Exploring the Fascinating Anglo Saxon Period in History

Exploring the Fascinating Anglo Saxon Period in History

Welcome to our comprehensive guide to the Anglo-Saxon period, an era that spans almost six centuries and played a pivotal role in shaping the history and culture of England. In this article, we will take you on a journey of discovery, exploring the origins, timeline, culture, literature, society, kingdoms, art, religion, language, and notable figures and events of this intriguing period in British history.

From the fierce warriors who invaded Germany to the sophisticated culture that emerged in the aftermath of their conquests, the Anglo-Saxon era is a complex and often enigmatic period that continues to captivate historians and culture enthusiasts alike. With a rich legacy that extends to our modern world, it is a period that demands our attention and respect. So, join us as we unlock the secrets of the Anglo-Saxon period and gain a deeper appreciation for the history and culture of England.

The Origins and Timeline of the Anglo-Saxon Period

The Anglo-Saxon period refers to the time between the end of Roman rule in Britain, around the 5th century AD, and the Norman Conquest of 1066. It is a significant period in British history, characterized by a complex history of invasion, settlement, and cultural integration.

The origins of the Anglo-Saxon people can be traced to modern-day Germany and Denmark. They were a group of Germanic tribes who migrated to Britain after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. The Anglo Saxon period is generally divided into four distinct periods: The Early Anglo-Saxon period (410-600), the Middle Anglo-Saxon period (600-850), the Late Anglo-Saxon period (850-1066), and the Norman Conquest.

During the Early Anglo-Saxon period, the Anglo-Saxons established seven independent kingdoms, collectively known as the Heptarchy. These kingdoms were Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex, and Wessex. The Middle Anglo-Saxon period saw the rise of Mercia as the dominant power, while Wessex emerged as the most powerful kingdom in the Late Anglo-Saxon period.

The Anglo Saxon period was also marked by significant events such as the Battle of Hastings in 1066, which marked the end of the Anglo Saxon period and the beginning of the Norman conquest of Britain. This period also saw the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, with St. Augustine arriving in Kent in 597 to establish a Christian church.

The Anglo Saxon Timeline

Period Timeline
Early Anglo Saxon period 410-600 AD
Middle Anglo-Saxon period 600-850 AD
Late Anglo-Saxon period 850-1066 AD
Norman Conquest 1066

The Anglo-Saxon period was a time of profound change and cultural diversity in British history. Over the course of several centuries, the Anglo-Saxons established a complex society, developed a rich literary tradition, and created a distinctive artistic style that continues to fascinate scholars and historians to this day.

Understanding Anglo Saxon Culture and Society

The Anglo-Saxon period was marked by a unique culture and society, which played a significant role in shaping the course of history. The Anglo-Saxons were Germanic people who migrated to England in the 5th and 6th centuries, and they brought with them their language, customs, and beliefs.

At the heart of Anglo-Saxon culture was a strong sense of community and hierarchy. The society was divided into different classes, with kings and lords at the top, followed by nobles, freemen, and slaves. Each class had its own set of rights and obligations, with the king holding ultimate authority over all.

Anglo Saxon society was also characterized by a deep respect for law and order. The legal system was based on the concept of wergild, or “man price,” which determined the amount of compensation that had to be paid in case of a crime. The higher the victim’s social status, the higher the wergild.

Religion played a significant role in daily life, with the Anglo-Saxons worshipping a pantheon of gods and goddesses. Paganism was the dominant religion until the arrival of Christianity in the 7th century, which gradually gained acceptance over the next few centuries.

Despite the challenges of life in the Anglo Saxon period, there was also a great deal of creativity and innovation. The Anglo-Saxons were skilled artisans, producing intricate metalwork, beautiful jewelry, and impressive illuminated manuscripts. They also developed a sophisticated system of poetic verse, which is still studied and admired today.

Overall, the Anglo-Saxon culture and society were complex and fascinating, with a lasting impact on the world that can still be seen today.

The Anglo Saxon Kingdoms and Governance

The Anglo-Saxon period was characterized by a complex political landscape, with various kingdoms vying for dominance. At different times, there were up to seven kingdoms covering different regions of England. The most well-known of these were:

Kingdom Region
Northumbria Northern England and Southeast Scotland
Mercia Central England
East Anglia Eastern England
Wessex Southern England

The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were each headed by a king, who had control over the territory and the people within the kingdom’s borders. These kings were often in conflict with each other, leading to frequent battles and shifting alliances. The kingdoms were divided into smaller administrative regions, each with a reeve in charge of local affairs.

