20 Interesting Facts About the Anglo Saxons
Want to find out more about the Anglo Saxons? Check out these 20 cool facts about these ancient Brits, including why they believed in loads of gods, what treasure's buried at Sutton Hoo, and what mead is!
The Anglo Saxons came to Britain in the 5th century, but how much do you know about these warriors, farmers and myth makers who believed in dragons and had some very funny names? Check out these 20 interesting facts and learn all about the Anglo Saxons, their way of life and how they named the days of the week. If you enjoyed this article, you can always check out our other history facts - we've got crazy history facts, these fun Shakespeare facts, and if you want to test your history knowledge, try out European History quiz!
1. The Anglo Saxons Came From Mainland Europe
The Anglo Saxons didn't start in Britain - the people living in Britain when they arrived were called, helpfully, the Britons, and the Anglo Saxons defeated them around the 5th of 6th century and became their leaders. We get a lot of info about Anglo Saxon history from a guy called 'The Venerable Bede', a monk from Anglo Saxon times who recorded lots of events.
2. They Were Made Up of Three Different Tribes
The Anglo Saxons were actually three Germanic tribes; The Angles, The Saxons and The Jutes. They originally lived in what is modern day Germany and its surrounding countries, though at the time it was lots of little countries and kingdoms. Like most of Britain, Northwest Europe had been ruled by the Romans until the fall of their Empire. The Anglo Saxons came to south Britain for several reasons; in order to grow crops in better conditions, and possibly because they were invited by the locals to keep out Viking and Celt invaders from modern day Scotland and Ireland.
3. They Ruled Britain From 410-1066AD
That's over 600 years in total. The Romans left because their empire was failing, and they didn't see Britain as very valuable. During that time, huge changes happened, including Britain's conversion to Christianity, lots of Viking invasions, and political turmoil.
4. They Named Lots of Towns
Lots of placenames in Britain today come from the Anglo Saxons, especially places in the South and Southwest, where they were especially dominant. These include Sussex, Essex, Hastings, Reading, Peterborough, Scarborough, Greenwich, Shaftesbury, Chiswick, Staplehurst, Birmingham, Buckingham, and dozens more. Lots of these place names come from Anglo Saxon words that describe the area; for example, 'bury' means fortified, or fort.
5. Britain Looked A Bit Different
The Britain the Anglo Saxons arrived in looked a bit different than it does today. For a start, it wasn't divided up neatly into four countries, although most of modern Scotland remains the same, as does Wales. The Anglo Saxons divided Britain into several kingdoms: Mercia, which took up most of the middle of England, Northumbria, which stretched into lower Scotland and covered the North East, Wessex, which stretched along what is now the West Country in England and some of the South East too, and Essex, Kent, East Anglia and Sussex, which have remained almost completely the same today.
6. They Started as Pagans
When the Anglo Saxons arrived, they were not Christian, but Pagan. They believed in several gods, not just one, and felt it was important to devote offereings and sacrifices, such as food as an animals, to these gods to appease them.
7. They Worshipped Four Main Gods
The Anglo Saxons had four main gods: Wodin, the chief of the gods, Tiw, a sky god, Thunor, a god of Thunder, Frig, Odin's wife and Ing. These gods all had similar Roman and Norse counterparts, and also gave us the names of the days of the week; Wodin's Day became Wednesday, Frig's Day became Friday and so on. The Anglo-Saxons considered weather gods to be important because so much depended on good weather - crops, health and battles, to name a few.
8. They Had Some Weird Legends
The Anglo Saxon's believed a whole bunch of weird and unusual things, lots of which are part of Britain's folklore today. They believed the land was populated by dragons, elves, fairies and other magical beings such as wood spirits and water spirits. They also believed that magical talismans such as jewellery would protect them from evil spirits, and that certain rhymes would work like spells.
9. They Became Christians
The Anglo Saxons converted to Christianity when St Augustine, on a mission from the Pope, came over in AD597. It took 100 years for the Anglo Saxons to fully convert to Christianity, building churches and monasteries, as well as creating and copying out beautiful bibles full of artwork. Even then, lots of Anglo Saxon superstitions remained, and some of them are still believed today!
