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What Do We Know For Certain About The Coming Of The Anglo Notes

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Jonathan Lindsell, Trinity College, 18-13 What do we know for certain about the coming of the Anglo-Saxons? (And what is speculative?) Certainty in the early history of the Anglo-Saxons is elusive and fickle to say the least, owing to the lack of written sources due to early Saxon illiteracy, the elements of creative guesswork in archaeological extrapolation, and the questionable reliability of those sources that are present, such as the accounts of Gildas and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Indeed, Campbell writes "those who wish for certainty in history...are best advised to study some other period" (The Anglo-Saxons, ed. James Campbell, p29). Nonetheless, from examining the correspondence and support of literature and physical remains, it is possible to deduce facts about the Anglo-Saxons' coming, from possibilities and probabilities to certainties. What there is to know about the coming of the Anglo-Saxons can be divided into several areas; the time period over which they arrived, the reasons they came, from whence exactly they departed, in what numbers, and to what extent they were resisted by the post-Roman Britons. Campbell also raises the question as to whether Britain already had a significant Germanic population of soldiers in the employ of the Roman army, which was composed of units from all about the empire rather than the specific region (The Anglo- Saxons, ed. James Campbell, p18). It is worth taking time to examine each of the sources for reliability individually. Gildas wrote his "The Destruction of Britain" well into the Anglo-Saxon domination of the country, sometime around 540, and he has a number of motives above and beyond historical accuracy. He was aiming to instruct on morality and to show how the Briton's sins had resulted in ruin, conquest and enslavement. Clearly, then, he emphasises elements such as British cowardice and crimes against God, and perhaps gives the Saxons less credit and attention than they deserve. What's more, he gives no dates, and as the closest written source to the coming of the Swaxons, he is still removed by roughly a century. The Venerable Bede's 'Ecclesiastical History of the English People' is both further removed from the invasion temporally, and contains a number of fictions probably based on popular myth rather than fact. Bede draws on Gildas' ranting a fair amount, and probably mixes it in with the folk tales of different contemporary kingdoms about their history. Furthermore, due to his high historical standards Bede felt the need to date everything precisely, so without much justification gives very accurate years for events which should probably be discounted (Bryan Ward-Perkins, Oxford Exam Halls, 15/10/2008). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, compiled about 892, is both fallible due to its being based on the earlier texts rather than any firsthand knowledge, and of course has a strong leaning towards the now-entrenched Germans and little sympathy for the Britons. Much like parts of Bede, it presents word-of-mouth localised stories as concrete history . The evidence from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (texts A and E) suggests that the first significant influx was in 449 (a very arbitrarily created date), when the British King Vortigern employed three warships of mercenary soldiers under Hengest and Horsa to aid him against the Picts. Gildas and Bede corroborate the idea of Saxons in British employ, making it relatively likely that somewhere in England in the fifth century, some Saxons were invited. The E text states that Vortigern actually gave


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