Are Anglo-Saxons Germanic

Strangers in the early Middle Ages in Europe

Fishing, Saxons and Jutes in East England,

by Chris Fern and Nick Stoodley



Late antique Britain

Archeology of the Early Anglo-Saxons

Pottery, brooches and clothing




Late antique Britain

The exact point in time at which the decline of the Western Roman Empire began is the subject of heated debate. From the 3rd century onwards, Roman Europe came under increasing pressure from piracy and raids from the free Germanic and Celtic areas. Britain, however, stayed from many of its worst incursions through the middle of the 4th century and up to conspiration barbarica spared.

In response to the incursions, numerous urban settlements across Europe were fortified. During this time there are also some indications that the position of urban life changed, such as the B. the fact that some public buildings and suburbs were no longer in use. Furthermore, in the late 3rd century, a number of usurpers began using Britain as a base for their separatist endeavors. Although all this suggests a period of political and economic decline, it is clear that in Britain there are many thousands villae and smaller rural trading centers continued to flourish and trade with the rest of the empire (Campbell, 1982: Esmond Cleary, 2004: Jones, 2004: Southern, 2004).

To counter the threat of attacks from the sea by tribal groups, which presumably included Franks, Angles, Saxons, Picts, Irish and Scots, a number of fortifications and signal posts were built along the coastlines of eastern Britain and northern France from the 3rd century onwards known as “Saxon shore forts”.

How real this threat was in Britain by the mid-fourth century can be seen in the precautions taken by some wealthy villa owners. They buried their best silver: examples can be found in Mildenhall, Suffolk and Water Newton, Huntingdonshire. From about this time on, the actual decline of Roman life in Britain can be evidenced by a decline in upper-class spending on villas, mosaics and objets d'art (Painter 1977a, 1977b: Southern, 2004).

War with non-Roman barbarian peoples and the need to defend Roman borders has always been one of the main occupations of the Roman state, as evidenced by the construction of Hadrian's Wall in the early 2nd century. In the late ancient Roman Empire, however, the boundaries between Romans and non-Romans became increasingly blurred.

In large part, this was because the Roman army increasingly had to rely on federates for border defense, many of which were recruited from non-Roman peoples east of the Rhine border. Indeed, by the end of the 4th century, nearly half of the officers in the Roman army were "barbaric" Germanic descent.

These peoples fought against remuneration, especially in the form of Roman coins, which they then exchanged for their own political currency - jewelry. But they brought more than just coinage back home with them. Roman technology, weapons, jewelry, fashion and other idioms strongly influenced the development of free Germania. For example, the Germanic long sword developed from the Roman one spathe and artistic styles of the time of the Migration Period borrowed their motifs from Roman iconography. This is particularly noticeable with the Scandinavian gold bracteates. In addition, a career in the Roman army undoubtedly brought with it an increased prestige of the Germanic soldiers in their homeland.

It is even more revealing that late antiquity Roman emperors were occasionally heavily dependent on the support of Germanic rulers. In AD 306, the Alemannic king Crocus was a significant ally when Constantine the Great was made emperor in York. It is therefore certain that towards the end of the Western Roman Empire there was considerable Germanic influence on Roman Britain and continental Europe and vice versa, which also included targeted movements of entire peoples across the borders (Alkemade, 1997; Pohl, 1997; Southern, 2004).

The end of the Western Roman Empire in Britain seems to have come quite abruptly from an archaeological and historical point of view. Both the supply of Roman coins required to pay the army and federated forces and the production of Roman ceramics in Britain ended between AD 400 and 425. At the same time, Roman traders began to travel to the eastern half of Britain to a standstill.

