The SAXONS (Latin : Saxones,
Old English : Seaxe,
Old Saxon : Sahson,
Low German : Sassen, German : Sachsen, Dutch : Saksen, Welsh : Saeson)
were a group of Germanic tribes first mentioned as living near the
North Sea coast of what is now
Old Saxony ), in the late
Roman empire . They were soon mentioned as raiding and settling in
North Sea areas, as well as pushing south inland towards the
Franks . Significant numbers settled in large parts of Great Britain
in the early
Middle Ages and formed part of the merged group of
Anglo-Saxons who eventually organised the first united Kingdom of
England . Many
Saxons however remained in
Old Saxony c.
531-804), where they resisted the expanding
Frankish Empire through
the leadership of the semi-legendary Saxon hero,
Widukind . Initially,
Saxons of Britain and those of
Old Saxony (Northern Germany) were both
referred to as 'Saxons' in an indiscriminate manner. The term
Anglo-Saxon, in turn, came into practice in the 8th century (probably
by Paul the Deacon) to distinguish English
Saxons from continental
Saxons (Ealdseaxe, 'old Saxons').
The Saxons' earliest area of settlement is believed to have been
Northern Albingia , an area approximately that of modern
This general area also included the probable homeland of the
Saxons, along with the
Angles and other continental Germanic tribes,
participated in the
Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain
Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain during and after
the 5th century. The British-Celtic inhabitants of the isles tended to
refer to all of these groups collectively as Saxons. It is unknown
Saxons migrated from the Continent to Britain: though
estimates for the total number of Anglo-Saxon settlers are around
200,000. During the
Middle Ages , because of international Hanseatic
trading routes and contingent migration,
Saxons mixed with and had
strong influences upon the languages and cultures of the Baltic
Finnic peoples , and
Polabian Slavs and Pomeranians , both
West Slavic peoples, as well as influencing the North Germanic
* 1 Etymology
* 1.1 Saxon as a demonym
* 1.1.2 Romance languages
* 1.1.3 Non-Indo-European languages
* 1.2 Related surnames
Saxony as a toponym
* 2 History
* 2.1 Early history
* 2.2 Continental
Saxons in Britain
* 3 Culture
* 3.1 Social structure
* 3.2 Religion
* 3.2.1 Germanic Religion
* 184.108.40.206 Christian literature
* 4 See also
* 5 Notes
* 6 References
* 7 External links
The remains of a seax together with a reconstructed replica
Saxons may have derived their name from seax , a kind of knife
for which they were known. The seax has a lasting symbolic impact in
the English counties of
Middlesex , both of which feature
three seaxes in their ceremonial emblem. Their names, along with those
Wessex , contain a remnant of the word "Saxon".
Elizabethan era play Edmund Ironside suggests the Saxon name
derives from the Latin saxa (stone):
Their names discover what their natures are, More hard than stones,
and yet not stones indeed. — I.i.181-2
SAXON AS A DEMONYM
Celtic languages , the words designating English nationality
derive from the Latin word Saxones. The most prominent example, a
loanword in English, is the Scottish word Sassenach, used by Scots -
Scottish English -speakers in the 21st century as a jocular term
for an English person. The
Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gives 1771
as the date of the earliest written use of the word in English.
It derives from the Scottish Gaelic Sasannach (older spelling:
Sasunnach). The Gaelic name for
England is Sasann, and Sasannach
(formed with a common adjective suffix -ach) means "English" in
reference to people and things, though not to the English Language,
which is Beurla.
Sasanach, the Irish word for an Englishman, has the same derivation,
as do the words used in Welsh to describe the English people (Saeson,
sing. Sais) and the language and things English in general: Saesneg
Cornish terms the English Sawsnek, from the same derivation. In the
16th century Cornish-speakers used the phrase Meea navidna cowza
sawzneck to feign ignorance of the English language.
"England" in Scottish Gaelic is Sasann (older spelling: Sasunn,
Genitive: Sasainn). Other examples include the Welsh Saesneg (the
English language), Irish Sasana (England), Breton saoz(on) (English,
saozneg "the English language", Bro-saoz "England"), and Cornish
Sowson (English people), Sowsnek (English language), and Pow Sows for
'Land of Saxons'.
