The Anglo Saxons were primarily a warrior society which found a new home in England after fighting off many foes such as Picts, Scotis and then the local Britons.
The Anglo Saxon society itself was an amalgamation of the Angles, Saxons and elements borrowed from the former Celtic rulers of Britain. After their arrival at the British Isles, the Anglo Saxons evolved very significantly over the course of centuries.
From being warrior Germanic tribes with primarily pagan beliefs, Anglo Saxons turned into a mostly Christian population with a more settled lifestyle, individual kingdoms and written codes of law.
Life after Arrival in Britain
Anglo Saxons were asked by the local Breton population of Britain to help them guard against the attacks of the Celts. They arrived in Britain in the 5th century and at this time, were a warrior society.
After warding off the Celtic threat, the Anglo Saxons also subdued the local Bretons and went on to establish their own kingdoms all over Britain. The leaders who established kingdoms then maintained their dominance by raiding the lands in their dominion and forcefully taking surpluses from others.
Religion in Anglo Saxon Life
When the Anglo Saxons arrived in Britain, they firmly adhered to Germanic pagan beliefs. By the end of 6th century, the ruler of the Kingdom of Kent had been converted to Christianity.
Other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms soon followed suit. Roman Catholic monasticism became a particularly important part of Christianity in England during the 7th century.
Although most of the Anglo Saxon population adopted Christianity, the pagan beliefs and practises were incorporated into the new religion and many of them survived.
Christianity played an important role in unifying the Anglo Saxon kingdoms into a unified culture, ultimately paving the way for a unified kingdom comprising of the entire Anglo Saxon population.
Social Structure of Anglo Saxons
The Anglo Saxon society was clearly divided into a set social hierarchy. The society was broadly categorised between freemen and slaves. The freemen, in turn, were divided into a number of classes. At the top was the royalty, followed immediately by the class of noblemen who were usually termed thegn.
Under the thegn came the class of coerl who were regular freemen with some land of their own. The coerls could rise to the rank of thegn by acquiring a greater part of land over time. To be a thegn typically comprised of owning up to 600 acres of land, a castle-gate and a royal seat in the king’s hall.
Apart from the warrior aristocracy, merchants with considerable resources could also rise to the rank of noblemen over time.
Women in Anglo Saxon Society
Women in the Anglo Saxon society enjoyed considerable rights. They could become leaders of monasteries and could engage in legal activities on their own. Many women looked after establishments of nun and monasteries for women.
A number of Anglo Saxon laws protected the women against violence and sexual crimes. Women could independently live as widows, own property and raise children on their own.