The Anglo-Saxons were a collective of Germanic tribes who invaded Britannia in the middle of the 5th century, where they conquered a territory in what we called today England of the British Isles. Their ancestral homelands was located in Western Germania, northern-central Europe, where their invasion force comprised of 3 powerful Germanic tribes; The Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes. However, a contingent of other smaller Germanic tribes also inhabited parts of Britannia from around this period.
The tribe that conquered and controlled vast swaths of Britannia were the Angles and the Saxons, hence the term being coined the Anglo-Saxons. But from the beginning of this period the term was rarely used amongst the Anglo-Saxons themselves, and were more commonly referred to as their individual tribe of origin. Later, when the Anglo-Saxons kingdoms became more established, they then became more identified with the kingdom in which their tribe forged – such as the West Saxons becoming Wessex and the East Saxons becoming Essex for example. After the invasion, the Anglo-Saxons either conquered or displaced the native Celtic Britons and divided their newly conquered territory into many smaller kingdoms. These kingdoms gradually emerged into 7 larger kingdoms which was known as The Heptarchy. This comprised the kingdoms of East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Northumbria, Mercia, Sussex and Wessex; the heptarchy competed fiercely for hegemony until they were united in 927 AD, as the kingdom of England under the Wessex ruler of King Æthelstan.
Before Æthelstan’s reign, a title called a Bretwalda was crowned to the king who had overlordship over some, or all of the Anglo-Saxons kingdoms. There have only been 15 kings who have been crowned a Bretwalda and only 1 claimant of this title – King Æthelstan. Its literal meaning is disputed but may translate to either ‘wider-ruler’ or ‘Britain-ruler’. Basically, you could say the Bretwalda recipient was the king of all kings. Before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxon in the mid-5th century, which was around 449 AD to 450 AD, Britannia was a province of the formidable mighty eagle of the Western Roman Empire. Their superior war machine conquered and ruled the native inhabitants of the Celtic Britons.
These Celtic Britons and Anglo-Saxons are the two ancestral groups of the English peoples of today. However, Roman rule in Britannia didn’t last forever as their downfall began with a sequence of events that started in 383 AD; with usurper Magnus Maximus withdrawing his troops from Britannia to defeat the Western Roman Emperor Gratian in Gaul (France), and finished around 410 AD when Romanised Celtic Britons expelled the Roman Magistrates as a consequence of Rome failing to protect its western dominion from heavy Saxon raids in 408 AD and 409 AD. Though Saxon raids wasn’t new for the Britons, since Saxon pirates have been raiding their eastern and southern shores as early as the 3rd century AD. But by 410 AD, the Britons beseeched the Romans for their formidable Legions to protect their kingdoms once again.
However, imperator Caesar Flavius Honorius Augustus declined their request as he wasn’t in any position of strength to posture. He instead was engaged with a large-scale war in Italy against another Germanic tribe called the Visigoths, under their leader Alaric I. He however replied by telling the Roman cities of Britannia to see to their own defences, as none of his Legions could be spared, due to him contending with internal rebellions or external threats from expanding Germanic tribes. The cracks in the Western Roman Empire were starting to show, where imperator Caesar Flavius Honorius Augustus response to the Britons plight was the preverbal ‘last nail in the coffin’ of the Roman supremacy in Britannia. Therefore, their increasing weakness emboldened the Britons who consequently expelled the Roman Magistrates and became self-governed once again. Roman dominion would never return, and the fate of the Britons was heading into a new era. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in Britannia (410 AD), the Britons had to deal with a new threat from the north.
A confederation of Pictish Tribes came flooding southwards as a result of no standing army defending the northern border. Here, the Picts were giving the Britons a bloody nose that by 449 AD, king Vortigern, who was possibly a powerful warlord or a king of the Britons, invited two Germanic brothers called Hengist and Horsa to fight as mercenaries against the Picts. Though, some early sources claim they fought the scots as well as the Picts. However, these hired swords and their kin successfully secured the internal security for the Britons where the Picts became less of a threat. Now Hengist and Horsa turn their appetite towards their hosts. The brothers sent word to their kin back in their homelands of Germania, describing the weakness of these Britons who were no match against the warriors of their kin, as fighting was a way of life for these Germanic folk. Sources vary on how many ships arrived and embolden Hengist and Horsa forces, but this historical event was the beginning of the Anglo-Saxon era where their reign lasted until the Norman conquest of 1066.
Though, the origin story of Hengist and Horsa varies between earlier sources, thee above is just a summary of these accounts where more details will be later added to the website. The cultural identity of the Anglo-Saxons is the core foundation of many aspects of modern English society. It has evolved over a span of 1500 years, creating the modern English language, literature, law, art, religion, customs, its social structure, religion, military prowess, engineering and technologies. Here at the Anglo-Saxon Heritage website, are a handful of enthusiastic lovers of history, who have a great deal of admiration of the importance of our ancestral heritage that is the Anglo-Saxons era.
This website will be honouring these ancient people by creating a hub that is contributed towards their written history, fact and myth alike, where we hope this site will become the focal point that will be eventually everything Anglo-Saxon based. We confess we’re no experts, and at times will get certain information wrong, but with the help of fellow like-minded people we hope to keep their memory burning for another Millenia.
Learning ones history fills in the void of ones past, it bridges the connection to our ancestor and give us a great sense of pride and understanding in the land that we call home. Even if your ancestors aren’t the Anglo-Saxons, we still welcome you to this corner of history, nonetheless.
So, strap in as they say and enjoy the ride!