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Anglo-Saxon History

Updated on October 06, 2015

The Anglo Saxon period is the oldest known period of time that had a complex culture with stable government, art, and a fairly large amount of literature. Many people believe that the culture then was extremely unsophisticated, but it was actually extremely advanced for the time. Despite the much advancement, the period was almost always in a state of war. Despite this fact, the Anglo-Saxon period is a time filled with great advancements and discoveries in culture, society, government, religion, literature, and art.

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The Angles were a Germanic tribe that occupied the region which is now Scleswig-Holstein, Germany. With their fellow ethnic groups, they formed the people who came to be known as the English. The Saxons were a Germanic people who first appeared in the beginning of the Christian era. The Saxons were said to have lived in the south Jutland Peninsula in the north of what is now Germany, but the fact has not been proven. They attacked and raided areas in the North Sea throughout the third and fourth centuries. By the end of the sixth century, the Saxons had taken all of the Roman territory within north-west Germany, as far as the Elbe River. The Angles joined the Saxons in the invasion of Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries. British resistance to the 'Anglo Saxon' invaders in the second half of the fifth century ended with the Anglo Saxon's victory at the battle of Mount Badon. After the British were defeated, though, the Angles and the Saxons continued to fight over their religion for many years. (James Campbell, Eric John, Patrick Wormald, 1991)

Before the year 596, almost everybody had strong pagan beliefs. In 596 missionaries had begun to attempt to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. By the year 650, almost all of England had converted to Christianity- at least in name. Although almost everyone claimed to be strong believers in Christ and the church, most still held on to their pagan beliefs and traditions. No matter what they believed, everyone applied their religious beliefs to their everyday life. (Geoffrey Hindley, 2006)

Everyone in the age would always wear extremely modest clothing. The common garment for a man was the robe gathered at the waist, completed by hose and soft sandals. The same was for the woman, except their dress extended to the feet. The most common materials used to make clothing were linen and woolens, though the more expensive outfits were marked by colorful dyes and exotic borders (Pelteret, 2000). Usually then men would hide short spears under their clothing for added protection.

The common weapon in war was the spear. Conventional spears were seven feet long with an iron head and was used to be thrown and also to jab. Shields were plain and round, made of wood with an iron center. Only the rich and noble used swords, which were made of iron with steel edges. The Vikings were more heavily armed than the Anglo-Saxons, and they relied on chain mail and helmets as protection, and most people used a short stabbing swords as protection, although some used either a lance or a double-edged sword (C.J.Arnold, 2007). When the men weren't fighting, the favorite pastimes of the Anglo-Saxon period were dice and board game such as chess. Complex riddles were very popular, as well as hunting. At gatherings, the most common entertainment was the harp, as well as juggling balls and knives.

Little writing remains to be studied because England was still developing their written language during many of these years, and storytelling was generally in the oral tradition. The two types of poetry that was written during the time period was heroic poetry and Christian poetry. Only about 30,000 lines of poetry from the age have survived to this time, and the epic poem "Beowulf" makes up a large portion of that. It originated as a pagan saga transmitted orally from one generation to the next, and court poets known as ‘scops' were the bearers of tribal history and tradition. The newer version of Beowulf was composed by a Christian poet, sometime early in the 8th century. The Christian themes found in the epic, however, however are not integrated into the main part of the essentially pagan tale. Works such as Deor, The Wanderer, The Seafarer, and other poems follows the same basic theme as Beowulf. In these works, a happy past is contrasted with a precarious and desolate present. This type of heroic poetry celebrates great heroism even in the face of great danger and overwhelming odds. (C.J.Arnold, 2007)

Most of the Christian poetry is marked by the belief of a simple, relatively unsophisticated Christianity. The names of only two authors are known. Caedmon, whose story is told by the Venerable Bede, is the earliest known English poet. Not much is known about him, and almost all of his work has been lost. The other known poet is named Cynewulf. The only thing known about him is that he signed the poems Juliana, and The Fates of the Apostles. Poetry in the Anglo-Saxon period is very different from modern poetry (Pelteret, 2000). The verse form for old English poetry is a line of four stressed syllables and an unfixed number of unstressed syllables that are broken by a caesura. The lines are usually end-stopped and unrhymed. Although writing poetry was very popular in the age, people used more modern art to either make a living or as a hobby.

