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Who Were the Angles?

Updated on November 24, 2017

The Angles have been pretty much overlooked by history, as the Saxon people seem to have taken precedence in British history. This is surprising as they are mentioned in passing in everyday in the modern age. The Angles are usually referred to when we speak of ethnicity or to a political agreement (e.g The Anglo-Irish agreement). The Angles or the most commonly used "Anglo" describes the lineage of this relatively obscure Germanic tribe in relation to the English speaking world. Together with the Saxons of what is now modern Germany. They were both instrumental in creating the eventual kingdom of England.

The Angles colonized large parts of the British Isles and created a new frontier away from their own homeland on the European continent. With their fellow Germanic tribes they shaped the destiny of the embryonic Kingdoms of Wessex, East Anglia and other ancient lands.

The Saxons and the Angles shared a proud Germanic heritage.
The Saxons and the Angles shared a proud Germanic heritage.

The Angle's tribal lands

The Angles take their name from their original tribal lands of Angeln, It is an area located near to where the North Sea meets the Baltic Sea. The area is often associated with the German territory of Schleswig-Holstein but their home lands spread into the lands we now call Poland. The Angles alongside the Saxons are one of the most recognisable groups who sought settlement in the British Isles after Rome lost its control over their most north-western of provinces.

The new lands in Great Britain offered the Angles the chance to increase their productivity, wealth and territory. Like other European tribes who lived by the coastal regions on continental Europe, they had experience widespread flooding due to North Sea levels rising and treacherous weather patterns causing upset to their way of life.

The Angles also had to deal with the aggression of other European tribes such as the Franks. The migration of eastern tribes into their ancestral lands also gave many Angles the will and desire to try and find new lands to make a living from. Much of England was sparsely populated, undefended and ripe for settlement by those willing to cross the German Sea.

The Roman Legions patrolled the eastern coast of their lands to prevent Germanic raids.
The Roman Legions patrolled the eastern coast of their lands to prevent Germanic raids.

The division of Roman lands

The Angles would have first come over with the Roman Legions, usually as auxiliaries paid to defend their northern borders such as at Hadrian's Wall or to patrol the coastline as other Germanic tribes were keen on raiding or settling the British Isles. These threats to the dwindling power of Rome could have come from fellow Angle tribes people and most definitely involved Saxon Pirates).

After the Angle auxiliaries services were no longer required, they may have returned to mainland Europe and made plans to colonize the lands they had fought to defend..

Many Angles would have entered the British Isles when the Britons under Vortigern asked the Saxons and their allies for help to secure the peace. 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 Angles like the Saxons were pagan and this would have continued for at least another century after they settled.

It was the Irish Christians who brought the Christian church back to the people of England during the Anglo-Saxon period. Their belief structures mirrored their settlements in the mainland, and by the middle of the seventh and eighth century; the new settlers were becoming more influenced by the revitalized Christian faith. This change in faith was not isolated to the British Isles. Christianity was spreading throughout Europe. The major rulers of central and western Europe had adopted Christianity under the rule of powerful force which was bringing together the former Roman territories under a fresh ideology.

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Area's of settlement

The Angles in their settlement of the new lands tended to populate villages around expanses of rivers and open water. The Angles concentrated on the north of England and the east which offered their own problems. Much of the eastern lands of the British Isles were marshland or liable to flooding.

Between the Saxons and the Angles, they had taken the lower eastern parts of England and made inroads up to the Cornish region where much of the native Britons had taken refuge over the years of settlement by the Romans.

The area of England we know as East Anglia points to the scale of settlement and influence of these Germanic peoples. There was conflict with the Romano-British who held the lands but the new settlers quickly adapted to the natural order of the realms they inhabited. The Angles did not take over many of the established Roman settlements, they preferred their own smaller settlements which would have removed some of the animosity from the previous regime. Eventually trade and religion made the Germanic invaders interact more with the Romano-British.

The Angle's British territories.

  • East Anglia
  • Northumbria
  • Mercia
  • Deria
  • Lindsey
  • Bernica
  • Lothian

What became of the Angles

The Angles that remained in their ancestral lands freely mixed with the other Germanic peoples and became as Danish, Polish or German as the rest of the population. The policies of the Carolingian Empire meant that much of the Germanic culture was discarded and replaced with a Frankish Christian culture. No longer was the worship of Odin, Thor or Frey allowed, those who clung to the old ways were soon the minority in the area that was to become part of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Angles in the British Isles soon intermixed with the Saxons and the indigenous population of the lands. Over several generations the ethnic mix became less apparent and a single Germanic culture which in parts celebrated diversity flourished. The lands of the Britons were soon split into a collection of Kingdoms which were often ruled by kings who celebrated their Christian and Pagan faiths. As Christianity grew in the kingdoms and kings were defeated by stronger powers much of the Angles identity was diminished.

The invasion and settlement in lands once held by the Angles by the Norseman diluted the Angle influence in England. The power now lay in the Saxon kings to the south and west of the British Isles. Much of the Angles settled lands were taken over by Scandinavian settlers and raiders. The lasting legacy of the Angles is in the name England. It is thought to have evolved from the name Land of the Angles to Angleland.


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    • Asp52 profile image

      Andrew Stewart 5 years ago from England

      It helps that I am researching my first book set in the Viking era through to 1066 AD. I do get a bit caught up in History, that is why the book has been cooking for the last 5 years!

      Thanks for stopping by Ghaelach, I do find European History fascinating though and like to inform were I can :)

    • profile image

      Ghaelach 5 years ago

      Hi Asp52.

      Excellent article.

      You amaze me with your research which leaves me with the opinion that you are a student of our past life, better known as a Historian.

      LOL Ghaelach