The Saxon Invasion - page 1
Iron helmet from the Sutton Hoo burial
In the section on
we discussed the traditional perspective which held that the Britons were substantially
wiped out in the East of the country by the Anglo-Saxons. This view owes much to the
writings of the British monk .
Gildas' De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae was written around 540 AD with the intention
of showing that his people, the Britons, had been justly punished by God for treachery,
religious backsliding and internal squabbling by the adventus Saxonum - the coming of the
Nicholas Howe (Migration and Mythmaking in Anglo-Saxon England, 2000)
argues that later 'Anglo-Saxon' writers reformulated Gildas's
writings so that instead of being 'the end of British history' the adventus Saxonum became
a migration myth which formed the beginning of English history. In a variety of texts,
ranging from Bede's Ecclesiastical History to the Old English verse Exodus, the Anglo-Saxons
were presented as a chosen people (like the Israelites) who had left pagan Germany
for the the Promised Land of Christian Britain.
several centuries later than the events he thought he was describing, stated (I.15) :
These new-comers were from the three most formidable races
of Germany, the Saxons, Angles, and Jutes. From the Jutes are descended
the people of Kent and the Isle of Wight and those in the province of the
West Saxons opposite the Isle of Wight who are called Jutes to this day.
From the Saxons - that is, the country now known as the land of the Old
Saxons - came the East, South and west Saxons. And from the Angles - that
is, the country known as Angulus, which lies between the provinces of the
Jutes and Saxons and is said to remain unpopulated to this day - are descended
the East and Middle Angles, the Mercians, all the Northumbrian stock (that
is, those people living north of the river Humber), and the other English
Farmer (1990: 363) writes:
"The key to understanding the passage on Angles, Saxons
and Jutes is that it attempts to explain the political realities of 731.
Archaeologists have discovered overwhelming evidence from cremation urns
and their patterns that in many parts of England, Angles and Saxons settled
side by side rather than in different parts of the country. The Jutes have
been much disputed, but they had admitted archaeological links with Kent.
The area of Angulus was indeed deserted as Bede says; a rise in water-level
could well have contributed to the departure of its people. Angles and
Saxons formed the bulk of the settlers, but Frisians and Franks from the
Ruhr such as Boructuari and Rugini were also among them (V.9)"
St. Germanus visited Britain for the second time in 447, a year prior
to his death in Ravenna. On this occasion, he was accompanied by Severus,
Bishop of Trier. Around this time, the Britons "inflicted a massacre" on
the and Irish which led to a brief period of peace. However, this
was soon followed by further civil war and plague.
According to the much later , c.450 (the first
year of Marcian and Valentinian), Hengest arrived on the shores of Britain
with "3 keels" of warriors, and was welcomed by Vortigern. In Latin this
was termed the "adventus Saxonum" or the coming of the Saxons. Two years
later, Hengest invited his son Octha from Germany with "16 keels" of warriors,
to occupy northern coastal areas and provide a defence against the Picts.
Thereafter, the Picts never troubled the country again.
By 453 the Saxons became more restless with frequent raids on British
towns and cities.