Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, 400-1066
-period called "The Dark Ages" for two reasons:
1. derogatory, downfall of post-Roman civilization
-towns died as social&cultural cluster
2. because so few traces left:
e.g. what happened after Romans left?
- most Germanic peoples illiterate
=> small written evidence
British situation in 400:
-Britain was a complex country
-many people descended from "Old folk" (from Ice Ages)
-interaction of four distinct cultures:
Irish, Anglo-Saxons, Pictish, British
So what happened after Romans left?
-political void was not filled for centuries
-no new coins minted after 410
-Roman towns in the South declined
-drastic depopulation in the 5th and 6th centuries (diseases,...)
-long chain of migration and resettlements, but Christianity survived
Who were the Anglo-Saxons and why did they come?
The arrival of the Anglo-Saxons:
-new start in Britannia, unique in western Europe, why?
- from the 430s onwards Germanic settlers (Angles, Saxons, Jutes) arrived in large numbers
Who were they and why did they come?
-Anglo-Saxons were feared as pirates, later became conquerers & settlers
=> their own land populated by others
What was the relationship between the newcomers and the British?
Allies or Invaders?
-at first allies against the Picts
-led by brothers Hengist and Horsa, who founded the kingdom of Kent about 450
=> were merchants who revolted against king
-by the end of the 6th cent.: invaders controlled half the island; local kings often gave themselves the title "Bretwalds" (=Lord of Britain)
-territory of Roman Britain (like 30%)
-Scotland => Picts
relationship at the end: mainly antagonistic, colonizers vs colonized
-Mercian king Offa (757-796) as the most powerful king before Alfred
-Offa's Dyke (Deich): border to Wales (rather barrier) to counter Welch attacks (English settlements had to be defended)
- deep division between ethnical groups
Cult of King Arthur:
-Geoffrey of Monmouth's "Historia Regum Britanniae" (1100-1155)
-Arthur lived around 500, became the figure of European romance
-was Celtic king or nobleman fighting the Anglo-Saxons (symbol of warrior in a defeated culture, theme of revenge)
-Germanic tribes speaking Germanic languages
-brought new society, new religion and new political values
-own Gods: days of week after their gods
-patriachal: land to oldest son
-their language replaced Latin
-Celtic population often saw them as barbarians ("Sassenach or "Saeson"/Saxon as terms of abuse)
-in many ways similar to Celts
Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: The Heptarchy
Northumbria (land north river Humber)
Mercia (from "march" => boundary)
Essex (East Saxons)
East Anglia (East Angles)
Kent (from border => Kante)
Sussex (South Saxons)
Wessex (West Saxons)
first English towns:
-Canterbury (580), York, Winchester, Worcester
- had own cathedrals
-churches & fortresses as witnesses of former culture (trade, churches, fortresses as pillars of culture)
-Winchester as "stable capital of Essex"
Describe the spread of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England.
-renewed Christian mission of Britain
-Pope wanted England to follow his formof Christianity (rather than Celtic one)
-Pope Gregory (the Great) sent Augustine to Kent, became the first archbishop of Canterbury in 598
-Kent was chosen because it was close to the already Christian France (tight bonds through marriages)
- Kings used Church (enhanced status to "given by God" for legitimacy)
-no "instant" Christianisation of the Anglo-Saxons (example of Beowulf)
-Christians & Pagans coexisted for centuries => Christian holidays blended in with Pagan traditions (decorated tree for Christmas)
-around 700: predominantly Christian
- found in 2012: grave of girl from the 7th century with gold cross on chest + Iron knife + belt => Pagan tradition
The work of monk Bede (673-735) ("father of English history)
-wrote the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, completed in 731
!first to write sth. historical => chronologist who introduced AD
Bede's main theme: conversion of the "English" to Christianity, English as nation chosen by God
-Bede provided the Anglo-Saxons with a Christian version of their past =>obscured the true, barbarian history to stable Christianity in society
-Bede first to name a "genus Anglorum" (people of English)
=>forged kind of national identity to stop wars among each other with Christianity as its glue
Old English: -introduced lower-case letters (Latin had only capitals) as well as some specific to Anglo-Saxon pronunciation, such as the letters thorn (þ), eth (ð), wynn (Ƿ), yogh (Ȝ), ash (æ), and ethel (œ), some of which derive from runes (first text: Beowulf)
Who were the Vikings and why did they come?
The Viking Invasions (ca. 800-1066)
-arrival of the Vikings from the end of the eighth century onwards
-the so-called Vikings, Danes and "Norsemen" (i.e. people from the North) started attacking the English coasts in the late 8th century
-hardly established church & kingdoms when they were attacked
=>attacks focused on churches & monastries
-"plunder & slaughter"
-term "Viking" originally term for "pirate"
-central puzzle: why did the Norse communities suddenly explode?
-demography: rise of population => scarce ressources
-typical viking: farmer in arms
Viking advantages: crucial invention of the longship => domination of North Sea (established control on coasts and islands)
-two main routes: one around the north of Scotland to the Western Islands, the other to the east and south coasts of England and to Gaul
-saved England from Vikings: Alfred the Great (871-899)-King of Wessex
-first writer known to use "Angelcynn" (literally "the lang of the English folk")
-gathered a circle of court intellectuals around him
-only king before Henry VIII who wrote books (could speak Latin)
the Vikings during the 10th cent.:
-struggles for power between various Viking groups
-along the East coast of Britain Anglo-Saxon England ceased to exist, replaced largely by a pagan, oral culture, which looked to Denmark and Norway
Danelaw: most populous and most prosperous region of the country
The "Age of Wessex" in the 10th cent.:
-succession of able kings, beginning with Alfred (871-899)
-Wessex became more centralized and militarized
-"new" monarchy with monopoly on violence => king decides
-lots of castle building
-French threat: needed new soldiers: feudalism
-big age of feudalism
the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:
-created in late 9th cent. under Alfred
-famous events recorded
-distributed to other monastries within England: different versions, much information about cleric behaviour
British Isles in the 11th cent.:
1016: Dane Cnut became king (1016-1035)
-apart from England: Viking king in Dublin, alliances with native Welsh rulers and Gaelic rulers in "Scotland"
-impact of the Vikings on "Wales" and northern Britain rather obscure
The Emergence of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland
-British settlement on Scotland's coast
-in 9th cent.: political conclusion got Scotland emerged
~1080 Scotland as Scotland
The Vikings in hindsight:
-W. Bell Scott: "Descent of the Danes"
-part of today's pop culture: games, costumes, ideal manly stereotype, series, movies
The final years of Anglo-Saxon history:
-dominated by problem of the succession of Edward the Confessor
-Harold as last Anglo-Saxon kin, succeeded Edward
-very educated: surrounded himself with Norman advisors
-Harold failed to produce heir
=> Harold last Anglo-Saxon king!!
=> two kings fought for crown now!!!