The label "Saxons" (in Romanian Sași) was also applied to German
settlers who migrated during the 13th century to southeastern
Transylvania . From Transylvania, some
Saxons migrated to neighbouring
Moldavia , as the name of the town, Sas-cut, shows.
Sascut is located
in the part of
Moldavia that is today part of
During Georg Friederich Händel\'s visit to
Italy , much was made of
his being from Saxony; in particular, the Venetians greeted the 1709
performance of his opera Agrippina with the cry Viva il caro Sassone,
"Cheers for the beloved Saxon!"
Estonians have changed their usage of the term Saxony
over the centuries to denote now the whole country of
and Saksamaa respectively) and the
Germans (saksalaiset and sakslased,
respectively). The Finnish word sakset scissors reflects the name of
the old Saxon single-edged sword
Seax from which 'Saxon' is supposedly
derived. In Estonian, saks means a nobleman or, colloquially, a
wealthy or powerful person. As a result of the
Northern Crusades in
the Middle Ages, Estonia's upper class had been mostly of German
origin until well into the 20th century.
The word also survives as the surnames of Saß/Sass (in Low German or
Low Saxon), Sachse and Sachs. The Dutch female first name,
originally meant "A Saxon woman" (metathesis of "Saxia").
SAXONY AS A TOPONYM
Following the downfall of
Henry the Lion (1129–1195, Duke of Saxony
1142–1180), and the subsequent splitting of the Saxon tribal duchy
into several territories, the name of the Saxon duchy was transferred
to the lands of the Ascanian family. This led to the differentiation
Lower Saxony , lands settled by the Saxon tribe and Upper
Saxony , the lands belonging to the
House of Wettin
House of Wettin . Gradually, the
latter region became known as "Saxony", ultimately usurping the name's
original meaning. The area formerly known as
Upper Saxony now lies in
Map of the
Roman Empire and contemporary indigenous Europe in
125 AD, showing the location of the
Saxons in Northern
Europe in the late 5th century. Most names shown are the Latin names
of 5th century peoples, with the exceptions of
Syagrius (king of a
Gallo-Roman rump state),
Odoacer (Germanic king of Italy), and
(Julius) Nepos (nominally the last Western Roman emperor, de facto
Geographia , written in the 2nd century, is sometimes
considered to contain the first mentioning of the Saxons. Some copies
of this text mention a tribe called Saxones in the area to the north
of the lower
Elbe . However, other versions refer to the same tribe
as Axones. This may be a misspelling of the tribe that
Tacitus in his
Aviones . According to this theory, "Saxones" was the
result of later scribes trying to correct a name that meant nothing to
them. On the other hand, Schütte , in his analysis of such problems
in Ptolemy's Maps of Northern Europe, believed that "Saxones" is
correct. He notes that the loss of first letters occurs in numerous
places in various copies of Ptolemy's work, and also that the
manuscripts without "Saxones" are generally inferior overall.
Schütte also remarks that there was a medieval tradition of calling
this area "Old Saxony" (covering Westphalia,
Angria and Eastphalia).
This view is in line with
Bede who mentions
Old Saxony was near the
Rhine, somewhere to the north of the river Lippe (Westphalia,
northeastern part of modern German state Nordrhein-Westfalen).
In AD 441–42,
Saxons are mentioned for the first time as
inhabitants of Britain, when an unknown Gaulish historian wrote: "The
British provinces...have been reduced to Saxon rule".
The first undisputed mention of the Saxon name in its modern form is
from AD 356, when Julian , later the
Roman Emperor , mentioned them in
a speech as allies of
Magnentius , a rival emperor in
Gaul . Zosimus
also mentions a specific tribe of Saxons, called the Kouadoi, which
have been interpreted as the
Chauci . They entered the Rhineland and
displaced the recently settled Salian
Franks from Batavi , whereupon
some of the Salians began to move into the Belgian territory of
Toxandria , supported by Julian.
In order to defend against Saxon raiders, the Romans created a
military district called the Litus Saxonicum ("Saxon Coast") on both
sides of the
English Channel .
Saxons as inhabitants of present-day Northern
Germany are first
mentioned in 555, when the Frankish king
Theudebald died, and the
Saxons used the opportunity for an uprising. The uprising was
Chlothar I , Theudebald's successor. Some of their
Frankish successors fought against the Saxons, others were allied with
Thuringians frequently appeared as allies of the Saxons.