Most drastic was probably the decision of the usurper Constantine III in 407 to withdraw the army from Britain in order to enforce his political ambitions against Germanic associations. The legions never returned to Britain, and Gildas, 6th century historian, reports that as a result of further "barbarian" attacks, many members of the Roman upper class fled Britain to settle in Roman Gaul (present-day Brittany). He also reports that in order to counter the attacks, the British set up a federated Saxon mercenary force in eastern Britain, which rebelled against their Romano-British masters on the pretext of not being paid (Winterbottom, 1978; Giot et al, 2003; 97-107: Esmond Cleary 2004: Wood, 2004).


Archeology of the Early Anglo-Saxons

The decline of the Christian Roman elite left a political and cultural vacuum in Britain. In eastern England, this void was quickly filled by northern European Germanic (pagan) influence and the customs of non-Roman tribal groups coming from northern Europe and the areas east of the Rhine. These tribal associations had never been incorporated into the Roman Empire before, and therefore lacked the essential Roman features such as cities with stone buildings, literature, coinage and the all-encompassing state ideology with all its connotations such as a standing army, taxation, jurisdiction, administrative bureaucracy and market economy . Instead, they lived in wooden buildings and lived a life that we get the most vivid impression of today, primarily from the complex customs and rituals (and occasionally from the one-sided / incomplete observations of Roman authors such as Tacitus).

Above all, this concerns hoard finds with votive offerings that people sacrificed to their gods and in particular the traditions that determined how death was dealt with. Funeral customs and grave goods are highly symbolic.

The legacy of this period is attested in present-day Great Britain in modern English, which derives many of its words and grammar from Germanic, as well as in the administrative counties of Eastern England whose names (Essex = East Saxon = East Saxony; Sussex = South Saxon = Südsachsen, East Anglia = the eastern Angels) and partly also borders go back to the Germanic peoples who are said to have settled these areas in the post-Roman times.

As a result, traditional archaeological and historical explanations have attributed the change to large numbers of peoples who immigrated to eastern England from outside the borders of the Roman Empire. This view is rooted in a literal reading of the historical sources of this period, such as Gilda, Beda and the Chronicle of the Anglo-Saxons, which describe in detail various "invasion episodes" by the Angles, Saxony and Jutes from the middle of the 5th century onwards, with emphasis in parts South East England took power. Renewed evaluations of these written sources, which are ultimately based on orally transmitted founding myths, have questioned their truthfulness.

The alternative is a “war of conquest” theory: change was effected “top down” by replacing the Roman elite with a Germanic one; however, most of the population stayed on site. More extreme is the latest view that there has been almost no immigration at all and that the “cultural revolution” is due to an ideological change rather than a change in population. The fate of the indigenous Romano-British population is closely linked to the question of invasion or migration.

Were they either called to arms or enslaved, as Bede would have us believe? Was she assimilated or did she simply trade her “Roman” Christian identity and ideas for Germanic clothing and pagan ideologies? (Winterbottom, 1978: McClure and Collins, 1994: Lucy, 2000).

Archaeological interpretations of what the “early Anglo-Saxon period” actually is are based primarily on the grave finds. In contrast to their late Roman predecessors, people buried their dead in full clothing and with weapons. The dead could be cremated and their remains housed in a ceramic vessel, as was customary in free Germania, or they could be buried in a body grave. Over 20,000 graves that can be dated to this time have been discovered so far. They reveal a people who mainly communicated through the display of their craftsmanship and prosperity and were able to produce sumptuous jewelry. Paradoxically, the constant threat of war is also expressed by the frequent appearance of weapons in the graves - around half of all men's graves contained them (Härke, 1992: Arnold, 1997).

Settlements in which these people lived have also been found, the most famous examples being those of Mucking, Essex, and West Stow, Suffolk, as well as the royal seat of Yeavering, Northumberland. These settlements reveal that the main branches of economy at that time were agriculture and the keeping of cattle, sheep and pigs, as well as the textile and leather production associated with it.

The hall was, as Bewoulf reports, the center of the community and presumably the seat of the local lord. Disputes were settled here and poetry was sung, celebrated and drunk (Klaeber, 1950; West, 1985; Hamerow, 1993; Arnold, 1997).

