Anglo-Saxon Britain

By 410, Roman troops were continually being withdrawn from Britain to help fight wars elsewhere in the empire. There was a general and persistent state of military crisis. Roman Britain was being attacked from three directions. The Irish (called 'Scotti' by the Romans) attacked from the west; the Picts (called 'Picti' meaning "painted or tattooed people" from Latin pingere "to paint"; pictus, "painted", cf. Greek "πυκτίς" pyktis, "picture") from the north; and various Germanic-speaking peoples from the east, across the North Sea. The latter included the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, who were all from northern Germany or southern Denmark.

With incursions on all fronts, Britain appealed to emperor Honorius for help. Honorius wrote to them telling them to 'look to their own defences'. This act is often seen as marking the end of Roman Britain, although Roman institutions and their way of life endured.

The term Anglo-Saxon is a relatively modern one. It refers to settlers from the German regions of Angeln and Saxony, who made their way over to Britain after the fall of the Roman Empire. The Anglo-Saxon settlers were effectively their own masters in a new land and they did little to keep the legacy of the Romans alive. They replaced the Roman stone buildings with their own wooden ones, and spoke their own language, which gave rise to the English spoken today. The early settlers kept to small tribal groups, forming kingdoms and sub-kingdoms. By the ninth century, the country was divided into four kingdoms - Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia and Wessex.

Place names are one of the ways that the Anglo-Saxon settlement can be tracked.
The suffix "ing" meaning "son of" or "part of" is often found: so Hastings is where Haesta's children lived.

A "ham" was an enclosure or farm: so Waltham was the farm near the wood (weald/ walt). (The two - ing and ham - are combined in many cases, e.g. Nottingham, Wokingham, Birmingham).

An "over" was a shore, hence Andover, Wendover &c. "Stoke" was a place with a stockade, and this was sometimes corrupted to Stow. (Again the elements were sometimes combined - e.g. Walthamstow.)

A "ton" was a place surrounded by a hedge or palisade and is one of the commonest endings, as is "wick," a word used for a village or a marsh, or anywhere salt was found (Droitwich).

Some days of the week are named for Anglo-Saxon gods:

  • Tuesday - Tiw/Tew, the god of darkness and sky.
  • Wedesday - Woden/Odin, the god of battle.
  • Thursday - Thor/Tor - son of Odin and the god of air and thunder.
  • Friday - Frigg/Frea/Frija - wife of Odin and the goddess of motherhood, fertility and wisdom.

 The goddess of dawn/sun-rise, Eostre gave her name to the Christian festival of Easter.