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Who were the Anglo-Saxons?
The Anglo-Saxons came to England after the Romans left in the year 410. Nobody was really ruling all of England at the time – there were a lot of little kingdoms ruled by Anglo-Saxons that eventually came together as one country.
The earliest English kings were Anglo-Saxons , starting with Egbert in the year 802. Anglo-Saxons ruled for about three centuries, and during this time they formed the basis for the English monarchy and laws.
- The two most famous Anglo-Saxon kings are Alfred the Great and Canute the Great.
Top 10 facts
- The Anglo-Saxons are made up of three tribes who came to England from across the North Sea around the middle of the 5th century: the Angles, Saxons and Jutes.
- For a long time, England wasn’t really one country – Anglo-Saxon kings ruled lots of little kingdoms across the land.
- Egbert was the first Anglo-Saxon king to rule England. The last Anglo-Saxon king was Harold II in 1066.
- The Anglo-Saxon period covers about 600 years , and Anglo-Saxon kings ruled England for about 300 years.
- We know how the Anglo Saxons lived because archaeologists have found old settlements and excavated artefacts like belt buckles, swords, bowls and even children’s toys.
- We can also read about what happened during Anglo-Saxon times in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.
- Anglo-Saxons once worshipped lots of different gods that they believed controlled all areas of life, but around the 7th century many converted to Christianity after the arrival of the missionary St. Augustine from Rome.
- Some of our modern English words, such as the days of the week, come from the Anglo-Saxon language (sometimes called Old English).
- Anglo-Saxons lived in small villages near rivers, forests and other important resources that gave them everything they needed to care for farm animals, grow crops and make things to sell.
- 455 The kingdom of Kent was formed
- 477 The kingdom of Sussex was formed
- 495 The kingdom of Wessex was formed
- 527 The kingdom of Essex was formed
- 547 The kingdom of Northumberland was formed
- 575 The kingdom of East Anglia was formed
- 586 The kingdom of Mercia was formed
- 597 St. Augustine came to England and introduced people to Christianity
- 757-796 Offa was King of the kingdom of Mercia and declared himself King of all England
- 1066 The Battle of Hastings took place, resulting in the Normans defeating the Anglo-Saxons
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Did you know?
- We know how the Anglo-Saxons lived because we’ve found items that they once used buried in the ground – archaeologists excavate spots where Anglo-Saxons houses used to stand – and we’ve been able to figure out a lot about what their lives were like.
- A famous Anglo-Saxon archaeological site is Sutton Hoo, where a whole ship was used as a grave! An Anglo-Saxon king was buried inside the ship along with some of his possessions, such as his helmet and sword.
- We know what the Anglo-Saxons did because of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles , a collection of events that people back then wrote every year – kind-of like a yearly summary of important events.
- An instrument that people in Anglo-Saxon times would play is the lyre, which is like a small harp.
- The names of days of the week are similar to the words that the Anglo-Saxons used – for instance, ‘Monandoeg’ is where we get Monday from, and ‘Wodnesdoeg’ is where we get Wednesday from. Some of the names of the days of the week were named after Anglo-Saxon gods. ‘Wodnesdoeg’ is named for the god Woden – it mean’s ‘Woden’s day’.
- Anglo-Saxon uses many of the letters found in Modern English (though j, q, and v are not included and the letters k and z are very rarely used) as well as three extra letters: þ ð æ
- Anglo-Saxons mostly lived in one-room houses made from wood, with thatched roofs. Important people in the village would live in a larger building with their advisors and soldiers – this was called the hall.
