Old English and Its Closest Relatives: A Survey of the Earliest Germanic Languages

By Orrin W. Robinson | Go to book overview

6


OLD ENGLISH

A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons

I noted in the last chapter that by the third century the Saxons had become a force to be reckoned with along the shores of northern Gaul and southeastern England. Archeological evidence supports the notion that some Germanic settlers were already well established in East Anglia in the latter part of the fourth century, although these were probably Angles rather than Saxons. But both the historical sources and the archeological evidence seem to agree that the major influx of Germanic immigration into England came in the mid-fifth century. The historical sources refer to a British (i.e., Celtic) “proud tyrant” (whom the eighth-century North-umbrian monk and scholar Bede calls Vortigern), who invited the Saxons, under leaders Bede calls Hengest and Horsa, into the country to help his people resist attacks from the barbarian Picts and Scots of the north.

If this story is true, the invitation was a gross miscalculation. Reinforced by others of their countrymen who were attracted by the living apparently to be made in Britain, the Germanic tribes soon turned against their erstwhile employers, becoming more of a threat than the peoples they had been brought in to fight. The latter half of the fifth century is marked by Germanic attempts to move inland out of the southern and eastern coastal zones to which they had originally been limited, and by British attempts to keep them there. At a great battle fought sometime around 500 at “Mount Badon” (a location not definitely pinpointed in modern times), the British, perhaps under a king called Arthur, succeeded in stopping Anglo-Saxon expansion for a time. But in the latter part of the sixth century, after an apparently important victory in 571, the pace of Anglo-Saxon conquest speeded up again, and by the year 600 a great deal of southern Britain was in Anglo-Saxon hands, the areas under Brit-

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Old English and Its Closest Relatives: A Survey of the Earliest Germanic Languages
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • Abbreviations xi
  • The Germanic Language Family 1
  • Germanic: A Grammatical Sketch 24
  • Gothic 43
  • Old Norse 69
  • Old Saxon 100
  • Old English 136
  • Old Frisian 176
  • Old Low Franconian 199
  • Old High German 222
  • The Grouping of the Germanic Languages 247
  • Appendix 265
  • Appendix: 267
  • Reference Matter 277
  • Bibliography 279
  • Index 285
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