Possible locations of the Angles,
Jutes before their
migration to Britain.
Saxons living in what was known as
Old Saxony (c.
531-804) appear to have become consolidated by the end of the 8th
century. After subjugation by the Emperor
Charlemagne , a political
entity called the
Duchy of Saxony
Duchy of Saxony (804-1296) appeared, covering
Angria and Nordalbingia (Holstein, southern
part of modern-day Schleswig-
Saxons long resisted becoming Christians and being incorporated
into the orbit of the
Frankish kingdom . In 776 the
to convert to
Christianity and vow loyalty to the king, but, during
Charlemagne's campaign in
Hispania (778), the
Saxons advanced to Deutz
Rhine and plundered along the river. This was an oft-repeated
Charlemagne was distracted by other matters. They were
Charlemagne in a long series of annual campaigns, the
Saxon Wars (772–804). With defeat came enforced baptism and
conversion as well as the union of the
Saxons with the rest of the
Germanic, Frankish empire. Their sacred tree or pillar, a symbol of
Irminsul , was destroyed.
Charlemagne also deported 10,000
Neustria and gave their now largely vacant
lands in Wagria (approximately modern Plön and Ostholstein districts)
to the loyal king of the
Abotrites . Einhard, Charlemagne's
biographer, says on the closing of this grand conflict:
The war that had lasted so many years was at length ended by their
acceding to the terms offered by the king; which were renunciation of
their national religious customs and the worship of devils, acceptance
of the sacraments of the Christian faith and religion, and union with
Franks to form one people.
Under Carolingian rule , the
Saxons were reduced to tributary status.
There is evidence that the Saxons, as well as Slavic tributaries such
Abodrites and the
Wends , often provided troops to their
Carolingian overlords. The dukes of
Saxony became kings (Henry I , the
Fowler, 919) and later the first emperors (Henry's son, Otto I, the
Great ) of
Germany during the 10th century, but they lost this
position in 1024. The duchy was divided in 1180 when Duke Henry the
Lion refused to follow his cousin, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa , into
During the High
Middle Ages , under the Salian emperors and, later,
Teutonic Knights , German settlers moved east of the Saale
into the area of a western Slavic tribe, the
Sorbs . The
gradually Germanised . This region subsequently acquired the name
Saxony through political circumstances, though it was initially called
March of Meissen
March of Meissen . The rulers of
Meissen acquired control of the
Duchy of Saxony
Duchy of Saxony (only a remnant of the previous Duchy) in 1423; they
eventually applied the name
Saxony to the whole of their kingdom.
Since then, this part of eastern
Germany has been referred to as
Saxony (German: Sachsen), a source of some misunderstanding about the
original homeland of the Saxons, with a central part in the
present-day German state of
Lower Saxony (German: Niedersachsen).
Saxons occupied the territory south of the
Frisians and north of the Franks. In the west it reached as far as the
Gooi region, in the south as far as the Lower Rhine. After the
conquest of Charlemagne, this area formed the main part of the
Bishopric of Utrecht . The Saxon duchy of
Hamaland played an important
role in the formation of the duchy of
The local language, although strongly influenced by standard Dutch ,
is still officially recognised as
Dutch Low Saxon
Dutch Low Saxon .
Italy And Provence
In 569, some
Saxons accompanied the
Italy under the
Alboin and settled there. In 572, they raided
Gaul as far as Stablo, now
Estoublon . Divided, they were
easily defeated by the
Mummolus . When the Saxons
regrouped, a peace treaty was negotiated whereby the Italian Saxons
were allowed to settle with their families in
Austrasia . Gathering
their families and belongings in Italy, they returned to
two groups in 573. One group proceeded by way of
Nice and another via
Embrun , joining up at
Avignon . They plundered the territory and were
as a consequence stopped from crossing the
Rhône by Mummolus. They
were forced to pay compensation for what they had robbed before they
could enter Austrasia. These people are known only by documents, and
their settlement cannot be compared to the archeological artifacts and
remains that attest to Saxon settlements in northern and western Gaul.
