The Origins of the Saxons in Saxony & the Anglo-Saxons in England
Updated: Mar 22, 2022
The traditionally accepted story is that the Saxons were a tiny tribe at the base of the Jutland Peninsula, who in the Migration Period had the military prowess to conquer all England and Northern Germany, which is quite the feat considering it enlarged their original territory forty-fold. But suddenly, after having the military power to quickly conquer all these lands, the Saxons were too divided, not having the military capabilities to defeat the Franks (who invaded them) and were forced into Christianity, at the end of the Saxon Wars.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saxon_Wars This article is going to disprove this story, presenting archaeological, linguistic, and literary evidence that suggests the contrary. This article will be in two parts, the first part proving the origins of the Saxons in Saxony. The second part will discuss which tribes who may have migrated to Britannia, later to be called "England" meaning "Angle-land."
Who were the Saxons?
Tacitus wrote a work called Germania circa 98 AD, where he listed all the Germanic tribes and their lands in Germania. Tacitus did not mention the Saxons, but he did mention the Angles. The earliest (disputed) mention of the Saxons was by the Greek scholar Ptolemy, in his work Geography written circa 150 AD. Some versions of Geography have “Saxones” and other versions have “Axones.” None of the surviving parchments are the original. The earliest manuscript of Ptolemy with the word "Saxones" is dated to the 13th century. Many modern scholars believe that “Saxones” in Ptolemy’s Geography was a copying error of later centuries, that was originally “Aviones”, which is the tribe living near the Angles according to Tacitus. The Aviones of Tacitus lived in the same location as the "Saxons" of Ptolemy. The reason why scholars dismiss Ptolemy's reference to the Saxons, is because we have no other references to the Saxons until the fourth century, and it doesn't make sense then if Ptolemy knew the Saxons in 150 AD, that the Saxons would not be mentioned in any other source until the fourth century. Dr. Matthias Springer lists the modern scholarly consensus in his book Die Sachsen (Urban-Taschenbücher, Band 598, Kindle Edition), translation from German into English mine: "At the same time, we can gain from self-observation the knowledge that we unconsciously replace illegible names with those that we know. Kahrstedt has now demonstrated with the means of textual criticism that Ptolemy had not written ΣΑΞΟΝΕΞ (pronounced Sáxones), but ΑΒΙΟΝΕΣ (pronounced Aviones). The word was first read in the course of the handwritten tradition to an unknown name "ΑΞΟΝΕΞ" (pronounced Áxones) and then was changed to ΣΑΞΟΝΕΞ (Sáxones), a known people to later copyists of Ptolemy's manuscript, as the technical term reads. Áxones (and not Sáxones) is in the majority of manuscripts. The details of the proof require basic knowledge of Greek writing and are therefore not explained here." Ptolemy's text, now proven to not be describing the actual homeland of the Saxons nor referring to the Saxons, was taken as "fact" until the last forty to fifty years. It is Ptolemy's disputed text, more than any other, that places the Saxons at the southern end of the Jutland Peninsula, when the Saxons never lived there. Other Germanic tribes lived there, but disproving Ptolemy means we can no longer accept the argument that the Saxons were originally confined to the base of the Jutland Peninsula. The first mention of the Saxons historically then is in the fourth century, as Ptolemy must be dismissed.
The earliest undisputed mention of “Saxony” or “Saxons” comes from a manuscript written between 365 and 378 AD, by the Latin historian Eutrop, who wrote about Roman history. Eutrop, in describing the early days of Emperor Diocletian (reigned 285-306) stated that the commander Carausius was commissioned to pacify the sea at Boulogne, "which made the Franks and Saxons uncertain." The name of the Saxons is mentioned for the first time in Greek in 356 AD. The future Emperor Julian (reigned 361-363) said in his speech: "But because of their common ancestry, they were the most willing allies; Franks and Saxons, the most controversial peoples on the Rhine and on the western sea." The Saxons appear in a letter written by the Bishop Ambrosius of Milan to the Emperor Theodosius I in 388. There are several other fourth century references to the Saxons. Too many people believe that the phrase “Saxon Shore” is attested often in the historical sources. The ‘litus Saxonicum’ is attested only once, at the end of the fourth or the start of the fifth century, when it surfaces in the Notitia Dignitatum, a list of all major civil and military officials stationed in the late Roman Empire. In it we read how Britain had a certain ‘count of the Saxon Shore’ (comes litoris saxonici) who carried the responsibility for nine forts, each having their own unit. Fact: The Romans used the word "Saxon" for all Germanic tribes. The Romans called the Angles, Frisians, Jutes, Chauci, Saxons, and many other tribes "Saxons" whether they were Saxons or not.
