In the project of mapping ancient northern tribes A-Z I have finally reached a tribe that most of you will have heard about – and that a lot of you are partly and directly descended from if you have British ancestry. We have reached the Angles. And no, they were not angels. J
1st century AD: The Angles in Jutland.
The Angles (Latin Anglii) were recorded first by Tacitus, in his “Germania” (98 AD) and counted as one of the tribes that made up the great Suevi (“The People”) federation of tribes. They are mentioned together with other Suevi tribes in connection to his famous description of their worship of Mother Earth (“Terra Mater”):
“To the Langobardi, on the contrary, their scanty numbers are a distinction. Though surrounded by a host of most powerful tribes, they are safe, not by submitting, but by daring the perils of war. Next come the Reudigni, the Aviones, THE ANGLII, the Varini, the Eudoses, the Suardones, and Nuithones who are fenced in by rivers or forests.
None of these tribes have any noteworthy feature, except their common worship of Nerthus, or mother-Earth, (“…nisi quod in commune Nerthum, id est Terram matrem»,) and their belief that she interposes in human affairs, and visits the nations in her car.
In an island of the ocean there is a sacred grove, and within it a consecrated chariot, covered over with a garment. Only one priest is permitted to touch it. He can perceive the presence of the goddess in this sacred recess, and walks by her side with the utmost reverence as she is drawn along by heifers.
It is a season of rejoicing, and festivity reigns wherever she deigns to go and be received. They do not go to battle or wear arms; every weapon is under lock; peace and quiet are known and welcomed only at these times, till the goddess, weary of human intercourse, is at length restored by the same priest to her temple. Afterwards the car, the vestments, and, if you like to believe it, the divinity herself, are purified in a secret lake. Slaves perform the rite, who are instantly swallowed up by its waters. Hence arises a mysterious terror and a pious ignorance concerning the nature of that which is seen only by men doomed to die. This branch indeed of the Suevi stretches into the remoter regions of Germany.”
In this first description of the Angles, we also learn that the Suevi that lived further to the north of the Roman borders were “living behind ramparts of rivers and woods and therefore inaccessible to attack.” It is true that the Jutland peninsula, half of which today still belongs to Denmark, the other half a part of German and Dutch territories, is crammed with traces of ancient defense structures even on the scale of Hadrian´s Wall, and it is also true that until the Viking Age, forests with names that survived into Norse mythology, Mirkvidr and Iarnvidr (The Dark Forest and The Iron Forest) provided natural defense structures between north-Jutland and the turbulent continent. Additionally, the Jutland coast contains lots of estuaries, inlets, rivers, islands, swamps and marshes, so much so that they must have been then inaccessible to those not familiar with the terrain, such as the Romans, who considered it unknown, inaccessible, with a small population and of little economic interest.
The Angles lived, according to Tacitus, next to the “Eudoses”. It is known that this is the Latin rendering of the tribe that gave name to Jutland: the Jutes. It seems that the Angles and the Jutes had taken over Jutland after the Cimbri and the Teutones fled the rising waters and tsunamis that triggered the migration age during the 2nd century BC.
(Wiki): “The majority of scholars believe that the Anglii lived on the coasts of the Baltic Sea, probably in the southern part of the Jutish peninsula. This view is based partly on Old English and Danish traditions regarding persons and events of the 4th century, and partly on the fact that striking affinities to the cult of Nerthus as described by Tacitus are to be found in pre-Christian Scandinavian, especially Swedish and Danish, religion.”
THE TRIBAL NAME – ANGLES AND ANGELS:
The name Anglii probably has nothing to do with feathery angels – it has to do with the German root word for “narrow” – “eng”, possibly referring to a kind of fiord (“Narrow waters”), although it could also have to do with a root word for “tight” (“angh”), or even a “hook”, as in a fishing hook (“angling for fish”), or from the Indo-European *ang- , “bend”.
It is also also associated with the district of Angeln, now in Schleswig-Holstein in Germany (the Danish-German borders have been very fluctuating over time).
But the similarity to the Latin word for angels was not passed by unnoticed in the olden days either. According to Wikipedia, the “Angles are the subject of a legend about Pope Gregory I, who happened to see a group of Angle children from Deira for sale as slaves in the Roman market.
