Updated: Mar 24
This article compares two different peoples: The Saxons and the Anglo-Saxons. The format will be as follows: 1. An explanation on who the Saxons were. 2. An explanation on who the Anglo-Saxons were. 3. A direct comparison is given, showing their similarities and differences.
The Saxons were a Heathen Germanic Tribe who lived in Saxony. Saxony comprised the lands of modern Northern Germany and the Eastern Netherlands. (Please see the map below.) Saxony had famous Heathen holy sites, like the Irminsul and Thunar's Well. Saxony existed as a free Heathen Thingdom until it was conquered by Christian Frankia in 804 CE/AD, and forced into Christianity and the Christian Frankish Empire. Saxony then was its own "sub-kingdom" in the Frankish Empire, until 1806, when Napoleon destroyed the eastern part of the Empire. The Saxons themselves ruled the Eastern Empire (known as Eastern Frankia, which later became Germany) for almost 200 years. Modern Germany has three 'states' with the name Saxony in them: Saxony, Southern Saxony, and Saxony-Anhalt.
Heathen Saxony was a free tribal territory, with a Thingdom as its government. The Saxons did not have "kings" and "dictators" were outlawed by the Saxon Thing. The Saxons spoke Old Saxon, and their religion was extremely similar to that of the Danes, their Heathen neighbors to the North. The Danes and Saxons were allies.
The Heathen Saxons had three classes in society: nobles, freemen, and commoners. An Al-Thing was the Saxon government. The Saxons were allies to the Danes, with Saxons fleeing to Denmark during The Saxon Wars, especially following defeats and forced Christianization. The Saxons did not freely convert, but they fought for 33 years to remain free and Heathen. This war is called "The Saxon Wars", a religious crusade waged by Christian Frankia to force the Saxons into Christianity. A good simple overview of the Saxon Wars can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saxon_Wars Please also note that the Saxons rebelled against Christian rule in 841-842 CE/AD to overthrow the Christian government forced upon them. Widukind was the most famous Saxon Heathen leader, and sources claim he married into the Danish King Sigurd Hring's family.
Lebuini Antiqua 4, THE LIFE OF ST. LEBUIN, 9th Century AD: “In olden times the Saxons had no king but appointed rulers over each village; and their custom was to hold a general meeting once a year in the center of Saxony near the river Weser at a place called Marklo. There all the leaders used to gather together, and they were joined by twelve noblemen from each village with as many freedmen and commoners. There they confirmed the laws, gave judgment on outstanding cases and by common consent drew up plans for the coming year on which they could act either in peace or war.” Bede - Ecclesiastical History of the English People (731 AD) “For these Old Saxons have no king, but several lords who are set over the nation. Whenever war is imminent, these cast lots impartially, and the one on whom the lot falls is followed and obeyed by all for the duration of the war; but as soon as the war ends, the lords revert to equality of status.”
Image of Saxony by Sven Knippschild, Saxon Heathen Archaeologist, Westfalen, Germany
The inhabitants of Britannia were Celtic Peoples when the Romans conquered Britannia in the first century of the common era. The Romans and Britains became one people over four hundred years of Roman Rule. They were called the Romano-Britains. When the Roman Emipre fell, there was a broad influx of Germanic Peoples into Britain: Angles, Frisians, Jutes, Saxons, Franks, Alamanni, Danes, and others. These peoples mixed with the local Romano-British population during the Migration Era. These peoples called themselves Englisc (or Angelcynn), and they spoke Old English (Eald Englisċ), and used the Anglo-Frisian Futhorc. Quoting the book: "Origin of the Anglo-Saxon Race", by Thomas William Shore; page 31: "We have so long been accustomed to call some of the English settlers 'Saxons' that it is with some surprise we learn none of them called themselves by this name."