It was a time without the stone buildings and bureaucracy of the Roman state, but with alternative avenues for politics, economics and social discourse. This consisted of oral myths about warriors, kings, monsters and gods. Of course, the songs have fallen silent today, with the exception of a few that were written down in the subsequent Christian era, such as: B. the Beowulf song. But we can try to “read” the drama and elaborate “poetry” of their overloaded funeral rites, which are “loudest” in the Sutton-Hoo ship's grave or in the recently discovered grave of Prittlewell (Klaeber, 1950: Carver, 1998; Lucy, 2000: Hirst et al, 2004).


Pottery, brooches and clothing

The traditional archaeological interpretations of the early Anglo-Saxon period are based primarily on the assumption that material culture is a direct reflection of the ethnic and social identities of early medieval peoples. A “Saxon” primer was therefore often viewed as an indicator of the grave of a person of Saxon origin.

This view can no longer be accepted without reservation, because objects (and the ideologies associated with them) can of course “travel” between groups in many ways other than migration. Trading, getting married, and exchanging gifts are possible alternatives. It is also clear that our modern views of ethnicity and material culture, which we fuse with ideas of nationalism and political structures, are anachronistic. In the post-Roman period, as the Beowulf text shows, the concept of “ethnicity” - if there was any - was fluid. Instead, through "kinship", which could be biological or through ingestion, connections were created based on loyalty and service in exchange for stately protection and hospitality. In this way, a small number of immigrants could have imported their foreign kinship traditions, which, because there were no longer any Roman alternatives, quickly became the norm for the local, non-immigrant kinship associations as well. This model is indicated by the way in which the immigrant jewelry forms, such as the cross-shaped fibulae, were adopted by local Anglo-Saxon craftsmen and customers (Ǻberg, 1926: Leeds, 1945: Hedeager, 1992: Arnold, 1997: Lucy, 2000) .

The earliest real evidence of North Germanic influence in eastern England is the sudden appearance of ceramic forms that are very closely linked to the ceramic traditions of Angling and Saxony, particularly in Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony (northern Germany). Often used as urns, these vessels are handmade, not disk-turned in the Roman tradition, and some are carelessly fired. They are decorated with purely "Germanic" ornamentation and are perhaps the most convincing evidence of the immigration of foreign peoples into England in the early 5th century. In the Spring Hill cemetery, which contains over 2000 graves, such urns are perhaps already in the Time to date around 425. It is also clear that some of the fibulae (especially those of the cruciform type) found in these urns are also imported from the same areas (Myres, 1969: Hills, 1993).

Cremation is a very destructive process that leaves only very decimated and fragmented remnants of the actual ritual. These remains, which survived the fire and were deposited in the urn - usually fibulae, pearls and toilet utensils (combs, tweezers, razor blades and scissors) show that the deceased was usually clothed at the stake and often from vessels made of glass or bronze and others Objects such as B. game boards and pieces, was accompanied. The apparent obsession with putting toilet utensils in the urn seems to reflect a belief in resurrection and rebirth. They are objects that were considered to be most essential to regaining a civilized human appearance and were almost symbolic of it.

In comparison, the earliest “Germanic” body graves are difficult to date to around AD 475, even if this may be more due to the inaccessibility of our methods than to reality. In any case, in contrast to the destructive incendiary rite, these graves give much more information about the types of clothing that people wore and about their material culture. It is mainly these graves that have attracted the attention of scholars.

They show that in most of eastern England the preferred clothing for adult women is a garment held together on both shoulders by a brooch, the so-called Peplos, was. In essence, this garment was a legacy of the late Roman Empire and became the most popular fashion in large parts of northern Europe during the Migration Period (approx. 450-600 AD). Another garment was preferred in Kent and south east England. Here the women wore a robe that was held together at the front. This type of clothing seems to have developed on the continent in the Franconian-Alemannic Rhineland.