So who were the Saxons in Saxony? The Saxons in Saxony were a "Thingdom." They were a confederation of tribes who shared an annual Thing in the center of Old Saxony at a place called "Marklo." Saxony was divided into four territories, and Saxony was further divided into over 100 "gau" our "villages." The Saxons in Saxony did not have "kings" but had clan leaders, and three social classes, who all had equal representation at the Althing at Marklo: Lebuini Antiqua 4, THE LIFE OF ST. LEBUIN, 9th Century AD
Vita Lebuini Antiqua, edited by A. Hofmeister, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores
(x926-34), vol. xxx, 2, pp. 789-95.
“The Lord Himself admonished St. Lebuin to forsake his country and to preach to the Saxons across the sea and told him to instruct the people who dwelt in the lands of the Franks and Saxons near the river Isel… In olden times the Saxons had no king but appointed rulers over each village (gau); 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 (gau) with as many freedmen and serfs. 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, an English monk and historian, wrote the following about the "Old Saxons" or the Saxons still in Saxony: 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 Saxon Wars lasted thirty-three years. Scholars used to debate, why kingdoms much stronger than Saxony, like the Lombards and Avars, with great military success, fell to the Franks in six and seven years respectively, but it took the Franks thirty-three years to defeat the less military competent Saxons. Dr. Eric J Goldberg has written the definitive work on this. Dr. Goldberg's work can be found online through JSTOR for a fee. Dr. Goldberg makes clear that Saxony was divided into four different regions, and over 100 different gau (or villages) in those regions. Dr. Goldberg argues strongly that the Saxons descended from the tribes that had no Kings, the tribes that united under Arminius the Cherusker, who handed Rome its greatest defeat ever, having three legions and 22,000 troops completely wiped out in 9AD in the Teutoburg Forrest. Arminius' story is well famous, and so is the fact that he later tried to be a king or kaiser over these tribes who forbid kingships, and his own family poisoned him for this ambition of his. The tribes of the Marsi, Cherusker, Chauci, Fosi, Seubi, Angrivarrii, and several others names disappear in the literary texts in the fourth century, and the name "Saxons" thus appears going forward. These tribes REJECTED having Kings, and while they were united in Thingdom at Marklo, their past divisions remained. This is why it took thirty-three years for Charlemagne to conquer the Saxons, because he had to conquer each small pocket of "Saxons" one by one. Defeating say the Westphalian Saxons would not bring Angria or Ostfallen under Frankish rule. Dr. Goldberg's work is now almost universally accepted by scholars. See Goldberg, Eric J. "Popular Revolt, Dynastic Politics, and Aristocratic Factionalism in the Early Middle Ages: The Saxon Stellinga Reconsidered." Speculum, Vol. 70, No. 3. (Jul., 1995), pp 467–501.
We see clearly, that modern scholarship doesn't hold to a mass genocide theory, i.e. Saxons from the southern part of the Jutland, wipe out Britons in England and wipe out a ton of Germanic tribes in Northern Germany, peoples that greatly outnumbered the Saxons and who held land far bigger than that of a small sliver on the Jutland. It would take a united Kingdom with strong military dukes and kings to accomplish mass conquest and genocide of so many tribes and so much land. If the Saxons were originally this "united" under a king or kings, why after such conquests would there be so many divisions and so much "lack of unity" in the newly conquered Saxony? The fact that the tribes of the Marsi, Cherusker, Fosi, and Chauci in particular did not have kings, this is another indication that these people simply became known as "Saxons." These tribes also venerated a Godpole called "Tamfana" at Eresberg, that the Romans destroyed, but was rebuilt on the same location and later became the Irminsul! This is also proof that these tribes continued living as they did in Arminius' time until the Frankish Wars. These tribes defeated the Romans, and lived "uncivilized" as farmers until the Franks attacked the Saxons, bringing them the religion of Rome (Chrsitianity) and the feudalism of Frankia, which not only ended Saxony's Heathen religion, but also caused Saxony to be swallowed by the Frankish Empire, and their central Althing at Marklo being swiftly abolished by the Frankish King Charlemagne. Then we have the linguistic