The governance structure of the Anglo Saxon kingdoms was heavily influenced by Germanic traditions. The kings were expected to be strong and effective leaders, capable of defending their territory and maintaining order within their kingdom. They were advised by a council of nobles, who held significant power and influence within the kingdom.

Law and order were paramount in Anglo-Saxon society, and each kingdom had its own legal code. The laws varied between kingdoms, but some common features included harsh penalties for theft, murder, and other crimes. Disputes were settled through a system of justice that relied heavily on oaths and oaths of witnesses. The punishment for breaking an oath was severe, often resulting in severe fines or even banishment.

The Anglo Saxon Kingdoms and Governance

The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were also heavily involved in trade and commerce. Each kingdom had its own currency, and trade networks crisscrossed the country, connecting the kingdoms with each other and with the wider world. The most important trade goods included wool, honey, timber, and metalwork.

The Anglo Saxon period was a time of great change and political upheaval. Despite this, the kingdoms managed to forge new alliances and trade links, leading to significant economic and cultural developments. The legacy of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms can still be felt today, both in England and around the world.

The Richness of Anglo-Saxon Literature

The Anglo-Saxon period is known for its impressive literary works, which provide a glimpse into the culture and society of the time. Anglo Saxon literature can be categorized into two main types: heroic poetry and Christian poetry.

Heroic Poetry

Heroic poetry is characterized by its epic storytelling and focus on heroic deeds. One of the most famous examples of Anglo Saxon heroic poetry is Beowulf, an epic poem that tells the story of a hero named Beowulf and his battles against monsters and dragons. The poem is filled with vivid descriptions of battles and heroic feats and provides insight into the values and ideals of Anglo-Saxon society.

Other notable works of heroic poetry include The Battle of Maldon, which describes a battle between Anglo Saxons and Viking raiders, and The Wanderer, a poignant poem about loss and exile.

Christian Poetry

Christian poetry emerged in the later stages of the Anglo-Saxon period, as Christianity began to take hold in England. Christian poetry often reflects biblical themes and values and provides insight into the ways in which Christian beliefs were integrated into Anglo Saxon culture.

One of the most famous works of Christian poetry from this period is Caedmon’s Hymn, which celebrates God as the creator of all things. Another notable work is The Dream of the Rood, a remarkable poem about the crucifixion of Christ, which is believed to be the earliest surviving example of Old English religious poetry.

Overall, Anglo-Saxon literature is celebrated for its rich cultural and historical significance and continues to be studied and appreciated by scholars and enthusiasts alike.

Exploring Anglo-Saxon Art and Architecture

The Anglo Saxons were known for their impressive artistic achievements, from their intricate metalwork to their awe-inspiring architecture. Their art was influenced by a variety of factors, including their beliefs, traditions, and interactions with neighboring cultures.

Anglo Saxon Metalwork

One of the most notable artistic achievements of the Anglo Saxons was their metalwork. They created exquisite objects, such as brooches, helmets, and swords, with intricate designs and patterns. These objects were often used for both practical and decorative purposes and were considered a symbol of wealth and status.

The Sutton Hoo burial ship, discovered in the 1930s, is a prime example of Anglo Saxon metalwork. The ship was filled with luxurious objects, including a helmet adorned with gold and garnets, which showcased the high level of craftsmanship and artistry of the Anglo-Saxons.

Anglo Saxon Architecture

The Anglo Saxons were also known for their impressive architecture, particularly in their religious buildings. The most famous example is the Anglo Saxon cathedral at Canterbury, which was rebuilt by St. Augustine in the 6th century. The cathedral boasted grand arches, intricate carvings, and stained glass windows, which were considered groundbreaking for their time.

Another notable example is the Anglo-Saxon church at Brixworth, which was built in the 7th century. The church features a mix of Roman, Anglo Saxon, and Celtic styles, showcasing the diverse influences on Anglo Saxon architecture.

Anglo Saxon Sculpture

Anglo Saxon sculpture was often created for religious purposes and was characterized by intricate designs and patterns. They often depicted religious figures or important events in Anglo-Saxon history.

One of the most famous examples is the Ruthwell Cross, which was created in the 8th century. The cross stands over 18 feet tall and features intricate carvings that tell the story of Christ’s life.

