Whitelock, English Historical Documents c.500–1042, (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1955)
Scroll to Continue


Arian on December 27, 2019:

The Saxons, Franks, Angelos, and Jutes are all Sassanid tribes brought here by the Roman governor Stilicho. They were of a different race and carried out ethnic cleansing in Britain. You know that, liar

doingmyhistoryproject on October 22, 2013:

just saying to a person that posted a long time ago, google chain mail. its not the type from when u send it to people on your email. its a metal suit.

iqra on June 09, 2012:

great i got all the information i needed for my homework :p

Colin Brewer on May 23, 2012:

Error:(1) The Christian Romano-Celts one the Battle of Mount Badon. Such a fundamental flaw mars the whole article (2) There is faint evidence for a Saxon presence in the late Roman period -see the Notitia Dignitate and also the word English in Celtic languages is always Saxon .. Sassenach/Sassein etc

Emma Green on March 26, 2012:

omg thanks so much got an A* thanks soooooooo much


Student on February 28, 2012:

Wow great information thanxz

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on February 25, 2012:

Top choice has to be BEOWULF. Although transcribed from the oral tradition and Christianised, the gist of the story is still a rollicking tall story. Aside from this import from 6th Century Danish tradition there was the 'Dream of the Rood', a deep, soul-searching piece of inward-looking Anglian religious literature.

Diego on February 25, 2012:

which are the effects on literature on the anglo saxon's period? and type of writing

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on February 20, 2012:

The Celts in Britannia Major (England and Wales) had either been alienated by Roman colonisation or had embraced it and were at a loss when their 'masters' left. A few myths arose from the confusion, mixing fact with fiction, the biggest one being of Arthur. What we know of the Arthur Myth now owes more to Frankish romantic writing than Celtic sources. Another myth involves an already Chritianised Patrick (Padruig/Padraig) in Wales. He may or may not have been high-born, but he was taken as a slave to Ireland etc., but that's another story. The Celtic tribes who opposed Roman rule were no different when the Angles and Saxons migrated here from NW Europe. Things were even more complicated in the 7th Century when Penda of Mercia allied himself with Welsh princes against a fellow Anglian regime in Northumbria. That ended in grief for Penda. Within Northumbria a Celtic kingdom called Elmet with its own Celtic chieftain/ king prospered for a long time, coming down to us in today's maps in names like Sherburn-in-Elmet and Barwick-in-Elmet (between Selby and Leeds in Yorkshire). Their culture was widespread in the North where the Romans were less effective as rulers due to lack of co-operation from the Brigantes, amongst others.

A Person on February 19, 2012:

It needs to have buildings on because i need this qustion to be answerd by tomorrow -- Why do saxons build their building out of stone!!

bob on February 18, 2012:

helped me a lot

tevin whitetree on January 23, 2012:

nice some of u guys r mean if y'all don't like then y did y'all get on hear in the first place

maria on December 31, 2011:

i thought that was great thankz it help me in my HOMEWORK thankz a lot whoever wrote this is the best

John on November 23, 2011:

ic þancie þe, but your statement

"The Anglo Saxon period is the oldest known period of time that had a complex culture with stable government, art, and a fairly large amount of literature."

is incorrect. What about ancient civilizations of Greece, Rome, Persia, Egypt, China, etc? Even if you're only talking about the British Isles, Roman Briton was very civilized. Ireland's literary tradition predates that of the Anglo-Saxons and Irish monks introduced writing to many of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

joe dipmaggot. on September 13, 2011:


Trey on September 06, 2011:

hey i love history!

alancaster149 on September 01, 2011:

Just so there's no confusion, when I wrote of the Saxons not going beyond the River Tamar, this waterway empties on the south side of Devon but the source of the river is in the north. They didn't settle west of the Tamar.

