“Unleashing the Legacy of Anglo-Saxon Culture: A Journey to the Roots of English Heritage”

Anglo Saxon Culture Introduction

Anglo-Saxons were the people who once inhabited and ruled the areas which are present-day England and Wales. They were Germanic people who lived in these regions from the 5th century to the time of the 1066 Norman Conquest.

“The Anglo-Saxon period was a time of great change and upheaval, marked by wars, invasions, and cultural transformations.”

Martin Wall, Professor of English, University of Leicester
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Anglo Saxon Timeline

The Anglo-Saxons’ origins were in the Germanic tribes who migrated to England from the three clans of Angles, Jutes, and Saxon. English society and culture have their roots in Anglo-Saxon culture.

Anglo Saxon Kingdoms Map

“Anglo-Saxon society was hierarchical, but it was also characterized by a strong sense of community and a shared sense of identity.”

St. John Simpson, Senior Curator, Department of the Middle East, British Museum

The Anglo-Saxon language is called ‘Old English‘ because many words of English are derived from it. The systems developed by Anglo-Saxons became the basis of modern English systems. The legal system is one of these examples.


Anglo Saxon Literature

The works of Old English include sermons, epic poetry, legal works, hagiography, and chronicles mainly including Anglo-Saxons Chronicles, riddles, legal works, and others. 400 extant manuscripts found from that period are written in the Roman alphabet and Anglo-Saxon runes.

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“Anglo-Saxon art and literature are some of the greatest achievements of the medieval world, full of intricate beauty and profound meaning.”

Michael Lapidge, Emeritus Fellow of Clare College, University of Cambridge

All the literature was written at that time but due to the efforts of King Alfred, the works were saved and translated into Old English. The leather was mostly used to write on and sewn into books.

The ink came from oak galls. Unlike rhyme, Anglo-Saxon poetry is organized around alliteration. There are three major strands of their literature: epic poetry, religious poetry, and riddles.

Illuminated Manuscripts

Christian missionaries brought manuscripts to Anglo-Saxon lands from the Mediterranean to assist them in the establishment of the early Anglo-Saxon church. St Augustine’s Gospels are one of the books that came to England at that time from Italy.

Medieval illuminated manuscripts

The books from other countries laid the foundation of text, script, and decoration in Anglo-Saxon England and formed part of the Anglo-Saxon culture.

Anglo-Saxons then produced their own books. The Bible also came as a model to Anglo-Saxon land and was a very important part of Anglo-Saxon culture.

A magnificent 11th-century gospel was then produced at Winchester. King Alfred also contributed to writing or assisting manuscripts.

Illuminated Manuscripts of Medieval Times

“The Anglo-Saxon period is the bedrock of English history, a time that shaped the language, culture, and political identity of the English people.”

Simon Keynes, Elrington and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, University of Cambridge

English Language

Anglo-Saxon was the language of present-day England and areas of Scotland. Anglo-Saxon is a West Germanic language that is closely related to Old Saxon and Old Frisian.

Law of AEthelberht

The grammar of Old English is also related to Classical Latin. Some of the features of Old English were pronouns, finite verbs, adjectives, and nouns.

The main difference from Latin is that verbs have no synthetic passive voice and can be conjugated in only two tenses.

It is believed by many linguists that Anglo-Saxon people received influence from local languages, especially Common Brittonic. Many grammatical changes observed in English were due to the influence of Brittonic.

Anglo Saxon Warfare

The time of Anglo-Saxons from the 5th century to the Norman Conquest (1066) was a time of wars and battles.

Anglo-Saxons fought with each other and with others during this period. It was a custom to bury males with weapons. The armies were mustered for both offense and defense.

Anglo Saxon Warriors

“The Anglo-Saxons were a vibrant and diverse people, whose culture blended Germanic, Celtic, and Christian influences into a unique and dynamic whole.”

Peter S. Baker, Professor of English, University of Virginia

It is said that the training of a soldier started in his childhood through warfare games. There are no significant references to military training and strategy. King Alfred made a defensive strategy by building fortified buildings.

