What (if anything) set the Anglo Saxons apart from contemporary continental Europe?

The Anglo Saxons inhabited Britain (mostly England) from ~400-1000 AD before phasing culturally into a more modern England after the Norman conquest. What set the Old English apart though? I’ve heard a few different things and from media (although trusting media for historical accuracy is not generally a good idea) that show England as having more resources than contemporary competing cultures, such as those in Scandinavia. I’ve heard for example that Scandinavia was iron-poor and so didn’t make use of metal armor more than helmets whereas England could afford to provide metal armor for soldiers. Were the Anglo Saxons just another Dark Age European society on a rock?

The English Channel?

But seriously, the comment about iron-poor Scandinavia seems inaccurate to me. Swedish steel was justly famous through much of the 1900’s & earlier, and that was said to be because of their supply of high-quality iron ore. In WWII, their sale of iron to Germany was probably part of the reason Hitler respected their neutrality and never attacked them.

So then any Scandinavian non-use of metal armor must have been due either to lack of the knowledge of how to make it, or a cultural bias against using it. Or maybe they hadn’t discovered the iron ore yet.

If not iron mining, steel making was at least developed in the Scandi countries. Crucible steel for making the Ulfberht sword may have been imported from down south. But for the OP main question, my guess would be a more rapid adoption of Christianity. Not sure.

There could be an advantage in waiting a bit. Some societies converted to Christianity too quickly.

The Goths became Christians relatively early for northern Europeans - but they converted to Arian Christianity, which was a popular form of the religion when they converted. As Catholicism grew in strength, the Goths’ Arianism worked against them.

The Franks converted the Christianity about a century after the Goths did. By the time they converted, Catholicism had become the predominant form of Christianity. The Catholic powers in the south favored the Franks over the Goths and Frankish power grew as Gothic power declined.

Nothing, really. Sure, the A-Ses were “Christianized” - yet the Sutton Hoo inhumed* was still given a classic Norse ship burial to rival any of his pagan Scandinavian contemporaries. And way before the Norman conquest, the A-S kingdoms and the Norse Danelaw settlers had reached some sort of uneasy, frequently-interrupted détente - but that’s no different from how the A-S kingdoms treated each other so doesn’t indicate any clear setting-apart on the part of the A-Ses. It’s possible that the A-Ses were slightly Celticized in a way the Scandinavians weren’t, but I’m not sure of the evidence for that, and am aware of lots of cultural touchstones that indicate their thorough persistent Norse-ness…

*whomever he was - King Rædwald himself or some just some wealthy eorl or thegn.

I’m not sure why you think there’s anything that set the anglo-saxons part, if you’re trying to suggest there was something ‘special’ about them?

The British Isles was rich in natural resources with a benign climate which meant it was relatively wealthy, but otherwise, I’m not sure what you’re looking for. In cultural terms, England was a dark rock on the edge of the known world, pretty much. And I speak as an English woman.

The period from 400 to 1000 is usually called the Dark Ages for a reason. After the Romans moved out, there was no such place as England/Britain. It seems that the Saxons were invited in to help deal with the Picts in the North and stayed on and took over.


Not a good one. The term isn’t currently considered an accurate one by historians, both because of the inherent bias it signifies and also because we know a lot more about those particular periods nowadays, and the quaint old notion of them being just grim-dark & barbarian has been substantially revised, even if popular imagination hasn’t caught up yet. Yes, Britain was only on the fringes of the continent in terms of those sorts of developments, but it was by no means isolated - there is lots of evidence for trade connection that span as far as India and the Silk Route.

My understanding is that, by the time the Viking raids started, a couple of hundred years after the Anglo-Saxons arrived, the country was relatively prosperous. After another few hundred years of to-ing and fro-ing between Anglo-Saxons and Danes, the unified kingdom passed between Anglo-Saxon and Danish lines, but in the process became even more prosperous, reasonably well-governed and consequently not subject to too much internal warfare (the odd family jealousy and regicide apart) - which was why it was so attractive to the Normans (the ultimate Vikings) as well as competing Norse chieftains.

