The Saxons & Their Tribes


The Saxons & Their Tribes

The Angles are fist mentioned by Tacitus under the name of Angli in connection with another tribe, the Varni. From the third to the fifth century we hear nothing of the Angli. In the time of Bede they reappear as the Angles in a new country.(1) The part they are said to have played in the settlement of England is very large, all the country north of the Thames, except Essex, being supposed to have been occupied by Angles. The district in North Europe that bore their name is very small-Anglen, a part of Schleswig. There is evidence, however, that they were more widely seated, occupying a large part of the south of the Danish peninsula, some at least of the Danish islands, and part of the mainland of Scandinavia. The Angles were certainly closely connected to, or in alliance with, the Warings, the Varni of Tacitus, and this has long continued. In the time of Charlemagne we read of a common code of laws sanctioned by that King, called `Leges Anglorum et Werinorum,` the laws of the Angles and Warings.

The Angle country on the mainland of Northern Europe touched the Frisian country on the west, that the Saxons on the south, and that of the Wendish tribes of the Baltic coast on the east. Their immigration into England was so large, and the area of the country they occupied so much greater in extent than their Continental homelands, that we are led, as in the case of the Saxons, to look for a confederacy, or an alliance of some kind, under which people of various tribes joined the Anglian expeditions.

That the names Saxons and Angles were understood in a composite sense in the time of Bede is evident from his writings. In narrating some events connected with missionary undertakings, he says : `About that time the venerable servant of Christ and priest, Egbert, proposed to take upon himself the apostolic work to some of those nations that had not yet heard it, many of which nations he knew there were in Germany, from whom the Angles and Saxons who now inhabit Britain are known to have derived their origin, for which reason they were still called Germans by the neighbouring nation of the Britons. Such are the Feesons, Rugians, Danes, Hunni, Old Saxons, and the Boructarians.`(2) From this we learn that some of the people who settled in England under the names Angles and Saxons were of Dutch origin. The country of the Continental Angles was close to the Danish islands, and, independently of any historical statements of the fact, it would be reasonable to suppose that the confederacy of which the Angles formed the chief part would for the purpose of their settlement in England include some of their neighbours, the Danes. Bede`s statement shows that this actually was the case, and is proof that there were Danes settled in England under the name of Angles or Saxons before the Danish invasion began about the end of the eighth century. In considering Bede`s reference to Germans, we should remember also that the name Germany in his time was understood probably in that wider sense in which it was understood by King Alfred-viz., as extending from the Danube to the White Sea.

The Warings, whose name is coupled with the Angles by the early writers, were a people located on the south-west coast of the Baltic. From the first mention of them to the last we find them associated with the Angles, and as these accounts have a difference in date of some centuries, we may feel sure that the connection was a close one. Procopius tells us of Varini who were seated about the shores of the northern ocean, as well as upon the Rhine, so that there appears to have been a migration at an early date.(3) Beddoe has remarked that `the limits of confederacies like those of the Franks, Saxons, Frisians, and Angles, who seem sometimes to have included the Warini, varied from time to time, and by no means always coincided with limits of the dialects.`(4) This is an important consideration, for we find in the Frank confederation Franks who spoke a German tongue and others who did not, and it may have been the same in the confederated Angles and Warings. The Angles were a Teutonic race, and the Warings were probably a mixed one. In one of the Sagas they are mentioned as Waernas or Wernas.(5) Tacitus, who does not appear, however, to have visited their country, mentions them as a German nation.(6) The Warings were one of the early commercial nations of the Baltic, and traded to Byzantium, going up the rivers of Slavonia in small barks, and carrying them across from river to river. The last mention of them is in 1030. By the early Russians they were known as Warings, their country as Waringia, and the sea near it as the Waring Sea. In Byzantium they called themselves Warings. They were in later centuries much mixed up with the Norsemen, and this infusion became stronger and stronger, until they disappeared as a separate nation.(7) It was chiefly men of this race who in the eleventh and twelfth centuries enlisted in the military service of the Byzantium Emperors, and were known in Constantinople as the Varangian guard, and in this corps there were some Old English, a circumstance that points to connection in race. The Billings are said to have been the royal race of the Warings,(8) and it is probable that under this designation some of these people maybe traced among the old place-names in England. The western part of Mecklenburg was long known as the Mark of the Billings. The name Waering occurs in Scandinavian runic inscriptions. In one found at Torvic, Hardanger, Norway, the inscription reads `Laema (or Laeda) Waeringaea` (9)-i.e., `Laema (or Laeda) to Waering,` as if intended to be a monument to one who bore the Waring name.