evidence: Old Saxon and Old English are two different languages. Most people think that if you can read the Old Saxon Heliand, you can read Beowulf in Old English. This is NOT the case. Old English and Old Saxon are so different, one has to be trained in both to read both. Words like "Essex", "Wessex", and "Sussex", supposedly meaning "East Saxony", "West Saxony" and "South Saxony" in Old English, would be "Ost Sahsonland", "Uuest Sahsonland", and "Suth Sahsonland" in Old Saxon, and you see how much different I am talking about. (PS- In fairness, Essex, Wessex, and Sussex are modern English names. In Old English these were still very different from the Old Saxon terms. Old English would be "Est Seaxe" "Sud Seaxe" and "West Seaxe". The "Romano/British/Anglish" kingdoms of Sussex, Essex, and Wessex, had Kings, and called themselves "Aenglisc" or English. Other Old Saxon writings, like Der Sassenspeyghel (known in modern German as "Die Sachsenspiegel") show that Old Saxon did not have an "x" or "chs" sound whatsoever. The word in Old Saxon for "Saxon" was "Sahs" or "Sass." These silly arguments that "h" in Old Saxon is a "ch" sound hold zero water. Fehu in Old Saxon means "cattle" and is pronounced "fey-who". Uuih in Old Saxon, meaning Sacred Grove, corresponds to the Old Norse Ve, meaning Sacred Grove. The word "uuiht" in Old Saxon, both for the color "white" and the being ("uuiht" is pronounced "wight" or "white", clearly has a silent "h".) I can point to so many examples here. Modern Linguists do put Old English and Old Saxon on the West-Germanic language branch. However, Old Saxon has its own sub-branch, and so does Old English. The sub-branch of Old English is called "the Anglo-Frisian" branch by linguists. Linguists tie Old Frisian and Old Anglish (English) as the same language. It is also 100% fact that the Old English Futhorc is only found in Frisia and England. In Old Saxony, only the Elder Futhark is found. The differences in language, the differences in government (kingdoms vs. thingdoms), the differences in Runic Alphabets are most noted, and clearly point to two different peoples. Since the Futhorc Runes are thought to have first been used in Frisia before the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain, they have also been called Anglo-Frisian runes. They were likely used from the 5th century onward, recording Old English and Old Frisian. Bammesberger, A, ed. (1991), "Old English Runes and their Continental Background", Anglistische Forschungen, Heidelberg, 217.
By the mere fact that the Romans called many different Germanic peoples "Saxons" who were not Saxons, only complicates the question "Which Saxons migrated to England?" Bede does state his claim clearly. Bede states that the Saxons came to England from the lands that were in his time called "Old Saxony". The problem is, how honest was Bede, or how much did he really know? Bede wrote in the year 731 AD (his "Ecclesiastical History of England.") However, that is 300 years after these tribes supposedly migrated. The earliest sources do match the archaeological evidence (which I will get to shortly) and the linguistic evidence: Procopius, writing two centuries before Bede states: “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). Now we are getting somewhere. Were the Germanic tribes who migrated to Britain actually much closer to England than Saxony AND the Jutland? Were these tribes the Anglish and the Frisians who were actually living in what is known as the "Netherlands" today, near the English channel? We will address this below. Before leaving Linguistics though, I must point out something about the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and Alfred the Great's genealogy. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle documents (per Alfred) that West Saxons, led by Cerdic, migrated to England and created the kingdom of Wessex. “Wessex” is the Latin word for “West Saxony.” Scholars state that Cerdic was not an Angle (nor a Saxon) but was a Briton because Cerdic is a Brittonic name, given to two other British kings. A number of Cerdic’s descendants also have Celtic names, Caedwalla who died in 689 being the last one in Alfred’s supposed line. Many scholars argue the Wessex founders were not Germanic at all. Scholars dispute the standard genealogy of the kings of Wessex. Egbert, who became King of Wessex in 802, was probably of Kentish origin, and his ancestry back to Cerdic may have been invented to legitimize his claim to the throne of Wessex. Also, the genealogy of the kings of Wessex traced their decent to Baldaeg son of Woden, and not Sassnoth son of Woden.