Art in the Anglo-Saxon period was influenced from many places. The three greatest influences were the Celtic arts of the Britons, the Christian church in Rome, and the Norse arts following the Viking invasions. Their manuscript painting, sculpted crosses and ivories, and enamel designs demonstrate a liking for intricate and interwoven designs. In the manuscripts of southern England, one can see how the way of writing changed. Before the 9th century, the writing was fairly plain. A somewhat different style emerged mid-9th century, with delicate, lively pen-and-ink figures and heavily decorative foliage borders. Much of the metalwork from the age has also survived over the years (Geoffrey Hindley, 2006). It consisted of bronze brooches of simple design, and circular silver brooches decorated with gold and silver jewels with inlays of garnet and also decorated with interlaced gold filigree. Much of their metalwork has survived over the ages, and the famous ship burial excavated at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, in 1939 has provided the finest examples of the Saxon goldsmiths' art discovered. Many other samples of their metalwork have been found in burial sites, along with samples of their pottery.

Pottery in the Anglo Saxon period was a very popular form of art of the age. The Saxons produced small handmade pots that were commonly used to hold things such as food and hot coal. Around the year 650, they began to be made on a wheel, as they are commonly made today. The pots were commonly plain, but some had simple decorations on it and a green or yellow glaze. The pottery was commonly buried in graves, along with glass art. Glass was widely used and had many purposes. It was used for jewelry, drinking vessels, and very commonly for windows, especially colored glass in churches. Most of the fine glassware was imported from the Rhineland. The amount of detail that was put into their glass was as precise as their architecture.

Architecture in the Anglo-Saxon period had to be very sturdy, because the frequent warfare often caused buildings to collapse. Because of the war so the people had to find a relatively cheap and easy way to reconstruct buildings. Their solution was to build most of their buildings out of wood with wattle and daub walls. These buildings were relatively inexpensive to build, yet they were extremely flammable. When the Vikings came through, they burned all the buildings that could be destroyed. The Anglo-Saxons seemed to adapt to rebuilding structures often, and the only structures that they made out of stone were their monasteries and churches.

Almost all homes in the age were made about the same way. Even the homes of the nobles were very simple, with just a central fireplace and a hole in the roof to let smoke escape. Even the largest structures were not divided into more than one room. Frequently, buildings would have sunken floors with planks covering them. These pits may have been used for storage, but many of them appear to have been used for filling with straw to be used as winter insulation. Several structures have sunken holes up to nine feet deep, suggesting a storage or work area below the suspended floor. (Joel Thomas Rosenthal, 1985)

Daily life was far from easy for people in Anglo-Saxon England. Women especially had a high mortality rate because of the dangers of pregnancies, miscarriages and childbirth - lack of iron has also been suggested to as one reason. Examination of skeletal remains has revealed that common ailments included earache, toothache, headache, shingles, wounds, burns, and pain in the joints. Another source of information on this subject is manuscripts offering medical advice; some remedies deal specifically with female matters, often mixing common sense and superstition (Anonymous, 2004). Here is an example of quite practical advice for women. A pregnant woman ought to be fully warned against eating anything too salt or too sweet, and against drinking strong alcohol: also against pork and fatty foods; also against drinking to the point of drunkenness, also against travelling; also against too much riding on horseback lest the child is born before the right time. Urban life from the twelfth century onwards opened up more opportunities for women as shopkeepers, cloth-makers, entertainers, etc. - only when married, of course. The only alternative to marriage were cloisters, but nunneries had fewer patrons than monasteries and thus had to struggle with a constant lack of resources. Women's access to schooling was very limited. Illness and early death were common; women's ailments were not considered worth studying and treating so they had to retreat to private traditions of healing. For many women, Anglo-Saxon England was a golden age of power and wealth, culture and education; women's role in marriage had (for the free-born) immense potential. Unfortunately, the Norman Conquest and the Gregorian Reform caused literature to lose touch with reality and women to lose their status in reality. (Anonymous, 2004)

In conclusion, the technological advancements and discoveries of the Anglo-Saxon period set the stone for today's society. The age had all of the parts of their culture that we have today. Their period set the foundation for art, society, literature, and culture of what we have today. America would be a very different place if it was not for the impact that the Anglo-Saxon period had society.

Anglo-Saxon culture

“When Rome was weakening early in the fifth century, troops in the outlying regions, including the British Isles, were withdrawn.”Political" power fell to unstable tribal units. Vortigern, "invited" Angles, Saxons, and Jutes to join his military power, so the land saw a swell of invasions by Jutes -- a Germanic tribe from Denmark -- in 449, followed soon by Angles and Saxons. These hordes settled in and pushed the Celts into Cornwall, Wales, Ireland, and to the north. King Arthur grew from legends of one Celtic chieftain who held out better than most.” (Johnson, David and Elaine Treharne, 2005.)