The district called Anglen in the time of the Saxons is on the south-west of Sleswig, and is bounded by the river Slie, the Flensborger Fjord and a line drawn from Flensborg to Sleswig. This district is small, not much larger, as Latham has pointed out, than the country of Rutland.(10) Bede tells us that it had by the emigration of its inhabitants become deserted. Such a small district alone was not, however, likely to have been the mother-country of a large emigration across the North Sea for the occupation of a conquered country so large as England. Of course, the Anglen of Sleswig must have been a part only of the country from which the Angles came. That a population sufficiently famous to have been classed by Ptolemy among the leading nations of Germany, lived in so small an area is extremely unlikely. We must therefore conclude that the Angles extended over a larger area, and that in the invasion and settlement of England their name was used as that of a confederacy which included Warings. There remains, however, the statement of Bede concerning Anglen. Its abandoned condition at the time he wrote is not improbable, but there is another explanation, as Latham has pointed out, which helps to account for its deserted state-viz., because it was a frontier land or march between the Danes and Slavonians (or Wends) of the eastern half of Holstein.(11) Many frontier lands of a similar kind have become deserted from a similar cause, and examples of this may be found in modern as well as ancient history. King Alfred, describing the voyager`s course in his geographical description of the Baltic, mentions Denmark and Gothland, also Sealand, and other islands, and says :-`On these lands lived Engles before they hither to land came.`(12) This extract makes it quite clear that at that time he wrote it was understood in England that the Angles came partly from Old Denmark and Gothland, on the Scandinavian coast, and partly from Sealand and the Danish islands, as well as from Sleswig. This identification of Gothland and the part of Old Denmark in Scandinavia, also the Danish islands, as lands from which the Anglian settlers in England partly came is of much importance. It helps us to understand the circumstance that a greater extent of England was occupied by Angles than by Saxons ; that the predominant people gave their name to the country ; and shows that there was a Scandinavian immigration before the eighth century. Our chroniclers have assigned a large territory in North Germany as the fatherland of the Saxons, but only Schleswig as the fatherland of the Angles. In this they certainly overlooked the statement of King Alfred, who had no doubt the best traditions, derived from the Northern countries themselves, of the origin of the race in assigning Gothland. Scandinavian Denmark, and the Danish isles as their homes, as well as the small territory of Anglen. Ancient Gothland occupied a larger part of Sweden than the limits of the modern province of the same name, and Scandian Denmark comprised Holland and Scania, now in Sweden. This great extent of country, with the Danish islands and the mainland coasts, would be sufficient to afford a reasonable explanation of the numerical superiority of the Angles among the English settlers. They were clearly people who formed a confederacy, as has been shown was the case of the Saxons, and these confederate invaders took their name from those who were the leaders of it. Even as late as Edward `The Confessor`s ` time the names Angles and Danes were considered as almost the same. His laws tells us of the counties which were under the laws of the Angles, using the name Angles for Danes. That the name of the earliest Angles comprised people of various tribes is also certain from the words used by Bede in his reference to them as the peoples of the old Angles. His actual words are `populi Anglorum.` These words occur in the account he wrote of names of their months, and maybe seen in the chapter `The Settlement around London.` Of his `De Temporum Ratione,` Bede has thus put it on record that there were among the ancestors of Northumbrian Anglians of his time people or tribes of Angles. That some of them were of Scandinavian origin is clear from the evidence already stated. It is also practically certain from the information Bede gives us concerning the date at which these peoples of the ancient Angles began their year. This was the eight Calends January, or December 25, the night of which Bede says, was called by them `Modranichte,` or the `Night of mothers,` an ancient pagan name, the origin of which he tells us he did not know. The ancient Anglians thus began their year at midwinter, as the Scandinavians did. The old Germanic year, on the other hand, began at the beginning of winter, or 11th November, later on known as St. Martin`s Day.(13) from this difference in their mode of reckoning as compared with the Germans, and their agreement with the Scandinavians, it is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that the ancient Angles must have been more Scandian than Germanic. That the Angles and Danes were probably connected in their origin is shown also by the statement of Saxo, the Danish historian, who tells us that the stock of the Danes had its beginning with Dan and Angul, their mythological ancestors.