- A map of Anglo-Saxon Britain
- Anglo-Saxon coins
- A replica of an Anglo-Saxon hall (At West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village)
- The helmet found in the ship burial site at Sutton Hoo
- The plaited belt buckle with a dragon design found at Sutton Hoo (Photo Credit: Jononmac46 via Wikipedia)
- How Anglo-Saxon warriors would have dressed
- Anglo-Saxon runes
- Shoes worn in Anglo-Saxon times
- A statute of Alfred the Great in Winchester
- Canute the Great
When the Romans left Britain, the country was divided up into a lot of smaller kingdoms and sub-kingdoms that often fought with each other and against any invaders who tried to take over. By the 800s, there were four main kingdoms in England: Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia and Wessex. One of the most well-known kings from Merica was Offa. He declared himself the first ‘king of the English’ because he won battles involving kings in the surrounding kingdoms, but their dominance didn’t really last after Offa died. Offa is most remembered for Offa’s Dyke along the border between England and Wales – it was a 150-mile barrier that gave the Mericans some protection if they were about to be invaded. Religion changed quite a bit in Anglo-Saxon times. Many people were pagans and worshipped different gods who oversaw different things people did – for instance, Wade was the god of the sea, and Tiw was the god of war. In 597, a monk named St. Augustine came to England to tell people about Christianity. The Pope in Rome sent him there, and he built a church in Canterbury. Many people became Christians during this time. Everyone in Anglo-Saxons villages had to work very hard to grow their food, make their clothes, and care for their animals. Even children had to help out by doing chores such as collecting firewood and feeding the livestock. There are nine versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles still around today – this is because copies of the original were given to monks in different monasteries around England to keep up-to-date with information about the area where they lived. Nobody has ever seen the original Anglo-Saxon Chronicles that the copies were made from. Beowulf is an Anglo-Saxon heroic poem (3182 lines long!) which tells us a lot about life in Anglo-Saxon times (though it is not set in England but in Scandinavia). Beowulf is probably the oldest surviving long poem in Old English. We don't know the name of the Anglo-Saxon poet who wrote it, but it was written in England some time between the 8th and the early 11th century. The Anglo-Saxons minted their own coins – they made different designs that were pressed onto the face of a coin, so archaeologists who find those coins today know when they were used. The coins changed depending on the region where they were made, who was king, or even what important event had just happened. Vikings from the east were still invading England during the time of the Anglo-Saxons. Sometimes, instead of fighting the Vikings, people would pay them money to leave them in peace. This payment was called Danegeld. Alfred the Great was based in the kingdom of Wessex, and his palace was in Winchester. He won battles against invasion by the Danes, and he improved England’s defences and armies. Alfred established a strong legal code, and began the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles as a way of recording annual events. He also thought education was very important and had books translated from Latin into Anglo-Saxon so more people could read them and learn. Canute the Great was the first Viking king of England. A famous story about Canute is that he proved to his courtiers that he wasn’t all-powerful just because he was King. They would flatter him by telling him that he was “so great, he could command the tides of the sea to go back”. Canute knew this wasn’t true, but he also knew that he’d have to prove it to stop his courtiers saying such things. Canute had his courtiers carry his throne onto the beach, by the surf, and Canute commanded that the tide stop coming in. It didn’t work, and the courtiers finally admitted that Canute was not all-powerful. Canute said, “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings. For there is none worthy of the name but God, whom heaven, earth and sea obey.”
Names to know (Anglo-Saxon kings of England, listed in order)
Egbert (King from 802-839) – Egbert was the first king to rule all of England. Ethelwulf (King from 839-856) Ethelbald (King from 856-860) Ethelbert (King from 860-866) Ethelred (King from 866-871) Alfred the Great (King from 871-899) – Alfred the Great is remembered for his victories against Danish invasion, his belief in the importance of education, and his social and judicial reform. Edward I, the Elder (King from 899-924) Athelstan (King from 924-939) Edmund I (King from 939-946) Edred (King from 946-955) Edwy (King from 955-959) Edgar (King from 959-975) Edward II, the Martyr (King from 975-979) Ethelred II, the Unready (979-1013, 1014-1016) Sweyn (King from 1013-1014) Edmund II, Ironside (King in 1016) Canute the Great (King from 1016-1035) – Canute was a Viking warrior, and the first Viking king of England. He won a battle against Edmund II that divided their kingdoms, but when Edmund died Canute ruled both kingdoms. Harold Harefoot (King from 1035-1040) Hardicanute (King from 1035-1042) Edward III, The Confessor (King from 1042-1066) – Edward the Confessor had Westminster Abbey built. Harold II (King in 1066) – Harold II was the last Anglo-Saxon king of England. He died during the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Edgar Atheling (King in 1066) – Edgar Atheling was declared King after King Harold II died during the Battle of Hastings, but never took the throne. The next king was William the Conqueror, a Norman .
Just for fun...
