Anglo-Saxons Coming Down:Hengest and Horsa
The arrival of the Anglo-Saxons was part of a general movement of Germanic peoples around Europe between the years 300 and 700, known as the Migration Period. The migration of Germanic peoples to Britain from what is now northern Germany, the northern part of the Netherlands and southern Scandinavia is attested from the 5th century (e.g. Undley bracteate). Based on Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, the conquering peoples are traditionally divided into Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, but their composition was likely less clear-cut and may also have included Frisians and Franks.
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of English history between about 550 and 1066 AD. The term is also used for the language now called Old English, spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons and their descendants in much of what is now England and some of southeastern Scotland between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century.
The Benedictine monk, Bede, writing in the early 8th century, identified the English as the descendants of three Germanic tribes: The Angles, who may have come from Angeln (in modern Germany); Bede wrote that their whole nation came to Britain,leaving their former land empty. The name England (Old English: Engla land or Ængla land) originates from this tribe. The Saxons, from Lower Saxony (in modern Germany; German: Niedersachsen) and the Low Countries. The Jutes, possibly from the Jutland peninsula (in modern Denmark; Danish: Jylland).
Their language, Old English, derived from Ingvaeonic West Germanic dialects and transformed into Middle English from the 11th century. Old English was divided into four main dialects: West Saxon, Mercian, Northumbrian and Kentish.
The ethnic religion of the Anglo-Saxons is a form of Germanic religion closely related to the beliefs of the Continental Germanic and North Germanic peoples. As with most religions designated as being pagan by later Christian writers, it is a polytheistic belief system, focused around the worship of deities known as the ése (singular ós). The most prominent of these deities is Woden, although other prominent Gods include Thunor and Tiw. Perhaps the most prominent female deity is Fríge. Thunor is a friend of the common man, in contrast to Woden who is primarily associated with royalty. It has been suggested that the hammer and the swastika (also associated with Woden and Fríge) are the God’s symbols, representing thunderbolts, and both of these symbols have been found in Anglo-Saxon graves, the latter being common on cremation urns. There is also a belief in a variety of other supernatural entities who inhabit the landscape, including elves, nicor and dragons, or household deities, known as Cofgodas. These guard a specific household, and are given offerings so they will continue. Cultic practice largely revolves around demonstrations of devotion, including sacrifice of objects, food and animals, to the Gods, particularly at certain religious festivals during the year. These religious beliefs also have a bearing on the structure of Anglo-Saxon law and society, which is hierarchical and based on principles of heredity, with kings often claiming a direct ancestral lineage from a God, particularly Woden and Seaxn?at. The practice of ancestor veneration is of great importance and strongly influences funerary rites. The dead are either inhumed or cremated, typically with a selection of grave goods and burial mounds are constructed for the most important people in Anglo-Saxon society.
By the 8th century, the Anglo-Saxons were at least nominally Christian. Penda was the last faithful warrior-king among the Anglo-Saxons and his destruction sounded the death-knell of Anglo-Saxon religion as a political ideology and public faith. Anglo-Saxon missioniaries contributed significantly to the Christianisation of the continental Germanic peoples in the Frankish Empire and the widespread destruction of sacred sites, such as the felling of Thunor’s Oak by Boniface. Germanic religion returned to England in the form of the Old Norse religion, which Vikings from Scandinavia brought to the country in the 9th to 10th century.