Saxons vs Anglo-Saxons: What is the Difference?

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. And explanation on who the Anglo-Saxons were. 3. A direct comparison then is given, showing their similarities and differences.

The Saxons

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 existed as a free Heathen Thingdom until it was conquered by Frankia in 804 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 "kings" 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, until the Saxons lost their independence to Christian Frankia.

The Heathen Saxons had no kings, and had three classes in society: nobles, freemen, and commoners. An Al-Thing was the Saxon government. Hence, Saxony was a Thingdom. The Saxons had the same religion as the Danes, their neighbors to the north. 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: 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.”

The Anglo-Saxons

The Anglo-Saxons were peoples who lived in Britannia, which later came to be known as England. This was a diverse group of Germanic Peoples who migrated to Britannia during the Migration Era or Age, and spoke Old English, and used the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc. They mixed with the Romano-Britains to, and others who also came to England, to form one people. Over time, these peoples became the modern English People. I think Wikipedia words this best: "The Anglo-Saxons were a cultural group who inhabited England from the 5th century. They comprised people from Germanic tribes who migrated to the island from continental Europe, their descendants, and indigenous British groups who adopted many aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture and language. The Anglo-Saxons established the Kingdom of England, and the modern English language owes almost half of its words – including the most common words of everyday speech – to their language. The history of the Anglo-Saxons is the history of a cultural identity. It developed from divergent groups in association with the people's adoption of Christianity and was integral to the establishment of various kingdoms. Threatened by extended Danish invasions and military occupation of eastern England, this identity was re-established; it dominated until after the Norman Conquest. Use of the term Anglo-Saxon assumes that the words Angles, Saxons or Anglo-Saxon have the same meaning in all the sources. This term 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). 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.""

PS- While I myself have Saxon lingeage, and not Anglo-Saxon lineage, I still believe strongly that the Anglo-Saxons were an amazing people, with amazing culture and religion. They are truly an amazing people. 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. Just because these two peoples are different, doesn't mean I am stating one is better than the other. Both are (and were) amazing. This being said, Saxon Heathenry was more similar to Danish Heathenry, and Anglo-Saxon Heathenry was more similar to Frisian and Frankish Heathenry, to put it as simply as possible.


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. However, the Saxons in Saxony were not necessarily as united as a nation is today. The Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms seemed to unite as Christians to repulse "Viking" Heathen invaders. The Saxons in Saxony became a unified people as Heathens fighting Chrsitian (Frankish Christian) aggression. Please note though, that while the Saxons were one Thingdom with subdivisions, during the Saxon Wars, the defeat of a portion of Saxony, did not result in the other portions being defeated. These divisions in Saxony are based on previous tribal divisions, where over time, many north German tribes, who spoke the same language (later called "Old Saxon") became part of the Saxon Confederation, due to the growing Christian threat of the Frankish kingdom bordering to the south, who was fighting religious wars to force Germanic tribes into Christianity. The Franks for example defeated the Chatti, and destroyed their "Thor's Oak" (Donar's Oak), and brought in christianity by force. This had a drastic affect on the Heathen tribes to the North. Common goals of freedom and goals to remain Heathen did cause "proto-Saxon" tribes to make a tribal confederacy, that became known later as "The Saxons." Hence, this is similar, to Christian Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms eventually uniting against foreign invaders. 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, could be a "uuiti" (i.e. a punishment, which is how many translate the word "uuiti.") So, 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 in 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. But 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) 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 The most famous writing in Old English could be Alfred's Chronical, 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.

Also, please understand that the Anglo-Saxons never called themselves "Saxons." They called themselves Aenglish. England today is named after the Angles, and English people today speak the language of the Angles. However, the enemies of the Anglo-Saxons, did call the Anglish peoples "Sasson" (without the Latinized "x" sound. 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, however.) 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) doesn't have an Eostre moon, like the Franks and Angles did. The Old Saxon moon names recorded in the Essen Necrology, also doesn't have a match with Eostre-moon. The Angles/English called themsevles Aenglish. It is not known what the Saxons called themselves. Certainly during the Saxon Wars, they called themselves "Sahson (Saxons)." But odds are, this change happened slowly over time, and there is scholarly debate about when the Saxons in Saxony started to refer to themselves as 'Sahson.' I would suggest (if you can read German) Dr. Matthias Springer's Book "Die Sachsen." 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. The name "Sass" was born in Westphalia, Germany, where much of my family (Dad's side) still lives. PS 2- There are many scholars today, who feel that the "Anglo-Saxon Invasion" of England was "an Invasion that never happened." Dr. Francis Pryoer, 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. ) I will post a 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. I do believe that some Saxons in Essex were actually Saxons from Saxony, as 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. 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 ASH, 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 Saxon Heathenry, a group on Facebook. Links:


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