A Saxon king named Eadwacer conquered
Angers in 463 only to be
Childeric I and the Salian
Franks , allies of the Roman
Empire . It is possible that Saxon settlement of
Great Britain began
only in response to expanding Frankish control of the Channel coast.
Saxons already lived along the
Saxon shore of
Gaul as Roman
foederati . They can be traced in documents, but also in archeology
and in toponymy . The
Notitia Dignitatum mentions the Tribunus
cohortis primae novae Armoricanae, Grannona in litore Saxonico. The
location of Grannona is uncertain and was identified by the historians
and toponymists at different places: mainly with the town known today
as Granville (in
Normandy ) or nearby. The
Notitia Dignitatum does not
explain where these "Roman" soldiers came from. Some toponymists have
proposed Graignes (Grania 1109 - 1113) as the location for
Grannona/Grannonum. It could be the same element *gran, that is
Guernsey (Greneroi 11th century). This location is
Bayeux , where
Gregory of Tours
Gregory of Tours evokes otherwise the Saxones
Bessin Saxons), which were ineffective to defeat the
Waroch II in 579.
A Saxon unit of laeti settled at
Bayeux – the Saxones
Saxons became subjects of
Clovis I late in the
5th century. The
Bayeux comprised a standing army and were
often called upon to serve alongside the local levy of their region in
Merovingian military campaigns. They were ineffective against the
Breton Waroch in this capacity in 579. In 589, the
Saxons wore their
hair in the Breton fashion at the orders of
Fredegund and fought with
them as allies against
Guntram . Beginning in 626, the
Saxons of the
Bessin were used by
Dagobert I for his campaigns against the
One of their own,
Aeghyna , was created a dux over the region of
In 843 and 846 under king
Charles the Bald
Charles the Bald , other official documents
mention a pagus called Otlinga Saxonia in the
Bessin region, but the
meaning of Otlinga is unclear. Different
Bessin toponyms were
identified as typically Saxon, ex :
Cottun (Coltun 1035 - 1037 ; Cola
's "town"). It is the only place-name in
Normandy that can be
interpreted as a -tun one (English -ton; cf. Colton ). In contrast to
this one example in
Normandy are numerous -thun villages in the north
of France, in Boulonnais , ex : Alincthun, Verlincthun, Pelingthun,
etc. showing with other toponyms, an important Saxon or Anglo-Saxon
settlement. comparing the concentration of -ham / -hem (Anglo-Saxon
hām > home) toponyms in the
Bessin and in the Boulonnais gives more
examples of Saxon settlement. In the area known today as Normandy,
the -ham cases of
Bessin are unique, they do not exist elsewhere.
Other cases were considered, but there is no determining example, f.e.
Canehan (Kenehan 1030 / Canaan 1030 - 1035) could be the biblical
name Canaan or
Airan (Heidram 9th century), the Germanic masculine
Bessin examples are clear. f. e.
Ouistreham (Oistreham 1086),
Étréham (Oesterham 1350 ?),
Huppain (*Hubbehain ; Hubba 's "home"),
Surrain (Surrehain 11th century), etc. Another significant example can
be found in the Norman onomastics : the widespread surname Lecesne ,
with variant spellings : Le Cesne, Lesène, Lecène and Cesne. It
comes from Gallo-Romance *SAXINU "the Saxon" > saisne in Old French.
These examples are not derived from more recent Anglo-Scandinavian
toponyms, because in that case they would have been numerous in the
Norman regions (pays de Caux, Basse-Seine, North-Cotentin) settled by
the Nordic peoples. That is not the case, nor does
Bessin belong to
the pagii, which were affected by an important wave of
In addition, archeological finds add evidence to the documents and
the results of toponymic research. Around the city of
Caen and in the
Vierville-sur-Mer , Bénouville ,
Giverville , Hérouvillette
), excavations have shown numerous Anglo-Saxon jewellery, design
elements, settings and weapons. All of these things were discovered in
cemeteries in a context of the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries AD.
The oldest and most spectacular Saxon site found in France to date is
Vron , in
Picardy . There, archeologists excavated a large cemetery
with tombs dating from the
Roman Empire until the 6th century.
