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 The Saxons

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Silver Wind
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PostSubject: The Saxons   Mon Sep 03, 2007 10:28 pm

The Saxons or Saxon people were a confederation of Old Germanic tribes whose modern-day descendants in northern Germany are considered ethnic Germans while those in the eastern Netherlands are considered ethnic Dutch, those in modern Normandy ethnic French, and those in southern England ethnic English. Their earliest known area of settlement is Northern Albingia, roughly that of today’s Holstein and the northeastern part of the Netherlands (Drenthe, Groningen, Twente, Achterhoek).[citation needed] Saxon participation in the Germanic settlement of Britain was very strong and at times dominant, and especially the population of today’s Southern England descended essentially from Saxon people. During the past two centuries or so, many continental Saxons emigrated to other parts of the world, especially to the Americas, to Australia, to Southern Africa and to areas of the former Soviet Union, where some communities still maintain parts of their cultural and linguistic heritage, often under the umbrella categories “German” and “Dutch”. Due to international Hanseatic trading and migration during the Middle Ages, Saxons mixed with and strongly influenced the languages and cultures of the Scandinavian and Baltic peoples, also the Polabian and Pomeranian West Slavic peoples.

First mentioned by the Ancient Greek geographer Ptolemy, the pre-Christian settlement of the Saxon people originally covered an area a little more to the Northwest, with parts of the southern Jutland peninsula, Old Saxony and small sections of the eastern Netherlands. During the 5th century AD, the Saxons were part of the people invading the Romano-British province of Britannia, thus forming the Anglo-Saxons

Saxons in Saxony

The Saxons appear to have consolidated themselves by the end of the 8th century, when a political entity called the Duchy of Saxony appears. The word 'Saxon' is believed to be derived from the word seax, meaning a variety of single-edged knives. The Saxons were considered by Charlemagne's historian Einhard (Vita Caroli c.7), to be especially war-like and ferocious.

The Saxons long resisted both becoming Christians ("they are much given to devil worship," Einhard said, "and they are hostile to our religion," as when they martyred the Saints Ewald) and being incorporated into the orbit of the Frankish kingdom, but were decisively conquered by Charlemagne in a long series of annual campaigns, the Saxon Wars (772 – 804). During Charlemagne's campaign in Hispania (778), the Saxons advanced to Deutz on the Rhine and plundered along the river. With defeat came the enforced baptism and conversion of the Saxon leaders and their people. Even their sacred tree, Irminsul, was destroyed.

Under Carolingian rule, the Saxons were reduced to a tributary status. There is evidence that the Saxons, as well as Slavic tributaries like the 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 lost this position in 1024. The duchy was divided up in 1180 when Duke Henry the Lion, Emperor Otto's grandson, refused to follow his cousin, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, into war in Italy.

During the late Middle Ages under the Salian emperors, the Teutonic knights and settlers, moved east along the river Elbe into the area of settlement of a western slavic tribe, the Sorbs. The Sorbs were gradually Germanised. This region subsequently acquired the name Saxony through political circumstances and was originally called the March of Meissen. The rulers of Meissen acquired control of the Duchy of Saxony 1423 and 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 misunderstandings about the original homeland of the Saxons, mostly in the present-day German state of Lower Saxony (German: Niedersachsen).

Saxons in the Balkans

In the Middle Ages, groups of Saxon ore miners (called саси, sasi in the South Slavic languages) settled in ore-rich regions of Southeastern Europe. In the 13th-14th century, Saxons from the Upper Harz and Westphalia settled in and around Chiprovtsi in modern northwestern Bulgaria (then in the Second Bulgarian Empire) to extract ore in the western Balkan Mountains, receiving royal privileges from Bulgarian tsar Ivan Shishman.[1] It is thought that these miners established Roman Catholicism in this part of the Balkans before being completely Bulgarianized (by marrying Bulgarian women) and merging with the local population.[2] Along with spreading Roman Catholicism, the Saxons also enriched the local vocabulary with Germanic words and introduced a number of mining techniques and metal-working instruments to Bulgaria.[3] Ethnic subgroups that are thought to be partial descendants of these Saxons are the Banat Bulgarians and the Krashovani.

