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A history of English Literature 1. -The Anglo-Saxon Period ( also called The Old English Period) –c. 450-1066. Early Inhabitants of Britain:The Celts. The Beakerfolk.

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a history of english literature 1

A history of English Literature 1

-The Anglo-Saxon Period

( also called The Old English Period) –c. 450-1066

the beakerfolk
The Beakerfolk

The earliest Britons were celtic tribes of which not much is known.They were also called“The Beakerfolk”, who probably came from the Low Countries and the middle Rhine .They arrived in Britain in the Bronze Age (after 2,300 BC). Their name comes from the fact that they buried their dead together with a particular kind of pottery

They are also responsible for continuing the construction of Stonehenge (an original megalithic monument in Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire completed about 1,500 BC).


Religion of the Celts

  • Animism – the Celts saw spirits everywhere, in
  • rivers, trees, stones, ponds, fire, and thunder.
  • These spirits were all around and needed to
  • satisfied constantly.
  • Priests, called Druids, acted as intermediaries
  • between the gods and the people.
  • Ritualistic dances, human sacrifices and religious
  • rites having to do with the lunar and solar cycles
  • were performed.

Druids (left) and Halloween (above).


Celtic stories

  • Their legends focus on and are full of strong
  • women (very different from Anglo-Saxon
  • legends that focus on strong men and women
  • faded into background).
  • Celtic stories leap into sunlight after battle,
  • No matter how much blood was spilled.
  • Full of fantastic animals, passionate love affairs, and fabulous adventures




Roman Britain

Until 450 A.D.

The Romans brought Christianity to England and many of their army bases are now important cities: Gloucester, Worcester, Doncaster, etc. All these names are formed from the Roman word castra, which means armed or fortified camp.


The first person to ever have written

  • about England may have been the
  • Roman General Julius Caesar, who is
  • 55 B.C. attempted to conquer the
  • British Isles.
  • Put off by the Celtic warriors, he
  • quickly claimed a victory and
  • returned to Rome.
  • Thus leaving the Celts (and their
  • neighbors to the north and west the
  • Picts and Geats) in peace.

Most of the roads led to London, where they built a walled trading city. The Romans came to govern and to trade, not to settle, They were too few to change the language and the customs of the people. Most of today’s roads still run along the old Roman roads


One other still visible remnant of the Romans is Hadrian’s Wall running from Carlyle in the west to Wallsend on the east coast. It was built to protect England from the Scots and the Picts, old Celtic tribes.

This is how Blackadder saw the romans and their wall


Religion of the Romans

  • Rome brought
  • Christianity, and soon
  • the old Celtic religion
  • began to vanish.
  • Christianity became a
  • unifying force
help from abroad
Help From Abroad

In 410 the Roman legions were called back to defend The Roman Empire against the Goths. They left behind a leaderless and defenceless people who were no match for the Germanic tribes: The Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes. These tribes were called in from the north of Germany, Friesland and Denmark, to help the Celtic leader Vortigern against the invading Celtic tribes, the Picts.They defeated these tribes and settled permanently. They drove the Britons back as far as the mountains in the north and the west


Sutton Hoo

  • Located in Woodbridge, Suffolk, England
  • Discovered in 1939
  • Burial ship of an Anglo-Saxon king
  • Burial site contained 41 items of solid gold and 37 gold coins
the beginning of christianity in britain
The beginning of Christianity in Britain

The country was now divided into small kingdoms. Christianity started to gain a stronger and stronger foothold on English ground and spread throughout the country, establishing monasteries as centres of power and learning.


You are going to do a short assignment about the Anglo Saxons. Visit the website below.

1.  The language of the Anglo-Saxons is very different from the English language we speak today. Visit this Anglo-Saxon Online Dictionary and write 3-4 sentences in Anglo-Saxon about your day (don't worry about articles).  Neatly write out your sentences in Anglo-Saxon and translated in Modern English.

(source: http://www.reshs.org/site/indexer/307/content.htm)


In 793 the monastery of Lindisfarne was destroyed by Scandinavian pirates, which was the start of the Viking raids along most of the British and Irish coastline. Later some of the Vikings settled and started trading towns and took over a great part of England, which is known as the Danelaw.

The Danelaw

The Vikings came in ships

Runic Writing:Write your own name in runes. Click here

alfred the great king of wessex 871 899
Alfred the Great, King of Wessex (871-899)

One Anglo-Saxon king, Alfred the Great, prevented England from becoming taken over completely by the Scandinavian hordes when defeating the Danish army in 871. In the period until 1044, however, several Danish kings ruled England again until Edward the Confessor became king of England.

King Alfred was also known for encouraging the writing of a history of England, The Anglo Saxon Chronicles, which were written by different monks in different monasteries. The writing continued until well into the 12th century and tells of many events in the history of the British people.