In conclusion, the Anglo-Saxons made significant contributions to the artistic world through their metalwork, architecture, and sculpture. These achievements continue to influence and inspire modern artists and serve as a testament to the creativity and ingenuity of the Anglo-Saxon people.

The Role of Religion in Anglo-Saxon Life

The Anglo-Saxons were a deeply religious society, with a complex belief system that evolved throughout the period. Their religious practices and beliefs were closely tied to their daily lives and permeated every aspect of their culture.

Pagan Beliefs

At the start of the Anglo Saxon period, paganism was the dominant religion. The Anglo Saxons believed in a pantheon of gods and goddesses, each with their own specific powers and areas of influence. These deities included Woden, the god of war and wisdom; Thunor, the god of thunder and fertility; and Tiw, the god of justice and law.

The Anglo-Saxons believed that the gods controlled everything in the world, from the weather to the outcome of battles. They believed in the concept of wyrd, or fate, which was seen as an unbreakable force that predetermined the course of an individual’s life.


In the 7th century, Christianity began to spread throughout Anglo Saxon England, largely through the efforts of missionaries such as St. Augustine of Canterbury. Over time, Christianity became the dominant religion, although many pagan beliefs and practices continued to coexist with Christian ones.

The Anglo-Saxons adapted their existing pagan festivals and celebrations into Christian ones, such as Christmas and Easter. They also built impressive churches and monasteries, such as the famous Lindisfarne Priory, which became centers of learning and scholarship.

The Influence of Religion

Religion played a significant role in Anglo Saxon society, shaping everything from politics to art. Kings and other rulers were often seen as semi-divine figures with the power to intercede with the gods on behalf of their people. Religious beliefs also influenced the creation and use of objects, such as the intricate gold crosses and other religious artifacts that were produced during the period.

Overall, the complex and evolving religious beliefs of the Anglo-Saxons were an integral part of their society and culture, leaving a lasting impact on the region that can still be seen today.

The Evolution of the Anglo-Saxon Language

The Anglo Saxon language, also known as Old English, is the earliest form of the English language and was spoken in England from the 5th to the 11th century. The language was heavily influenced by Germanic languages, including Old Norse and Old High German.

One of the defining characteristics of Old English is its system of inflection, which allowed for the formation of complicated word forms and sentence structures. This system included changes in word endings to indicate tense, case, and grammatical gender.

Over time, Old English evolved into Middle English, which saw the introduction of many French and Latin words due to the Norman Conquest in 1066. This led to a simplification of the language, as the inflectional system was gradually replaced by prepositions and word order to indicate grammatical relationships.

By the 15th century, Middle English had developed into Early Modern English, which is much closer to the modern English language we use today. The Great Vowel Shift, a series of sound changes in the English language, occurred during this period and helped to standardize the language.

Today, the influence of Old English can still be seen in the English language, as many words and phrases from this period have survived and are still in use. Some examples of Old English words include “be,” “strong,” and “water,” while phrases like “to be or not to be” from Shakespeare’s Hamlet demonstrate the enduring legacy of the Anglo-Saxon language on English literature.

Notable Figures and Events in Anglo Saxon History

The Anglo-Saxon period was marked by the presence of distinct historical events and influential figures who left a lasting impact. Here are some of the notable figures and events in Anglo-Saxon history:


Bede was an Anglo-Saxon monk and scholar who lived during the 7th and 8th centuries. He is best known for his significant contributions to the field of history and theology. Bede wrote influential works such as “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People” and made significant contributions to the development of the English language and the study of astronomy.

Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great was a king of Wessex who reigned from 871 to 899. He is remembered as a capable military leader who successfully defended his kingdom against the Viking invasions. He was also a patron of learning and is credited with laying the foundations for the Anglo Saxon Renaissance. Alfred encouraged the translation of Latin works into Old English, including key religious texts.

The Battle of Hastings

The Battle of Hastings took place on October 14, 1066, between the Norman-French army led by William, Duke of Normandy, and the English army led by King Harold II. The battle marked the end of Anglo-Saxon rule in England and the beginning of Norman rule. The legacy of the battle is still felt today, with the language, laws, and culture of England being significantly influenced by the Normans.

The Sutton Hoo Treasure

The Sutton Hoo treasure is a collection of artifacts discovered in 1939 in the burial mounds at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, England. The treasure consisted of a ship burial, including a helmet, sword, and other intricate metalwork. The discovery of the Sutton Hoo treasure provided valuable insights into the wealth and artistic achievements of the Anglo-Saxons.