Modern DNA testing proves that Germanic peoples did not make up the majority of "Anglo-Saxon England." One 2016 study, using Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon era DNA found at grave sites in Cambridgeshire, calculated that ten eastern English samples had 38% Anglo-Saxon ancestry on average, while ten Welsh and Scottish samples each had 30% Anglo-Saxon ancestry, with a large statistical spread in all cases. Nonetheless, genetic studies often get debated. [Schiffels, S. et al. (2016) Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon genomes from East England reveal British migration history Archived 17 December 2019 at the Wayback Machine, Nature Communications 7, Article number:10408 doi:10.1038/ncomms10408] An early Roman mention of Germanic tribal migraton comes from Procopius: “The island of Britain is inhabited by three very populous nations, each ruled by a king. And the names of these nations are Angiloi, Frisians and, after the island, Britons.” (Procopius History of the Wars, III.2.38. 551 AD) Therefore, the earliest literary evidence of tribal migrations do match linguistic evidence and the DNA evidnece, that the migrants to England were mainly Angles and Frisians, that spoke Old English. Old English is classified by linguists as an Anglo-Frisian language. Nonetheless, the Romans called all Germanic Peoples "Saxons", whether or not they came from the actual Saxons themselves. (Later, the English continued a similar practice, calling all Scandinavians "Danes" even if they came from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, or Frisia.)
How much of the Romano-British population was actually displaced by the migrants? Most scholars think that some of the literary evidence left by Bede and Gildas is correct (as well as incorrect.) Scholars feel that it was not genocide on the part of the migrants towards the Romano-British, but it was a military elite that ruled a mostly native population. Historian Malcolm Todd writes, "It is much more likely that a large proportion of the British population remained in place and was progressively dominated by a Germanic aristocracy, in some cases marrying into it and leaving Celtic names in the admittedly very dubious, early lists of Anglo-Saxon dynasties.” Todd, Malcolm. "Anglo-Saxon Origins: The Reality of the Myth" [Intellect Books, 1994] The Anglo-Saxon identity developed from several kingdoms that were originally Heathen, but adopted christianity. These kingdoms (seven) became England through a process that began with extended Danish invasions and military occupation of a Christian England by Scandinavian Heathens. These invasions united the various Englisc kingdoms. This christian unity continued through the Norman invasion of England. The term "Anglo-Saxon" began to be used only in the 8th century to distinguish "Germanic" groups in Britain from those on the continent (Old Saxony and from the Anglia region in Northern Germany). Wikipeida correctly states: "Catherine Hills summarised the views of many modern scholars in her observation that attitudes towards Anglo-Saxons, and hence the interpretation of their culture and history, have been "more contingent on contemporary political and religious theology as on any kind of evidence.""
Both the Saxons and the Anglo-Saxons (English) were amazing peoples with amazing culture and religion. While the Heathenry I practice today is "Aldsidu" (the term the Saxons used to describe their faith), I think Old English Heathenry is amazing, and I have great respect for it. Both Aldsidu (Old Saxon Heathenry) and Ealdsyda (Old English Heathenry) were amazing. This being said, Saxon Heathenry was more similar to Danish Heathenry, and Anglo-Saxon Heathenry was more similar to Frisian Heathenry. Old English is considered an Anglo-Frisian language today, and the Anglo-Frisian Futhorc is the runic alphabet of the Eald Englisc. Old Saxon is considered a "Low German" language today.
Comparison (Differences First)
Burial Customs: The Old Saxons had two methods of burial: inhumation and cremation. However, Old Saxon inhumation graves, had a north-south burial orientation, one that was unique to their tribe. The south-north orientation of the burial (with the head in the south and the feet in the north) clearly points to the Old Saxons, for whom this burial practice is virtually a defining part of their identity. No other Germanic tribe did this. Graves found in England do not match this distinctive Old Saxon burial style. For Archaeologist Sven Knippschild's excavations of Heathen Graves in Old Saxony, please see https://rotergeysir.net/#about The Anglo-Saxons did not have this north-south orientation in their graves.
