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Unit 1: Historical Background . 800 and 600 B.C., two groups of Celts from southern Europe invaded the British Isles. Britons settled on the largest island, Britain. Gaels, settled on the second largest island, known to us as Ireland. Farmers and hunters.

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unit 1 historical background

Unit 1: Historical Background

800 and 600 B.C., two groups of Celts from southern Europe invaded the British Isles.

Britons settled on the largest island, Britain.

Gaels, settled on the second largest island, known to us as Ireland.

Farmers and hunters.

Organized themselves into tightly knit clans, each with a fearsome loyalty to its chieftain.

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Unit 1: Historical Background

The next conquerors – Romans …55 B.C.. and again the next year, the Roman general Julius Caesar made hasty invasions.

The true Roman conquest of Britain - hundred years later.

Roman legions spread over the island, establishing camps that soon grew into towns - lasted for more than 300 years.

It ended only when northern European tribes invaded Italy and increased pressure on Rome itself. Therefore last Roman legions departed from Britain to defend Rome in A.D.. 407.

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Unit 1: Historical Background

By that time, the Britons faced a new set of invaders.

New invaders were the Anglo-Saxons, from what is now Germany.

Some were deep-sea fishermen;

others were farmers, perhaps seeking soil richer than the sandy or marshy land at home. Gradually, the newcomers took over more and more of what today is England.

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Unit 1: Historical Background

The Coming of Christianity

By the fourth century, the Romans had accepted Christianity and had introduced it to Britain.

A century later, when the Celts fled the Anglo-Saxons, they took their Christian faith with them.

Although Rome fell to barbarian tribes in A.D.. 476, the Celtic Christian Church continued to thrive.

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Unit 1: Historical Background

In the late sixth century, a soldier and abbot named Columba, along with some monks, gained converts to Christianity and established monasteries in the north.

In 597, the Roman cleric Saint Augustine (not the early Christian Church father) arrived in southeast England and converted King Ethelbert of Kent to Christianity.

Augustine set up a monastery at Canterbury in Kent and began preaching his faith to other rulers as well.

Church promoted peace and helped unify the English people.

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Unit 1: Historical Background

Danish Invasion. . .

Ninth century - Norse of Norway and the Danes of Denmark were pressured by their own rising populations and took to the seas.

These Vikings carried their piracy to the British Isles.

The Norse set their sights on Northumbria, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.

The Danes targeted eastern and southern England.

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Unit 1: Historical Background

The Viking invaders sacked and plundered monasteries, destroyed manuscripts, and stole sacred religious objects.

They burned entire communities and put villagers to the sword.

Although the English fought back valiantly, the Danes made broad inroads.

By the middle of the ninth century, most of northern, eastern, and central England had fallen to the invaders.

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Unit 1: Historical Background

871, a king ascended to the Wessex throne - “Alfred the Great.” This king was Alfred, and he earned the title partly by resisting further Danish encroachment.

Under a truce concluded in 886, England was formally divided:

The Saxons acknowledged Danish rule in the east and north,

and the Danes agreed to respect Saxon rule in the south.

Alfred the Great became a national hero.

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Unit 1: Historical Background

Alfred’s achievements:

Not only was he instrumental in preserving the remnants of pre-Danish civilization in Britain, but he encouraged a rebirth of learning and education.

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Unit 1: Historical Background

Toward the close of the tenth century, however, more Danes from Europe attempted to recapture and widen the Dane law, the eastern and northern sections of England under Danish control.

Once they succeeded, they forced the Saxons to select Danish kings.

Then, in 1042, the line of succession returned to a descendant of Alfred the Great.

This king, Edward, had acquired the title “the Confessor” because he was a deeply religious Christian. (we’ll see him in Macbeth)

His death in 1066 led to the end of the Anglo-Saxon period of history.

anglo saxon literature

Anglo-Saxon Literature

Oral Tradition- reciting of poems often occurred on ceremonial occasions, such as the celebration of military victories.


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Anglo-Saxon Literature

Anglo-Saxon Poetry - this early verse falls mainly into two categories:

heroic poetry, recounting the achievements of warriors,


elegiac poetry, lamenting the deaths of loved ones and the loss of the past.

“The Wanderer.” and “The Seafarer”

anglo saxon the exeter book

Anglo Saxon - The Exeter Book

Few people of the time were able to read

People turned to traveling storytellers, known as scops, who memorized, adapted, and passed along an oral tradition of stories and songs.

The Exeter Book is a collection of manuscripts that includes pieces of this oral tradition.

Compiled by monks (A.D. 871 and 899)

“The Seafarer”

“The Wanderer”

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Anglo-Saxon Literature

Anglo-Saxon culture at the time of The Exeter Book was a blend of traditions, mixing pagan ideas of fate with Christian faith in heaven, the boasts of proud warriors with lessons about humility.

The Anglo-Saxons were expert seafarers who sailed the ocean to raid or settle other lands.

After the Anglo-Saxons settled England in the 500s, many converted to Christianity. They retained, though, a pagan conviction in the power of fate, and retold Germanic and Scandinavian tales of heroes and monsters.

Men dominated Anglo-Saxon society, and women had few rights.

anglo saxon lyric poetry

Anglo-Saxon Lyric Poetry

Expresses the thoughts and feelings of a single speaker.

Lines with regular rhythms, usually with four strong beats.

Caesuras, rhythmic breaks in the middle of lines, where the reciter could pause for breath

Kennings, two-word poetic renamings of people, places, and things.

whales’ home for the sea

Assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds in unrhymed, stressed syllables (for example, “batter these ramparts”)

Alliteration, the repetition of initial consonant sounds in accented syllables.

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Anglo-Saxon Lyric Poetry

Each of the lyrics in this grouping is an elegy, a lyric poem mourning the loss of someone or something. Though their circumstances vary greatly, each speaker may be said to have lost a home.