Runic inscriptions are an important source of evidence in tracing the migrations of the Northern Goths, and of the neighbouring nations who acquired their knowledge of runes from them. In Sweden, Denmark, and Norway there are on fixed objects thousands of inscriptions in this ancient alphabet. Similar records are scattered over the regions which were overrun and settled by the Scandian tribes.(14) They have been found, on movable objects only, in the valley of the Danube, which was the earliest halting-place of the Goths on their southern migration. They have been found also infixed objects in Kent, which was conquered by the so-called Jutes, in Cumberland and other northern parts of England, Orkney, and the Isle of Man, where Norwegians formed settlements.(15) they are found in Northumberland, where the Anglians settled at an earlier period than that of the later Norse invaders. Runes maybe classed in three divisions – Gothic, Anglian, and Scandinavian. The oldest may date from the first or second century A.D., and the latest from the fourteenth or fifteenth century. The runic alphabet is called the Futhorc, after the word formed by its first six letters. The Anglian runes are used on the Ruthwell Cross, and several other Northumbrian monuments of the seventh and following centuries. One of the earliest examples is on a sword found in the Thames near London,(16) now in the British museum. The Old English inscribed runic coins are scarce, and run from about the seventh to the first half of the ninth century, those solely in runic letters being outnumbered by others in which runic and Roman letters are mixed.(17) From the circumstance of the discovery of inscriptions in runic characters in parts of England which were settled by Angles and Jutes, and not in those parts which were settled by Saxons, we are able to draw two conclusions : (1) That the settlers of Kent must have been near a race or allied to the Anglian settlers of Northumberland and other Anglian counties ; and (2) that there must have been an absence of any close intercourse or communication, and consequently a considerable difference, between the Scandinavian Angles and the Saxons, seeing that the Angles were acquainted with the runes and the Saxons were not, as far as appears from the total absence of such inscriptions on stones or other fixed monuments in Germany, and in Wessex, Sussex, or Essex. The runic inscriptions found in England are marked by the Anglian variety of the letters.

From their original home in the North, the Goths went southwards, and carried their art of runic writing with them, leaving examples of it here and there in inscriptions on portable articles found in the valley of the Danube, written in characters which mark the identity of the people with those of the Northern Gothland. From their Northern home across the North Sea went also the Anglians, neighbours and allies of the people of Gothland, and they carried with them the art of runic writing, which they had learnt from the Goths in the North, to their new homes in England. Across the same sea went also the Jutes or Goths to Kent, and left there examples of the same general evidence of the Northern lands whence they came and of the race to which they belonged.