In part, the choice of clothing seems to reflect the different contacts of the regions: the clothing fasteners (cross-shaped brooches and cuff fittings) that were preferred north of the Thames are "Anglic" and Scandinavian types, while the cup brooches that were worn in the region on the Upper Thames, show close connections to the Saxon area.

In contrast, fibula and belt fashion in the Kingdom of Kent were heavily influenced by Rhineland customs throughout the 6th century, although the kingdom's earliest ancestors may have been Jutes (Jutland, Scandinavia). Kent thrived under these contacts with the continent, with privileged access to prestige goods (silver, gold, alamandin and glass vessels) obviously and it is therefore perhaps not surprising that Kent was the first Anglo-Saxon kingdom around AD 597 to be dated with royal support Continent, was converted back to Christianity (Hawkes, 1982: Hines, 1984: Parfitt and Brugmann, 1997: Stoodley 1999, 2000).

An indispensable part of the Anglo-Saxon women's costume was a pair of shoulder brooches, which were usually gold-plated or “silver-plated” with pewter and, more rarely (especially in Kent), decorated with almandines.These fibulae were usually worn together with pearl necklaces made of glass and amber beads, which usually hung between the fibulae, while a belt with an ornate buckle held the garment together at the waist. A selection of objects (keys, belt pendants, pouches and fire steels) as well as the ubiquitous knife usually hung from the belt on a belt hanger. In the Anglic areas north of the Thames, metal cuff fittings were also worn on a dress with a sleeve slit.

Although one was dressed in death to give the appearance of splendor, it occasionally happens that fibulae and other objects placed in the grave were old, worn, and repaired. This is a reminder that the rite was essentially a ritual theater act for the community. Further accessories could be a ceramic vessel or, more rarely, a glass vessel, a bronze bowl or a bucket. These valuable objects probably served as a symbol for the status of the deceased as organizers and organizers of hospitality, celebrations and, above all, the need for alcohol.

In contrast, the essential part of men 's "costume" was their armament. About half of all men were buried with weapons, mostly with a spear or a shield, exceptionally also with a sword (sax - a large hunting or cleaver) and very rarely a helmet, chain mail and riding accessories. The gun burial rite was unusual prior to the sixth century and this tendency appears to reflect the customs of the row burial civilization of the continent from which the rite is believed to have been influenced (Swanton, 1973: Dickinson and Härke, 1992: Härke, 1992).

Children's graves are usually less well stocked with grave goods than those of adults. Little girls were sometimes buried in miniature copies of adult women's clothing, with a modest string of pearls, occasionally supplemented by a single brooch. Likewise, boys were very rarely given a miniature spear or (or bow) as an indication of the social status they would have assumed. More often, however, children were buried without grave goods or only with a knife or a vessel (which might contain food). In some cases, however, the entry into adulthood seems to have occurred considerably earlier than today, since girls and boys were allowed to receive grave goods from adults at the age of only 12 years. That they were viewed by the community as adults, presumably with social obligations to marry or go to war, should perhaps not be too surprising when we consider that life expectancy at that time was only about 35 years (Stoodley, 1999, 2000).

In addition, the funeral customs give us an insight into the world of people's beliefs. The fact that the dead were dressed for burial, and often jars of food and even whole pieces of meat were added, suggests that they believed in life after death, although little is known about it.

A striking aspect is the fascinating, but often highly abstract, animal ornamentation, in which the finest silver and gold-plated pieces of jewelry that ended up in the graves were decorated. Related to the technical and soberly referred to as style I and II, this art, which combines animal and human limbs, was adopted from Scandinavia, where it can be equated with cosmological beliefs about animals and humans. Another sign of such ideas in Anglo-Saxon England is the custom of burying animals. In general, these are cremation burials where it appears as if the deceased was cremated along with the animals, which could be horses, dogs, sheep, pigs, birds, chickens, and even fish (Speake, 1980: Bond, 1996: Magnus, 1997: Dickinson, 2002).



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