Anglo-Saxon Literature: Mirror of the Times

Nick Spangler
Eng. 12p, Mr. Pisenti
9-9-98

During the times of the Celts, there were two groups of “war-smiths” who traveled up and down the coast of the Baltic sea. These two groups were the Angles and the Saxons or the Anglo-Saxons, some belonged to smaller tribes, such as the Jutes. These two groups of people were deep-sea fisherman and farmers. They gradually set up camps up and down the coast of England, possibly seeking richer soil than what was offered by the marshy Baltic coast. The Anglo-Saxons began to wage war among the native Britons and soon worked their way into the heartland of Britain and gained a substantial amount of land there. Soon the Anglo-Saxons gained the upper hand and drove the native Britons from their home and gained most of what is now England. The name England reflects the Anglo-Saxons, as the original name was Angles’ land. Although the Anglo-Saxons did conquer much of England, they are most remembered for originating the language that is now English.
The Anglo-Saxons were a developed people in their lifestyles and beliefs. They were also a very tough and hard people, partly because they were a Waring people and partly because of their jobs. Many of them were fisherman, and this was a job of many burdens as they traveled up and down the coast of England on the Baltic sea. One of the major accomplishments of the Anglo-Saxon society was their class system and form of government. The Anglo-Saxons had four classes of people which ranged from the overlords to the slaves. The earls were the hereditary class of warlords and owed their position to the king. The second class was the freemen, who were mainly barons and thanes given this class through military service. Freemen
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were allowed to engage in commerce and own land. The third class of citizens were the churls or serfs. These were bonded servants who worked the land for the overlords, this was somewhat similar to feudalism in the medieval times. The fourth and final class of citizens were the thralls or slaves. These were mainly military prisoners or people being punished. In these classes of people there was order which was provided by the king who was chosen by a group of elders called a Witan. Each tribe had a king and a Witan, which was their form of government. They were, as you can see, a highly organized group of people.
The religious beliefs of the Anglo-Saxons were those of the sixth century Pagans. The Anglo-Saxons had a very grim view of life, basically because there was always the ever-present danger of death, whether it be through war or accident. This brought them to the belief that all human life is in the hands of fate. “He slipped through the door and there in the silence/ snatched up thirty men, smashed them/ unknowing in their beds and ran out with their bodies...” (Beowulf 26). This is an example from the classic epic hero Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf. In the story there is a great monster who goes around killing Geats, this is an example of the always present danger of death. The religious beliefs of the Anglo-Saxons also included their belief in ancient Germanic gods, much like the Greeks and Romans believed in multiple gods. Monotheism was not a belief of the Anglo-Saxons. The Anglo-Saxons believed in three different gods. Tiu, the god of war and sky; woden, the chief of all gods and Fria, the wife of woden and goddess of the home. These are the basic religious beliefs of the Anglo-Saxons.
Something that the Anglo-Saxons put a great deal of emphasis on was that of respect for an overlord or king. No matter what one’s social status was, one must always treat a king with the highest of respect and dignity. Even the epic hero is not exempt to this rule, no matter how superhuman he or she may be. An example of this
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is in the Anglo-Saxon epic poem “Beowulf”. Beowulf is the epic hero and when he greats Hrothgar, king of the Geats, he addresses king Hrothgar with the utmost respect. “’ Hail, Hrothgar’” (Beowulf 31). Beowulf may be the strongest man alive, but he knows
respect for someone of higher class stature than