The Origins of the English (Angles) in England
Dr, Francis Pryor, and English archaeologist, is the most famous archaeologist who teaches that there was not an Anglo-Saxon invasion of England. Dr. Pryor not only has a book out on the subject, but even a video, which was aired on the BBC for viewers in England. You can get this video for free on Amazon Prime, or on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oT6Ademm37k&list=PLdgzrVR91sqh43FzxL_q6a-H8q2OLj7RO&index=6
Dr. Pryor's book can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Britain-AD-Arthur-England-Anglo-Saxons/dp/0007181876/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?keywords=Dr.+Pryor+Britain+AD&qid=1569263196&s=gateway&sr=8-1-fkmr1 Watch that video and get the book. Dr. Pryor in the video gives the basic 45 minute case of zero archaeological evidence, far better than I can give it myself. However, the book is a must read as well. A number of years ago, I read Dr. Myres of Oxford's book. You can get a hard copy of the book on Amazon for around $5. I will post the link at the end of this paragraph. But Dr. Pryor, in his book, quotes Myres, and goes through how he and many more modern archaeologists have proven Dr. Myres' pottery arguments as incorrect. He shows that what Myre's considered to be continental, was more likely than not made in Britannia itself, and was influenced by the cultural swings going on in the continent. In a nutshell, Dr. Pryor "debunked" Myres pottery claims from back in the 1970s and 1980s. https://www.amazon.com/English-Settlements-Oxford-History-England/dp/0198217196/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=Myres+the+English+settlements&qid=1569266306&s=gateway&sr=8-2
Here is another article, from an archaeologist, Susan Oosthuizen. Susan has written a book of her findings as well, and like many, is calling on renaming the "Anglo-Saxon Period" in England to something more accurate based on the historical data. Here work is called "Time to Axe The Anglo-Saxons?" https://www.archaeology.co.uk/articles/axe-the-anglo-saxons.htm?fbclid=IwAR2GdReAA2z2-V0gK2yGseUdVoZH-b2d0V-QBChFkJ0o1pU2Vfs9iG-IDTc While I did not mention this in the section above, there is no evidence of mass destruction, that a bunch of Saxons from the southern Jutland came down, conquered all of Northern Germany that became known as Saxony, and wiped out the original inhabitants. German archaeologists never discuss such "destruction layers" in the ground because there is no evidence. The same is true in England. In England, there is over-whelming evidence for the Roman invasion of Britannia. The evidence is so great, no one questions it. The same is true with the "Viking" invasions. In York, and other places, we see clear signs of destruction due to occupation of Scandinavian powers that defeated the locals and it is clearly dated to "Viking" times. However, there is no such evidence of an "Anglo-Saxon Invasion" like there is of the Romans and Vikings. Those who make the argument that "graveyards and villages in Germanic lands show abandonment in the Migration Period, this is evidence that they went to England" is simply going too far. The reason why the Migration period was called the Migration period, is because peoples were on the move. If a village is abandoned, that is one thing, proving it was abandoned with people going to England, or Gaul, or Alamannia, etc is another matter. Pottery and other goods travel, not just because people travel, but because of trade. England has always been a land of trade via the sea. Today, English peoples are known for their tea, which is not even a native product. Just because I wear blue-jeans doesn't mean I am American. There are many McDonalds, Burger Kings, and even KFCs and Subways in Germany today, but Germans who eat in them are not necessarily Americans on vacation. The traditional story of Gildas and Bede was that polytheists from the continent invaded England, and wiped out its churches, and they were God's agents due to the sins of the church of England. This sounds like typical christian rhetoric. It sounds like Babylon being sent by God to exile the Israelites for their sins. It also sounds monotheistic. Polytheists coming to destroy monotheism? Not exactly a polytheistic trait. Religious wars is a trait of monotheism. The fact that monotheists in the church were claiming mass invasion and genocide, pointing the finger at polytheists, cannot be forgotten when evaluating these sources. The peoples in England never called themselves Saxons. And the fact that England and the English languages is named after the Angles, shows who the largest migrants to England were , i.e. if there was a peaceful migration, the bulk of them were Angles. Remember, lack of destruction layers doesn't disprove migrants. Dr. Pryor argues there were migrants, but far less than what the sources state, and that the migrants appear to fit one part of the sources, that they were invited in for military assistance. (Their turning on the British kings later is clearly what is questioned, i.e. the genocide of the British peoples and pushing them into Whales, etc.) During the fifth century, those in Britain referred to themselves as Englisc, who were speakers of Old English (which was known as Englisc, Ænglisc, or Anglisc). Hence the modern name of England and English (the language and people). 