The Anglo-Saxon Period
(449-1066 A.D.)
Anglo-Saxon England & Beowulf
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Historic Overview
First Germanic
invasion- In 449 A.D.,
the jutes (from the
peninsula of Jutland in
Denmark)
Additional Germanic
Invasions- the Angles &
Saxons (from Southern
Denmark and along the
coast)
Historic Overview Cont.
Anglo-Saxon England (“Angleland”) was
established by these Germanic Tribes
– Important Commonalities
• Common Language- early English
• Heroic Ideals- Courage, loyalty, valor, courtesy,
generosity, of ruler and followers
• Family Unit- The family unit formed the structure of
society: Family-> Clan-> Tribe-> Kingdom.
• Democratic Councils- Meetings and assemblies of
open discussion
• Art- high regard for beauty & fine ornamentation (Sutton
Hoo artifacts)
Sutton Hoo Artifacts
Historic Overview Cont.
– Lack of Unity- The tribes
divided into 7 major
kingdoms
• North- Angles (East
Anglia, Mercia,
Northumbria)
• South and East- Jutes
(Kent)
• West- Saxons
(Sussex, Essex, and
Wessex)
Historic Overview Cont.
“Angleland” lasted until 1066, when the
Normans invaded (Norman Conquest,
led by William the Conqueror)
Religion
Pagan Beliefs of the Anglo-Saxons
– Strong belief in fate (wyrd) - impersonal, irresistible force
that determined most of life
– Gods of the Anglo-Saxons were those of the Norse
culture
– Great admiration for heroic warriors- Human will and
courage allowed individuals to control their own response
to fate
– No afterlife
– Life’s Goal- Win fame and lasting glory in order to obtain
immortality and became a model for others to follow
Religion Cont.
Influence of Christianity in England
– First Archbishop in England- St. Augustine (597
A.D.), Roman missionary (brought 40 missionaries
with him to England)
– Unity- the spread of Christianity served as a
unifying force throughout “Angleland”
– Literacy- Christianity “brought” literacy with it; runic
alphabet was replaced with Roman alphabet;
monasteries became places of learning and
education.
Education
Venerable Bede (673735), Father of English
History”- Monk known
for his great scholarship
and learning; wrote
History of the English
Church and People;
contemporary of the
author of Beowulf
Education Cont.
Alfred the Great (849-899)- Patron of the
scholars and educators; held a strong belief
in education. He new Latin and encouraged
young men learn to read and write; had
books translated into English.
End of the Anglo-Saxon period- European
rulers would send to England for teachers.
English Language
Runic Alphabet- Early
Anglo-Saxons used
runes to scratch
inscriptions on
ceremonial stones or as
a means of identifying
valued items; they
never saw their
alphabet’s potential as
a way of communicating
thoughts across time.
English Language Cont.
Anglo-Saxon (Old English) and modern English
are members of the Indo-European family of
languages
Lasting ability and Influence in English
– History of language in England: Latin, Danish, Swedish,
German, French (to name a few).
– After the Norman Conquest, no king of England spoke
English for the next 300 years! (1399- Henry IV);
Aristocracy spoke French, English became the
language of peasants
– Despite the constant invasions upon England and the
numerous people groups to come and go, English
survived!
English Language Cont.
Present-day Influences of Anglo-SaxonTiw (god of war), Woden (chief Teutonic
god), Thor (god of thunder), Frigga
(goddess of the home)
Literature
Oral Tradition- Professional poets
(“scops”) were the musicians, storytellers,
and historians of their tribes. The scop
remembered the kings, heroes, battles,
and folklore of the tribe.
Heroic Epic Poetry (Beowulf)- Focuses
upon bravery of central hero
Literature Cont.
Elegiac Lyric Poetry (“Seafarer”)- Expresses
mourning due to the passing of better times,
death, or other losses; dark mood & bleak fatalism
are characteristic of Anglo-Saxon times
Riddles- Anglo-Saxons enjoyed the playful and
intellectual challenge of riddles, which described
familiar objects in ways that forced the audience
to guess their identity. Kennings (Old English
metaphorical descriptions used in poetry) were
often used in riddles, which were written in verse.
Beowulf
Author
– Unknown Poet- The poem is probably the work
of a single author (consistent style used).
– Probably a Christian man who lived in the 8th
century & a contemporary of the Venerable
Bede.
– Familiar with classical and biblical literature;
well-educated
Beowulf Cont.
Composition and Written Manuscript
– The poem was probably composed sometime in the 8th
century (700-800 A.D.)
– Written down around 1100 A.D.- hand copied probably
by a monk; written in Old English
– Manuscript was preserved in a monastery for hundreds
of years until the early 16th century; King Henry VIII
ordered the closure of monasteries when the church of
England converted to Protestantism; much of the
contents of monasteries were destroyed
Beowulf Cont.
– Robert Cotton- preserved the manuscript in his
personal library
– 1731- Fire nearly destroyed the manuscript, which was
later donated to the British Museum
Myth or History?- Within the poem, no distinction is
made between myth and history. Beowulf cannot
accurately be described as fiction or fact. Dating the
manuscript becomes important in determining which
elements of Beowulf belong to the history of culture, to
this history of myth and legend, to political history, or to
the development of the English literary imagination.
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The Anglo-Saxon Period (449