These are just a few examples of the notable figures and events of the Anglo-Saxon period. Their contributions and impact have shaped not only the history of England but also the wider cultural landscape of the world.

The Legacy and Influence of the Anglo-Saxon Period

The Anglo-Saxon period has had a lasting impact on the development of Britain, Europe, and the world. The cultural, literary, religious and linguistic influences of the Anglo Saxons endure to this day. The following are some areas where their influence can be felt.


The Anglo-Saxon period played a major role in the development of the English language. The Old English language spoken during this period evolved into Middle English and, eventually, the Modern English spoken today. Many words commonly used today have their origins in the Anglo Saxon language. For instance, the words “wife,” “husband,” “mother,” and “father” all derive from Old English.


The Anglo-Saxon period produced some of the most important works of English literature. Beowulf, for instance, is an epic poem that stands as one of the oldest major works in the English language. It also represents an important example of Germanic heroic poetry. The Anglo-Saxons also produced significant religious texts such as the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Art and Architecture

The artistic achievements of the Anglo Saxons continue to amaze and inspire people to this day. The intricate metalwork, jewelry, and illuminations produced during this period reflect high levels of skill and craftsmanship and can be seen in museums around the world. The architecture of the Anglo Saxon period also remains a source of fascination and inspiration. Influences from this era can be seen in the design of a variety of buildings, from churches to country homes.

Culture and Society

The social structure and cultural norms of the Anglo Saxons continue to fascinate people today. The Anglo-Saxon period saw the rise of local kingdoms, which eventually became united under a single monarch. The social hierarchy included the nobility, clergy, and common people. The status of women in Anglo Saxon society was relatively high compared to other societies of the time. Women could hold positions of power, own property, and participate in trade.

The Anglo-Saxon period was a time of great significance in the history of Britain and Europe. The legacy of this period can still be seen in the language, literature, art, architecture, culture, and society of the modern world. Understanding the contributions of the Anglo-Saxons helps us to appreciate the richness and diversity of our cultural heritage and the development of our modern society.

Modern Discoveries and Research on the Anglo Saxon Period

The study of the Anglo Saxon period is an ongoing endeavor, with new discoveries and research shedding more light on this fascinating period in history.

One recent archaeological find that has captured the attention of historians and archaeologists alike is the Sutton Hoo burial site. Discovered in the 1930s, the site contains a ship burial and a range of impressive artifacts, including intricately crafted jewelry and armor. The Sutton Hoo discovery has significantly expanded our knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon period and its artistic achievements.

Another area of ongoing research is the study of Anglo-Saxon medicine and healing practices. Recent analysis of medical texts and artifacts has provided insight into the medical knowledge and practices of the period, highlighting the use of natural remedies and the importance of fostering good health.

Advances in technology have also enabled historians to gain a better understanding of the lives of everyday Anglo Saxons. Through the analysis of skeletons and DNA, researchers have been able to piece together information about diet, disease, and even migration patterns.

Furthermore, the ongoing exploration of Anglo-Saxon literature and language continues to reveal new insights into the cultural and intellectual achievements of the period. Recent translations of texts such as Beowulf and The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles have provided a deeper understanding of the language and literary traditions of the time.

Overall, these recent discoveries and ongoing research demonstrate the enduring significance and relevance of the Anglo Saxon period in our understanding of history and culture.


The Anglo-Saxon period is a fascinating chapter in history that has left an indelible mark on the world we live in today. From literature and art to language and religion, the contributions of the Anglo Saxons are evident in many aspects of modern culture.

Through our exploration of the origins and timeline of the Anglo-Saxon period, we have gained a deeper understanding of the historical significance of this era. We have also delved into the culture and society of the Anglo Saxons, as well as their governance, literature, art, religion, and language.

Notable figures and events have been introduced, and we have discussed the legacy and influence of the Anglo-Saxon period on subsequent historical periods and cultural developments.

Recent discoveries and ongoing research have shed new light on our understanding of this fascinating period in history, and it is clear that there is still much to be learned.

In conclusion, the Anglo Saxon period is a rich and diverse topic that continues to captivate historians and laypeople alike. Its enduring significance cannot be understated, and it remains a testament to the resilience and ingenuity of the human spirit.