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Anglo-Saxon History and the English Language and Literature

Anglo-Saxon History and
Old English Language
and Literature
Pre-Historical – 1066 A.D.
Overview of Periods of Early
English History
Pre-History—1066 A. D.
Pre-Roman/Celtic up to 55 B. C.
Roman Occupation  55 B. C. – 409 A. D.
Anglo-Saxon Period  409 – 787 A. D.
Viking (Dane) Invasions  787 – 1066 A. D.
Norman Conquest begins in 1066
 What
four peoples invaded Britain in
the period the time line covers?
 the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, the
Vikings, and the Normans
What effects might a series of invasions—one
every three hundred to five hundred years—
have on a culture?
 Such a history might make a culture
 people would learn to live with and absorb
the influences of those who spoke a different
language or practiced a different religion;
 a history of invasion would make a culture
become militaristic.
The Celts in Britain
Before and during the 4th century B.C.
 The
island we know as England was
once occupied by a race of tall, blond
people called the Celts.
 One
of the tribes was called the
Brythons or Britons (where we get the
term Britain)
The Celts in Britain
Before and during the 4th century B.C.
 The
Celts were Pagans and their
religion was known as “animism” a
Latin word for “spirit.”
 Animism
is a belief that gods live in all
things – trees, stones, water, air …
Celts saw spirits everywhere.
The Celts in Britain
Before and during the 4th century B.C.
Celtic priests were called Druids; their role
was to go between the gods and the people.
Druids are known to have existed since the
3rd century B.C.
The word druid means “knowing the oak
Celtic priests performed ceremonies in oak groves
and considered the oak trees, as well as the mistletoe
that grows on oaks, sacred.
The Celts in Britain
Before and during the 4th century B.C.
Roman Occupation
Roman ruins
Important Events During Roman
Julius Caesar begins invasion/occupation
in 55 B.C.
Occupation completed by Claudius in 1st
century A.D.
Hadrian’s Wall built about 122 A.D.
Roman Occupation
The defensive wall,
Hadrian’s Wall, linked
the North Sea and the
Atlantic near the
present-day border
between England and
Hadrian’s Wall held
back the marauding
Picts and Scots for 250
Hadrian’s Wall
Roman Occupation
The five
thousand miles
of stone roads
built by the
Romans linked
tribal capitals
and towns,
London, York,
Important Events During Roman
Romans “leave” in 410 A.D. because Visigoths
attack Rome, and the Vandals attacked in 455 A.D.
The last western Roman emperor, Romulus
Augustulus, was deposed in 476 A.D. by the
German chief Odovacar.
St. Augustine lands in Kent in 597 A.D. and
converts King Aethelbert (king of Kent, the oldest
Saxon settlement) to Christianity; becomes first
Archbishop of Canterbury
Important Cultural and Historical
Results of the Roman Occupation
Military—strong armed forces (“legions”)
Pushed Celts into Wales and Ireland
Prevented Vikings from raiding for several hundred
years: C. Warren Hollister writes, “Rome’s greatest
gift to Britain was peace” (15).
Government (fell apart when they left)
Walls, villas, public baths (some remains still exist)
Important Cultural and Historical
Results of the Roman Occupation
Language and Writing
Latin was official language
Practice of recording history led to earliest
English “literature” being documentary
Christianity beginning to take hold, especially
after St. Augustine converts King Aethelbert
The Most Important Results of the
Roman Occupation
Latin heavily influenced the English language
Relative Peace
Christianity begins to take hold in England
(but does not fully displace Paganism for several
hundred years)
At the beginning of the 5th century, the
Roman Empire was attacked by barbarian
tribes, and in A.D. 410 the Visigoths sacked
Rome itself. Given this information, why do
you think the Romans evacuated their
troops in A.D. 409?
 Roman generals and troops were needed
to help out at home. Rome was
constantly under barbarian attack.
The Anglo-Saxon Invasion
A.D. 449 The Anglo-Saxons push the Celts into
the far west of the country.
