skip to content


Early Middle English for today

full menu

Angles and Saxons

T`e Engle and t`e Saxe

The Engle and the *Saxe ('Angles' and 'Saxons' in ModE), were the two largest of the Germanic tribes which invaded and settled Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries AD. Though we commonly refer to these Germanic people who were dominant in England until the Norman Conquest of 1066, as Anglo-Saxons, this was not a name they used themselves. In fact they probably didn't see themselves as an ethnic whole for a couple of centuries at least. The Celtic Britons gave the name 'Saxons' to all the Germanic invaders of their country, while on the Continent, the Germanic conquerors of Britain were, for a long time, called indiscriminately sometimes 'Saxons', and sometimes 'Angles'. It was probably from the official language of the church that the Jutes and Saxons came to regard themselves as part of the "Angle kindred" (in Old English - Angelcynn, in Latin - gens Anglorum). In the 9th century, the West Saxon king Alfred never uses any other name for his own language but Englisc - the language of the Angles.

* Note - here I've modified the standard OE form Seaxa, in line with late 12th century East Midland speech habits. Note also that while Bede's account of the coming of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes has Seaxan as the plural (nominative) form, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle prefers the plural form Seaxa. From Su_thseaxa - South Saxons and E_astseaxa - East Saxons, come the county names Sussex and Essex.

What does 'Anglo-Saxon' mean?

'Anglo-Saxon' is a relatively recent coining. The compound - *Engle-Seaxa, was not used at all. However, Angul-Seaxan is recorded in OE (according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary), and this apparently gave rise to the 8th century latin term Angli Saxones which in turn led to the modern Latin coining Anglo-Saxones in the 16th century.

The term 'Anglo-Saxon' has several related meanings:

  1. it is often used to designate words derived from the language(s) of the 5th and 6th century Germanic invaders and settlers of Britain, as opposed to words borrowed later from languages such as Norse or French; in this sense, it cuts across the 3 periods of English - Old, Middle and Modern;
  2. on the other hand, 'Anglo-Saxon' is a synonym for Old English; generally speaking, that's the English language prior to 1100 AD, though some stretch that period into the mid or late 12th century;
  3. 'Anglo-Saxons' is used at times to indicate a people - the 5th and 6th century Germanic invaders and settlers of Britain;
  4. it can also denote the community of speakers of Englisc in medieval England, as opposed to the Normans, who spoke a variety of French; Englisc speakers included people of Celtic and Norse ancestry; note - the distinction between (Anglo-)Saxons and Normans was gradually lost as Norman language and culture was assimilated and integrated;
  5. the French (and perhaps other continental Europeans) use it to denote the bloc of modern nations in which English speakers predominate; for example - "le monde anglo-saxon" refers to the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand;
  6. finally 'Anglo-Saxons' refers to the modern diaspora who trace their ancestry to medieval England; so it's a synonym for "people of English stock".

In englesaxe, 'Anglo-Saxon' can be either an adjective or a noun referring to any of the following:

Should I explore this site further?

I think we both know the answer to that. If you're at all interested in earlier varieties of English, or the origins of Modern English words, or would like to dip a little deeper into the world of your Anglo-Saxon forebears, but aren't quite ready to make the daunting leap required by the grammar of 10th century West Saxon, englesaxe should indeed tickle your fancy. Why not start with Anglo-Saxon without tears? It offers a very gently introduction to Early Middle English.

englesaxe offers something to all who are interested in earlier forms of English. However, for the modern Anglo-Saxon, there is an added dimension: Meet the ancestors.