Anglo Saxons

The Anglo-Saxon period extends from about 400 AD to 1066, the date of the Battle of Hastings and subsequent Norman Conquest. The Anglo-Saxons were among the first inhabitants of Britain to produce a written history, language and culture that can still be studied today. Because their influence can still be felt on modern English language, literature and culture, these people are worth learning about. Through the take-over of first the English people, then the British Empire, and finally the globe as English has taken over the business scene, this noble warrior people continues its legacy.

The term “Anglo-Saxon” comes from the words “Angeln” and “Saxony”, both regions of Germany. People from these regions “made their way over to Britain after the fall of Britain around AD 410….The Roman armies withdrew from Britain early in the fifth century because they were needed back home to defend the crumbling centre of the Empire. Britain was considered a far-flung outpost of little value.” Other peoples, such as Jutes and Frisians, also settled in Britain but posed no threat to the Anglo-Saxons. Considering themselves to be independent and self-sufficient, they did things their own way and not the Roman way. “They replaced the Roman stone buildings with their own wooden ones, and spoke their own language, which gave rise to the English spoken today.”

Doing things the Anglo-Saxon way included having their own system of government, a government based on community leaders and clan chiefs, rather than a strict system of military hierarchy like the Romans. In time, this government would play a key role in the development of the English monarchy. “By 650 AD, the British Isles were a patchwork of many kingdoms founded from native or immigrant communities and led by powerful chieftains or kings. In their personal feuds and struggles between communities for control and supremacy, a small number of kingdoms became dominant: Bernicia and Deiron.” Like the Viking people, they were engaged in near constant battle, and thus placed a high value on the warrior. Loyalty to the group and leader were paramount to survival of the community. “Beowulf, for instance, makes his name great by defeating the monsters who try to destroy King Hrothgar.”  Read a child-friendly version of the epic poem “Beowulf” to intoduce this idea in class.”For the non-Christian Anglo-Saxons, whose religion offered them no hope of an afterlife, only fame and its reverberation in poetry could provide a defense against death.Perhaps this is why the Anglo-Saxon bards, uniquely gifted with the skill to preserve fame in the collective memory, were such honored members of their society.”

The Anglo-Saxons enjoyed a variety of dice and board games. Some of them were quite similar to modern games still played today. They were made from natural materials like bone, ivory, antler, horn, and old ship wood. No doubt some of them were learned from the Vikings, and some were left over from the Roman occupation era. “Dice were no doubt made of antler for the most part, although examples of bone, walrus ivory and jet are also likely to have been used. They were often rectangular, with the 1 and 2 on either end and the 3,4,5, and 6 on the four long sides….Although the numbers on opposite sides do not add up to seven (as on a modern dice), this arrangement is the most common….The most common Anglo-Saxon board game was probably Hnefatafl, a square board game made from wood or rock. The pieces were usually round, and the game was similar to chess. Hnefatafl was almost certainly a Germanic development of the Roman game latrunculi (soldiers).” One popular game was similar to a game of jacks, only without a ball. People used bones or pebbles, and probably gambled on the resulting winner. “A form of ‘knucklebones’ or ‘fivestones’ was played, probably in the form where a number of small bones (usually pig or sheep knuckles) or stones are taken in the palm of the hand. The bones are then flicked in the air and the idea is to catch as many bones as possible on the back of the same hand. The winner is the player who catches most bones.” Riddle telling and guessing was very important to the Anglo-Saxons. Students can practise both reading and problem-solving by enjoying a few from this period. “A warrior was not considered to be much unless his word skill was as good as his weapon skill.” Some common themes related to hearth or battle, for example, shield, bread, bow, ice, mead, fire, mail shirt, helmet, key, bellows.