The Anglo-Saxon Period 410-787
Important Events in the Anglo-Saxon Period
410- 450 A.D. Angles and Saxons invade by
crossing the North Sea in wooden boats from
Northern Germany & Northern Holland
And the Jutes invade from the Jutland peninsula
in Denmark
The Geats are a tribe from Jutland
Nine Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms eventually became
the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy (England not
unified), or “Seven Sovereign Kingdoms”
Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy
Heptarchy = Seven
Essex (East Saxon)
Sussex (South Saxon)
East Anglia
Wessex (West Saxon)
 Which
three tribes are known as the
 Angles,
Saxons, and Jutes
 Where
did the Anglo-Saxon tribes
come from?
Germany, Denmark,
and Northern Holland
Anglo-Saxon Society
Anglo-Saxon Society
People farmed, established local governments, and
produced fine craftwork
Kinship groups were led by strong warrior chief/king.
Anglo-Saxon king was an absolute ruler and mighty warrior.
The Anglo-Saxons had a two-class society: the thanes, or
earls, who ruled and were related to the leader of the
tribe; and the churls, or bondservants, whose ancestors
had been captured by the tribe.
Anglo-Saxon Society
King consulted with the witan (“wise men”)-- an
assembly of respected earls.
Churls provided hard labor and were bound to the
earls’ service unless they could earn possessions and
special royal favor to become freemen (independent
Warriors were admired.
Social organization based on strict laws and a sense
of obligation to others.
Anglo-Saxon Society
Anglo-Saxon bards were called scops, who
strummed a harp as they sang of the heroic
deeds of great warriors.
The literature of the Anglo-Saxons was
handed down orally by scops who sang in
the lords’ mead halls, where warriors
gathered to celebrate the events of the day.
These scops, like the Greek poets before
them, remembered their stories by using
accentual meter and many stock phrases
called kennings.
Scops, themselves, were often warriors.
*Anglo-Saxon harp
Anglo-Saxon Society
The word wyrd was used by the Anglo-Saxons to
represent one’s fate in life.
The early Anglo-Saxons did not believe strongly
in an afterlife; they believed that immortality, or
lof—fame that survives death—could be earned
through heroic action.
Therefore, the Anglo-Saxons believed they
gained immortality through songs passed down
about their heroic deeds.
Anglo-Saxon Society
The Anglo-Saxon religion offered no hope of afterlife …
Therefore, they valued the earthly virtues of bravery,
loyalty, generosity, and friendship.
They worshipped gods similar to what we know as
Scandinavian Norse mythology.
Norse god
Anglo-Saxon god
Day of week
Anglo-Saxon Society
English emerged as a written language
Old English was the language of the AngloSaxons. It is part of the Germanic branch of the
Indo-European family of languages. Modern
English is directly descended from Old English.
During the Anglo-Saxon period, people spoke
what we call Old English, but the language of
study was Latin until the time of King Alfred.
Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy
King Alfred the Great came from Wessex.
By the middle of the tenth century, the Wessex kings had
become the kings of all England.
During his reign, King Alfred instituted the Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle, a lengthy running history of England that
covered the earliest days and continued until 1154.
Partly because of King Alfred’s efforts, English began to
gain respect as a language of culture. An electronic copy
of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is available on the Internet.
Anglo-Saxon Society
Page from Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Old English
Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy
Northumbria was known as a center of learning and
the arts. The religious art mixed Celtic and AngloSaxon influences.
The Monastery of Lindisfarne (from which come
the Lindisfarne Gospels) is located on Holy Island,
off the northwest coast of Northumbria.
The main text of the Lindisfarne Gospels (7th
century) is written in Latin, the designs are
influenced by Celtic art, and the marginal notes are
written in Anglo-Saxon (Old English).
Image of the
Gospel of St
John the
initial page.
late 7th or early
8th century
The Lindisfarne Gospels contain Latin,
Celtic, and Old English. What does that tell
us about early Christianity?
 The
spread of Christianity encouraged
cross-cultural exchange.
Anglo-Saxon Society
The Spread of Christianity
Around A.D. 400
Christian monks settle
in Britain
Christianity and AngloSaxon culture co-exist
By A.D. 699 British
pagan religions are
replaced by Christianity
Anglo-Saxon Society
The Spread of Christianity
Monasteries in England served as centers of
learning just as they would in the Middle Ages.
