Anglo Saxon Identity Essay

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Who were the Anglo-Saxons?

The Anglo-Saxons can loosely be defined as the Germanic tribes who settled in Britain at the start of the 5th century with the fall of the Roman Empire. The importance of these settlers and their identity in the long term development of medieval Europe is emphasised by John Hines who asserts that “the breakdown of the Roman Imperial Order in Western Europe saw the emergence of entirely new…identities”. When considering Anglo-Saxon identity, two main concepts must be addressed; firstly the nature of the ‘Adventus Saxonum’ and the consequent impact of this upon the native Britons. Whilst there is much debate, evidence strongly supports that the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons to Britain was lengthy process which
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The aforementioned work by Bede offers one of the earliest written accounts of the first arrival of the Anglo-Saxons but as with his assertions regarding the origins of the settlers, Bede fails to provide an accurate picture of the pace and nature of the Anglo-Saxon migration. In the first instance, Bede chronicles the story of Hengist and Horsa, whereby King Vortigern invites Saxons into Britain to help defend against the Pictish raids in the north, but then turn on the Britons and begin to seize land for themselves — “the first commanders are said to have been the two brothers Hengist and Horsa”. When translated from Saxon languages “Hengist” and “Horsa” translate back to “stallion” and “mare”, pointing towards the story being more a folk tale than an actual historic event. Further to this, Bede based much of his work off Gildas who wrote the earliest insular text available On the Ruin of Britain in around 540, and also accounted for the legendary brothers — “they sealed its doom by inviting in among them (like wolves into the sheep-fold), the fierce and impious Saxons, a race hateful to both God and men, to repel the invasions of the northern nations”. As such, Bede inherits much of Gildas’ bias, which is displayed clearly through his scathing language and comparison of the Saxons to ‘wolves’. The suggestion that the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons to Britain was an event, rather than an extended process aligns closely with Gildas’ agenda to link
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