As the story would later be told by the Anglo-Saxon monk and historian Bede, Gregory was struck by the unusual appearance of the slaves and asked about their background.
When told they were called “Anglii” (Angles), he replied with a Latin pun that translates well into English: “Bene, nam et angelicam habent faciem, et tales angelorum in caelis decet esse coheredes” (“It is well, for they have an angelic face, and such people ought to be co-heirs of the angels in heaven”).
Supposedly, this encounter inspired the Pope to launch a mission to bring Christianity to their countrymen.”
ANGLIA AND ENGLAND
This particular Jutland tribe has also given name to “England” and to the language well known as “English” (ingles, angles, engelsk, englisch). Before “England” and “English”, we know that the country was called “Anglia”. (Wiki): “King Alfred‘s (Alfred the Great) translation of Orosius‘ history of the world uses Angelcynn (-kin) to describe England and the English people; Bede used Angelfolc (-folk); there are also such forms as Engel, Englan (the people), Englaland, and Englisc, all showing i-mutation.”
Why? How come one small Jutish tribe got to be the ancestor of the very term “English” when we all know that English people are descended from many different tribes of Celts, many different Roman Empire (i.e. Mediterranean) ethnicities, as well as several different Germanic tribes – the most famous being Jutes, Saxons, Angles, Normans and “Danes” (Viking Scandinavians)? I don’t know but we shall see what we can find…
Angles of the 2nd century
The next Classical writer we know about who wrote of the Angles is Ptolemy, in his “Geography” (2.10), he describes the Suevi Angili as a people who now live further to the south, living in a stretch of land between the northern Rhine and central Elbe, but apparently not touching either river, with the Suebic Langobardi on the Rhine to their west, and the Suebic Semnones on the Elbe stretching to their east. But this move further south may be due to an error, since Ptolemy´s “Geography” often gets the latitudes a little wrong.
Bede states that the Anglii, before coming to Great Britain, dwelt in a land called Angulus, “which lies between the province of the Jutes and the Saxons, and remains unpopulated to this day.” Similar evidence is given by the Historia Brittonum. King Alfred the Great and the chronicler Æthelweard identified this place with the district that is now called Angeln, in the province of Schleswig (Slesvig) (though it may then have been of greater extent), and this identification agrees with the indications given by Bede.
In the Norwegian seafarer Ohthere (Óttarr) of Hálogaland‘s (Nordland in Norway) account of a two-day voyage from the Oslo fjord to Schleswig, he reported the lands on his starboard bow, and King Alfred appended the note “on these islands dwelt the Engle before they came hither”.
The province of Schleswig has proved rich in prehistoric antiquities that date apparently from the 4th and 5th centuries. A broad cremation cemetery has been found at Borgstedterfeld, between Rendsburg and Eckernförde, and it has yielded many urns and brooches closely resembling those found in pagan graves in England. Of still greater importance are the great deposits at Thorsberg moor (in Angeln) and Nydam, which contained large quantities of arms, ornaments, articles of clothing, agricultural implements, etc., and in Nydam even ships. By the help of these discoveries, Angle civilization in the age preceding the invasion of Britannia can be fitted together.
Danish Expansion and Anglish Migration
During the mid 5th century AD, Angles, Saxons and Jutes joined forces and emigrated from Jutland to Britannia, what is known as the “Anglo-Saxon settlement of England”. In British legends, this situation seems to be associated with the time of King Arthur, when the last Celtic (Briton) dynasty to rule Britannia, that of Arthur and his Round Table, was challenged (and eventually conquered) by Anglo-Saxon invaders, leaving the surviving Celtic knights to spend the rest of their lives searching for the Holy Grail.
But why did the Angles & Co choose to emigrate to the western islands?
It seems to have to do with the very warlike tribe of Danes!
Around 550 AD, Jordanes wrote that the Danes originated among the Svear in Uppland (Uppsala, east Sweden). Like many other Scandinavians before and after them, the Danes emigrated from their homelands in search of new conquests. The Danes went southwest and settled in Zealand (Denmark), where we find an important royal seat in Roskilde at Lejre (Hleiðargardr) from around 300 AD. Later they must have invaded and conquered Jutland and Schleswig, since these too became incorporated into “Danmark” some time before the year 500 AD.