Furniture and other gravegoods, as well as the human remains, revealed
a group of people buried in the 4th and 5th centuries AD. Physically
different from the usual local inhabitants found before this period,
they instead resembled the Germanic populations of the north. At the
beginning (4th century) 92% were buried, sometimes with typical
Germanic weapons. Then, they were ranked to the east, when they were
buried in the 5th and later to the beginning of the 6th century. A
strong Anglo-Saxon influence became obvious in the middle of the
period, but it disappeared later. Archeological material, neighbouring
toponymy, and texts support the same conclusions: settlement of Saxon
foederati with their families. Further anthropological research by
Joël Blondiaux shows these people were from Low
SAXONS IN BRITAIN
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great Further information:
Sub-Roman Britain and
Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain
Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain
Saxons, along with
Jutes , invaded or migrated
to the island of
Great Britain (
Britannia ) around the time of the
collapse of the Western
Roman Empire . Saxon raiders had been
harassing the eastern and southern shores of
Britannia for centuries
before, prompting the construction of a string of coastal forts called
the Litora Saxonica or
Saxon Shore . Before the end of Roman rule in
Saxons and other folk had been permitted to settle in
these areas as farmers.
According to tradition, the
Saxons (and other tribes) first entered
Britain en masse as part of an agreement to protect the Britons from
the incursions of the
Gaels and others. The story, as reported
in such sources as the
Historia Brittonum and
Gildas , indicates that
the British king
Vortigern allowed the Germanic warlords, later named
Bede , to settle their people on the Isle of
Thanet in exchange for their service as mercenaries . According to
Vortigern into granting more land and
allowing for more settlers to come in, paving the way for the Germanic
settlement of Britain.
Historians are divided about what followed: some argue that the
takeover of southern
Great Britain by the
Anglo-Saxons was peaceful.
The known account from a native Briton who lived in the mid-5th
Gildas , described events as a forced takeover by armed
For the fire...spread from sea to sea, fed by the hands of our foes
in the east, and did not cease, until, destroying the neighbouring
towns and lands, it reached the other side of the island, and dipped
its red and savage tongue in the western ocean. In these
assaults...all the columns were levelled with the ground by the
frequent strokes of the battering-ram, all the husbandmen routed,
together with their bishops, priests and people, whilst the sword
gleamed, and the flames crackled around them on every side. Lamentable
to behold, in the midst of the streets lay the tops of lofty towers,
tumbled to the ground, stones of high walls, holy altars, fragments of
human bodies, covered with livid clots of coagulated blood, looking as
if they had been squeezed together in a press; and with no chance of
being buried, save in the ruins of the houses, or in the ravening
bellies of wild beasts and birds; with reverence be it spoken for
their blessed souls, if, indeed, there were many found who were
carried, at that time, into the high heaven by the holy angels...
Some, therefore, of the miserable remnant, being taken in the
mountains, were murdered in great numbers; others, constrained by
famine , came and yielded themselves to be slaves for ever to their
foes, running the risk of being instantly slain, which truly was the
greatest favour that could be offered them: some others passed beyond
the seas with loud lamentations instead of the voice of
exhortation...Others, committing the safeguard of their lives, which
were in continual jeopardy, to the mountains, precipices, thickly
wooded forests and to the rocks of the seas (albeit with trembling
hearts), remained still in their country.
Gildas described how the
Saxons were later slaughtered at the battle
Mons Badonicus 44 years before he wrote his history, and Britain
reverted to Romano-British rule. The 8th century English historian
Bede disagreed with Gildas, stating that the Saxon invasions continued
after the battle of Mons Badonicus, including also Jutish and Anglic
expeditions. He said these resulted in a swift overrunning of the
entirety of South-Eastern Britain, and the foundation of the
Four separate Saxon realms emerged:
* East Saxons: created the Kingdom of
* Middle Saxons: created the province of
* South Saxons: led by Aelle , created the Kingdom of
* West Saxons: created the Kingdom of
During the period of the reigns from Egbert to
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great , the
Wessex emerged as
Bretwalda , unifying the country. They
eventually organised it as the kingdom of
England in the face of
Bede , a Northumbrian writing around the year 730, remarks that "the
old (that is, the continental)
Saxons have no king, but they are
governed by several ealdormen (or satrapa ) who, during war, cast lots
for leadership but who, in time of peace, are equal in power." The
regnum Saxonum was divided into three provinces –
Angria – which comprised about one hundred pagi or
Gaue . Each Gau had its own satrap with enough military power to level
whole villages that opposed him.
