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The Angles-Who Were They?

Updated on January 12, 2021
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The Author of this hub is well read in history, having studied history at University in England. He has been on HubPages for many years.

The Angles and England

The Angles were a Germanic tribe that has often been overlooked by history. Their contribution to the development of the English nation and our current world has often been neglected. The Angles are overshadowed by their fellow Germanic tribe who are known to us as the Saxons.

These ancient Germanic tribes heavily influenced the numerous kingdoms in the British Isles between the end of Roman civilization and the rise of the Viking Age.

For many years the people of England have been referred to as either Anglo or as Anglo-Saxon.

This descriptive label takes the name from these ancient warriors and settlers. Both the Angles and the Saxons formed a people who came to rule over many of the English kingdoms.

Historians now refer to this time as the Anglo-Saxon period. This was a time when these closely linked Germanic peoples controlled much of the eastern lands of the British Isles.

The Angles occupied new lands

Violence often cemented the arrival of the Angles.
Violence often cemented the arrival of the Angles.

Where did the Angles come from?

Many historians have concluded that the Angles take their name from their original tribal lands than occupied territory in the modern nations of Germany and Denmark.

Ancient sources place the homelands of the Angles as where the North Sea meets the Baltic Sea. This area is often associated with the German territory of Schleswig-Holstein but their original homeland is believed to have once spread into the lands we now know as Poland.

The Angles alongside the Saxons, are one of the most recognizable groups who sought out fresh lands in the British Isles after Rome had lost its control over their western provinces.

Germanic Migration

Old Gods were soon replaced.
Old Gods were soon replaced. | Source

Why did the Angles leave their homelands?

The new lands in the British Isles offered the Angles the chance to increase their productivity, wealth and territory.

Like other European tribes who lived by the coastal regions of continental Europe, they would have experienced widespread flooding due to the North Sea levels rising and unpredictable weather patterns.

This upset their way of life and the Angles also had to deal with the aggression of other European tribes such as the ever-expanding empire of the Franks.

The migration of Eastern tribes into their ancestral lands also gave many Angles the drive to try and find new lands to make a living from.

Many parts of the British Isles were sparsely populated, undefended and ripe for settlement by those who were willing to cross the cold expanse of the North Sea.

The Angles would likely have first come over with the Roman legions, where they would have served the Romans as auxiliaries. The Angles would have been paid to defend and police the northern borders of Rome's wild frontier.

The ancient Angles would have been assigned to places such as at Hadrian's Wall or they would have patrolled the eastern coastline to dissuade other Germanic tribes from harassing the Roman settlements in these lands.

Their fellow Germanic warriors and pirates were keen on raiding or settling the British Isles. These foreign threats to the dwindling power of Rome could have come from fellow their fellow Angles.

After the Angle auxiliaries were no longer required by the Roman Empire, they may have returned to their homelands and made plans to colonize the land they had fought many years to protect.

Many Angles would have entered the British Isles when the newly free Britons asked the Saxons and their allies for help to secure the peace in a land that was descending into anarchy.

The Angles were known to have allied themselves with the Saxons at numerous points in time. The Angles would have settled away from the major Romano-British settlements and would have formed communities like their lands in continental Europe.

The Roman Empire

Roman legionnaire
Roman legionnaire

Where did the Angles settle?

The Angles quickly settled their new lands and intended to create settlements around the many rivers of the British Isles. The Angles tended to focus on the northern and eastern coast of Scotland.

In modern-day England, they settled much of the northern and middle tranches of these lands. These areas offered their own unique problems for the newly arrived settlers to overcome. Much of the eastern lands of the British Isles were marshland and parts of it were as likely to flood as their continental homelands.

As the Saxons controlled much of the south of England, the Angles began to dominate the Midlands. The southeastern lands of the Angles soon became known as East Anglia. This name originally meant the Eastern lands of the Angles.

The Angles like the Saxons held little interest for the established Roman settlements that remained within their new lands and many of the Roman settlements were left to be reclaimed by the natural world and their building materials were recycled by the new owners of this land.

After arriving in these new lands, The Angles gradually converted to Christianity, the Angles like the Saxons were pagan and they would have continued to practice their religion for at least another century after they settled in the British Isles.

It is believed that the Irish Christians were the ones who brought the teaching of Christ back to the people of England during the Anglo-Saxon period.

Their belief structures mirrored the rise of Christianity in mainland Europe and by the middle of the seventh and eighth century, the Angles had fully embraced the teachings of the revitalized Christian faith.

This change in faith was not isolated to the British Isles. Christianity was spreading throughout Europe with a frenzied pace. The major rulers of Central and Western Europe had adopted Christianity under the rule of a powerful force which was bringing together the former Roman territories under a relentless crusade to have one faith over all European peoples.

What became of the Angles?

The Angles that remained in their ancestral lands freely mixed with the other Germanic peoples and they eventually became as one Christian people.

Their genetic identity can be found in those who make up the population of nations such as Denmark, Poland and Germany.

The policies and laws of the Charlemagne's Empire meant that much of the Germanic culture was discarded and replaced with Christian culture. There was to be no more worship of old gods such as Odin, Thor or Freya.

These people were not allowed to cling to the old ways and those that did were often seen as a strange minority in an area that was to become a major part of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Angles in the British Isles soon intermixed with the Saxons and the indigenous population of these lands. Over several generations, the ethnic mix became less apparent and a single Germanic culture which in part celebrated diversity flourished.

The lands of the British Isles were soon split into a collection of kingdoms which were often ruled over by kings who celebrated a newly adopted faith.

As Christianity grew, these new kingdoms evolved and new leaders removed many of the traditions and the culture of the Angles.

The Arrival of the Vikings.

The identity of the Angles was diminished even further with the arrival and invasion of the Norsemen of Scandinavia.

The annexation of Anglo-Saxon lands by the Vikings weakened the influence of the Angles further still. In England, the power now lay with new Viking leaders throughout the northern eastern and southeastern regions of the British Isles.

Many territories that were once the property of the Angles were taken over by Scandinavian raiders. The lasting legacy of the Angles is in the name England it is thought that its name had evolved from the name 'land of the Angles to Angle-land which in turn became simplified to the country we now know as England.

The Arrival of the Vikings Decreased the Power of the Angles

The Viking Culture soon replaced that of the Angles.
The Viking Culture soon replaced that of the Angles.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Andrew Stewart


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