Archaeology seems to support these ancient written sources. DNA-studies and archaeology shows that it is in fact true that Zealand was settled by immigrants from east-Sweden (Uppland exactly, where Jordanes claimed the Danes were from) during the third century AD. From 300 AD onwards these Zealanders – these Danes, with their seat at Lejre (Hleiðargardr), also known from “Beowulf” as the place where King Hrotgard lived and was plagued by Grendel) began to invade Jutland – first the north (still “Denmark” to this day) and then the south (what today is known as Schleswig and Sachsen in Germany).
During the mid-fifth century AD, the Zealand Danes appear to have invaded the southern parts of Jutland, a successful invasion that actually caused the mass-migrations of Jutes(Vanir), Angles and Saxons to Britannia, no longer protected by the Roman Empire that had simply “left” the country in 407 AD.
The Danes finally occupied the entire realm of present day Denmark as well as some parts of North Germany by the year 500 AD, when “Denmark” for the first time became a kingdom, possible led by one powerful seat at Lejre in Zealand and probably also from important towns such as Ribe and Hedeby. Just south of Hedeby was built the famous border post and “Chinese Wall” called Danevirke, which is probably based on an older Anglian border to the south.
According to Wikipedia, the westward migration of the Jutland tribes was the result of many other, often also natural factors that came before:
Wiki: The low-lying continental coast of Europe was lightly populated until c. 200 BC, when the climate and environment became more amenable to human habitation. Conditions remained favourable from 200 BC to 250 AD, and the region became densely populated..
However the region had been undergoing a series of Marine transgressions (called Dunkirk 0 through Dunkirk IIIb) characterised by a rising water table and floods that left layers of clay on the land. The heaviest blow came with the “Dunkirk II transgression” that began in the 3rd century and continually worsened, leaving large areas of the coast uninhabitable from c. 350–c. 700. People were forced to abandon their homes and emigrate. Archaeologists conducting research along the historically flood-prone coast tell this same story for The Rhine/Meuse delta (Zeeland, Brabant, parts of South Holland and Limburg); Friesland; Groningen; Ostfriesland, German Friesland and the Weser/Jade estuary; and Dithmarschen, Eiderstedt and Nordfriesland.
In the Rhine/Meuse delta, the population became scanty. Between the 5th and 7th centuries there were few centers of occupation in the delta region, and in the estuarine and peat areas no settlements at all have been found. The area would not be repopulated until the Carolingian Era. The areas with river clay were so covered with sedimentation that habitation was almost impossible between 250–650.
The northern region (coastal Netherlands, Germany and Denmark) was dominated by salt marshes, forming a district that was distinct from the southern region, and with a somewhat more erratic history, but with the same story of abandonment as bogs expanded and living conditions became intolerable. By 400–600 the outer islands were only sparsely inhabited, and virtually uninhabited from 600 to 700.
In Angeln c. 320 the population was halved from its level of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, with the people emigrating to points unknown (the Angles are not known to be in Britain at this early date). In the 5th century the population would again be greatly reduced, and this coincides with the arrival of the Angles in Britain.
The climate also became cooler and wetter in Scandinavia, forcing the abandonment of uplands and marginally productive land in Norway, and forcing the abandonment of farmsteads in both Norway and Denmark, especially after 400 AD.