In the mid-9th century,
Nithard first described the social structure
Saxons beneath their leaders. The caste structure was rigid; in
the Saxon language the three castes, excluding slaves, were called the
edhilingui (related to the term aetheling ), frilingi and lazzi. These
terms were subsequently
Latinised as nobiles or nobiliores; ingenui ,
ingenuiles or liberi; and liberti, liti or serviles. According to
very early traditions that are presumed to contain a good deal of
historical truth, the edhilingui were the descendants of the Saxons
who led the tribe out of
Holstein and during the migrations of the 6th
century. They were a conquering warrior elite. The frilingi
represented the descendants of the amicii, auxiliarii and manumissi of
that caste. The lazzi represented the descendants of the original
inhabitants of the conquered territories, who were forced to make
oaths of submission and pay tribute to the edhilingui.
Lex Saxonum regulated the Saxons' unusual society. Intermarriage
between the castes was forbidden by the Lex, and wergilds were set
based upon caste membership. The edhilingui were worth 1,440 solidi ,
or about 700 head of cattle, the highest wergild on the continent; the
price of a bride was also very high. This was six times as much as
that of the frilingi and eight times as much as the lazzi. The gulf
between noble and ignoble was very large, but the difference between a
freeman and an indentured labourer was small.
According to the Vita Lebuini antiqua, an important source for early
Saxon history, the
Saxons held an annual council at Marklo
(Westphalia) where they "confirmed their laws, gave judgment on
outstanding cases, and determined by common counsel whether they would
go to war or be in peace that year." All three castes participated in
the general council; twelve representatives from each caste were sent
from each Gau. In 782,
Charlemagne abolished the system of Gaue and
replaced it with the Grafschaftsverfassung, the system of counties
Francia . By prohibiting the
Marklo councils, Charlemagne
pushed the frilingi and lazzi out of political power. The old Saxon
system of Abgabengrundherrschaft, lordship based on dues and taxes,
was replaced by a form of feudalism based on service and labour,
personal relationships and oaths.
Saxon religious practices were closely related to their political
practices. The annual councils of the entire tribe began with
invocations of the gods. The procedure by which dukes were elected in
wartime, by drawing lots, is presumed to have had religious
significance, i. e. in giving trust to divine providence – it seems
– to guide the random decision making. There were also sacred
rituals and objects, such as the pillars called
Irminsul ; these were
believed to connect heaven and earth, as with other examples of trees
or ladders to heaven in numerous religions.
Charlemagne had one such
pillar chopped down in 772 close to the
Early Saxon religious practices in Britain can be gleaned from place
names and the
Germanic calendar in use at that time. The Germanic gods
Frigg , Tiw and
Thunor , who are attested to in every Germanic
tradition, were worshipped in Wessex,
Sussex and Essex. They are the
only ones directly attested to, though the names of the third and
fourth months (March and April) of the
Old English calendar bear the
names Hrethmonath and Eosturmonath, meaning "month of
Hretha " and
Ēostre ." It is presumed that these are the names of two
goddesses who were worshipped around that season. The
cakes to their gods in February (Solmonath). There was a religious
festival associated with the harvest, Halegmonath ("holy month" or
"month of offerings", September). The Saxon calendar began on 25
December, and the months of December and January were called
Giuli). They contained a Modra niht or "night of the mothers", another
religious festival of unknown content.
The Saxon freemen and servile class remained faithful to their
original beliefs long after their nominal conversion to Christianity.
Nursing a hatred of the upper class, which, with Frankish assistance,
had marginalised them from political power, the lower classes (the
plebeium vulgus or cives) were a problem for Christian authorities as
late as 836. The Translatio S. Liborii remarks on their obstinacy in
pagan ritus et superstitio (usage and superstition).
