What Made the Anglo-Saxons Capable of Conquering the Britons?

Aug 2016
977
US&A
#1
I am curious what allowed the Anglo-Saxons to have an edge over the native Britons. My understanding is that they were much smaller in number, and yet their language and culture largely survived both ruling over another ethnicity and the Norman conquest.
 
Apr 2017
138
Bayreuth
#3
I am curious what allowed the Anglo-Saxons to have an edge over the native Britons. My understanding is that they were much smaller in number, and yet their language and culture largely survived both ruling over another ethnicity and the Norman conquest.
Tltr; the Romans

The Romans went over Britain worse than Europeans over the Americans.
This is why we do not have anything about the Celts except what we dig out and they were so crazy, that they dived for gold that were offerings in a lake.
And that resulted then, with the fall of Rome, into the destabilization and Saxons are people of the sea.
They have long relationships with Britain, by trade, as merc in the Roman army etc. they knew Britain and they had no other place to go.

We call that guys Anglo-Saxons, but that is misleading. Because the Saxons are the second biggest Germanic culture zone. They go from Middle-Germany up to Scandinavia. All that people are connected and no Frank or Roman cared about if somebody is Danish or from Westphalia. So they are not the smallest.

While size has nothing to do with influence.
Greece is small, too. Rome is based on Greece.
 
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authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,219
#4
I am curious what allowed the Anglo-Saxons to have an edge over the native Britons. My understanding is that they were much smaller in number, and yet their language and culture largely survived both ruling over another ethnicity and the Norman conquest.
Even in the first quarter of the 8th century, Bede wrote that Britons lived amongst the English and so it is really a question of how the Britons, living in one of the several anglo saxon kingdoms lost their british identity and acquired an english identity. This question applies irrespective of their relative proportions. The influence of the Roman Church was likely significant, and the decision to follow Roman rather than Celtic Catholicism. Alfred too had an influence when he ordered the use of the english language in church rather than latin. Even in Bede's time, works such his history of the english speaking peoples were translated from latin to [old] english. We don't see latin works being translated in to a celtic language.

Although the anglo saxons were initially smaller in number, the british communities were divided and weak. When Patrick retured from Ireland, he described those parts he travelled through as deserted and they feared they would starve. He does not mention any saxons. Wealthier Britons did not seem to be interested in helping poorer Britons and, according to Gildas, appeared to jealously guard what they had. Temporary alliances were probably forged but these may have been marked more by mutual suspicion rather than genuine cooperation. The question is how an initially smaller community grows and thrives whilst surrounding communities are less successful and poorer, judging by the sparse archaeology. The pre roman celtic kingdoms had disappeared and the britons appear to have become dependant, or enslaved, depending on your point of view, on the romans. The collapse of the roman economy and then roman authority left a vacuum, from which they never really fully recovered. Anglo Saxons of course saw opportunities. They didn't have a monetary system or economy producing goods for market. They were farmers and were well placed to make use of the land vacated by romans or roman appointed managers.

The initial settlers were successful and were followed by others from their homelands. This sort of chain migration probably lasted a couple of centuries. By the 8th century, the english, especially in the Kingdom of Northumbria, were wealthy and had signiificant contacts in Europe, with the Franks and with Rome. The Britons didn't have those sort of connections which might have helped them thrive.
 
Last edited:
Mar 2019
8
Europe
#5
Honestly it's just the numbers mixed with classic elite domination and assimilation, the ruination of Romano-Briton society might be part of it but I don't think it's a big determining factor when we compare it to other conquest-based assimilations