The monks preserved not only the Greek classics
but also some of the great works of popular
literature such as Beowulf, which was first written
down around 700 A.D.
Due to the Christian elements in the epic, scholars
believe the poet who wrote down the version of
Beowulf we have today was a monk.
Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy
East Anglia
In Sutton Hoo, East Anglia, a burial mound of
an Anglo-Saxon king was discovered in 1939.
Viking Invasions 787-1066
Viking Invasions
By definition, Vikings were sea-faring (explorers,
traders, and warriors) Scandinavians during the 8th
through 11th centuries.
Oddly enough, the Anglo-Saxon (and Jute) heritage was
not much different from the Vikings’: they, too, were
Scandinavian invaders.
In fact, some Vikings were also called “Northmen.”
However, when the Viking raids began around 787
A.D., the Anglo-Saxons were different culturally from
the Viking invaders.
Viking Invasions
The Danes were one of the fierce Viking peoples
who crossed the North Sea in dragon-prowed ships.
ship, 10th
The Danes plundered and destroyed all in their path,
eventually settling in northeast and central England.
Unification of the Kingdom
King Alfred (849–899) truly deserves the
appellation “the great.”
878 A.D. -- King Alfred unifies Anglo-Saxons
against the Danes.
Not only did he help save Wessex and other
kingdoms in England from the Danes, but he
also helped create a cohesive English society
from a collection of small, fractious kingdoms.
Unification of the Kingdom
 In
addition, he restored cities
destroyed during invasions and revived
interest in learning and in the English
 Because
of King Alfred, England
becomes a nation.
 King
Alfred is the only British
monarch who is called “the great.”
The Alfred jewel is a gold and enamel jewel (9th
century) thought to have belonged to King Alfred
and is possibly the handle to a pointer used for
following manuscript text.
The Alfred jewel shows an enameled figure
of a man holding two scepters. The
inscription around the edge reads: “Alfred
ordered me to be made.” What symbolic
significance do the two scepters have?
 They
symbolize the political unity Alfred
was trying to achieve.
Norman Invasion
In 1066, William of Normandy crosses the
English Channel.
William defeats Harold Godwinson (the
last Anglo-Saxon King) and Anglo-Saxon
army at the Battle of Hastings, the
Normans (powerful Northern Frenchmen)
start a centuries-long conquest of England.
Norman Conquest
Two Most Important Effects:
 French
replaces English as the language of
the ruling class and becomes the official
language of politics and power and exerts
enormous influence on Old English
 England
begins unifying under a French
political system, much of which is still with
us (even in the U.S.) today
The Norman Invasion,
Bayeux Tapestry
Although tapestry usually involves the weaving of
thread, this tapestry is actually an embroidered band
of linen, 231 feet long and 19 ½ inches wide. Of
particular value to historians are the details of battle
tactics and equipment depicted in the work.
In what country is Normandy located?
 France
How did the Norman Invasion (also called
the Conquest) affect the English language?
Many English words are of French
Early England Created by Three
1. Roman Occupation 55 B.C.-410 A.D.
2. Anglo-Saxon
and Viking
Invasions 410 –
1066 A.D.
3. The
(The Battle
of Hastings)
in 1066 A.D.
The Anglo-Saxon Period in Review
 Celtic Peoples (approx 1700/400 B.C. – 55 B.C.)
 Roman Occupation (55 B.C.-410 A.D.)
 Angles, Saxons, Frisian, and Jutes (410-787)
 Viking Raids/Invasions begin 8th c. and end 10th c.
Norman Invasion/Occupation (begins the Middle
 Battle of Hastings in 1066, then about four centuries
of French rule
What Have You Learned?
Indicate whether the following statements refer to the
time before, during, or after the Anglo-Saxon era.
during Viking invaders terrorized England.
after French became the language of the
ruling class.
during England became unified under Alfred the
before Animism was the primary religious belief.
How to remember it …
Lots of ongoing tribal feuds and wars led to . . .
Lots of intermingling of similar but different
Germanic languages . . . interrupted by . . .
MORE Viking invasions, which gave way to . . .
Some political unification (Alfred) . . .
. . . Which led to . . .
the earliest form of our language, ENGLISH!!
What is English?