Anglo Saxon Related Reading

  • Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Penguin, 1990)
  • J. Campbell et al., The Anglo-Saxons, (Penguin, 1991)
  • E. James, Britain in the First Millennium, ( Arnold, 2001)
  • F. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, 1st 2nd and 3rd edition
  • D. Whitelock, English Historical Documents c.500–1042, (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1955)

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    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 8 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      Very interesting and informative. Great Hub :)

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      Loads of information. Another good hub.

    • profile image

      alejandra 8 years ago

      que es bel anglo saxon

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      Simia 8 years ago

      Hey great info i got all the help i need for my home work thanks!!!

    • profile image

      Alejandra 8 years ago

      ilove.anglo.saxon.story

    • profile image

      Phil 8 years ago

      Thanks, got me out of a b in history

    • profile image

      a student 8 years ago

      this page was not very helpful with a project

    • profile image

      historical moments 7 years ago

      this page helped me write a paper

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      ashley 7 years ago

      This really helped for english!!! great information!! thanks!!!

    • profile image

      jim 7 years ago

      this information is no good

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      tim tebow  7 years ago

      wow im retarted

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      student 7 years ago

      i wish it had more dates on it, because i'm trying to write an english paper and it's not really helping with out it having the dates

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      lollipop 7 years ago

      this website really helped me write an english paper!

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      Martina 7 years ago

      It would be better with more information

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      K-Man 7 years ago

      Pretty Good Info, Thanks

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      nick brown 7 years ago

      this page was not very helpful.

    • profile image

      Syrus 7 years ago

      Really helpful hub thanks for posting.

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      typ 4 u 7 years ago

      Typo- text reads chain mail, should be (I guess chain mesh)

      The Vikings were more heavily armed than the Anglo-Saxons, and they relied on chain mail and helmets as protection, and most people used a short stabbing swords as protection, although some used either a lance or a double-edged sword (C.J.Arnold, 2007). When the men weren't fighting, the favorite pastimes of the Anglo-Saxon period were dice and board game such as chess. Complex riddles were very

    • profile image

      Mike065 7 years ago

      Can anybody refer me to an all inclusive in the DR? I've heard of Vikings and charlisangels adult sex vacations resort and was wondering since Vikings has closed doors what is the

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      Danny 7 years ago

      great info

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      Everett Van Horn 7 years ago

      This article sucks and it doesn't show any info on the topic. also i have downsyndrome

    • profile image

      jeff 7 years ago

      that's got me out of failing good info

    • Sara Algoe profile image
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      Sara Algoe 6 years ago from Phoenix, Ariz

      Thanks for comments every one ...

      Everett Van Horn get well soon ..

    • profile image

      John  6 years ago

      Superb Information

      Sara Algoe

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      Mare Ryder 6 years ago

      Very Interesting!!

      I just got done watching on Nat Geo about the guy that found all the Anglo-Saxon artifacts. Wow! What a find!!

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      minime 6 years ago

      your a live saver now my teacher wont have to kill me............ thanks

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      bybybybybybybyby 6 years ago

      thanks for the amazing info but it could have dates,

      then it would be amazing

    • profile image

      Annabeth 6 years ago

      Thank you! This is perfect!

      :-)

    • Sara Algoe profile image
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      Sara Algoe 6 years ago from Phoenix, Ariz

      Thanks every one for their comment and participation in the discussion.

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      Opmanga 6 years ago

      History is boring that's why people fail to make a good future.

      Thanks for writing this SARA.

    • Sara Algoe profile image
      Author

      Sara Algoe 6 years ago from Phoenix, Ariz

      Thanks Opmanga!

      I don't get it how can Anglo Saxon history be boring.

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      walle 6 years ago

      thanks for the history i can now see if i get some help with my english work

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      penny 6 years ago

      this is a good amount of knowledge it helps a lot :)

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      Andrew 6 years ago

      Thanks Sara, this page helped a lot for a history paper I'm writing. On a side note, I'm from Phoenix too! Tempe, actually, but close enough. I always think it's cool when I find random people who are from Phoenix. I absolutely love it there. Thanks again.

