Background Notes
Early “English” History (>100BCE-400)
 Prior to 100 BCE this island was
inhabited by the Briton (native tribes),
Celtic, and Pict tribes.
 55 BCE – Roman invasion (JC) – fully
conquered by 43 BCE – area called the
Britannia Province. Britons, Celts, and
Picts pushed west and north
 407 – Roman empire starts to weaken –
Britons, Celts, Picts fill the void;
however, other invaders sense an
 King Arthur?? (Briton, Celtic)
Anglo-Saxon Invasion
 456 – The Jutes (northern Denmark)
invade Kent (southeast Britain)
 476 – Fall of the Roman Empire
 477 – Saxons and Angles (Germanic
tribes) invade Britain
 By 600 there are 7 kingdoms Britain
is divided into:
 Jutes: Kent
 Saxons: Wessex, Sussex, Essex
 Angles: East Anglia, Mercia,
Anglo-Saxon Britain
The Angles start
calling Britain
“Angle-land” – this
eventually becomes
Anglo-Saxon Period
 The invasion is immense – roughly 200,000
people flood into a country of about 2
million. The Anglo-Saxons bring their own
language and rename much of the country.
 In terms of religion, pre-600 the AngloSaxons were classified as Germanic
Paganism (Woden, Odin, Tiw, Thor).
 600 – Pope Gregory sends St. Augustine to
England to convert them to Roman
 The town of Canterbury in Kent becomes the
religious center – St. Augustine is the first
Archbishop of Canterbury.
Anglo-Saxon Period
 The language of the Anglo-Saxons
is Old English
 Here are the first few lines of
Beowulf in Old English:
Anglo-Saxon Traits
 Loyalty to king/Loyalty to clan (Comitatus)
 Hospitality Code
 Warrior culture / BRAVERY/Courage
 Differing worth of individuals in society (young men
the best)
 Wanted the scops to sing your song
 Fame is good / Boasting is good
 Over-the-top compliments show respect
 Not a definite belief in an afterlife
 Fate
Anglo-Saxons Vs. Vikings
 789-1002 – Anglo-Saxons subjected
to Viking attacks – many were hitand-run raids, but some resulted in a
more permanent settlements.
 This served to bring some unity to the
Angles and Saxons – Alfred known as
a unifying King (886)
 Alfred the Great
Unites England
English is the main language (not Latin)
Anglo-Saxons Vs. Vikings
 Anglo-Saxon and Viking Kings
 1066 – Battle of Hastings – end of the
Anglo-Saxon period
 Invasion by William, Duke of
 King Arthur’s coming back
{more on this later…)
Beowulf: An overview
 Earliest major work of English poetry
 Based on events in 6th century
Scandinavia (southern Sweden and
 Shared orally by scops in Anglo-Saxon
Old English
 Written down between the 8th and 11th
centuries by English monks.
Beowulf: Religious Influence
 Germanic tribes (Anglo-Saxon) –
pagan (500’s)
 Odin/Woden
 Tale told orally by scops
Scop offered the closest thing to an
 Probably written and preserved by a
monk (700’s-1000’s)
 Christian influence
 Thanks?
Beowulf = Epic Poem
 EPIC: long poem
 Invocation (address the muse) “Listen”
 Repetitions and Catalogues
 Stock phrases/Epithets
 Supernatural Intervention
 Affects the whole nation
 Epic Boasting
 Legendary hero
Beowulf: Poetics
 Alliteration: Repetition of stressed sounds – particularly
consonants from the beginning of words or syllables.
Hwæt! We Gardena
in geardagum,
þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas
ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scefing
sceaþena þreatum,
monegum mægþum,
meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas.
Syððan ærest wearð
feasceaft funden,
he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum,
weorðmyndum þah,
oðþæt him æghwylc
þara ymbsittendra
Beowulf: Poetics
 Compounding: The combining of two words to make a
new word. (baseball, folktale, spacesuit)
Hwæt! We Gardena
in geardagum,
þrym gefrunon,
Gardena (gar = spear, dena = Danes) = Spear-Danes
Other examples from Beowulf include mead-benches, boychild, and hall-troops
Beowulf: Poetics
 Kenning: Special form of compounding that is metaphoric
in meaning. The name Beowulf itself is a compound of
beo (bee) and wulf (hunter), creating the kenning Beewolf, a metaphorical description of a bear.
ofer hronrad
hyran scolde,
gomban gyldan.
þæt wæs god cyning!
 hronrad is a compound of hron (whale) and rad (road).
The “whale’s road” is a metaphor for the sea, therefore it
is a kenning.
Beowulf in modern culture
Short Timeline of Early English History:
 1066: William, Duke of Normandy
(descendants of Vikings invading France in 9th
Century) claims Edward’s throne due to
reputed promise and family ties– wins throne
at Battle of Hastings
 Over next 5 years: William suppresses AngloSaxon nobility, spreading feudalism
 1154: Norman rule ends when Henry, Count of
Anjou, establishes House of Plantagenet
Short Timeline of Early English History:
Plantagenets, Lancasters, Yorks, Oh My
 1170: Four of Henry II’s knights kill Thomas Becket,
Archbishop of Canterbury, because of a disagreement
between Henry and Thomas. Henry atones by making
pilgrimage to Henry’s tomb at Canterbury
1215: King John signs Magna Carta to ease strife with barons
over raised taxes- first English constitutional gov’t
1399: House of Lancaster replaces House of Plantagenet
(Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI)
1455-1485: War of the Roses- Lancaster v. York
War ends when Yorkist Henry VII defeats Richard the III
and marries Richard’s niece, uniting the two families
14th Century- Feudalism on the decline
Schama, Simon. A History of Britain. Hyperion, New York: 2000.

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