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

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,194
This is a possibility of the situation in the late fourth century. It does, however, prompt the question where were these Germanic auxiliaries or federates from? They almost certainly would not have been Saxons garrisoning the Saxon Shore fortifications.
I was really referring to events on the Saxon Shore in Gaul but your point would hold true for Britain. We don't know who 'Saxons' are as it is a gallo roman term used to describe any germanic speaker operating in the north sea who is not a Frank. Even in the 8th century, people like Widukind thought of himself as a king of the Westfali rather than as a saxon. One 5th century gallic source refers to 'jutish saxons' around, what is now, the Antwerp area. The term saxon was, at the time, used rather like we use the term viking, with no distinction as to whether they came from Norway, Denmark or Sweden. I take the view that the term Litus Saxonicum refers to defences against the 'Saxons', even if it is partially manned by other germanics.
 
Mar 2015
1,405
Yorkshire
if we are right to go with Dumville and put De Excidio in about 540, we can tentatively assume that Gildas received his education in the early part of the sixth century.
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An argument commonly used to justify the publication date of 540AD for De Excidio is that Gildas did not mention the Great Plague of Justinian of 542AD which Gregory of Tours tells us had reached (Southern) Gaul.

Those who disagree with Dumville point out that there is no evidence of the Plague reaching the British Isles until later, the second wave of 580AD. I have just realised that the forensic knowledge we now have (see earlier info on this thread) that the Justinian Plague was present in the A-S population in 544 AD strengthens Dumville's early date.

This coupled with Gildas telling us he was born in the year of Mons Badon means we can more confident that this battle took place around 490AD.
 
Jan 2014
2,520
Westmorland
Thanks. Gildas writes nostalgically about the knowledge which once was, within living memory, "the unexpected recovery of the same, remained in the minds of those who were eyewitnesses of the wonderful events of both, and in regard thereof, kings, public magistrates, and private persons, with priests and clergymen, did all and every one of them live orderly according to their several vocations." He states that the cities are desolate so it would be good to know how and where this all went on, but in some parts, 'orderly and according to their several vocations' is a clear indication that in some parts, it did.
It's odd, isn't it? Roman civil administration was essentially an urban phenomenon, even down to the small towns which administered their local rural pagus. Late Roman ecclesiastical administration was similarly metropolitan in character. Given that it is difficult to argue against the notion of a widespread collapse of urban life in the very early fifth century, we have to ask where the remaining secular and spiritual structures of Britain were being administered from? The only answer I can come up with is that the late Roman elites essentially retreated to their country estates. Patrick's father had been a decurion (basically meaning that he held some position on the ordo of the local civitas capital, wherever that was), and the family clearly had a country estate (described as a villula - 'little villa') as well as having servants/slaves to work it for them.

I can see that some towns may have survived in attenuated form as estate centres and others appear to have been (or re-emerged as) ecclesiastical centres of the post-Roman church, but they don't seem to have survived as permanently occupied urban foci with significant populations. Perhaps their geographical convenience meant that some may have continued to host meetings of the local nabobs, even if very few people were actually living in them any more?

All very intriguing.
 
Jan 2014
2,520
Westmorland
I have just realised that the forensic knowledge we now have (see earlier info on this thread) that the Justinian Plague was present in the A-S population in 544 AD strengthens Dumville's early date.

This coupled with Gildas telling us he was born in the year of Mons Badon means we can more confident that this battle took place around 490AD.
Yes indeed. We also have the reference to the first mortality called blefed in the Irish annals which has plausibly been identified with the Justinian Plague (see, for example, William P MacArthur, The Identification of Some Pestilences Recorded in the Irish Annals, Irish Historical Studies, Vol 6, (1949), 171-2).

I'm inclined to agree with your date of 490ish for Badon. This means that Gildas is presumably getting his schooling in the first decade of the sixth century.
 