Even in the first quarter of the 8th century, Bede wrote that Britons lived amongst the English and so it is really a question of how the Britons, living in one of the several anglo saxon kingdoms lost their british identity and acquired an english identity. This question applies irrespective of their relative proportions. The influence of the Roman Church was likely significant, and the decision to follow Roman rather than Celtic Catholicism. Alfred too had an influence when he ordered the use of the english language in church rather than latin. Even in Bede's time, works such his history of the english speaking peoples were translated from latin to [old] english. We don't see latin works being translated in to a celtic language.
The idea Celtic Christianity is a big myth, there were few differences between it and the Latin Church and in any case it doesn't seem to have been the real drive behind the Germanization of England, considering that by the mid 7th century most of England was already conquered by Anglo-Saxon states and we have no real reason to believe that conquerors would have assimilated themselves into the local society after existing as independent local groups for almost 2 centuries
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,265
Dispargum
#6
What happened in sub-Roman Britain is not unique. How did the Franks come to dominate Gaul? How did the Ostrogoths and Lombards dominate Italy? The Visigoths Spain? All of these barbarian groups were greatly outnumbered by the Roman population. Over time the Romans became de-militarized and unwilling to fight for what they wanted. They found if more convenient to enter into alliances with nearby barbarians who were more willing to fight or use force/ violence. Political dominance goes to the person or group that is more ruthless so the barbarians gained control. The Romans maintained a measure of checks and balances through their control of the tools of power: literacy, law, administration, the Church, etc. Eventually the Romans and barbarians intermarried so that there were no longer two distinct groups but only one. Roman culture did not disappear. Much of it was absorbed into those hybrid Romano-barbarian cultures that defined the Middle Ages.
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,219
#7
The idea Celtic Christianity is a big myth, there were few differences between it and the Latin Church ...
The importance of the Synod of Whitby in 664 was no big myth, ushering in the Golden Age of Northumbria creating important relationships with the Franks and Rome. The clerics involved were instrumental in the missions to Germany, the political structure of the Franks and helped create the concept of the Holy Roman Empire. Bede wrote that the Britons were "for the most part, through innate hatred, are adverse to the English nation, and wrongfully, and from wicked custom, oppose the appointed Easter of the whole Catholic Church". The english church enjoyed relations with the most powerful entities in Europe which the celtic nations did not.


.... and in any case it doesn't seem to have been the real drive behind the Germanization of England
You don't think that some British Christian communities turned their backs on their celtic counterparts and threw in their lot with the english who were following Rome?

we have no real reason to believe that conquerors would have assimilated themselves into the local society after existing as independent local groups for almost 2 centuries
It was the britons who assimilated themselves with the english, not the other way around. Britons did still exist as a distinct group in the 8th century however as Bede states in book 5 of HE, in the chapter. Present State of the Nation, "for though in part they are their own masters yet elsewhere they are also brought under subjection to the English ". This assertion appears to be confirmed by the differential wergild values for english and britons in the Laws of Ine and Alfred. This is hardly controversial, only the relative sizes of the communities is debated, not its veracity.
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,219
#8
What happened in sub-Roman Britain is not unique. How did the Franks come to dominate Gaul? How did the Ostrogoths and Lombards dominate Italy? The Visigoths Spain? All of these barbarian groups were greatly outnumbered by the Roman population. Over time the Romans became de-militarized and unwilling to fight for what they wanted. They found if more convenient to enter into alliances with nearby barbarians who were more willing to fight or use force/ violence. Political dominance goes to the person or group that is more ruthless so the barbarians gained control. The Romans maintained a measure of checks and balances through their control of the tools of power: literacy, law, administration, the Church, etc. Eventually the Romans and barbarians intermarried so that there were no longer two distinct groups but only one. Roman culture did not disappear. Much of it was absorbed into those hybrid Romano-barbarian cultures that defined the Middle Ages.
The institutions of Gaul were more or less intact and the Franks were able to take these institutions over. Britain was fragmented. Clovis was able to take Paris as his capital, Britain didn't even have one of those. Nor do we see a continuity of the church structure in britain. The picture is one of isolated communities left behind as clerics moved to the west.
 

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,884
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
#9
Luck or chance events.

And possibly the Saxons were more brutal, savage, and warlike than the Britons, thus giving them a slight advantage in conquering Britons and oppressing them so much they eventually assimilated into Saxon society to fit in and lessen the oppression.
 
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Nov 2008
1,390
England
#10
What happened in sub-Roman Britain is not unique. How did the Franks come to dominate Gaul? How did the Ostrogoths and Lombards dominate Italy? The Visigoths Spain? All of these barbarian groups were greatly outnumbered by the Roman population
The difference is that the Goths and Lombards were eventually assimilated by the subject population whereas in Britain the Saxons were not.
 

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