From the circumstances mentioned, it will appear that Anglen, on the east coast of Denmark, could have been only a small part of the country inhabited by the people called by the Anglian name at the time of the English settlement. As Stephens says, the name Engelholm and Engeltoft, on the Scandinavian coast or mainland, still reminds us of the ancient Angles. That name, he says, was, as regards the English settlement, the first under which the Scandians were known. Later on they were called Vikings or Northmen, or Normans. They carried with them to their new homes their native civilization and may advantages in the knowledge of arts and arms.(18) Stephens says that no runic characters have ever been discovered in any original German or Saxon manuscript. It appears certain that no runic stone or fixed runic inscription has ever been discovered on German or Saxon soil. The ornaments of a personal kind which bear runic letters have been found by hundreds in the Northern lands, and those which have been found in Germany and other parts of Europe must have been carried there.(19) Since the Anglian inscriptions found in England are in characters earlier than those which are called Scandinavian, they must have been written by people who came during the earlier migration, or by their descendants. The Scandinavian runes discovered in England are chiefly inscriptions on objects belonging to, or made by, the men who came in during the so-called Danish or Viking period.(20)

Many hundreds of inscribed stones have been found in ancient Germany, but they bear Roman inscriptions. The runes, consequently, afford us evidence in connection with the settlement of Angles in Britain of a kind which is wholly wanting in connection with the Saxons. As the total absence of runes on fixed monuments in Germany maybe considered conclusive evidence that they were unknown to the German tribes, it is clear that these tribes could not carry them to England, and, as might be expected, there is, in parts of England which were mainly settled by German tribes, a similar absence of runic inscriptions to that which exists in Germany. There is, however, a trace of some early inscribed stones in Wiltshire, which, according to Aubrey, were in existence until the year 1640. This is not improbable, but if Aubrey`s statement is correct the occurrence of such inscriptions maybe explained by the existence of a settlement of Goths or other Scandians there, and we find other evidence, which will be stated later on, of such settlements in Hampshire, Dorset, and Wiltshire. On this subject Stephens quotes Sir R. Colt Hoare, who says : `At a place called the King`s Grave, where is now the Sheep-Penning of West Amesbury, Aubrey writes, “here doe appear five small barrows at one corner of the Penning. At the ends of the graves were stones which the people of late (about 1640) have fetch`t away, for stones, except flints, are exceedingly scarce in these partes. `Tis said here there were some letters on these stones, but what they were I cannot learn.“ `(21)

The inscriptions in runic characters of an earlier date than the ninth century which have been found in England cannot have been due to the invasions of the Danes and Northmen, and consequently they must have been the work of earlier Goths and Angles. That on the sword or knife discovered in the Thames near London has been assigned by Stephens to the fifth century.(22) This points to the period of the settlement of Kent, and the earliest invasions of the Goths and Angles. A gold ring, which bore was found near Coslin, in Pomerania, in 1839, and which bore a runic letter of a specially Anglian or English type, is according to Stephens, of the same period – viz., A.D. 400 – 500. He ascribes this rune to Englosh work, the letter being a variation of the Gothic rune and its equivalence being the sound yo. With this exception, this rune has only been found in England.(23) This discovery, in conjunction with the inscription on the sword found in the Thames, tends to show that there was a connection between the early Gothic and Anglian settlers in England and the inhabitants of the Baltic coast in the fifth century. The evidence afforded by the finding of runic letters of this early date at Coslin does not stand alone ; it is supported by that of the objects which were discovered with it. The ring was found with a bracteates bearing runic characters, five other bracteates without runes, and two Roman gold coins, one of Theodosius `The Great` (A.D. 379 – 395), the other of Leo I. (A.D. 457 474). This latter coin, therefore, assists in confirming the date of the objects as about the end of the fifth century. Stephens says (24) `This is one of the few golden bracteates we can date with some certainty from a comparison of the other gold pieces with which it lay.` As is well known, the golden bracteates belong to a unique class of northern remains, and chiefly date from the early Iron Age in Scandinavia. They were generally shaped like coins, but were not used as coins, being intended for suspensory ornaments. They are of no common pattern, but differ much in size, weight, and other features.(25) As they differed much in their design, so they differed in regard to having runes or not. The most important hoard of them in England was discovered at Sarr, in Thanet, in 1863. These, had no runic letters on them. The evidence that Goths and Vandals or Wends were often allied cannot be disputed, and that there was some alliance and consequent intercourse between their respective countries and the settlement of the Goths in England the discovery of these objects with Anglian or English runes on the Wendish coast near Coslin in the fifth century is good evidence. The discovery of anenglish runic inscription of such an early date in Pomerania is important form another aspect. It was found in what was Gothic and Vandal territory, and the connection of the vandals with the Anglo-Saxon settlement rests on strong evidence of another kind. Coslin, where the ring was found, is on the Baltic coast, east of Rugen Island, and nearly opposite to the land of Bornholm. This coast was in the third century was near the country of the Burgundians, before their great migration to the south-western part of Germany and to France. During the third and following century Goths and Vandals acted together as allies in various expeditions. The Isle of Gotland, as proved by the immense number of Roman coins of the late Empire discovered there, was even at that early period a great commercial centre. The Vandals were also great navigators, and the so-called Angles were in all probability a branch of the Gothic race, certainly of Gothic extraction. There must have been communications between the Gothic northern ports and the English settlements, and the discovery on the sword in the Thames, and a similar discovery of English runes on a ring found near the Baltic coast of Pomerania, is not, considering all these circumstances, a matter for wonder.