The Anglo-Saxon Settlement of Britain (Adventus Saxonum):
Interestingly, the first source to describe the Angels, mention their worship of Mother Earth. More than 700 years later, Bede writes that the still heathen Angels in England celebrates the New Year as Modraniht – “The Night of the Mothers.” Ancestral Mother worship seems to have been an important part of the Iron Age Germanic (and Celtic) tribal religion. We know from later Norse sources that even Mother Earth was considered the original, first Ancestral Mother. Apart from Mother Earth, the Angles worshipped much the same gods as the Saxons, their most important gods are well-known to all of us who study Norse myths: Wodan, Thonar and Tiwaz – Óðinn, Thor and Týr. Now I am going to leave the rest of the story of the settlement of Britain until it became England to Wikipedia:
According to sources such as the History of Bede, after the invasion of Britannia, the Angles split up and founded the kingdoms of the Nord Angelnen (Northumbria), Ost Angelnen (East Anglia), and the Mittlere Angelnen (Mercia). H.R. Loyn has observed in this context that “a sea voyage is perilous to tribal institutions,” and the apparently tribally-based kingdoms were produced in England. In early times there were two northern kingdoms (Bernicia and Deira) and two midland ones (Middle Anglia and Mercia). As a result of influence from the West Saxons, the tribes were collectively called Anglo-Saxons by the Normans, the West Saxon kingdom having conquered, united and founded the Kingdom of England by the 10th century. The regions of East Anglia and Northumbria are still known by their original titles. Northumbria once stretched as far north as what is now southeast Scotland, including Edinburgh, and as far south as the Humber Estuary.
The rest of that people stayed at the centre of the Angle homeland in the northeastern portion of the modern German Bundesland of Schleswig-Holstein, on the Jutland Peninsula. There, a small peninsular area is still called “Angeln” today and is formed as a triangle drawn roughly from modern Flensburg on the Flensburger Fjord to the City of Schleswig and then to Maasholm, on the Schlei inlet.
The Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain is the migration of several Germanic peoples from the western coasts of Europe and their settlement in Great Britain in the 5th century. There is no precise date known, save that it began in the early fifth century after the final departure of Roman troops in 410, and continued for some time thereafter. Their arrival is called the Adventus Saxonum in Latin texts, a characterisation first used by Gildas c. 540.
The Adventus Saxonum is the starting point in the history of England, and is traditionally characterised as an invasion rather than a settlement, with differing dates and circumstances suggested as the best conjecture. Whichever may be best, a measure of the early success of the Anglo-Saxons came in 441, when the Gallic Chronicle of 452 recorded that Britain fell under Saxon domination after suffering many disasters, likely meaning that all contact with the British coast had been cut off by that date.
There is ongoing debate, scholarly and otherwise, as to how and why the Anglo-Saxon settlements were successful and as to the full nature of the relationships between the Anglo-Saxons and Romano-Britons, including to what extent the incomers displaced or supplanted the existing inhabitants. The mostly non-Romanised Britons living in the west and north of Britain were largely unaffected by the Anglo-Saxon settlement.
Little is known of Anglian and Jutish activities in England, as they are not mentioned by those names. Mostly we hear of the Saxons. The Angles were not recorded in contemporary sources until c. 550 (mentioned by Procopius in his History of the Wars), while the Jutes are first mentioned by Bede in the 8th century.
The Roman occupation of Britain had been largely focused on the commercially valuable south and east. This region would become integrated into Roman society, governed by a Roman civil administration and laws, and becoming Romanised over time.
By the time Roman troops left this part of Britain for the last time in 407, the Romanised south and east were in a state of economic collapse, accompanied by a de-Romanisation of the populace. Villas, the heart of agrarian Roman society, were being abandoned in large numbers. Coinage became progressively unavailable after 402, and soon disappeared altogether. Roman-style towns, the centers of civil administration and commercial industries, were in a steep decline from which they would not recover. Industrial ceramic production ended, and only the simplest means of market transfer remained in effect still existing as a barter economy in the mid-5th century.
The west and north of Britain were relatively unaffected. The Roman occupation had been military rather than civil, and as long as these Britons did not interfere with or threaten Roman interests, the Romans were content to leave them alone, allowing their tribal societies to continue as before, with their people never becoming Romanised. Roman troops left these areas in 383, at which time the tribes became independent again, as they had been before the Roman invasion.
One source, viz. in Gildas Sapiens’ De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, which he composed in the 6th century, claims that when the Roman army departed the Isle of Britannia in the 4th century CE, the Britons (its indigenous inhabitants) were invaded by their neighbours to the north, namely the Picts (now Scotland) and the Scots (now Ireland). The Britons then admitted into their island the Saxons, hoping to repel by them the invading armies of the north. To their great dismay, the Saxons themselves turned against the Britons.
The earliest cemeteries that can be classified as Anglo-Saxon are found in widely separate regions and are dated to the early 5th century. The exception is in Kent, where the density of cemeteries and artifacts suggest either an exceptionally heavy Anglo-Saxon settlement, or continued settlement beginning at an early date, or both.