the anglo saxon chronicle
The Anglo Saxon Chronicle

The Monk Eadwin Writing a Text

The Peterborough Chronicle

the anglo saxon chronicle1
The Anglo Saxon Chronicle
  • (A.D. 910 . This year the army of the Angles and of the Danesfought at Tootenhall. And Ethelred, ealdor of the Mercians,died; and King Edward took possession of London, and of Oxford,and of all the lands which owed obedience thereto. And a greatfleet came hither from the south, from the Lidwiccas (Brittany),and greatly ravaged by the Severn; but they were, afterwards,almost all perished.))A.D. 911 . This year the army in Northumberland broke the truce,and despised every right that Edward and his son demanded ofthem; and plundered the land of the Mercians. The king hadgathered together about a hundred ships, and was then in Kentwhile the ships were sailing along sea by the south-east to meethim. The army therefore supposed that the greatest part of hisforce was in the ships, and that they might go, without beingattacked, where that ever they would. When the king learned onenquiry that they were gone out on plunder, he sent his army bothfrom Wessex and Mercia; and they came up with the rear of theenemy as he was on his way homeward, and there fought with himand put him to flight, and slew many thousands of his men. Therefell King Eowils, and King Healfden; Earls Ohter and Scurf;Governors Agmund, Othulf, and Benesing; Anlaf the Swarthy, andGovernor Thunferth; Osferth the collector, and GovernorGuthferth.
another text the book of kells
Another Text: The Book of Kells

The Book of Kells is a beautifully illuminated (=illustrated) text, kept in Trinity College in Dublin. Every day a new page is turned for the general public to see.

anglo saxon poetry1
Anglo Saxon Poetry

Wulf & Eadwacer is an Anglo Saxon poem composed between 960 and 990 AD. Of famously difficult interpretation, it has been variously characterised,) as an elegy, (historically) as a riddle, and (in speculation on the poem's pre-history) as a song or ballad with refrain. The only extant copy is found in the Exeter Book.Old English text:

Leodum is minum swylce him mon lac gife; willað hy hine aþecgan, gif he on þreat cymeð. Ungelic is us. Wulf is on iege, ic on oþerre. Fæst is þæt eglond, fenne biworpen. Sindon wælreowe weras þær on ige; willað hy hine aþecgan, gif he on þreat cymeð. Ungelice is us. Wulfes ic mines widlastum wenum dogode; þonne hit wæs renig weder ond ic reotugu sæt, þonne mec se beaducafa bogum bilegde, wæs me wyn to þon, wæs me hwæþre eac lað. Wulf, min Wulf, wena me þine seoce gedydon, þine seldcymas, murnende mod, nales meteliste. Gehyrest þu, Eadwacer? Uncerne earne hwelp bireð Wulf to wuda. þæt mon eaþe tosliteð þætte næfre gesomnad wæs, uncer giedd gead

Old English poetry was meant to be sung or recited from memory. Poetry could be about Christian themes such as the lives of Saints, which the poet Cynewulf wrote aboutor .The monk Caedmon wrote about the Bible in Anglo Saxon. However, most poets were not known by name.

The most important poem from this era is the pagan epic Beowulf (around 700). It tells the story of the hero Beowulf the warrior who twice saves a people in great danger and ultimately loses his life fighting a dragon. The work is of Scandinavian origin. The scene is not set in England but in Sweden and Denmark.

Most poems were alliterative verse without rhyme. Take for instance the following line from Beowulf:

Gréndél gónga/ gódes ýrre baer

(came Grendel, he bore god’s anger)

Now listen to the prologue and watch

the trailer for the 2007 film


Your’re going to do a webquest about Beowulf. Click on this following link and follow the instructions.

Mind you, step number four is what is called a dead link and doesn’t work.


Background Information

  • Written c. 700 C.E.
  • Author unknown
  • Often called the beginning of English literature
  • Written in what is now called Old English
  • Only one complete original copy remains

The story of Beowulf opens by telling us the career of Scyld Scefing, a king sent by God to the Danes. After Scyld's death the Danes do very well under his descendants. One of those descendants, Hrothgar, builds the Danes a great hall called Heorot. Heorot is soon invaded by Grendel, a half-human monster. The Danes are helpless against these attacks until the hero Beowulf arrives to aid them. He battles Grendel in hand to hand combat in Heorot and kills the monster by tearing off its arm. Grendel's mother then comes to avenge her son. Beowulf and Hrothgar follow her to her lair in a lake, where Beowulf fights Grendel's mother in her hall at the bottom of the lake. Beowulf almost loses, but with the aid of God is eventually victorious. He is lavishly rewarded and returns to his own land where he tells his adventures to his uncle, King Hygelac. The poem then jumps fifty years into the future when Beowulf is in old age and king of the Geats. He then fights his last battle against a dragon that is guardian of a cursed treasure. He tries to fight the dragon alone, but can only defeat it with the help of a younger relative, Wiglaf. The dragon is killed, but mortally wounds Beowulf in the battle, and the old king passes away while gazing on the cursed treasure. The death of Beowulf marks the decline of the Geats, who are now surrounded by enemies made in previous campaigns. Consequently, the poem ends in mourning for both Beowulf and his nation.

The Story:


An epic is a long narrative poem which follows a hero’s struggle against universal issues.

  • The epic contains 3 elements:
  • A larger-than life hero
  • The Supernatural
  • Elevated language style

Kennings(two-word phrase for a common word)ex: world-candle for sun or whale-road for ocean


Highly descriptive passages

beowulf s descendants
Beowulf’s Descendants:

There are many more superheroes today and they all have one or more characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon superhero Beowulf


Some stories that were influenced by Beowulf:

Finally, a good site on Beowulf, for the interested, is this one.

the end of the old english period 1066 the battle of hastings
The end of the Old English Period: 1066- The Battle of Hastings

In 1066 William the Conquerer invaded England from Normandy and defeated King Harold at Hastings. This was the end of the old English Period and the beginning of The Middle English Period.

Ron Visser 2010