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The Anglo-Saxon Invasion of the British Isles.

Updated on February 18, 2018
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With the Romans iron grip on the British Isles loosening, the rich target of Roman Britannia was open to many invading tribes. The Romans who ruled the fertile territory were aware of the threat that the German tribes presented, and a large area of the eastern coast was fortified to stop pirate raids by the Saxons of Germania. By the year 400 AD the Saxons had allied themselves with the Scottish tribes north of Hadrian's wall. The Saxons saw the British Isles as ripe for colonization and with the attention of Rome occupied elsewhere the land of the Romano-Britons were exactly what the increasing numbers of Germanic tribes wanted. Britain was highly desirable as it had good supplies of nature resources and had very good soil for farming and keeping cattle.



The Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain meant that the landscape of the Island was to change once again. Where the Romans had built infrastructure and a network of trading settlements, the newly arrived Anglo-Saxons sought a more simple way of living.

As early as the second century A.D the Roman rulers decided that the country should be divided into two administrative districts, Britannia Inferior and Britannia Superior. The arrival of the Anglo-Saxons meant that much of England and Wales would go back to being individual kingdoms much like they were, before the time of Roman occupation.

Where the Romans preferred the security of their garrisoned towns, the Angles and the Saxons came from a culture that lived in harmony with the land. The Germanic tribes preferred not to live in stone, wood was their choice of building material and the Anglo Saxons left little material evidence of their presence in these lands. The Romans in all their occupied territories built through the hills, and over ravines. With the Roman withdrawal, the Germanic invaders let many of the strategically important towns return back to nature or become obsolete.


A Saxon warrior
A Saxon warrior

Many of the Roman trading centres were no longer needed and their building materials were either recycled or the settlement was left to rot. In the hub I wrote on the Water Newton treasure find, I mention how Durobrivae shrank in size after the garrison town became part of the Anglo-Saxon territories. Many of the Roman trading posts on the Welsh border simply disappeared as the indigenous population tried to reclaim their birthrights.

The Anglo-Saxons and other Germanic tribes did not have a smooth relationship with the Britons. Although there was intermarriage and alliances, there was plenty of opportunity for betrayal and king-making. The time we call the Dark Ages was a time of political betrayal and great social upheaval.

The Anglo-Saxons did create their own kingdoms and a lot of original British kingdoms reemerged after nearly four centuries of Roman occupation. The Kingdom of Emlmet was one kingdom that asserted its regional identity. It was situated in the area which is now the West Riding of Yorkshire. Other important Germanic led Kingdoms were Mercia, Craven, Deria and Bernicia. The last two kingdoms would in time merge to form the great kingdom of Northumbria. This powerful north eastern Kingdom would see a lot of immigration from Europe and eventually invasion from the Vikings of Scandinavia. The Invasion of the Vikings would give the Anglo-Saxons and the native Britons a new common enemy.



The Saxon kingdoms lost a lot of their power and prestige when the Danelaw came into being, this was due to the expansion and raids of the Vikings in the 9th century AD. The Viking warriors, having sought treasure and glory across the British Isles and the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were a prize that the Vikings would exploit.

The Danish Vikings saw the potential of the land to support themselves. The Danelaw is mainly used to describe the legal terms stemming from in the treaties between the English King, Alfred the Great, and the Danish warlord, Guthrum the Old.They were written following Guthrum's defeat at the Battle of Ethandun in 878.

This defined the boundaries of their respective kingdoms, with a view for peaceful relations between the newly formed English and the marauding Vikings. The Danish laws held sway in the Kingdom of Northumbria, the Kingdom of East Anglia and the lands of the Five Boroughs of Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Stamford and Lincoln. The area called the Danelaw was effectively a Danish colony and this continued until Edward the Elder created his own unified kingdom of the English.


© 2010 Andrew Stewart

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