Holidays and names of the twelve moons: The Old Saxons had the same three major blots as the Danes and Swedes: Winter Nights (also called Winter Full Moon), Yule, and Sigrblot (also called "Summer Blot."). These holidays were all on full moons. The Old Englisc also kept two of three of these blots, but they had more blots. The Englisc called their start to summer Eostre, not Sigrblot. They had a solstice holiday completely unknown in Saxony, called "Mothers' Night." (This was an import from the Roman Matronae cult along with Eostre, proven by English scholars Dr. Philip Shaw, and Dr Alex Garman. The Matronae cult clearly came to Britannia with Roman troops and was introduced to Germanic auxilliaries in Britain. Austriahenae stones are the archaeological evidence for the Goddess Eostre. Austriahenae stones are only found in England and the Roman Rhineland occupation areas.) Bede gives the names of the Old English moons in chapter 15 of De Temporum Ratione, written in the year 725 AD/CE. The Old Saxon moon names are recorded in the Essen Necrology in Old Saxony in the early ninth century. Only four moon names are the same between the Saxons and the Englisc: Two Yule Moons, Halegmanuth (Holy Moon) and Blodmanuth (Blood Moon.). The Englisc had a moon called Eostre Moon and Hreda Moon, which were not known in Old Saxony amongst the Saxons.
Christian Kingdom vs. Heathen Thingdom. The biggest difference between the Saxons and Anglo-Saxons was their governments. Saxons in Saxony, did not have kings. (This is an indiciation that the peoples who formed the kingdoms of Essex, Sussex, and Wessex in England, were not Saxons, as they certainly had kings, and Saxons in Saxony were staunchly against kings as "dictators.") The Anglo-Saxons in England, did have kings. The Anglo-Saxons were several different Kingdoms, each separate, and distinct. The Saxons in Saxony, was a Thingdom (their Thing was their government) and had four subdivisions: Westphalians, Eastphalians, Angrians, and Nordablingians. However, all four areas of Saxony were represented equally at the Saxon Al-Thing in Marklo, and therefore, these were truly subdivisions in a Thingdom. The Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms were clearly separate kingdoms, with their own kings, and while these kingdoms shared Christianity, they were not otherwise united until later in the Anglo-Saxon period. The Anglo-Saxons united as Christians to defeat Scandinavian "viking" invasions, and the Saxons united as Heathens to defend themselves against forced Christianization. Interestingly, the Saxon tribes became a confederation to remain free, and the Anglish/English united to remain free, but the Saxons remained Heathen until conquered and forced into Christianity, while the Anglo-Saxons did not have forced conversion. The Anglo-Saxons converted and did not have a long Heathen period in Britannia. When Germanic peoples migrated to Britannia, they found a well established church, that would soon be the most educated church on the planet, even surpassing Rome. English Missionaries were highly sought, not just by later Norwegian Kings as the Sagas show, but the Christian Franks brought in English missionaries, like St Boniface, St Lebuinus, St. Walpurga, Hewald the White and Hewald the Black, amongst many others, to do evangelism in Saxony and still Heathen Frisia. It took an Englishman, St. Patrick, to convert the Irish. It must be stated though, that the Englisc were originally Heathen, having Germanic Gods. Old Saxon Thing, vs Anglo-Saxon Witena Gemót. The Old Saxon language does not use the word "Witena Gemot." However, a "uu" in Old Saxon does equal a "w" in Old English. The decision of a Saxon Thing, was called a "uuiti" (i.e. a punishment, which is how many translate the word "uuiti.") In Old Saxon, a Thing was the body of people deciding, but the decision if it was a punisment (or a skild) could be called a "uuiti." In Old Saxon, the word "uuit" would translate as "wise" or "intelligent" as well, and it does appear to me, more of an Old Saxon guy, "witen" in Old English has a connotation of "wise man, or men of wit." These are related, and similar concepts. Old English does prefer Witen over Thing, and Old Saxon prefers (and only has) Thing. The Saxons spoke a different language than the Anglo-Saxons. The Saxons spoke Old Saxon, the Anglo-Saxons spoke Old English. (Old English and Old Saxon are two different languages, and you need trainging in both to read both.) After twenty-one years reading Old Saxon almost daily, I cannot just pick up Beowulf in Old English and read it as well as I read Old Saxon. Oddly, I read Snorri's writings in Icelandic better with Old Saxon knowledge than I read Old English. Old English is an Anglo-Frisian language, and Old Saxon is on a different West Germanic language branch than Anglo-Frisian (Old English). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Frisian_languages For example, in Old English, "East Saxony" would be "Essex." (Or more accurately: "East-Seaxe") But in Old Saxon, "East Saxony" would be "Ost Sahsonland." Same with Wessex vs. Uuest Sahsonland, (West-Seaxe); Sussex vs. Suth Sahsonland, (Suþ-Seaxe etc.) The Old Saxons only used the Elder Futhark (these are 100% of the runic finds in Saxony), and the Anglo-Saxons used the Anglo-Frisian Futhorc, which were also known as "Anglo-Frisian Runes." Anglo-Frisian Runes, or the Anglo-Frisian/Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, are only found in Frisia and England. West-Seaxe, Suþ-Seaxe https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Saxon_runes The most famous writing in Old English could be Alfred's Chronicle, but it more likely is the poem Beowulf, which could be more famous because it is the earliest example of Old English extant. The most famous writing in Old Saxon is "Sassen Speyghel". (Please note, in Old Saxon, Sahs and Sass are the words that mean 'Saxon" or "knife (people.)" Both are pronounced as "Sass") The Sassen Speyghel was a prose work written in the Old Saxon language (also called "Low German".) The original title is Sassen Speyghel, Sachsenspiegel being a later Standard German translation. The title of the work in the Old Saxon itself is Sassen Speyghel, Sassen Speyghel also occurs 12 other times in the work itself outside after the title. Please note: The Romans, who ruled Britainnia for four centuries, called all Germanic tribes "Saxons." This in turn led the Celtic British people to use the term "Saxons" for all Germanic Tribes, whether they were Angles, Jutes, Frisians, Franks, Danes, Swedes, Geats, Norwegians, etc. This practice continued later in England when English people called all Northmen "Danes", whether they were from Denmark, Norway, Geatland, Sweden, or even Frisia, The earliest testimony of tribes moving to Britannia claims that Angles, Frisians, and Britons were the three tribes in later 'England.'
An early Roman mention of Germanic tribal migraton comes from Procopius: “The island of Britain is inhabited by three very populous nations, each ruled by a king. And the names of these nations are Angiloi, Frisians and, after the island, Britons.” (Procopius History of the Wars, III.2.38. 551 AD) There are many scholars who feel that most of the Germanic migrants to England, were not Saxons. I am a "lay-scholar" that agrees. Some Saxons certainly went, especially to Essex.
Also, please understand that the Anglo-Saxons never called themselves "Saxons." They called themselves Aenglisc. England today is named after the Angles, and English people today speak the language of the Angles, i.e. English. However, the Celtic enemies of the Anglo-Saxons, did call the Anglish peoples "Sasson" (Old Saxon does not even have an 'x' sound, nor does any runic alphabet contain an 'x' rune. Old English, heavily Latinized, does have an "x" letter and sound.) The word “Saxon” in Scottish Gaelic is Sassenach. Sasanach is the Irish Gaelic for “Englishman”. In Welsh the word for “Englishmen” is Saeson (plural) and Sais (singular). The Welch word for all things English is Seisnig. The Cornish word for “English” is Sawsnek. “England” in Scottish Gaelic is Sasainn. Other examples include the Welsh Saesneg meaning “the English language”, the Irish word for “England” is Sasana, and the Cornish word for “English people” is Sowson. Sowsnek in Cornish means “the English Language.” The hof of deities were not the same either between the Saxons and Anglo-Saxons: In particular, it is proven by Old Saxon texts, that Eostre was not a Goddess known to the Saxons. The Old English calendar had an Eostremanod (Easter Moon), but the Old Saxons did not. Hreda, an Anglo-Saxon Goddess, is also a localized deity, not known in Saxony, but was known to the English. Outside of Eostre and Hreda, it does appear that the Gods and Goddesses these two tribes venerated were the same. However, Bede's calendar, does apply to the Angles only in England, and not to the Saxons in Saxony, who were much more like their Danish neighbors, having three major blots a year: Winter Full Moon, Yule, and Summer-Blot. The time of Swedish Disting, was probably the same time Danes and Saxons held their Althing. Please note, in Scandinavia today, "Easter" is called "Pask." In Old Saxon, Easter was called "pascha." The earliest mention of "Ostar" in an Old Saxon (or Middle Saxon) text is from the year 1473. The Franks, who are a large portion of people living near Frankfurt, and south central Germany today, also venerated Eostre. But the Old Saxons, like