Anglo Saxon Warfare
Anglo Saxon warriors used a shield wall formation on the battlefield

Anglo Saxon Religion

The early religious history of the 5th and 6th centuries was mainly dominated by ‘pagan’ religious beliefs. The early society of Anglo-Saxons was much attached to the horse. Horses were associated with the gods.

Stonehenge *Pagan Rituals
Stonehenge *Pagan Rituals

Horses played a major role in funerary practices and other rituals. Anglo-Saxons worshiped in temples, sacred wells, hills, or trees. Later, Christianity found its way into the Anglo-Saxon territory from Rome through monks and monasticism.

In the beginning, it was not very well accepted by Anglo-Saxons. Then slowly Christianity grew in England and churches were established. The Roman tradition of monasticism was adopted in the region.

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Anglo Saxon Culture *Kingship

The kingship fueled freedom, societal advantage, and relationship opportunities for the elite of Anglo-Saxon society. This helped the Anglo-Saxon language and culture to prosper.

King Alfred The Great *Anglo Saxon King
King Alfred The Great *Anglo Saxon King

Ties were typically forged with a person, not a cause. The power of a kingdom depended on the strength of the leader-king. There was no concept of underlying administration.

God and King were joined in the peoples’ minds with the help of the church. King Alfred is one of the greatest kings of Anglo-Saxon history. He made many reforms in the military. In his reign, Anglo-Saxon culture, language, and literature flourished.

King Alfred the Great Medieval King
King Alfred The Great Alfred was the king of Wessex in the South of England a great warrior and leader of men

Anglo Saxon Society

There were two main classes in Anglo-Saxon society i.e. slaves and free men. Both classes had a hierarchical structure. There were many groups of free men and many types of slaves.

Anglo Saxon Shields

The important ranks among freemen were the king, the nobleman or thegn, and the ordinary freeman or ceorl. The system was based on the value of their wergild or ‘man price.’

Anglo Saxon People

Women enjoyed considerable independence. They were ‘oath worthy’ and a married woman could own property.

There were big penalties for sexual and other offenses against them. A bride’s price was paid to the relatives of the bride and a morning gift was given by the bridegroom.

Anglo Saxon Houses & Settlements

Anglo Saxon dwellings and settlements evolved significantly over time. During the early period, Anglo Saxons mostly lived in huts constructed from wood. Straw was used as the main material for the thatched roofs on these huts.

Anglo Saxon England

These huts ranged from small to very large, the largest housing entire halls and typically belonging to the chief.

The settlements were also marked by unique features. There were a series of buildings called Anglo-Saxon royal villa in which the king was accommodated during his visits to his land to give justice and collect rents.

Anglo Saxon Life

People came to the king to have their disputes settled, lands granted, policy debated, appointments made, and to make trades.

Anglo Saxon Architecture

Early Anglo-Saxon buildings were simple. They were built using timber and thatched roofing. Anglo-Saxons constructed small towns near rivers sites used for ports and near centers of agriculture.

Anglo Saxon Farming

There was significant diversity in the sizes of the buildings, though most were square or rectangular.

A sunken floor with a shallow pit over which the plank floor was suspended could be seen in many houses. Stone was used in constructing the churches.

The first church in the Anglo-Saxon region was built in Kent in 597.

Anglo Saxon Architecture The Stow Minster
The Stow Minster Church in Lincolnshire dates back to 1040 and features some of the tallest arches used in Anglo Saxon architecture.

Summary of Anglo Saxon Culture

  • Anglo-Saxon language laid the foundations of the Old English from which modern English is drawn.
  • Anglo-Saxons practiced paganism initially but later converted to Christianity and accepted the Roman version of monasticism.
  • Anglo-Saxons initially lived in simple hut-like houses.
  • Anglo Saxon Churches were primarily built of stone.
  • Biblical literature was first brought to Anglo-Saxon England by the monks and missionaries from continental Europe. This inspired Anglo-Saxon books as well, specifically the illuminated manuscripts.