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." People argue that Bede placed the Angles, Jutes, and Saxons on the Jutland Peninsula. Bede did not necessarily place them there. Bede stated that the Anglii (Angles), before coming to Britannia, dwelt in a land called Angulus, "which lies between the province of the Jutes and the Saxons, and remains unpopulated to this day." (Ecclesiastical History, 731 AD) The Jutland was not unpopulated when Bede wrote. Bede did give a precise location of where the Saxons came to Britain from: “From the Saxons, that is, the country which is now called Old Saxony, came the East Saxons, the South Saxons, and the West Saxons.” (Ecclesiastical History, 731 AD) Bede therefore states that the Saxons came to Britain from the Old Saxony of his time. Bede did not give us a precise location of where the Jutes and Angles lived, though he stated they were next to the Saxons, specifically with the Angles in the middle of the Jutes and Saxons. Gildas is a British source, also much earlier than Bede. Gildas wrote circa 540 AD. Gildas used the word "Saxones" twice in his entire work documenting early British history, called "On the Ruin of Britain." I believe that Bede really had no idea where migrants to Britain came from, as he was writing three centuries after these migrations. The word “Saxons” was used by the Romans so loosely to include all migrants, the identity of the migrants to Britannia may not have been peoples from Old Saxony at all. The idea that only Jutes settled Kent and the island of Thanet; and only Saxons settled Sussex, Essex, and Wessex; and the Angles settled everywhere else is not archaeologically proven nor accepted by scholars today. The original homeland of the Angles and Jutes may not have been on the Jutland. The names “Jutland” and “Anglia” could easily have been given to areas where the tribes did not originally dwell, due to later Roman historical misunderstandings. This has happened several times in history. For example, the modern German Bundes (state) of Saxony in Germany is well south-east of where the Saxons originally lived. Therefore, what is called "Saxony" in Germany today, is not even where the Saxons lived, nor was Old Saxon the spoken language of that area. The original name of the Jutland Peninsula in Ancient times was the Cimbric Chersonesus, after a Germanic tribe called the Cimbri who occupied the peninsula. It is possible the Angles and Jutes were located in Frisia (Netherlands), and were never on the Jutland.
If we go back to Ptolemy, Ptolemy disagrees with Bede. When Ptolemy mentioned the Angles, he put them near modern Hannover in central Saxony of Bede's time. If Ptolemy did mean 'Saxons' and not "Axones" or "Aviones" etc, he has the Saxons actually NORTH of the Angles. See the map below. This map also shows that Ptolemy did not mention the Jutes (he did not) and it also shows that Ptolemy thought the Jutland was called the Cimbrica Chersonesus, which is the words that he used. The name "Jutland" is far more modern than the first century. Since the church of England was so respected by Charlemagne, this is why he had so many English advisers and monks, like Alcuin, Boniface, and others. Charlemagne also conquered Rome, and had (by force?) Pope Leo anoint/crown him as emperor of the "Holy Roman Empire" trying to show the world that it was not his military might that made him Emperor, but God himself. The English church had a huge presence in Charlemagne's court. In my many articles on Eostre, I often get people stating to me as a counter-argument: "Robert, there is really ONE historical mention of Eostre, Bede. Since there were so many English monks, it is obvious the only other source on Eostre ever is from Frankia and Charlemagne's court (Einhard), and therefore, they just took this from England." (There is really two historical sources on Eostre, but many argue a solid point that the English monks in Frankia could be responsible for the second source on Eostre.) I hear your comments. Eostre was certainly confined to a small area, and NOT any Norse or Scandinavian lands, and certainly not Old Saxon lands. Eostre is a goddess confined only to England (and probably Frankia) but was unknown inside of Saxony, and that is a proven fact. Since Eostre is confined to the Anglish (and Frisians, possibly the Franks), and unknown in Saxony, this also should be remembered when comparing historical Saxons with peoples who migrated to England.
Below is a map showing the traditional assumed homeland of the Angles, Jutes, Saxons, and Frisians that I disagree with. I will follow that with a second map showing where I believe the actual migrants actually came from. Obviously I do not accept a "Saxon" Migration, but I do accept that there was a small migration of a military elite of Anglish and Frisians, that often got called "Saxons." I also have an amazing amount of respect for the peoples who called themselves Anglish and Frisian. I think the over-emphasis on "Saxons" in England has caused the true immigrants to England to be largely forgotten. This is sad, as the Anglish and Frisians have amazing histories in their own right. So do the Romano Britons. Please join us on Facebook in the group Saxon Heathenry and also in the Association for Historical Heathenry.