In order to realize the full significance of the evidence afforded by the runic inscriptions and their connections with the settlement of England, it is necessary to look at it from several points of view : First, that runes were of Northern Gothic origin, and the Gothic Futhorc or alphabet is the earliest ; secondly, that the Anglian Futhorc consists of similar characters varied from the Gothic ; and, thirdly, that the Scandinavian has later additions. The evidence shows that Goths and Angles introduced the art of runic writing in England before the end of the fifth century. It is interesting to consider also the probable origin of the runic letters themselves. Isaac Taylor has proved(26) that the early Gothic runes were modifications of the letters of the Greek alphabet, and were developed in Northern Gothland as a result of the commercial intercourse of the Goths across Eastern Europe with the Greek traders of the Levant. The Byzantine coins found in the island of Gotland certainly point to trade of this kind at a sufficiently early period. Lastly, we have to consider the very interesting fact that when the runic letters which have been modified from the Greek were introduced into Britain by the Goths, these modified Greek characters which had come across Europe to the north, and thence to England, met there the letters of the Celtic or Ramano-British alphabet, also derived from the Greek, but which had come there across Gaul from the Mediterranean (27) through Roman influence.

The Warings, who were such close allies of the Angles, were certainly much concerned with the early commerce of the Baltic and the overland trade between the dominions of the Greek Emperors and the Baltic ports. Nestor, a monk of kiev, who wrote in the eleventh century, mentions Novgorod as a Varangian city, and it is therefore concluded tat there was at that time a large settlement of Varangians in that part of Russia. We learn, also, that there were Gotlanders in early Russia,(28) and we know that the Isle of Gotland has revealed abundant traces of an ancient overland trade across that country. Another fact of interest concerning the later Warings is their possible connection with the Isle of Rugen, which, in the life of Bishop Otto, is mentioned as Verania and the population as Verani, who were remarkable for their persistent paganism.(29) These references point, without doubt, to the connection of Rugen with Slavonic paganism, and to the Warings of that time as associated with it. There is, as already mentioned, another more ancient reference to them by Ptolemy, under the name of Pharadini, the root syllable Var or Phar being almost certainly the same. Their name also appears in that of the old river-name Warina, the Warna, which gives its name to Warnof, and in Warnemunde, both on the Baltic coast. Procopius mentions the Warings, and tells us of the marriage of a sister of one of the Kings of the East English with one of their Kings. These allies of the ancient Anglians have left their mark on the subsequent history of Eastern Europe. Their influence among the old Slavs of what is now Russia was great, owing to their settlements among them and the commerce through their territory with Byzantium. In Constantinople itself the Varangian body-guard of the Greek Emperors was of political importance. The tall stature of these men and their fair complexions exited wonder among the Greeks and Asiatics of that city. Their name in Constantinople became the Byzantine equivalent for soldiers of a free company. The body of Huscarls organized by Cnut in England was a counterpart of the Varangian guard. In physical appearance their allies the Angles must have resembled them. Even at the present day the stature of the people in the least disturbed districts of England that were settled by Angles is above the average. It was, however, among the old Slavs that their influence was greatest, for the Slav, moulded by the Varangian, and converted to the Greek Church through Byzantine influence, became the Russian.(30)