Nov 2008
1,363
England
We don't know who 'Saxons' are as it is a gallo roman term used to describe any germanic speaker operating in the north sea who is not a Frank. Even in the 8th century, people like Widukind thought of himself as a king of the Westfali rather than as a saxon.
This would make sense if we understood the name as a Germanic one for a confederation of tribes and it means Dagger Folk. The Romans would have latinised the term. We find a derivation in Saxnot a Germanic god which means friend of the Saxons or sword companion. You seem very sure that Widukind only regarded himself as of the Westfali and not as a Saxon when all contemporary authorities and modern ones describe him as a Saxon. The Westfali of course were a Saxon tribe.
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,194
You seem very sure that Widukind only regarded himself as of the Westfali and not as a Saxon when all contemporary authorities and modern ones describe him as a Saxon. The Westfali of course were a Saxon tribe.
No, that's not correct at all. Not all modern authorities describe him as a saxon, just english ones, and there are no contemporary sources who use the term other than those derived from gallo roman sources, for example, in Britain, the roman church. It's a term which only starts to be frequently used from the start of the 5th century. I don't think Procopius even uses the term. Ptolemy's use of the term saxon in the 2nd century AD is much questioned today and the only consensus is that the first use of the term was by the Emperor Julian who, in a speech, described the 'Saxons as a people of the Franks'. The term is gallo roman and there is no evidence that groups like the westfali thought of themselves of saxons and the only reason why Charlemagne thought of Widukind was a saxon is because he used gallo roman terminology. Irrespective of whether it describes a religion or a weapon, the term is entirely etic and there is nothing unusual in this, the victorians describing egyptians as muhammedans for example.

The germanic groups were unfamiliar with the term saxon until the 9th century. It was not until the 'saxons' were incorporated into the frankish empire that they started to ask the question, who are the saxons meant to be? Rudolf of Fulda thought that they were from Britain. Widukind of Corvey, who may have been the westfalian Widukind's grandson, wrote that "there are many stories. Some say that they are Danes, others that they are descended from the armies of Alexander'.

The only serious scholarly examination into the question of who the saxons were is in german, Die Sachsen by Matthias Springer. I don't know of any english author who has studied the subject. It is used to describe any one of a number of north germanic tribes, westfali, ostfali, amisvarini, nordalbingi, aviones, chamavi, remnant chauci, thiatmarser, holsaeti, stormahni and many others. Springer has also produced a number of papers such as 'Die frühesten Nennungen des Namens der Sachsen.' (The earliest examples, [nominations] of the name of the Saxons) but, unless you can read german, it will not be available to you.
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,194
It is odd yes but, we have examples of roman amphorae containing oil and wine into the harbour at Tintagel in the 6th century. Was it for local consumption or was it taken to some, as yet, undiscovered centre? Some people were still adhering to the earlier 'civilised' lifestyle.
 
Nov 2008
1,363
England
The germanic groups were unfamiliar with the term saxon until the 9th century. I
I disagree, and your argument doesn`t to make sense to me. You seem to be suggesting that the word "Saxon" was a Latin term invented for some unkown reason by Romans to describe a confederation of German tribes, which for some unknown reason was later adopted by those German tribes. A simpler, elegant, and more logical explanation, and one which is generally accepted, is that "Saxon" is Germanic, probably means "Dagger Folk", and was latinized by the Romans as Saxones.

I convinced it was a German word, and that is why we see Seaxe in Old English, and variously Sahson and Sassen in German. Add to that Saksen in Dutch and Saxi in Icelandic. Furthermore, most academics and linguistic specialists believe the origin of the name derives from the Proto-Germanic words sahso and sahsa, which means most likely "knife" or "sharp stone".

Concerning Ptolemy reference to the Saxones in his "Geographia". There is some dispute about this, but the scholar Schutte considers Ptolemy to be correct. An interesting dispute amongst academics about this if anyone is interested in this subject.

It's a term which only starts to be frequently used from the start of the 5th century.
Earlier than that. The Roman Ammianus Marcellinus writing in the early 360s describes the piratical raids on Britain as continuous, and the Saxons are included amongst the raiders: Picti, Saxonesque et Scotti, et
Attacotti Britannos aerumnis vexavere continuis."
Additionally for the year 367 Marcellinus mentions the "barbarian conspiracy" which included those peoples mentioned, and he also includes the Franks, not the later French variety but the early Germanic people who preceded the Saxons pirates in the North Sea.
 
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