the Scandinavians, did not. Hence, the moon names in the Icelandic Calendar (documented from the 10th century onwards) do not have an Eostre moon, like the Franks and Angles did. The Old Saxon moon names recorded in the Essen Necrology, also do not have a match with Eostre-moon. The Scandianvian Sagas mention many moon names, all of which do not mention Ostar or Eostre. I would suggest (if you can read German) Dr. Matthias Springer's Book "Die Sachsen." I find this to be one of the very best books available on the Saxons in Saxony. Dr. Springer conclues that Old Saxon Heathenry was probably the same as Danish Heathenry (of the actual Danes in Denmark.) Quoting the book: "Origin of the Anglo-Saxon Race", by Thomas William Shore; page 31: "We have so long been accustomed to call some of the English settlers 'Saxons' that it is with some surprise we learn none of them called themselves by this name. As far as England was concerned, this was the name by which they were commonly called by the Britons, and it was not generally used by the people themselves until some centuries later. Nations and tribes, as well as individuals, must always be known either by their native names or by the names which other people give them. They may, consequently, have more than one name." PS- I was born with the name "Robert Sass." This is not a pen name. I go by "Bob" with family and friends. In elementary school and junior high, this was not the last name to have. Americans pronounce the name as "sass" as in, "don't give me any sass." But Germans, would pronounce the A more like an "ah" or an "aw" or an "o." However, as a kid, I was called "Bob Sasshole" and "Bob's ass" and 'sass a' frass' and all sorts of other "make fun of me" names. No offence to all the "Ragnar Lothbroks" I meet on Facebook, but due to them, I get accused of adopting the name "Robert Sass" as a social media name, but this is indeed my real birth name. Much of my Dad's family still lives in Germany today (having never left Germany), while my mom has just her brother, sister-in-law, and a neice and nephew in Germany today (my cousins, aunt, and uncle.) I go to Germany annually to visit my family, though COVID cancelled that trip in 2020 and 2021. The name "Sass" was born in Westphalia, Germany, where much of my family (Dad's side) still lives. https://www.houseofnames.com/Sass-family-crest PS 2- There are many scholars today, who feel that the "Anglo-Saxon Invasion" of England was "an Invasion that never happened." Dr. Francis Pryor, and English archaeologist, even has a BBC video out called "The Invasion that Never Was." You can find it on YouTube for free: Britain AD; Episode 3. (Make sure you watch Episode 3, which is entirely devoted to this subject. the YouTube Poster did get his/her titles mixed up, the videos are wrongly labeled on YouTube, but the titles within the videos themselves are of course correct. ) This is the last link below. Also many scholars feel that it was a peaceful migration to England by many Germanic peoples, with far smaller numbers than Bede and Gildas recorded in their writings. I will post some links from scholars as well as the YouTube by Dr. Pryor. I do believe that some Saxons in Essex were actually Saxons from Saxony. Like the Saxons in Saxony, their patron deity was Sahsnoth (in Old English, Seaxneat.) However, the fact that they had kings tells me those who ended up ruling, either were not Saxons from Saxony, or they took power that Saxons in Saxony would not have tolerated. Remember, words like "kuni" in Old Saxon mean "clan." "Kind" means "offspring of the clan", and "kunning" does mean "clan leader." Kings in England were the sorts of dictators outlawed in Old Saxon lands well before the time of Arminius, who was killed for wanting to be the "kaiser/caesar" kind of king that the Saxons outlawed, and those tribes became the Saxons in Saxony. Many Germanic peoples went to Britannia, and the Brits called all these peoples "Saxon" no mater where they came from. This, and the constant use of the word "Saxon" in TV shows and books today, causes a lot of confusion on who were the Saxons, and who were the Anglo-Saxons. Most people, have no idea, that there are Saxons outside of England. Most people know me on Social Media as an "Anglo-Saxon Heathen." Again, I have HUGE respect for Anglo-Saxon Heathenry, but I am a practitioner of Aldsidu (Old Saxon Heathenry). Hence, the blog article to help curb this incorrect label often put on me by others. If Old Saxon Heathenry, or Saxon Heathenry, or Aldsidu is your path, or if you want to read well researched articles on historical Heathenry, please join us in Aldsidu: Saxon Heathenry, a group on Facebook. Links: https://www.ourmigrationstory.org.uk/oms/anglo-saxon-migrations