(EUROPE: 501 to 1000 CE – continued)

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EUROPE: 501 to 1000 CE (2 of 10)

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Ango-Saxons into England

In the mid-500s, waves of Germanic people – Jutes and Angles – from what today is Denmark, and Saxons from northern Germany, invaded England again. They came under military leaders and settled on England's eastern shore. They warred their way westward up the Thames River, looking for more land to cultivate, taking lowland and leaving less desirable lands in the hills to the Celtic Britons. They moved inland at Britain's narrow neck in the north along the Humber River and its tributaries. In the south of England the Britons counterattacked with cavalry, which was effective against the horseless Anglo-Saxons. Victories against the dreaded Anglo-Saxons made the cavalry commander a hero, and legend turned him into a king – King Arthur.

With humanity's proclivity toward fantasy, in centuries to come poetic tales about Arthur would describe him as an emperor, and then as a god who rode through the sky and slew giants. A British monk, Geoffrey of Monmouth, pretending to write history, would describe Arthur as an emperor from a place called Camelot, and he would write of Arthur defeating the Irish and the Scots, conquering Norway and Denmark, marrying a noble woman named Guinever and then conquering France.

Victory by the Britons was temporary. Entire communities of Britons were massacred. Britons again fled into the hills. They fled from England into North Wales, to Ireland and across the channel to what is now called Brittany. Some from England were sold into slavery. Pope Gregory found boys from England on the slave market in Rome. [READER COMMENT]

South of Hadrian's Wall on the eastern side of the island, most of the Romanized population disappeared along with Roman institutions. Celtic names for places also disappeared. On the western side of the island the Britons survived in greater number, and the names of rivers there remained in the language of the Britons. Celts survived in West Wales (Cornwall) and in hilly Scotland, where they were able to drive out the few Anglo-Saxons who had invaded there. And Celtic people survived in Ireland, which had remained safe behind what would be called St. George's Channel. Christianity survived with the Celts, especially in Ireland, where Catholic scholarship continued to flourish.

What had been Roman ruled Britain was divided among Anglo-Saxon kings – warlords surrounded by men who were preoccupied with fighting, valor and loyalty. The Anglo-Saxons were largely illiterate. They viewed the god of the Christian Britons with contempt for having failed his people, and they brought with them from the continent gods that were similar to the gods of other polytheistic societies. There was a god of battles, Tiw, whose name contributed to the word for the third day of the week, Tuesday. They had another war god named Woden, whose name became a part of the word Wednesday. They had a god of thunder called Thunor, which became Thursday. And they had a goddess of fertility named Frig, which was the source of the word Friday. The Anglo-Saxons saw the world as driven by spirits and magic and saw consciousness and spirit in just about everything that moved or existed. They worshiped trees, wells, rivers and mountains. They believed in good spirits and evil spirits, gods and demons. They believed in hideous monster spirits called ogres, malicious ghost-like spirits called goblins, and they believed in mischievous elves. Among their myths was the story of Beowulf, a hero victor over a savage monster named Grendel and Grendel's dragon mother.


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