- Make Anglo-Saxon Collector Cards and play some games with them
- Take an Anglo-Saxons quiz to see what you know about Anglo-Saxon kings, kingdoms and culture in Britain
- Play a Grid Club Anglo-Saxons game
- Write in Anglo-Saxon runes
- Print out some Anglo-Saxon Highlight Cards
- Turn the pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels , a famous Christian manuscript
- Cook like the Anglo-Saxons with this recipe for Anglo-Saxon Oat Cakes
- Learn to sing songs about Anglo-Saxon history , including Alfred the Great, Athelstan, the story of Beowulf and the end of Anglo-Saxon rule in 1066 at The Battle of Hastings
Books about Anglo-Saxons for children
Find out more about Anglo-Saxons:
- Who were the Anglo-Saxons? Find out in a KS2 guide from BBC Bitesize and watch video clips and animations about the Anglo-Saxon world
- An introduction to the Anglo-Saxon world from the British Library
- Britons, Saxons, Scots and Picts : loads of information to explore
- Read kids' historical fiction set in Anglo-Saxon times
- Learn about Anglo-Saxon religion
- Find out about all aspects of Anglo-Saxon life , from manuscripts to weapons, in a kids' encyclopedia
- About the Anglo-Saxon language, Old English
- Early Anglo-Saxon Britain maps and information
- Anglo-Saxon coinage and the Danegeld and minting coins
- Find out about the Odda Stone
- The two most famous Anglo-Saxon kings were Canute (or Cnut the Great) and Alfred the Great
- Find out about food and in Anglo-Saxon times and their grand feasts
- Learn about Beowulf and his battles against the monster Grendel (and Grendel's mother)
- Examine some of the beautiful objects found at Sutton Hoo and see what the excavation site looked like
- An introduction to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
See for yourself
- See the ship burial site at Sutton Hoo
- Visit the reconstructed Anglo-Saxon settlement of Jarrow Hall to find out what life would have been like in Anglo-Saxon times
- Walk along some of the Offa’s Dyke path
- Visit Winchester to see Anglo-Saxon artefacts
- Step into a virtual Prittlewell Burial Chamber and explore the Ango-Saxon objects found in 2003
- See Prittlewell princely burial objects in person, including a gold belt buckle, a flagon and drinking horn and coloured glass vessels and bowls, at Southend Central Museum in Essex
- Look at pictures of sites which tell the story of early Saxon England on the Historic England Blog
- Look at the Anglo-Saxon Mappa Mundi online: created between 1025 and 1050, it contains the earliest known depiction of the British Isles
- Step into a reconstructed Saxon workshop at the Ancient Technology Outdoor Education Centre
- Butser Ancient Farm features archaeological reconstructions of buildings from the Anglo-Saxon period
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Awesome Anglo-Saxon facts!
Check out these cool facts about the fierce anglo-saxons….
Prepare for battle kids, because we’re about to take a trip back in time in our Anglo-Saxon facts, to a time 1,600 years ago when fierce warriors ruled Great Britain!
Ever wondered what it might be like stepping foot in Anglo-Saxon England ? Find everything you’ll ever need to know about these fierce people in our mighty fact file, below…
Did you know that we have a FREE downloadable Anglo-Saxons primary resource ? Great for teachers, homeschoolers and parents alike!
Anglo-Saxon facts: Who were they?
The Anglo-Saxons were a group of farmer-warriors who lived in Britain over a thousand years ago.
Made up of three tribes who came over from Europe, they were called the Angle , Saxon , and Jute tribes. The two largest were the Angle and Saxon, which is how we’ve come to know them as the Anglo-Saxons today.
They were fierce people, who fought many battles during their rule of Britain – often fighting each other! Each tribe was ruled by its own strong warrior who settled their people in different parts of the country.
When did the Anglo-Saxons invade Britain?
The Anglo-Saxons first tried invading in the 4th century , but the Roman army were quick to send them home again! Years later – around 450AD – the Ancient Romans left Britain, the Anglo-Saxons seized their chance and this time they were successful!
They left their homes in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark and sailed over to Britain on wooden boats. Many of them were farmers before they came to Britain and it’s thought they were on the look-out for new land as floodwaters back home had made it almost impossible to farm.
The Anglo-Saxons didn’t like the stone houses and streets left by the Romans, so they built their own villages. They looked for land which had lots of natural resources like food, water and wood to build and heat their homes, and Britain’s forests had everything they needed. They surrounded each village with a high fence to protect cattle from wild animals like foxes and wolves, and to keep out their enemies, too!
We know what Anglo-Saxon houses were like from excavations of Anglo-Saxon villages. They were small wooden huts with a straw roof, and inside was just one room in which the whole family lived, ate, slept and socialised together – much like an ancient version of open-plan living!
The biggest house in the village belonged to the chief, which was large enough to house him and all his warriors – and sometimes even the oxen, too! It was a long hall with a stone fire in the middle, and hunting trophies and battle armour hung from its walls. There were tiny windows and a hole in the roof to allow smoke to escape.
Anglo-Saxon place names
Many towns and villages still carry their Anglo-Saxon names today, including “England” which comes from the Saxon word “Angle-Land”.
Early Anglo-Saxon villages were named after the leader of the tribe so everyone knew who was in charge. If you’d visited Reading in Anglo-Saxon times, you’d have been in Redda’s village – Redda being the local chieftain.