But “apartness”…? These days we’re always being reminded that in ancient times, seas and rivers didn’t divide, they were highways for contact. Anglo-Saxon rulers journeyed to Rome and made dynastic marriages for their children on the Continent, as far as Germany and Hungary. So it may well be they didn’t think of themselves as so very distinct from other Christian kingdoms, or vice versa.

It’s called the Dark Ages because historians have fairly scant records of what was going on, particularly in what is know called the UK, not because the period was particularly barbaric (even if that very word has its origins in the tribe of that period in Germany).

But there’s no getting away from the fact that Britain was on the edge of European civilisation with nowt of significant interest going on to the outside world, trading for our valuable goods nothwithstanding.

Like I said, it’s historians who no longer favour the term and find it not very useful.

What? The word “barbaric” comes from the Greek and is onomatopoeic, not from any German ethnonym

This is … just not accurate. British people were very involved in goings-on on the continent, what with things like the Hiberno-Scottish mission to the Franks and Langobards, and conversely, were the recipients of continental attention e.g the Gregorian mission. And there were dynastic relations - remember that William I was related to King Ēadweard by blood.

That’s not to mention the completely unrelated strong links between the Briton remnants in the Southwest and their emigrant colonies in Brittany.

Re: “Dark Ages”. The 1950s called-- they want their historical labels back.

IWO, Mr Dibble is exactly correct. Historians don’t use that term much anymore, mainly because it simply isn’t true in any sense of the word. Also, it’s origin really is in the sense of “backward; bad; retrograde”, not “we don’t know much about it”.

Isn’t this really it? Not totally cut off, but clearly separated by the mainland. An island will develop differently than a large land mass. A certain degree of isolation, a different trading model, a more distinct culture, natural protection from invasion, a lot of ways that it will develop on it’s own course.

Sure it is: we still know far less about Saxon Britain up to at least 900 AD than we do about Roman Britain.

I agree that knowledge of Anglo Saxon Britain is scarce. Beowulf is often cited as the oldest known English text, the quote I know as to its age was roughly 7-8th century due to both a decidedly Christian narrative and a familiarity with paganism that later Christians wouldn’t have. That’s what Tolkien supposed anyway. Given that, we’re left with a century or two with nothing (much) being written down, which when compared to the Roman occupation is left wanting.

There seems to be a couple of unstated assumptions or attitudes:

  • that what we currently know about A-S England is all we will know, which is rubbish, there’s been a lot of significant work donejust in London alone the last decade and a bit - [=bundle%3Aproduct_display"]the MOLA printers](http://www.mola.org.uk/search/site/saxon?f[0) have been working overtime just keeping up, I’m sure.
  • a privileging of textual records over artefact evidence - artefact evidence that shows that the period was far from dark even when the texts ahave been destroyed (note that the period wasn’t not recorded, just that records that we know existed were particularly susceptible to destruction based on the habit of sticking the scriptoria and other monasteries on islands conveniently located for Viking raids etc. The Elizabethan Dissolution didn’t help, either).

I think I have it: They haven’t lost their Ruling House (discounting some others still surviving in Scandinavia and the low countries.)

They certainly have. There was a Norman takeover in 1066, and then a Scottish takeover in 1603. Then the Dutch arrived in 1688, and the Germans (by virtue of descent from the Scots through the female line) in 1714.

There hasn’t been a Anglo-Saxon ruling house in Britain for nearly a thousand years.

When the Romans buggered off, they left a vacuum that took nearly a thousand years to fill. Britons separated into warring tribes that concentrated on survival. Vikings from the north came over and settled for a time, notably near the rivers Thames and Humber, but the rest of the country was pretty bad.

The Britons, left with all those substantial Roman villas and well laid out towns; not to mention the road network, did not move in and make the most of them, they pretty much destroyed them, or at the very least, just allowed them to fall down.

Arguably Matilda, daughter of Henry I and Edith from the old West Saxon line, makes her descendants (beginning from Henry II) claimants to the West Saxon throne.