10. They Fought The Vikings
The Anglo Saxons were constantly at war with the Vikings, especially in the 8th century when there were lots of Viking raids from the north and from Denmark. Sometimes they lived peacefully alongside each other, but often they were at war. By 954 they had driven out the last Viking king of Jorvik (York), Eric Bloodaxe, and the Vikings agreed to be ruled by the Anglo Saxons.
11. There Food Wasn't Super Exciting
The Anglo Saxons had a simple diet mostly consisting of what the land provided and what they could grow, including wheat, barley, rye oats and vegetables. They would eat meat like deer, rabbit, beef and anything they could hunt. It's not as exciting as the huge Roman feasts of flamingo tongues, but it's probably more nutritious!
12. But They Did Drink Mead
You might think mead is a made up drink from fantasy films, but it's real and the Anglo Saxons really did drink it! Mead is an alcoholic drink a bit like beer or wine, made by fermenting honey. It tastes very sweet and was often drunk at celebrations. It's even mentioned in the epic Anglo Saxon poem Beowulf! (That's epic as in long, not awesome...though it's pretty awesome too)
13. They Dressed Differently From Us
The Anglo Saxons wore very different clothes than the ones we wear today. They were made of all natural materials which the Anglo Saxons could obtain and weave themselves, such as linen, and leather for belts and shoes, if they could afford it. The mostly wore simple tunics over trousers and long dresses, and women would often cover their hair to show respectability. They would also wear jewellery made of stones, wood, gems and semi-precious gems, though again these would be expensive.
14. Their Homes Were Made of Wood
The Anglo Saxons had to make their homes from what was available, and in this case, it was wood. LOTS of wood. Unlike today, in Anglo Saxon times most of Britain was covered by dense forest. This meant lots of timber available. The Anglo Saxons built small wooden houses with thatched roofs. Often they were just one big room inside, and the whole family would eat, sleep and hang out together. There wasn't really such a thing as 'private time' in Anglo Saxon England!
15. Alfred the Great Was An Anglo Saxon
The Anglo Saxons had lots of kings with fun names, including Ethelred the Unready, Ethelbert, Egbert, Aethelwulf and Eadwig, to name a few. Alfred the Great is one of the most famous of these kings; he was called 'The Great' because he defeated the Vikings and then worked to make sure Vikings and Anglo Saxons would live in peace. So he did quite a lot to be called 'The Great'. You don't get a nickname like that just for cleaning your room once a month, so try harder if you want to impress people!
16. They Left Behind Lots of Treasure
One of the really cool things about the Anglo Saxons is how much Anglo Saxon stuff we've found in the ground. This includes the hoard at Sutton Hoo, which includes jewellery, belt buckles, cups, bowls and an incredible Anglo Saxon helmet.
17. We Use Anglo Saxon Names Today
You might not run into many Egberts, but lots of other Anglo Saxon names are still popular today, including Edward, Edwin, Edgar, Oswald, Harold, Edith, Ethel, Mildred and Hilda. Hmm, ok so you STILL probably don't know many Oswalds, but they do exist!
18. You Can Still Visit Anglo Saxon Sites Today
Lots of places where the Anglo Saxons lived or fought battles are open to the public today, including Sutton Hoo where the hoard was discovered, the West Stow Anglo Saxon Village in Suffolk, and the British Museum, where lots of Anglo Saxon items are on display!
19. They Were Defeated At The Battle of Hastings
After a King called Edward the Confessor died in 1066, there were disagreements over who should rule next. One of these claimants, William of Normandy, in France, decided he should be king, and invaded England with his army of Normans. The Normans were a group from modern day France, and they defeated Harold, an Anglo Saxon claimant, at the Battle of Hastings in the same year. The Normans would go on to build huge stone castles and introduce new system of society, called Feudalism to Britain. They also created a huge tapestry all about the battle, known as The Bayeux Tapestry.
20. King Arthur Might Have Fought the Anglo Saxons
King Arthur is mostly legend, but some scholars think he might really have existed in Anglo Saxon Britain, under a different name. Lots of different writings record there being a 'King Arthur' who fought the Anglo Saxons, but it's impossible to know for sure if he was real! He probably didn't have a wizard friend though. Sorry.