The Anglo-Saxons settled in many different parts of the country – the Jutes ended up in Kent, the Angles in East Anglia, and the Saxons in parts of Essex, Wessex, Sussex and Middlesex (according to whether they lived East, West, South or in the middle!)
Not all Roman towns were abandoned, though. Some chiefs realised that a walled city made for a great fortress, so they built their wooden houses inside the walls of Roman towns like London.
Perhaps one of our favourite Anglo-Saxon facts is how much they liked to party! They loved a good meal and would often host huge feasts in the chief’s hall. Meat was cooked on the fire and they ate bread, drank beer and sang songs long into the night!
They grew wheat, barley and oats for making bread and porridge, grew fruit and vegetables like carrots, parsnips and apples, and kept pigs, sheep and cattle for meat, wool and milk.
They were a very resourceful people – everything had its use and nothing went to waste. Animal fat could be used as oil for lamps, knife handles could be made out of deer antlers and even glue could be made from cows.
Anglo-Saxons made their own clothes out of natural materials. The men wore long-sleeved tunics made of wool or linen, often decorated with a pattern. Their trousers were woollen and held up by a leather belt from which they could hang their tools such as knives and pouches. Shoes were usually made out of leather and fastened with laces or toggles.
The women would wear an under-dress of linen or wool and an outer-dress like a pinafore called a “peplos” which was held onto the underlayer by two brooches on the shoulders. Anglo-Saxon women loved a bit of bling and often wore beaded necklaces, bracelets and rings, too!
Grand stone buildings, such as Westminster Abbey, replaced the wooden Anglo-Saxon structures after the Normans invaded in 1066.
Many of today’s Christian traditions came from the Anglo-Saxons, but they weren’t always Christians. When they first came over from Europe they were Pagans , worshipping lots of different gods who they believed looked different parts of their life, such as family, crop growing, weather and even war.
The Anglo-Saxons would pray to the Pagan gods to give them good health, a plentiful harvest or success in battle.
It wasn’t until the Pope in Rome sent over a missionary – a monk called Augustine – to England in 597AD, that the Anglo-Saxons became Christians. Augustine convinced the Anglo-Saxon King Ethelbert of Kent to convert to Christianity and slowly the rest of the country followed suit. Pagan temples were turned into churches and more churches (built of wood) started popping up all over Britain.
Who invaded after the Anglo-Saxons?
From 793AD, the Vikings invaded Anglo-Saxon Britain several times, plundering and raiding towns and villages along the British coastline. The Anglo-Saxons tried to hold them back but groups of Vikings eventually settled in different parts of the country, especially York (or Jorvik, as they named it) – making it the second biggest city after London. The next invasion came in 1066AD, in one of the most famous battles of our history – the Battle of Hastings . When the Anglo-Saxon King Edward died without an heir, a new king was chosen to rule England – King Harold II . William the Conqueror of Normandy and Harald Hardrada , the King of Norway , weren’t keen on the new English king and thought that they both had the right to rule Britain.
A descendant of Viking raiders, William brought his army of Normans to Britain to take on the new king, and on 14 October 1066 , the two armies fought at the Battle of Hastings. The Normans were victorious and Harold was killed. This signalled the end of Anglo-Saxon rule in Britain. England now had a Norman king, King William I , or William the Conqueror .
Check out our vicious Viking facts , here!
The Anglo-Saxon period of history shaped many parts of England as we know it today – the words we use for the days of the week for example. Have a go at saying them out loud, below!
What did you think of our Anglo-Saxon facts, gang? Let us know by leaving a comment, below.
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21st November 2020
The Saxons were a group of people who came to Britain from what is now Germany. Those who ended up settling in Britain were also known as Anglo-Saxons.
Life in Saxon Britain
Saxon houses were, unlike the native Brits, rectangular. Saxon houses were made of wood and were usually built with several posts, but they would sometimes make beams and build on top of them. Pad stones were used to make stable platforms.
In early Saxon times, there were also small sunken huts. At first, people thought that they were just homes but archaeologists (people who find ancient objects and dig them up) have found things that mean these huts were probably used as workshops or for storage.
What jobs you could do in Anglo-Saxon society depended on whether you were a man or woman. Women usually did one, or a few of, these jobs:
- weaving (Saxons made clothes on looms, using wool or linen)
- making flour and butter
- craftwork (such as making shoes)
- making objects such as combs from bones
If you were a man, you would be doing one, or a few of, these jobs:
- woodworker (making things such as chairs from wood)
- metalworker (making tools such as swords and knives)
- warriors, who fought against different tribes
There was a variety of Saxon food, which they loved to eat at big feasts. Their diet included:
- wild boar (a pig with horns)
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