1868 illustration of Augustine addressing the
The conversion of the
England from their original Germanic
Christianity occurred in the early to late 7th century
under the influence of the already converted
Jutes of Kent . In the
Birinus became the "apostle to the West Saxons" and converted
Wessex , whose first Christian king was
Cynegils . The West Saxons
begin to emerge from obscurity only with their conversion to
Christianity and keeping written records. The
Gewisse , a West Saxon
people, were especially resistant to Christianity;
more efforts against them and ultimately succeeded in conversion. In
Wessex, a bishopric was founded at Dorchester . The South
first evangelised extensively under Anglian influence; Aethelwalh of
Sussex was converted by Wulfhere ,
King of Mercia and allowed Wilfrid
Archbishop of York
Archbishop of York , to evangelise his people beginning in 681. The
chief South Saxon bishopric was that of Selsey . The East
more pagan than the southern or western Saxons; their territory had a
superabundance of pagan sites. Their king, Saeberht , was converted
early and a diocese was established at London . Its first bishop,
Mellitus , was expelled by Saeberht's heirs. The conversion of the
Saxons was completed under
Cedd in the 650s and 660s.
Saxons were evangelised largely by English
missionaries in the late 7th and early 8th centuries. Around 695, two
early English missionaries,
Hewald the White and
Hewald the Black ,
were martyred by the vicani, that is, villagers. Throughout the
century that followed, villagers and other peasants proved to be the
greatest opponents of
Christianisation , while missionaries often
received the support of the edhilingui and other noblemen. Saint
Lebuin , an Englishman who between 745 and 770 preached to the Saxons,
mainly in the eastern Netherlands, built a church and made many
friends among the nobility. Some of them rallied to save him from an
angry mob at the annual council at
Marklo (near river Weser, Bremen).
Social tensions arose between the Christianity-sympathetic noblemen
and the pagan lower castes, who were staunchly faithful to their
Under Charlemagne, the
Saxon Wars had as their chief object the
conversion and integration of the
Saxons into the Frankish empire.
Though much of the highest caste converted readily, forced baptisms
and forced tithing made enemies of the lower orders. Even some
contemporaries found the methods employed to win over the Saxons
wanting, as this excerpt from a letter of
Alcuin of York to his friend
Meginfrid, written in 796, shows:
If the light yoke and sweet burden of Christ were to be preached to
the most obstinate people of the
Saxons with as much determination as
the payment of tithes has been exacted, or as the force of the legal
decree has been applied for fault of the most trifling sort
imaginable, perhaps they would not be averse to their baptismal vows.
Louis the Pious
Louis the Pious , reportedly treated the
Saxons more as Alcuin would have wished, and as a consequence they
were faithful subjects. The lower classes, however, revolted against
Frankish overlordship in favour of their old paganism as late as the
840s, when the
Stellinga rose up against the Saxon leadership, who
were allied with the Frankish emperor
Lothair I . After the
suppression of the Stellinga, in 851
Louis the German brought relics
Saxony to foster a devotion to the Roman Catholic Church
Poeta Saxo , in his verse Annales of Charlemagne's reign
(written between 888 and 891), laid an emphasis on his conquest of
Saxony. He celebrated the Frankish monarch as on par with the Roman
emperors and as the bringer of Christian salvation to people.
References are made to periodic outbreaks of pagan worship, especially
of Freya, among the Saxon peasantry as late as the 12th century.
In the 9th century, the Saxon nobility became vigorous supporters of
monasticism and formed a bulwark of
Christianity against the existing
Slavic paganism to the east and the
Nordic paganism of the
the north. Much Christian literature was produced in the vernacular
Old Saxon , the notable ones being a result of the literary output and
wide influence of Saxon monasteries such as Fulda , Corvey and Verden
; and the theological controversy between the Augustinian Gottschalk
and the semipelagian
Rabanus Maurus .
From an early date,
Louis the Pious
Louis the Pious supported
Christian vernacular works in order to evangelise the
Heliand , a verse epic of the life of Christ in a
Germanic setting, and Genesis, another epic retelling of the events of
the first book of the Bible , were commissioned in the early 9th
century by Louis to disseminate scriptural knowledge to the masses. A
Tours in 813 and then a synod of
Mainz in 848 both declared
that homilies ought to be preached in the vernacular. The earliest
preserved text in the Saxon language is a baptismal vow from the late
8th or early 9th centuries; the vernacular was used extensively in an
effort to Christianise the lowest castes of Saxon society.
* Ancient Germanic culture portal
List of Germanic tribes
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