Many of the inland settlements are on rivers that had been major navigation routes during the Roman era. These sites, such as Dorchester on Thames on the upper Thames, were readily accessible by the shallow-draught, clinker-built boats used by the Anglo-Saxons. The same is true of the settlements along the rivers Ouse, Trent, Witham, Nene and along the marshy lower Thames. Less well-known due to a dearth of physical evidence but attested by surviving place names, there were Jutish settlements on the Isle of Wight and the nearby southern coast of Hampshire.
By the late 5th century there were additional Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, some of them adjacent to earlier ones, but with a large expansion in other areas, and now including the southern coast of Sussex.
A number of Anglo-Saxon cemeteries are located near or at Roman-era towns, but the question of simultaneous town occupation by the Romano-Britons and a nearby Anglo-Saxon settlement (i.e., suggesting a relationship) is not confirmed. At Roman Caistor-by-Norwich, for example, recent analysis suggests that the cemetery post-dates the town’s virtual abandonment.
Implicitly contradicting the archaeological dating, some histories assert that the Anglian settlements in the English Midlands, the heartland of the future Kingdom of Mercia, are the result of an early 6th-century invasion by the East Anglians and/or new immigrants from the Continent, rather than the result of 5th century settlement.
Earliest Anglo-Saxon Society
‘The Anglo-Saxons settled in small groups covering a handful of widely dispersed local communities that can be called “tribal”, with a political leadership that was simple, informal, and having a military relevance. There was a peasant element to the Anglo-Saxon influx that contributed to the relatively flat social structure that would still be visible in the 6th century. The earliest settlements show no obvious signs of a stable elite.
Despite their wide distribution in small settlements and a social structure that was only slightly hierarchical, the Anglo-Saxons were quite capable of organising and executing large-scale military operations in the fifth century, a fact confirmed by historical sources. For example, there were raids along the Frankish Continental coast made by large fleets of Saxon ships as far south as the Garonne. The coastal Saxons would continue their predatory raids on the Continental coast until the 7th century, as they had done before their migration to Britain.
Life in Britain was rural. Anglo-Saxons tended to settle as a group in farms consisting of anywhere from 4 to 20 people, in contrast to the British custom of a single farmstead containing a single family. However, the extent to which any such Anglo-Saxon settlement constituted a “village” is debatable, as the medieval English village did not come into existence until the late Saxon period. Neither the early Anglo-Saxons nor the Britons used stone, instead building their structures of wood and thatch. Ceramics were all hand-made and local, and would remain so until the 7th century.
The excavation of early medieval Anglo-Saxon burial grounds suggests high levels of infant and child mortality and a high level of mortality among women of child-bearing age, with most women dying before the age of 35. Men fared somewhat better. The study of teeth and bones suggests that even those who were comparatively wealthy suffered deprivation in their youth. While it would be an overstatement to extrapolate the results of a relatively few excavations to characterise an entire population, nevertheless it is sufficient to disavow any notions that the early Anglo-Saxons obtained a life of ease and comfort after migrating to Britain.
Anglo-Saxon society was hierarchical but not strongly so, and probably less than is implied by legal theories, with the bulk of the population either peasants or slaves. The hierarchical structure was characteristic of their ancestral homelands, and was also reflected in Britain in the grave goods of their early cemeteries, where the wealthy can be distinguished from the poor. Yorke (The Conversion of Britain, 2006) describes the early Continental Saxons as having powerful local families and a dominant military leader, while Kirby (The Earliest English Kings, 2000) suggests that even much later, the earliest 6th-century kingdoms in Britain can be better described as “chiefdoms” rather than “states”.
Number of migrants
Many historians decline to offer a numerical estimate of the number of migrants or their ultimate proportion of the total population, offering only qualitative estimates that state (usually without cited authority) that the proportion of Britons in the post-migration population was substantial, assertions that do not necessarily help in determining the number of migrants. These include Chris Wickham (Framing the Early Middle Ages, 2005),]D. P. Kirby (The Earliest English Kings, 2000), Barbara Yorke (Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England, 1990; Wessex in the Early Middle Ages, 1995; The Conversion of Britain 600–800, 2000), Chris Snyder (An Age of Tyrants, 1998) and Nicholas Higham (Rome, Britain and the Anglo-Saxons, 1992).
