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Anglo-Saxon Period 449-1066 AD. History:. Prehistory -Great Britain was home to the Celts. Julius Caesar landed in Britain in 55 BC to claim more territory for Rome. Did not successfully conquer the area at that time, so he returned home.

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Prehistory-Great Britain was home to the Celts. Julius Caesar landed in Britain in 55 BC to claim more territory for Rome. Did not successfully conquer the area at that time, so he returned home.

Emperor Claudius sent Roman troops back to Great Britain in 43 AD. Did successfully conquer the area to be added to the Roman Empire.

Prehistoric Celts were an enigma-wore animal skins, conducted sacrifices, and warred in the nude painted in blue dye called WOAD…BUT…..very creative, artistic, etc.

75 BC-Belgae invaded and brought agricultural tools, seeds, methods, etc.

Celtic Tribes of Roman Britain

Approximate location of Celtic Tribes living throughout Britain when Romans arrived in 55 BC

Map link

pagan druids
Pagan druids:
  • Religious, political, cultural leaders of Celtic tribes
  • Believed all natural elements had a spirit (rocks, trees, water, etc.) Oak=power of life, Mistletoe=balancing power of death
  • Came to an end with the influx of Christianity (monotheism-belief in one true god) briefly during Roman occupation, permanently in 597 AD when Pope Gregory sent emissaries to convert Anglo-Saxon kings and establish monasteries in G.B. (Augustine was principal emissary)
romans brought
Romans brought:
  • Art
  • Architecture
  • Organized religion
  • Roads
  • Legal system (laws)
  • Latin Language
  • Towns/cities (London=Londinium)
  • Military infrastructures (Hadrain’s Wall-built and patrolled by Romans to keep Vikings out)

Romans called home in 5th century b/c of continued attacks to the territory-needed for defense

***Civilization and


(Bad news for the remaining inhabitants of G.B.!)

after romans departed
After Romans departed:
  • Celtic Britons (Irish and Scots) and Viking invaders spilled in and began fighting each other for land. (loss of civilization and culture under Roman rule)
  • Time frame for origination of King Arthur-thought to be an obscure Celtic resistance leader who notoriously fought invading Viking warriors/tribes
  • Eventually, Angles, Saxons, and Jutes (migrating tribes of northern European barbarians-primarily from Rhine River/North Sea) invaded and settled
  • Territory became known as Angle-Land
  • By 600 AD, four major kingdoms emerge: Kent, Northumbria, Mercia, and Wessex
  • Wessex becomes the dominant kingdom over time
barbarian influence
Barbarian Influence:

Britain’s inhabitants were greatly influenced by Viking and tribal invaders, greatly eradicating any Roman influence

Barbarians lived in a tribal community structure:

  • King=AKA ring-giver
  • Witan=Elders or wise men/king’s advisors
  • Earl/thane=nobility of tribe-can trace lineage to king’s family
  • Scop=bearer of history
  • Warriors=central figure of society
  • Freemen/Churls=independent landholders
  • Thralls=Slaves
  • Women=of no importance unless queen of tribe
  • Anglo-Saxons originated as Germanic tribes.
  • They brought with them Germanic myths and legends, including fire-breathing dragons, trolls, ogres, goblins, elves, giants, demons, sea monsters, etc.
  • Main focus in any Anglo-Saxon warrior’s life was to achieve glory in warfare so he could enter Valhalla (Anglo-Saxon heaven) after death.
  • Warring, exploring, seafaring, and feasting were central to Anglo-Saxon life (their religion supported these activities)
  • Anglo-Saxon gods were harsh, warlike gods of Norse mythology-Tiu-god of war (Tuesday), Woden-king of the gods (Wednesday), Thor-god of thunder (Thursday), Freya-goddess of fertility (Friday)
culture cont d
Culture, cont’d:
  • Anglo-Saxon justice was simple and crude-WERGILD-”man money” (Wergild was the purpose behind the story of Beowulf)
  • Lots of warfare-quests for land, clan feuds, quests for treasure, etc.
  • Life was short, hard, and unpredictable
  • Warriors believed fate (goddess Wyrd) ruled their lives, so the braver, the better. A warrior could “tempt fate” by being brave and charming Wyrd. If a warrior was about to be taken to heaven, he believed he would/could be touched by the hand of the Valkyries (daughters of the gods who went to earth to bring slain warriors back to Valhalla). If a warrior felt “the touch,” he knew he was fated to die soon.
  • In Valhalla, warriors would feast every night. All battle wounds and broken bones would heal for the feast. Woden was always the host
anglo saxon life cont d
Anglo-Saxon life, cont’d:
  • Feasts held in a communal hall called the “mead hall,” (name originated from drink called mead-fermented honey)
  • Job of the scop to recite stories of glorious battles/notable warriors to the tribe-intended to get Woden’s attention so warrior spoken about could get to Valhalla
  • Scop chanted tribal history, often to the accompaniment of a harp. Everything passed by oral tradition during this time. Scop was highly esteemed in tribe because warriors got Woden’s attention because of scop’s creations-lays (name of scop’s stories) served three purposes:
  • Told story for entertainment
  • Related important tribal values
  • Kept their history alive b/c lays could also be spread to other tribes and future generations
unification of g b
Unification of G. B.
  • King Alfred-871-899AD- responsible for unifying all warring territories of Great Britain
  • Negotiated Danelaugh (treaty name) with King Canute, leader of the Danish Vikings-gave England 50 years of peace
  • Intended to unify all tribes and territories through religion and education-encouraged writing in Anglo-Saxon language, not Latin
  • Responsible for The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the Ecclesiastical History of the English People
end of anglo saxon era
End of Anglo-Saxon Era:
  • In January 1066, King Edward "the Confessor" died. He was succeeded by the Earl of Wessex, Harold. This bothered a duke named William across the English Channel in Normandy. The royal family at Wessex had intermarried with royalty in Normandy. William had been the cousin of Edward the Confessor, and Edward had promised to make him his heir. William believed that he had a right to rule in England.
  • Harold and William, the Duke of Normandy met in battle in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings
  • William was victorious (only because he and his troops were positioned on the TOP of a hill as Harold and his troops attempted to climb it to defeat William), and the Anglo-Saxon era came to an end
notable anglo saxon literary techniques
Notable Anglo-Saxon literary techniques:
  • 1) Alliteration-repetition of beginning consonant sounds in a line of poetry
  • Ex: Line 31-Went wondering what warriors
  • Ex: Line 33-Sprawled in sleep, suspecting
2) Assonance-Repetition of vowel sounds in a line of poetry
  • Ex: line 30-Then when Grendel
  • Ex: line 60-One against many and won so Herot
3) Kenning-a one to three-word phrase used to rename a person or object
  • Swan-road (ocean)
  • Whale-path (ocean)
  • Sea-steed (boat)
  • Swimming wood (boat)
  • Higlac’s follower (Beowulf)
  • Mankind’s enemy (Grendel)
4) Caesura-a mid-line pause or stop within a line of poetry, noted by a semi-colon, period, or dash
  • Ex: Abel’s death. The Almighty
  • Ex: earth. He was…..
5) Apposition-grammatical form in which a thing is renamed in a different word, phrase, or clause
  • Ex: “Till the monster stirred, that demon, that fiend, Grendel.”
  • One of the most notable epic poems in existence
  • Originally created as an oral poem to be told by the tribal scop in the mead hall
  • Dates from the early 700s, but tells a much older story
  • Heroic epic
    • long story, often told in verse, involving heroes and gods
    • Grand in length and scope
    • Provides a portrait of an entire culture (legends, beliefs, values, laws, arts, ways of life of a people)
    • Main purpose is to tell the story of a hero
    • begins in in medias res, “in the middle of things”

the epic hero-

    • unusual circumstances surround the hero’s birth-
    • hero faces trials and enemies while struggling on an epic journey-
    • the hero encounters “women as temptresses” who threaten his completion of the journey -
    • at the end of the journey, the hero must complete a final task alone-
    • after the final task is successfully accomplished, the hero returns home, a leader of his people
  • Beowulf
  • King Hrothgar
  • Grendel
  • Grendel’s mother
  • Fire-breathing dragon
  • Wiglaf
  • Hrunting
  • Unferth
  • Weltheow
  • Ecgtheow
  • Beowulf’s men
  • Herot
  • Wulfgar
  • Aeschere
  • Others not mentioned in our excerpt

Two tribes:

Geats-lived in south Sweden

(Beowulf’s people

Danes-People from Denmark

(Hrothgar is the King of

Denmark, and his people

are the Danes)

epic poetry
Epic poetry:

Criteria for an epic poem:

  • Actions (success or failure) of the hero set the fate for the nation or group
  • Hero successfully performs courageous deeds
  • Plot contains supernatural beings/events, may involve a long, dangerous journey
  • Characters often give long, formal speeches
  • Poem reflects timeless values such as courage, honor
  • Poem reflects universal ideas such as good and evil, life and death