A short history of the origins and
development of English
The Indo-European Family of
Most languages in Europe, the Middle-East, and India
appear to descend from a common ancestral language
known to scholars as "proto-Indo-European"
Today, the Indo-European languages have spread across
large portions of the globe.
They include diverse tongues like English, Russian, French,
Latin, and Hindi.
While English is very different from Hindi, for instance, they both
come ultimately from the same source: Indo-European.
The Indo-European Family of
The Indo-European languages fall into two general branches.
At some time in the distant past, the original Indo-European
speakers migrated westward and eastward from a location north
of the Middle East.
We can trace those migrations by looking at vocabulary in each
language, and gradually seeing the sound changes that took place
over time as the tribes drifted further apart.
The Indo-European tribes that migrated westward tended to pronounce
words with hard /k/ sounds--a velar stop.
On the other hand, those that migrated eastward pronounced similar
words with /s/ or /sh/ sounds--a fricative sound.
The Indo-European Family of
Likewise, the westward travelers tended to have certain vowel sounds
transform into /e/ sounds
while the eastward travelers tended to switch to /a/ sounds over time,
and the labio-velar stops in westward traveling tribes tended to turn into velar
Philologists have named the two branches Centum and Satem.
Centum is the ancient word for "one hundred" in Latin, a language in the
Satem is the ancient word for "one hundred" in Avestan, a language in the
western branch of Indo-European.
eastern branch of Indo-European.
The two words illustrate the major changes in a single word as the
Indo-European tribes drifted in two different general directions.
Celtic Inhabitants of Britain
The first inhabitants of the British Isles were not English speakers at
all. They were part of an ethnic grouping known as the Celts.
However, not many Celtic words became a part of Anglo-Saxon
In general, two types of Celtic words were likely targets of permanent
Anglo-Saxon adaptation before the Norman Conquest:
(1) Toponyms or place-names. For instance, Cornwall, Carlisle, Avon, Devon,
Dover, London, and Usk are all originally Celtic names. Other places like
Lincoln and Lancaster are semi-Celtic in origin.
(2) Latin words the Celts borrowed from Rome, which were in turn
borrowed by the Anglo-Saxon invaders--including words like candle (Latin
candelere, "to shine“)
The Germanic Tribes
The history of the English language really started with
the arrival of three Germanic tribes, the Angles, the
Saxons and the Jutes, who invaded Britain during the
5th century AD.
Most of the Celtic speakers were pushed west and north
by the invaders - mainly into what is now Wales,
Scotland and Ireland.
The Angles came from Englaland and their language was
called Englisc - from which the words England and
English are derived.
Old English (450-1100 AD)
The invading Germanic tribes spoke similar
languages, which in Britain developed into
what we now call Old English.
Old English did not sound or look like
English today – Native English speakers
now would have great difficulty
understanding Old English.
Nevertheless, about half of the most
commonly used words in Modern English
have Old English roots.
The words be, strong and water, for example,
derive from Old English.
Old English was spoken until around 1100.
Part of Beowulf, a poem
written in Old English.
Middle English (1100-1500)
In 1066 William the Conqueror, the Duke of
Normandy (part of modern France), invaded and
conquered England.
The new conquerors (called the Normans)
brought with them a kind of French, which
became the language of the Royal Court, and the
ruling and business classes.
For a period there was a kind of linguistic class
division, where the lower classes spoke English
and the upper classes spoke French.
In the 14th century English became dominant in
Britain again, but with many French words added
– This language is called Middle English.
It was the language of the great poet Chaucer
(c1340-1400), but it would still be difficult for
native English speakers to understand today.
An example of Middle
English by Chaucer.
Modern English
Early Modern English (1500-1800)
Towards the end of Middle English, a
sudden and distinct change in
pronunciation (the Great Vowel
Shift) started, with vowels being
pronounced shorter and shorter.
From the 16th century the British had
contact with many peoples from
around the world. This, and the
Renaissance of Classical learning,
meant that many new words and
phrases entered the language.
Hamlet's famous "To be, or not to be" lines, written in
Early Modern English by Shakespeare.
Modern English
Early Modern English (1500-1800)
The invention of printing also meant that there was now a
common language in print.
Books became cheaper and more people learned to read.
