SAXONS (Notes)

The discussion of when and where the Saxons landed seems to be based on a number of misconceptions. The idea of an invasion bridgehead followed by a gradual expansion of conquering hoards may be relevant to Europe in 1944-45, but finds little support in archaeology of the fifth and sixth centuries in England.

The number of immigrant Saxons is now questioned, and increasingly we think of 'Saxonization' as a process of cultural change, rather than of population movement. The native sub-Roman population of England adopted the ethnic attributes of the Saxons, Angles and probably Scandinavians, while retaining some features of Romano-British culture. Ethnic identity is something that can be adopted (and adapted), and is not inherited with one's genes.

The story is going to be less simple than those who think in terms of invasions and conquest would wish, but it is a good deal more interesting and fits the evidence better.

Mark Gardiner
From: Mark Gardiner <>


I can think of no reason to think of the Saxon influx from the 5th century as a conquering invasion. It seems to me, it was less aggressive than the Roman attacks on fortifications.

I envisaged immigrant Anglo-Saxons (collective name for all the Germanic tribes) living side by side in separate communities, perhaps trading together.

I then guessed at an increase in the Germanic population, as the Saxon chiefs allocated more land for their sons, and competition over resources leading to battles between the Saxons and Romano-Britons at first and later battles between different groups of Saxons.

Then, I anticipated a ruling group of 10% of sword-wielding Saxons and an undergroup, which may have included Britons as well, but they have been living separately. I would still be interested in the archaeological and place-name evidence for settlement patterns.

I still do not know the answers to even some of the simpler questions, e.g where the Saxons grew their crops?  Did they prefer the upper downlands with its poor flint ridden soil that would be easier to plough? or the richer heavier alluvium or coastal plain soils which could be liable to flooding, or inroads from the sea, which would be lower than it is today.

I will look into this as best I can myself, but I appreciate any pointers. I am not a historian or archaeology specialist, it is just that I like to some idea of the local history, which does not seem to well published in books.

Fonts was a spur of the moment thought. Points taken on board. It seems the early Saxon churches in Sussex were made from wood and little remains. It was then I surmised that the fonts may have been made from stone and they would have a longer history. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be the case.

I have a note I made:
In the 680s St. Wilfrid, (exiled Bishop of York) expelled from Northumbria, spent several years converting the South Saxons (Sussex) to Christianity (this was the last Saxon area to be converted).
Is this correct for the date?  Most of the pre-1066 churches I know of were built in the 9th century, some like St. Nicolas Church, Old Shoreham, extensively rebuilt by the Normans with just a few Saxon bits identified.


Andy Horton
> Cymenes ora on the Sussexpast  List.

Thank you!  Yes, finding the places referred to in these entries from the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and other historiographic sources referring to the
post-Roman period is a source of continual debate.  As for your question
about the accuracy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, I'm sure you know it was
originally put together under the auspices of King Alfred.  The earliest
entries--those dealing with the post-Roman period--are based on legend and
hearsay, and the points on which it has been disproven are plentiful.
Despite the attestations of Bede and the Chronicle, 447 was almost
certainly not the first time a Saxon tribe came to Britain.  Most likely,
Aelle's son Cymen was invented to explain the place name "Cymenesora"; such
things are quite common in medieval literature.  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
is an invaluable source--but only for a later era.  For the post-Roman
period, it is highly mistrusted as a historical source.  David Dumville is
the primary champion of such minimalism in the history of post-Roman
Britain; if you are interested in this subject, you may wish to find some
of his books.

Your interpretation of the transition between the post-Roman and
Anglo-Saxon periods is largely correct.  It was not always and everywhere
violent, and I think Nicholas Higham (_Rome, Britain and the Anglo-Saxons_)
laid out a good case that the "invasions" were really the actions of small
intrepid warbands, using guerrila tactics, such as one often finds in
non-agricultural groups (Keeley, _War and Civilization_).  That means that
even your idea of 10%, round as it is, is probably too high!  However,
there was a certain amount of violence.  Such evidence is usually scanty
archaeological: there's little archaeological evidence for WWII, but thanks
to historical records, we can be sure it happened.  Our historical records
of the post-Roman period are not nearly so full, but whether its the Scots
who kidnapped St. Patrick or the Saxons Gildas believed to be a latter-day
Babylon, we can be sure that post-Roman Britain did not experience any
idyllic peace.  And should we expect such, with the rest of the Roman world
in such straights that most good Christians believed the end times had
come?  Yet, Britain, it would seem, was in a much better situation than
most of Europe--and so, might be considered idyllic comparatively.

However, your contention is borne out by archaeological evidence: most
Anglo-Saxons lived peacefully with most Romano-British.  It was the actions
of the warrior elite, however, which became set down in history and
ultimately determined the fate of the fledgling nation.  It was, it seems,
a much more complicated situation than previously imagined.  The modern
English population owes more, probably, to the Romano-Britons than the
Anglo-Saxons.  But the Anglo-Saxons, though the minority, came to exercise
political sovereignty, and therefore, the descendants of Romano-Britons
became Anglo-Saxons in culture.  We should remember that, biologically,
races do not exist; it was a common culture that made Romano-Britons
distinct from Anglo-Saxons, and when the Romano-Britons adopted (or had
inflicted upon them, depending on your view) Germanic culture, they became
as Anglo-Saxon as their overlords.

Jason Godesky
Editor, the Saxon Shore

Cymenesora file

Remains from Bishopstone (Cuckmere) from the book "The South-east to AD 1000."
5th - 6th Century.
Sheep bones 39%, Cattle 25% (more meat than sheep), Pigs, Roe and Red deer, Goose and Fowl.
Marine molluscs, Conger Eel, Whiting.