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      Sarinaa 6 years ago

      This Really Helped For British Authors English. Having To Compare Beowulf To The Anglo-Saxons. THANKS!!!

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      Mk212 6 years ago

      Thanks for posting this article. I am writing a research paper on Anglo Saxon history and this one was really helpful.

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      robert  6 years ago

      i hate this info :

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      nathan 6 years ago

      no, but it was very popular in anglo saxon times

    • Sara Algoe profile image
      Author

      Sara Algoe 6 years ago from Phoenix, Ariz

      What the hell is going on ... My Anglo Saxon history hub bacame a wieenie fight arena.... Cmon ppl just read appreciate or criticize and move on.

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      brandon 6 years ago

      that's wat im sayin sara... thanks for the info it helped me with a test

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      salma 6 years ago

      i like your answers

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      juan nava 6 years ago

      i am on this website like on facebook

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      ceaira 6 years ago

      this website helped me a lot with my anglo-saxons report thanks a lot

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      wats good 6 years ago

      any one wanna buy some weed?

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      redskins2345 6 years ago

      yeah screw English ima hit a jay :) thnxs 4 this article thing tho

    • profile image

      kafeel Khan  6 years ago

      a nice source if knowledge. I like this

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      mike 6 years ago

      thanks really helped on my english project.

      btw i was born in pheonix, great place

    • profile image

      f16 6 years ago

      good info....!

    • profile image

      fms 6 years ago

      hey great infooooooooooo,,,,,,,

    • profile image

      IEatChicken  6 years ago

      This really helped me with my homework! We are studing Anglo Saxon's. Brill infoo

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      imran khan 6 years ago

      i like the society of anglo-saxon,it's an ideal society.more research is need in this history specially to know the real solution of society.we thanks to morgan research and fradric angles& karl marx research.please send more information " imran1884 at yahoo.com " .

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      Bernard Kranenburg 6 years ago

      Dear Sirs,

      I do not agree about nearly all you wrote about the Anglo-Saxons. Most importantly: the Anglo's did not join the Saxons to Britain. In fact the Anglo's outnumbred them by 3 to 1 an already colonized Britain since about 400 AD. The Saxons were hardly known then. Besides, the Saxons only appeared on continental NW Europe about 775 AD. The Anglo's however were the main Germanis power on continental NW Europe from about 200 to 700 AD. I studied the Continental Anglo's for many years and wrote much about them on my website www.kranenburgia.nl sub Anglicana. However, it is all written in Dutch, so you can only enjoy the pictures.

      Bernard Kranenburg

      Hengelo Ov.

      The Netherlands

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan Robert Lancaster 5 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      With a few pictures, drawings and maps this article could provide a decent grounding for someone embarking on a study into the subject. Informative, useful for schools, but as I've already hinted, even BETTER with images! Have you looked at the Northworld Saga Site? www.northworlsagasite.webeden.co.uk.(see the hub page entry first). It may be useful for you, but it's fairly political. I'm still building it up at the moment, but you might get ideas for further pieces on the age. Good luck, ARL. (See also the RAVENFEAST pages for an insight into the end of the era).

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      Ine Johnson 5 years ago

      My name is from Anglo-Saxon meaning name of king

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      alancaster149 5 years ago

      Strictly speaking the Saxons originated in an area we know as Lower Saxony and Frisia (Niedersachsen and Ostfriesland in Germany and Vestfriesland in the north-eastern Netherlands. They came in several waves, roughly at the same time into Essex as the Angles arrived in the east (Norfolk, Suffolk), and around the northern Home Counties the Angles appeared in Bedfordshire and Leicestershire whilst the Saxons occupied Middlesex and Hertfordshire. Wessex became the dominant Saxon enclave, reaching westward as far as the River Tamar, Wiltshire and Somerset on the north side, Hampshire and Dorset to the south. The Jutes had originally tsken Wight but were pushed out or eradicated by the Saxons under Cynric. The South Saxons took up the area of Sussex and Surrey. Kent was settlede from the first in the 5th Century by the Jutes under Hengist after Horsa was killed fighting the Britons. The Saxon chieftain self-styled 'king' Cerdic may have been part-Celt, but by and large the Saxons pushed the Celts/Britons westward. The Angles on the other hand formed alliances with the Britons against other Angles, such as when Penda invaded Northumbria in the 7th Century, and defeated Oswald in Shropshire. Oswald's brother Oswy chased Penda back towards Mercia and defeated him near modern-day Leeds. The treasure found recently near Tamworth had been offered by Oswy as a sop to Penda, and his Welsh allies left him before he could reach the safety of Mercia. Some of Penda's men were caught up near Tamworth and buried much of the treasure but were caught up with some in their possession. The Saxons traditionally fought Arthur at Mons Badonicus, this much you know already, the legend did not emerge for no reason. The Britons in the south felt threatened by the Saxons, not the Angles, as our friend in the Netherlands suggests. They left the Rhine/Scheldt/Weser region because of repeated flooding in the lowlands there. In the Beowulf saga this was the area where the Fight at Finnsburgh took place, the Frisian pirates having raided on Sjaelland's north coast and killed near where Hygelac's hall stood. That would have been in the 6th Century, long before the state of Denmark was established in King Godred's time.