Jesus is Hitler on August 31, 2011:

Horrid. COmpeltly incorrect. The past is the future, they all wore cat heads as shoes and neon tree bark as chlothes.

alancaster149 on August 30, 2011:

Strictly speaking the Saxons originated in an area we know as Lower Saxony and Frisia (Niedersachsen and Ostfriesland in Germany and Vestfriesland in the north-eastern Netherlands. They came in several waves, roughly at the same time into Essex as the Angles arrived in the east (Norfolk, Suffolk), and around the northern Home Counties the Angles appeared in Bedfordshire and Leicestershire whilst the Saxons occupied Middlesex and Hertfordshire. Wessex became the dominant Saxon enclave, reaching westward as far as the River Tamar, Wiltshire and Somerset on the north side, Hampshire and Dorset to the south. The Jutes had originally tsken Wight but were pushed out or eradicated by the Saxons under Cynric. The South Saxons took up the area of Sussex and Surrey. Kent was settlede from the first in the 5th Century by the Jutes under Hengist after Horsa was killed fighting the Britons. The Saxon chieftain self-styled 'king' Cerdic may have been part-Celt, but by and large the Saxons pushed the Celts/Britons westward. The Angles on the other hand formed alliances with the Britons against other Angles, such as when Penda invaded Northumbria in the 7th Century, and defeated Oswald in Shropshire. Oswald's brother Oswy chased Penda back towards Mercia and defeated him near modern-day Leeds. The treasure found recently near Tamworth had been offered by Oswy as a sop to Penda, and his Welsh allies left him before he could reach the safety of Mercia. Some of Penda's men were caught up near Tamworth and buried much of the treasure but were caught up with some in their possession. The Saxons traditionally fought Arthur at Mons Badonicus, this much you know already, the legend did not emerge for no reason. The Britons in the south felt threatened by the Saxons, not the Angles, as our friend in the Netherlands suggests. They left the Rhine/Scheldt/Weser region because of repeated flooding in the lowlands there. In the Beowulf saga this was the area where the Fight at Finnsburgh took place, the Frisian pirates having raided on Sjaelland's north coast and killed near where Hygelac's hall stood. That would have been in the 6th Century, long before the state of Denmark was established in King Godred's time.

Ine Johnson on August 29, 2011:

My name is from Anglo-Saxon meaning name of king

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on July 05, 2011:

With a few pictures, drawings and maps this article could provide a decent grounding for someone embarking on a study into the subject. Informative, useful for schools, but as I've already hinted, even BETTER with images! Have you looked at the Northworld Saga Site? the hub page entry first). It may be useful for you, but it's fairly political. I'm still building it up at the moment, but you might get ideas for further pieces on the age. Good luck, ARL. (See also the RAVENFEAST pages for an insight into the end of the era).

Bernard Kranenburg on February 16, 2011:

Dear Sirs,

I do not agree about nearly all you wrote about the Anglo-Saxons. Most importantly: the Anglo's did not join the Saxons to Britain. In fact the Anglo's outnumbred them by 3 to 1 an already colonized Britain since about 400 AD. The Saxons were hardly known then. Besides, the Saxons only appeared on continental NW Europe about 775 AD. The Anglo's however were the main Germanis power on continental NW Europe from about 200 to 700 AD. I studied the Continental Anglo's for many years and wrote much about them on my website sub Anglicana. However, it is all written in Dutch, so you can only enjoy the pictures.

Bernard Kranenburg

Hengelo Ov.

The Netherlands

imran khan on January 05, 2011:

i like the society of anglo-saxon,it's an ideal society.more research is need in this history specially to know the real solution of society.we thanks to morgan research and fradric angles& karl marx research.please send more information " imran1884 at " .

IEatChicken on November 27, 2010:

This really helped me with my homework! We are studing Anglo Saxon's. Brill infoo

fms on November 16, 2010:

hey great infooooooooooo,,,,,,,

f16 on November 08, 2010:

good info....!

mike on October 28, 2010:

thanks really helped on my english project.

btw i was born in pheonix, great place

kafeel Khan on October 27, 2010:

a nice source if knowledge. I like this

redskins2345 on October 21, 2010:

yeah screw English ima hit a jay :) thnxs 4 this article thing tho

wats good on October 21, 2010:

any one wanna buy some weed?

ceaira on October 11, 2010:

this website helped me a lot with my anglo-saxons report thanks a lot

juan nava on October 04, 2010:

i am on this website like on facebook

salma on September 30, 2010:

i like your answers

brandon on September 17, 2010:

that's wat im sayin sara... thanks for the info it helped me with a test

HARRIS (author) from Phoenix, Ariz on September 17, 2010:

What the hell is going on ... My Anglo Saxon history hub bacame a wieenie fight arena.... Cmon ppl just read appreciate or criticize and move on.

nathan on September 15, 2010:

no, but it was very popular in anglo saxon times

robert on September 15, 2010:

i hate this info :

Mk212 on September 08, 2010:

Thanks for posting this article. I am writing a research paper on Anglo Saxon history and this one was really helpful.