Printing also brought standardization to English.
Spelling and grammar became fixed, and the dialect of
London, where most publishing houses were, became the
In 1604 the first English dictionary was published.
Modern English
Late Modern English (1800-Present)
The main difference between Early
Modern English and Late Modern English
is vocabulary.
Late Modern English has many more
words, arising from two principal factors:
firstly, the Industrial Revolution and
technology created a need for new
secondly, the British Empire at its
height covered one quarter of the
earth's surface, and the English
language adopted foreign words from
many countries.
Transition to Beowulf
The major text we will read from this
period is the epic Beowulf. It is the story of
a Scandinavian (Geat) “thane” (warrior or
knight) who comes to help a neighboring
tribe, the Danes, who are being attacked by
a monster.
We study English history to understand the
context of Beowulf, and we study Beowulf
to understand the world which was Old
Transition to Beowulf
According to Venerable Bede (an early English
historian who lived in the eighth century), the Britons
called the Romans for help when the Picts and Scots
were attacking them (B.C.). Hundreds of years later, the
Britons called the Saxons to help them when the
Romans couldn’t. The Saxons came “from parts
beyond the sea” (qtd. in Pyles and Algeo 96).
This journey of Germanic peoples to England “from
parts beyond the sea” is the prototypical story for the
first millennium of England’s history. It formulates
much of their cultural mindset and clearly influences
their stories. Be sure to consider how it plays a role in
The manuscript
Handwritten by a monk around
1000 A.D.
Written in Old English
Obtained by Sir Robert Cotton
Bound in Cotton Vitellius Axv
Damaged in fire in 1731
Currently at British Museum
Beowulf is generally described as an epic, which is a
long narrative poem about the deeds of heroes and warriors.
Epics generally blend myth, legend, folk tale, and
history, and are often considered expressions of “the
history and aspirations of a nation.”
The question one must ask about Beowulf, however, is
how the story of a Swedish hero who frees the court of a
Danish king before returning to Sweden and killing a
dragon is an expression of English nationhood.
Poetic form and devices
Alliteration—the repetition of
consonant sounds at the beginning of
words and in stressed syllables
Alliterative verse
 Same initial consonants
 Line halved by caesura—an
obvious pause in a line of poetry. It
is usually found near the middle of a
line, with two stressed syllables
before and two after, creating a
strong rhythm.
 Four stresses per line
Poetic form and devices
Kenning: compressed metaphor; an imaginative phrase
that takes the place of a single noun
Ship: "the bent-necked wood," "the ringed prow," "the
foamy-necked," "the sea-wood," "the sea-farer"
 Sea: "the swan-road" "the whale-road" "the sea-bird's
 Sword: "the leaving of the file" "battle-lightning"
 Dragon: "the twilight-spoiler" Battle: "the storm of swords"
Queen: "peace-bringer among nations"
 Lord/king: "the protector of warriors;" "ringgiver;" "dispenser of treasure
Poetic form and devices
Litotes: ironic understatement
 “That [sword] was not useless / to the warrior now."
meaning "The sword was useful.”
 “That trip to Herot / was a miserable journey for the
writhing monster.” Referring to Grendel’s last raid
on Heorot.
Synecdoche: part for whole; a figure in which part of
something is substituted for the whole.
As when Beowulf uses the word "keel" to refer to the
whole ship.
Poetic form and devices
 Metonymy:
using an associated word for the
word itself; the name of one thing is substituted
for the name of another thing that most readers
associate with the first.
In Beowulf and example of metonymy
would be when the word "iron" is used
instead of "sword."
Anglo-Saxon values
 Fighting for one’s king
 Avenging one’s kinsmen
 Keeping one’s word
Generosity -- gifts symbolize bonds
Comitatus Bond – Brotherly love – a
pledge of service and protection (Tacitus)
 Physical strength
 Skill and resourcefulness in battle
 Courage
Public reputation, not private conscience
Beowulf vocabulary
lament: expression of sorrow; song or literary
composition that mourns a loss or death
forged: formed or shaped, often with blows or
pressure after heating
shroud: burial cloth
infamous: having a bad reputation; notorious
writhing: twisting as in pain
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English dialects

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