Saxons also mined ore in the Osogovo and Belasica mountains (between Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia),[4] as well as around Samokov[5] in Rila and various parts of the Rhodopes[6][7] and around Etropole[8] (all in Bulgaria), but were assimilated without establishing Catholicism there. The Saxons miners in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina—active in Brskovo, Rudnik, Olovo, Novo Brdo and other places—also left a significant trace in the mining and metal-working history of the South Slavs.[9]

Saxons in Italy and Gaul

In 569, some Saxons accompanied the Lombards into Italy under the leadership of Alboin and settled there.[10] In 572, they raided Gaul as far as Stablo near Riez. Divided, they were easily defeated by the Gallo-Roman general Mummolus. When the Saxons regrouped, a peace treaty was negotiated whereby the Italian Saxon were allowed to settle with their families in Austrasia.[11] Gathering the families and belongings in Italy, they returned to Gaul in two groups in 573. One group proceeded by Nice and another by Embrun, joining at Avignon, where they plundered the territory and were consequently stopped from crossing the Rhone by Mummolus. They were forced to compensate for what they had robbed before they could enter Austrasia.

Some Saxons already lived in Gaul at that time. A Saxon king named Eadwacer conquered Angers in 463 only to be dislodged by Childeric I and the Salian Franks, allies of the Roman Empire.[12] It is possible that Saxon settlement of Great Britain began only in response to expanding Frankish control of the Channel coast.[13]

A Saxon unit of laeti had been settled at Bayeux — the Saxones Baiocassenses — since the time of the time of the Notitia Dignitatum.[14] These Saxons became subjects of Clovis I late in the fifth century. The Saxons of Bayeux composed a standing army and were often called upon to serve alongside the local levy of their region in Merovingian miltiary campaigns. They were ineffective against Waroch in this capacity in 579.[15] In 589, the Saxons wore their hair in the Breton fashion at the orders of Fredegund and fought with them as allies against Guntram.[16] Beginning in 626, the Saxons of the Bessin were used by Dagobert I for his campaigns against the Basques. One of their own, Aeghyna, was even created a dux over the region of Vasconia.[17]

Saxons in Britain

A number of Saxons, along with Angles, Jutes, Frisians and possibly Franks, invaded or migrated to the island of Great Britain (Britannia) around the time of the collapse of Roman authority in the west. 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 and many Saxons and other folk had been permitted to settle in these areas as farmers long before the end of Roman rule in Britannia. However, in 449 A.D., following a particularly devastating raid in the north from the Picts and their allies, the Romano-British administration invited two Jutish warlords — namely Hengist and Horsa — to occupy the island of Thanet in north Kent and act as mercenaries against the Picts at sea. After the Jutes had executed this mission and defeated the Picts, they returned with demands for more lands. When this was rejected they rose in revolt and provoked an insurrection amongst all the settled farming folk of Germanic stock with them.

Three separate Saxon Kingdoms emerged:

East Saxons: created the Kingdom of Essex.
Middle Saxons: created the province of Middlesex
South Saxons: led by Aelle, created the Kingdom of Sussex
West Saxons: led by Cerdic, created the Kingdom of Wessex
During the period of Ecbert to Alfred, the kings of Wessex emerged as Bretwalda, unifying the country and eventually becoming the kingdom of England in the face of Danish Viking invasions.

Historians are divided about what followed. Some argue that the takeover of lowland Great Britain by the Anglo-Saxons was peaceful. However, there is only one known account from a native Briton who lived at this time (Gildas) and his description is anything but:

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 neighboring 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 leveled 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.

Wars between the native Romano-Britons and the invading Jutes, Saxons and Angles continued for over 400 years. The Britons of England either fled westwards or northwards or were progressively immersed into the new English culture, as the territory that they controlled gradually shrunk in size to contain only Wales, Cornwall, north-westernmost England (Cumbria), and Strathclyde. Some fled over the sea to Brittany.

Collectively the Germanic settlers of Great Britain, mostly Saxons, Angles and Jutes, came to be called the Anglo-Saxons.

Social structure

The Venerable Bede, himself an East Anglian, writing around the year 730, remarks that "the old [ie 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 — Westphalia, Eastphalia, and Angria — which comprised about one hundred pagi or Gaue. Each Gaue had its own satrap with enough military power to level whole villages which opposed him.[18]

In the mid ninth century, Nithard first described the social structure of the 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.[19] According to very early traditions which probably 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 sixth century.[20] They were a conquering, warrior elite. The frilingi represented the descendants of the amicii, auxiliarii, and manumissi of that caste, while 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.

The 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 heads 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 nonnoble was very large, but the difference between a freeman and an indentured labourer was small.[21]

According to the Vita Lebuini antiqua, an important source for early Saxon history, the Saxons held an annual counil at Marklo where they "confirmed their laws, gave judgement on outstanding cases, and determined by common counsel whether they would go to war or be in peace that year."[22] 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 typical of Francia.[23] Charlemagne outlawed the Marklo councils and thus 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 feudalism based on service and labour, personal relationship and oath.[24]


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