The Anglo-Saxons and Beowulf
Created by Katelyn Wood
Edited and adapted by Mrs.
The Anglo-Saxon Era: Timeline
• 43CE Romans invade Britain.
– Encountered the Celts.
– Romans build roads, villas,
huge buildings, and forts.
– Introduced Christianity.
• 420CE Romans leave.
• 450CE Jutes from Denmark, and the Angles
and Saxons from Northern Germany invade
– Germanic tribes.
– Anglo-Saxons push out Celts
• 597CE Anglo-Saxons become Christian
• 787CE Viking raids begin
• 871-899CE King Alfred the Great becomes King of
– Established education systems, rebuilt monasteries.
– Fought Danes and forced them from Wessex.
– Unified Anglo-Saxons under one king to resist the Viking
– Danes ruled in the North, Anglo-Saxons in the South.
• 1066CE Norman Conquest by William the Conqueror.
– From Norman French.
– Defeated Danes and Anglo-Saxons.
– Officially ended Anglo-Saxon era and brought about the
beginning of the Medieval Period.
Pagan vs. Christianity in Beowulf
The Anglo-Saxons mixed both pagan and Christian
traditions. Beowulf contains traces of both beliefs.
• Strong nature presence • God is mentioned by two of
• Strength of the warrior the main characters in the
poem: Beowulf and
• Grendel as Lucifer
– Both are outcasts
– Perform a task for God
– Grendel is described as a son
or descendant of Cain, a clear
• Anglo-Saxon literature began as an oral tradition. Stories, poems,
and songs were all told aloud and passed from generation to
generation orally through minstrels (also called scops).
• Poems traditionally had a strong beat, alliteration, and no rhyme.
• Caesura: “a cutting.” A break in a line of poetry, used in Old English
to depict a half line. We use a comma for a modern effect.
– i.e. Da com of more under mistheleopum
“Out from the marsh, from the foot of the hills.”
• Kenning: derived from the Norse word “kenna” which means “to
know, to recognize.” It is a compact metaphor that functions as a
• i.e. helmberend: “Helm bearer” or “warrior”
• Beowulf is the most well-known Anglo-Saxon poem,
and is a form of poetry called the epic. Such other
examples are Homer’s The Iliad and The Odessey.
• Long narrative that celebrates a hero’s long journeys
and heroic deeds.
• J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Ring series and George Lucas’ Stars
Wars could be called modern epics.
• Characteristics include a noble hero whose character
traits reflect their society’s ideals. The hero performs
brave acts and appears superhuman.
• The epic poem Beowulf
strengthens the Heroic
Code. This code was
derived from the Anglo-
Saxons’ Germanic roots, and
called for strength, courage,
and loyalty in warriors. It
also required kings to be
hospitable, generous, and
have great political skills.
This code was a basis for
Common Themes Of an Epic Poem
• Universal themes of epic poetry
– Good vs. evil
• Beowulf vs. Grendel
– Courage and honor
• Beowulf is fearless and brave while fighting the monsters.
– Gods or semi-divine creatures
• Grendel, Grendel’s mother, the dragon
– Tale involves the fate of an entire race
• Beowulf saves Hrothgar’s village from Grendel.
• Most famous of early Germanic
• Written anywhere between 400-
1000, but most likely after the 500s.
• The author is unknown, but likely to
be Christian. It is likely that a few
different authors elaborated on the
• Takes place in Sweden, Denmark,
– The Norse were at this time
attacking Britain, thus allowing
knowledge of places, people, and
ancestors to be available.
• Beowulf: main character, a hero
featuring all the qualities of an
epic hero. He has superhuman
strength and is fearless and brave
• Hrothgar: the king of the village
that Beowulf saves from Grendel.
• Grendel: a monster terrorizing
• Grendel’s mother: a monster set
out to avenge her son’s death.
…in six sentences.
• Beowulf travels to Hrothgar’s village to save them from
Grendel, a terrifying monster eating their warriors. An
epic battle ensues with Beowulf as the winner. Of
course, Grendel’s mother comes seeking vengeance for
her son’s death. Again, Beowulf is called upon to save
them all, and he fights heroically and defeats the evil
monster. After being vastly rewarded and refusing an
offer from Hrothgar to be his heir, Beowulf makes the
long trek back to his homeland where he becomes a
mighty and generous king for many years. He fights a
massive dragon who is threatening his people. He and
the dragon both die in the struggle, but he is heroic
until the end.
• “The Anglo-Saxon Invasions of Britain” and “The Spread of Christianity”
• “Life After the Romans”
• Old English sample
• Information of the Anglo-Saxon period and of Beowulf
– Anderson, Rachel. “Medieval Context: Beowulf.” ENG 220 British Literature I.
Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI. 10 Jan. 2008.
– Schneider, Daniel. “English Literature: Anglo-Saxon Era and Beowulf.” Honors
English Literature. Linden High School, Linden, MI. 30 Aug. 2005.
Old English Example
Old English circa 500CE-1100CE
“Cyning” means “king,” so “Cyningas” must mean “kings.”
What other words look familiar to today’s language?