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      Jesus is Hitler 5 years ago

      Horrid. COmpeltly incorrect. The past is the future, they all wore cat heads as shoes and neon tree bark as chlothes.

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      alancaster149 5 years ago

      Just so there's no confusion, when I wrote of the Saxons not going beyond the River Tamar, this waterway empties on the south side of Devon but the source of the river is in the north. They didn't settle west of the Tamar.

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      Trey 5 years ago

      hey i love history!

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      joe dipmaggot. 5 years ago

      i

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      John 5 years ago

      ic þancie þe, but your statement

      "The Anglo Saxon period is the oldest known period of time that had a complex culture with stable government, art, and a fairly large amount of literature."

      is incorrect. What about ancient civilizations of Greece, Rome, Persia, Egypt, China, etc? Even if you're only talking about the British Isles, Roman Briton was very civilized. Ireland's literary tradition predates that of the Anglo-Saxons and Irish monks introduced writing to many of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

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      maria 5 years ago

      i thought that was great thankz it help me in my HOMEWORK thankz a lot whoever wrote this is the best

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      tevin whitetree 5 years ago

      nice some of u guys r mean if y'all don't like then y did y'all get on hear in the first place

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      bob 5 years ago

      helped me a lot

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      A Person 5 years ago

      It needs to have buildings on because i need this qustion to be answerd by tomorrow -- Why do saxons build their building out of stone!!

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan Robert Lancaster 5 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      The Celts in Britannia Major (England and Wales) had either been alienated by Roman colonisation or had embraced it and were at a loss when their 'masters' left. A few myths arose from the confusion, mixing fact with fiction, the biggest one being of Arthur. What we know of the Arthur Myth now owes more to Frankish romantic writing than Celtic sources. Another myth involves an already Chritianised Patrick (Padruig/Padraig) in Wales. He may or may not have been high-born, but he was taken as a slave to Ireland etc., but that's another story. The Celtic tribes who opposed Roman rule were no different when the Angles and Saxons migrated here from NW Europe. Things were even more complicated in the 7th Century when Penda of Mercia allied himself with Welsh princes against a fellow Anglian regime in Northumbria. That ended in grief for Penda. Within Northumbria a Celtic kingdom called Elmet with its own Celtic chieftain/ king prospered for a long time, coming down to us in today's maps in names like Sherburn-in-Elmet and Barwick-in-Elmet (between Selby and Leeds in Yorkshire). Their culture was widespread in the North where the Romans were less effective as rulers due to lack of co-operation from the Brigantes, amongst others.

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      Diego 5 years ago

      which are the effects on literature on the anglo saxon's period? and type of writing

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan Robert Lancaster 5 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Top choice has to be BEOWULF. Although transcribed from the oral tradition and Christianised, the gist of the story is still a rollicking tall story. Aside from this import from 6th Century Danish tradition there was the 'Dream of the Rood', a deep, soul-searching piece of inward-looking Anglian religious literature.

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      Student 5 years ago

      Wow great information thanxz

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      Emma Green 5 years ago

      omg thanks so much got an A* thanks soooooooo much

      Emma

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      Colin Brewer 4 years ago

      Error:(1) The Christian Romano-Celts one the Battle of Mount Badon. Such a fundamental flaw mars the whole article (2) There is faint evidence for a Saxon presence in the late Roman period -see the Notitia Dignitate and also the word English in Celtic languages is always Saxon .. Sassenach/Sassein etc

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      iqra 4 years ago

      great i got all the information i needed for my homework :p

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      doingmyhistoryproject 3 years ago

      just saying to a person that posted a long time ago, google chain mail. its not the type from when u send it to people on your email. its a metal suit.

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