There is wide variation among those who do offer numerical estimates. Heinrich Härke is quoted by Pryor as arguing that the British population fell from 2–4 million to 1–2 million between the 4th and late 5th centuries, and that there were between 100,000 and 200,000 Anglo-Saxon immigrants. Snyder (The Britons, 2003, revised in 2005) cites Michael Jones for an estimate of between 10,000 and 20,000 Anglo-Saxons, adding that few if any archaeologists support the notion that the British population of what is now England was wiped out. Laing and Laing (Celtic Britain and Ireland, 1990) summarise the evidence as a Roman-era population of perhaps 4 million of which about 90% were rural, to which the Anglo-Saxons added between 10,000 and at most 25,000 (women, children and the infirm included).
Härke’s numerical estimate suggests that the Anglo-Saxons constituted between 5% and 20% of the migration-era population of Britain. The extremely low estimates of Jones and Laing seem to make it impossible for the Anglo-Saxons to have conducted large-scale raids on the Frankish coast, or to have mustered the manpower to engage the Britons in major battles, or to have left sufficient protection for the “women, children and infirm” (Laing’s words) while the men were away. It is known that the Anglo-Saxons did all of these things.
While the currently available DNA evidence suggests considerable population continuity from the pre-Roman Iron Age onward, that does not necessarily help in answering the questions of how many Anglo-Saxons migrated to Britain, or their percentage in the migration-era population of Britain.”
That last part on the Anglo-Saxon invasion and settlement of Britain, from the time I wrote (Wikipedia):, was all from Wikipedia. The first part is by myself, (Maria Kvilhaug, aka Ladyofthe Labyrinth) based on various ancient sources mentioned within the text, and on the very helpful books in the Danish language, “Danmarks Historie Bind 2 – Danernes Land” (Gyldendal og Politikens forlag) and Madsen, Orla: «Forhistorien indtil 700» i «Sønderjyllands historie indtil 1815» (Historisk samfund for Sønderjyllands aabenraa 2008)
(Wiki): “These Suevi Angili would have been in Lower Saxony or near it, but they are not coastal. The three Suebic peoples are separated from the coastal Chauci, (between Ems and Elbe), and Saxones, (east of the Elbe mouth), by a series of tribes including, between Weser and Elbe, the Angrivarii, “Laccobardi” (more Langobardi?), and Dulgubnii. South of the Saxons, and east of the Elbe, Ptolemy lists “Ouirounoi” (Latinized as Viruni) and Teutonoari, which either denotes “men” (wer); i.e., “the Teuton men”, or else it denotes people living in the area where the Teutons had previously lived (who Ptolemy places still living to the east of the Teutonoari). Ptolemy describes the coast to the east of the Saxons as inhabited by the FarÓðinni, a name not known from any other sources.
Owing to the uncertainty of this passage, there has been much speculation regarding the original home of the Anglii. One theory is that they or part of them dwelt or moved among other coastal people perhaps confederated up to the basin of the Saale (in the neighbourhood of the ancient canton of Engilin) on the Unstrut valleys below the Kyffhäuserkreis, from which region the Lex Angliorum et Werinorum hoc est Thuringorum is believed by many to have come. The ethnic names of Frisians and Warines are attested in the neighborhood names of this Saxon or Swabian lands.
A second possible solution is that these Angles of Ptolemy are not those of Schleswig at all. According to Julius Pokorny the Angri- in Angrivarii, the -angr in Hardanger and the Angl- in Anglii all come from the same root meaning “bend”, but in different senses. In other words, the similarity of the names is strictly coincidental and does not reflect any ethnic unity beyond Germanic.
On the other hand, Gudmund Schütte, in his analysis of Ptolemy, believes that the Angles have simply been moved by an error coming from Ptolemy’s use of imperfect sources. He points out that Angles are placed correctly just to the northeast of the Langobardi, but that these have been duplicated, so that they appear once, correctly, on the lower Elbe, and a second time, incorrectly, at the northern Rhine