Sarinaa on September 08, 2010:

This Really Helped For British Authors English. Having To Compare Beowulf To The Anglo-Saxons. THANKS!!!

Andrew on September 08, 2010:

Thanks Sara, this page helped a lot for a history paper I'm writing. On a side note, I'm from Phoenix too! Tempe, actually, but close enough. I always think it's cool when I find random people who are from Phoenix. I absolutely love it there. Thanks again.

penny on September 04, 2010:

this is a good amount of knowledge it helps a lot :)

walle on August 27, 2010:

thanks for the history i can now see if i get some help with my english work

HARRIS (author) from Phoenix, Ariz on August 26, 2010:

Thanks Opmanga!

I don't get it how can Anglo Saxon history be boring.

Opmanga on August 21, 2010:

History is boring that's why people fail to make a good future.

Thanks for writing this SARA.

HARRIS (author) from Phoenix, Ariz on June 24, 2010:

Thanks every one for their comment and participation in the discussion.

Annabeth on June 24, 2010:

Thank you! This is perfect!


bybybybybybybyby on June 09, 2010:

thanks for the amazing info but it could have dates,

then it would be amazing

minime on June 02, 2010:

your a live saver now my teacher wont have to kill me............ thanks

Mare Ryder on April 18, 2010:

Very Interesting!!

I just got done watching on Nat Geo about the guy that found all the Anglo-Saxon artifacts. Wow! What a find!!

John on April 06, 2010:

Superb Information

Sara Algoe

HARRIS (author) from Phoenix, Ariz on March 30, 2010:

Thanks for comments every one ...

Everett Van Horn get well soon ..

jeff on March 24, 2010:

that's got me out of failing good info

Everett Van Horn on March 16, 2010:

This article sucks and it doesn't show any info on the topic. also i have downsyndrome

Danny on February 09, 2010:

great info

Mike065 on February 01, 2010:

Can anybody refer me to an all inclusive in the DR? I've heard of Vikings and charlisangels adult sex vacations resort and was wondering since Vikings has closed doors what is the

typ 4 u on January 12, 2010:

Typo- text reads chain mail, should be (I guess chain mesh)

The Vikings were more heavily armed than the Anglo-Saxons, and they relied on chain mail and helmets as protection, and most people used a short stabbing swords as protection, although some used either a lance or a double-edged sword (C.J.Arnold, 2007). When the men weren't fighting, the favorite pastimes of the Anglo-Saxon period were dice and board game such as chess. Complex riddles were very

Syrus on November 21, 2009:

Really helpful hub thanks for posting.

nick brown on November 05, 2009:

this page was not very helpful.

K-Man on November 03, 2009:

Pretty Good Info, Thanks

Martina on November 01, 2009:

It would be better with more information

lollipop on October 23, 2009:

this website really helped me write an english paper!

student on October 22, 2009:

i wish it had more dates on it, because i'm trying to write an english paper and it's not really helping with out it having the dates

tim tebow on September 23, 2009:

wow im retarted

jim on September 18, 2009:

this information is no good

ashley on August 25, 2009:

This really helped for english!!! great information!! thanks!!!

historical moments on August 02, 2009:

this page helped me write a paper

a student on January 12, 2009:

this page was not very helpful with a project

Phil on December 10, 2008:

Thanks, got me out of a b in history

Alejandra on November 18, 2008:


Simia on November 07, 2008:

Hey great info i got all the help i need for my home work thanks!!!

alejandra on November 04, 2008:

que es bel anglo saxon

Rebecca Graf from Wisconsin on November 01, 2008:

Loads of information. Another good hub.

Cindy Lawson from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on October 15, 2008:

Very interesting and informative. Great Hub :)

Related Articles