The custom of disposing of the dead by cremation is so different from that of interment that where both prevailed there must in ancient time have been people of different races or tribes living in such a district. One fact which excavations in Anglo-Saxon burial-places proves beyond doubt is the contemporaneous practice of cremation and burial in various parts of England. In Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, and Gloucestershire, evidence has been obtained that both Practices went on.(31) In some parts of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Derbyshire, cremation appears to have been the sole observance,(32) as at Walsingham, and at Kingston near Derby. In the cemeteries of Kent and Sussex burial appears to have been almost the exclusive practice. Derbyshire is peopled by descendants of Anglians, according to the present physical race-characters of the people. A passage in Beowulf furnishes evidence of the practice of cremation among the Angles,(33) – `to make a mound, bright after the funeral fire, upon the nose of the promontory, which shall be for a memorial to my people.` the pagan Anglians appear, from these discoveries and this passage, to have burnt their dead, as the pagan Esthonians did at a later period in the time of king Alfred.(34) The custom among the Teutons thus appear to have been a Northern one, and Anglian rather than Saxon. From the evidence which has been obtained, cremation appears to have been practiced in Jutland and the western part of the Danish isles about the time of the Anglian migration, while burial prevailed at the same time in Zealand and part of Funen Isle.(35)



1Latham, R. G., `The Ethnology of the British Isles,` p. 151.

2Beda, `Ecclesiastical History,` edited by J. A. Giles, book v., chap. Ix.

3Procopius, `de Bello Gothico,` iv. 20 ; Latham, `Germania of Tacitus,` Epilegomena, cvi.

4Beddoe, J., `Races in Britain,` p. 39.

5`The Scop or Gleeman`s Tale,` edited by B. Thorpe.

6Latham, R. G., `Germania of Tacitus,` Notes, pp. 143, 144.

7Clarke Hyde, Transactions of Ethnological Society, vii. 65-76.

8Ibid, 64, and `Traveller`s Song.`

9Stephens, G., `Old Northern Runic monuments,` iii. 407.

10Latham, R. G., `Handbook of the English Language,` p. 70.

11Latham, R. G., `Handbook of the English Language,` p. 70.

12King Alfred`s `Orosius,` edited by H. Sweet, p. 16.

13Tille, A., Transactions of Glasgow Arch. Soc., iii,. Part ii., `The Germanic Year,` quoting Wienhold.

14Taylor, Isaac, `History of the Alphabet,` pp. 210 – 215.


16Taylor, Isaac, Loc. Cit.

17Stephens, G., loc. Cit., ii. 515.

18Stephens, G., `Runic Monuments in England and Scandinavia,` i. Iv

19Ibid., i. Iv.

20Ibid., i. 360.

21Stephens, G., `Runic Monuments in England and Scandinavia,` i. 360, quoting Sir R. Colt Hoare and Aubrey.

22Stephens, G., `Old Northern Runic Monuments,` i. 124 – 130.

23Stephens, G., `Old Northern Runic Monuments,` vol. ii., p. 602.

24Ibid., ii. 542.

25Ibid., 509.

26Tatlor, I., loc. Cit.


28Morfill, W. R., `Russia,` p. 19, quoting Nestor.

29Latham, R. G., `Ethnological of the BritishIsles,` 154.

30Rambaud, A., `History of Russia,`i. 24.

31Ackerman, J. Y., `Remains of Pagan Saxondom,` Introduction, xiv.


33Ibid., xv.

34`Orisius,` edited by Bosworth, J., 54.

35Englehard, C., `L`ancient age de fer en Seland.`

Taken from the book = `Origin of the Anglo-Saxon race`

AuthorT. W. Shore.