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Anglo-Saxons were a cultural group and the dominate people living in England from the mid-5th century AD until 1066 AD. They are the descendants of three powerful Germanic tribes, the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. The Anglo-Saxons established the concept and the kingdom of England.

Appearance

Anglo-Saxons often had pale skin and straight to curly hair that could be blond, red, or brown. They often had light or medium-colored eyes. The average Anglo-Saxon male was around 5'8" and the average Anglo-Saxon female was around 5'3." However, lifestyle and diet and other factors could great affect the height and body type of the Anglo-Saxons.

Language

The Anglo-Saxons spoke Old English, which is the earliest recorded form of the English language. It was spoken until about 1066 AD. It developed from a set of dialects originally spoken by the Germanic tribes known as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. It has four main dialects, which are associated with specific Anglo-Saxon kingdoms: Mercian, Northumbrian, Kentish, and West Saxon. West Saxon formed the basis for the literary standard, while Middle and Modern English would develop mainly from the Mercian dialect. While around 85% of Old English words are no longer in use, those that survived are the basic elements of Modern English vocabulary.

Social Structure

Anglo-Saxon social structure was strictly class based, and it was almost impossible to change one's class.

Positions and Roles:

Cyning

The sovereign, or king, who was the head of the royal house and ruled over a kingdom.

Ætheling

The prince or nobleman who claimed a common ancestry with the king. This title was especially used for the heir apparent or a prince of the royal family.

Ealdorman

Below the king were the earls, the ruling nobility. An earl was the king's "right-hand man" in a shire. The position was not originally hereditary, but it became usual in the 10th century to choose earls from a few outstanding families. Ealdormen would lead in battle, preside over courts, and levy taxation. They were commonly addressed as “Lord.”

Thegn

Below an earl was a thegn (Old English: þegn). Thegns were retainers, and the equivalent to a Norse housecarl. They formed the backbone of the Anglo-Saxon army. With good service they received lands from the king and could rise to become earls.

Churl

The upper group of commoners who held land freely and did not pay rent to a lord. Churls are the equivalent of a Norse karl. Some freemen were expected to attend local courts to solve disputes. The lower group worked on land held by a lord and made their money by selling or exchanging crops or by pursuing a craft such as blacksmithing.

Villein

The serfs, and most of the people. They held no land and worked for others in exchange for food and shelter.

Slaves

Slaves (Old English: Þēow) were legally recognized as enslaved and had no civil rights although they could work on their own behalf and earn enough to buy their own freedom.

Gallery