The Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Periods

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The Anglo-Saxon period    Many of the stories and
(aka Dark Ages) was a     poems from this period
time of conflicts,        present heroic struggles in
ignorance, violence and   which only the strong
barbarism.                survive.
 Julius Caesar was the first person to ever write
  about England in 55 B.C. when he attempted to
  conquer the British Isles.
 A century later the Roman army returned with force
  and Britain became a province of the Roman
  Empire. The Romans introduced cities, roads,
  written scholarship, and Christianity.
 During the 300 hundred year rule the “Romanized”
  Britons adapted to urban lifestyle and became
  dependant on the Roman military for protection.
 Early in the fifth century, the Romans pulled out of
  Britain, which left Britain defenseless and a target for
 The Angles and Saxons, along with other Germanic
  tribes began arriving from northern Europe around
  A.D. 449.
 The Britons were eventually driven to the west
  (Cornwall and Wales), the north (Scotland), and
  across the English Channel .
 The main part of Britain was named: Angle-land, or
 Anglo-Saxon culture became the basis of English
  culture along with the language, now known as Old
    The Spread of Christianity
                                           Over the next two centuries,
 At first, the Anglo-Saxons were
                                            Christianity continued to spread
  seafaring people whose lives were
  bleak, violent and short.                In 597, a Roman missionary named
                                            Augustine established a monastery at
                                            Canterbury. From there, Christianity
 They strongly believed in wyrd, or        spread rapidly.
  fate, and they admired heroic
                                           Monasteries became centers of
  warriors whose fate was to prevail in
                                            intellectual, literary, artistic, and
                                            social activity.

 As time passed they became more
  agricultural and peaceful and
  opened up to Christianity because it
  offered hope in eternal happiness in
 In 790 a fierce, seafaring group from Denmark
    and Norway invaded England.
   The Vikings looted, killed, and burned down
    entire villages and monasteries.
   They eventually set up camps and gained control
    of much of the north and east of the country.
   In the south, the Danes finally were defeated by
    the Anglo-Saxon king Alfred the Great.
   Alfred unified the English, and under his rule,
    learning and culture flourished.
 In 1042, Edward the            When Edward died,
  Confessor (a descendant of      however, a council of nobles
  Alfred) took the throne.        and church officials chose
                                  an English earl named
                                  Harold to succeed him.
 Edward had no children and
  had apparently named his       William then led his Norman
  French cousin William, duke     army to successfully invade
  of Normandy, his heir.          Britain in the Norman
                                 Harold was killed at the
                                  Battle of Hastings in 1066,
                                  and William the Conqueror
                                  was crowned king of
Literature of the Times
The Epic Tradition
                                -These epic were an oral art
- Anglo-Saxon literature took   form: memorized and
  the form of epic poems        performed.
  praising heroic warriors.
                                -Later, as Christianity spread
- Kings and nobles would        through Britain, literacy did
  gather on special occasions   too, and poems were more
  in mead halls and feast on    likely to be recorded by
  pies and roasted meats.       scribes.
  They would listen to scops,
                                -Beowulf is the most famous
  professional poets who        surviving epic. It relates the
  would bring epic poems to     tale of a heroic warrior who
  life while strumming on a     battles monsters and dragons
  harp.                         to protect the people.
Reflections of Common Life
 Scops also sang shorter, lyric poems that reflected
 everyday reality: the cold, wet sailor clinging to his
 storm-tossed boat; the misery and resentment of his
 wife, left alone for months or years, not knowing if her
 husband would every return.

 Some poems mourn loss and death, while others
 express religious faith or offer moral instruction.

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