MODULE I

ANGLO-SAXON AGE: AN INTRODUCTION

In this chapter you will learn:
 A brief outline of the political history of early England and the Celtic civilization
 The coming of the Anglo-Saxons and the subsequent changes in the politics, economics
and the social institutions
 The advent of Christianity and its effect of the Anglo-Saxon society
 How the English identity and nation is made

Preface

It is a common practice to confuse past with history. One may protest and say that history deals with
the past and it dwells in the past, it depicts the incidents that has happened long time ago. True, but
this is far from being the whole picture. History is a process: it collects, edits, changes, writes, re-
writes and interprets all the events that have happened long before we were born. It is a growing
organism, a living being. Think of it in this way: we have no way of learning about the past without
the help of history; our idea of the past—which may include vital questions like who we were, where
we come from, what were our ancestors like—is shaped by history itself. Thus, history is a powerful
tool and when used by the powerful people it may change the course of the society.

In the present section our attempt would be to look at the beginnings of the Anglo-Saxon period and
relate it to the growth of the indigenous literature of this area. We shall not merely be looking at some
important dates and events, and learn the names of kings and queens, but shall try to understand the
ethos of the age—think what those people thought and felt, and make an estimate of their culture and
philosophy. There are a few impediments to this endeavour: first, at such an early state, it is difficult
to distinguish between history and myth; secondly, many old texts are lost and missing. The first
problem stems from the fact that the need for recording events of historical importance was felt much
later. The earlier men were content with composing songs and lays about their heroes and battles.
Such songs were sung by the wandering minstrels or troubadours in the feasts or gatherings. Such
compositions coloured the historical truth with the imagination of the chauvinistic minds. Moreover,
when these songs were transmitted from generation to generation through the oral medium more
changes were made, making it more suitable to the contemporary age. This is true not only about the
songs but also about the oral epics which were later written down by the educated men, who would
once again change them according to their own taste. Thus, scholars have pointed out the Christian
interpolations in pagan literature because the early writers were all men from religious background.
Remember, the use of the term „men‟ is not an instance of generic simplification but a historical fact,
for education of women was a distant dream in those days.

Module I, Unit I, p 1

the books were burned or lost due to loot and plunder. the gospel books that appeared in England around 700 BCE (Lindisfarne Gospels). How shall we then read the Anglo-Saxon history? Patrick Wormald writes in his essay titled. „Anglo-Saxon Society and its Literature‟ that “England is the world‟s oldest continuously functioning state. because in the Anglo-Saxon nobility was to characterise British art of this period. Insular art. or art of the mostly composed of the warrior class who did not have the islands. but of mixed origins: Celtic. the manuscripts would have various designs in reflected in the Anglo-Saxon culture the margins. and English is now its most widely spoken language. In those days.The second problem that we shall encounter is the loss of texts. how the English nation was made and how Module I. it has been told that history is a living mechanism. and we have to leave much to our imagination and understanding. As we have already seen. These as a whole which can be related to Anglo-Celtic-Roman origins. Germanic and luxury of learning. In many cases. Some rich men had the privilege of a personal library but that is a much later The art historians use the term insular development.” (P 19) Taking the cue from him. whereas. for instance. Mass education was not thought of. and Mediterranean. i. for the scribes would be deft artists. designs can also be seen as historical data. but if we look at the reasons behind these losses new historical insight might be drawn. Unit I. thus. p 2 .e. To go back to our previous argument. confluence of different cultures in the post-migratory phase. Manuscripts preserved in various abbeys At the very beginning of this section. we shall see how both of these two incidents came into being. once written the manuscript would be copied by the learned men or scribes. It may have many reasons behind it. written documentation happens much later. This shows the preponderance of the heroic culture in the Anglo-Saxon society even when they were Christianized— a historical reality that has a long-standing impact in the making of the English nation. is distinctive. thus many texts were already lost by the time they were written. and is well However. used motifs that were used to decorate the weapons and jewellery of the warrior elite. one might suggest that loss of texts would definitely be a hurdle in realising the whole picture of Anglo-Saxon literature.. This speaks of the thus the readership was very limited and selective. and several manuscripts would be preserved in various abbeys. a continuous process. the same books that were produced in other parts of Europe used Romano-Christian symbols as margin designs. which also worked as the libraries. book writing was a time consuming and costly matter. There was no printing press.

Picts. Britannic and Gaelic. A Short Survey of the Political History of the Anglo-Saxons in England Celts and the advent of the Angles. akin to the Gauls. You may wonder what is so significant about England being the land of the English-speaking people. Historians call them Britons and their Module I. which has literary texts from the building. and also a well. Celts. These people cultivated their lands. p 3 . Saxon. which could help the Britannic was the branch of Celtic spoken in most of Britain before the Anglo-Saxon language and its people survive the onslaughts of invasions. It survived into modern times in three languages: Cornish. can be divided into three groups: Gaulish. let us take a look at the texts from fifteenth century and died out in eighteenth century. Jute. once widely diffused over Every tribe carried its own cultural baggage. which is known in French invasion. and were skilled in weaving. and was spread identity was clearly etched out with an efficient abroad by Celtic military expeditions to Central Europe as far as Asia Minor. Unit I. It died political and economic system. Gauls. Scot. metal works and in making ornaments. like Angle. many of their stories cannot be accessed. In the earliest time the island was inhabited by people who belonged to the Celtic group. some of whom who were the original inhabitants of the land and others who came from the other side of the ocean for colonising the land at various stages. and Breton. Franks. Saxons and Jutes The coming of the Anglo-Saxons to the British island can be seen as a watershed mark in British history. formed vernacular literature.English was established as its language. Welsh. Since they did not write their history and depended on bards to memorize and recount their stories. Celts: Celtic. out during early centuries of Christian era. Breton was taken across to Brittany by refugees from Britain during the time of Anglos-Saxon conquests. but by Europe. fourteenth century. Gaulish was the end of the 11th century a common English spoken in France and northern Italy in the time of Roman Republic. So first. History would tell you that the English nation is a melting pot of various tribes and cultures. which has literary historical facts that supported this process of nation texts going back to eleventh century.

They were never many in number. Towards the end of this second and long rule of the Romans the population was divided unequally into Romans.language British which is the parent language of the modern day Welsh. You may compare them with the later day found to be curved in ‘runes’ on metal or British officials who came to our country for wooden object. Almost hundred years later emperor Claudius sent another troop of 50.e. They brought along with them the rule of the law.. The drainage system also the island. the modern-day Scotland) as well. (See Map II) The colonization by the Romans made some important changes in the island. The southern part of the entire island was under their rule for next 350 years. Tax on corn was collected from the But since they were the defeated ones inhabitants. Also remember reading about the French invasion of England. improved. etc. At around 55-54 BCE Julius Caesar sent his troops to colonise the land but this attempt was not met with much success. a much-developed language like the Latin and also better civic life. a few Celtic words that Roman civilisation was town-based while the later still survive in modern English. They are also known as ‘futharks’. The earliest available texts of these people are completed. development of the country-side. suffered the most when the Roman rule ended. who led his tribe for more than six years against the Romans in the mountains of Wales. However. The largest of the towns were called their language lost its prestige—you will come across a similar incident while Londinium which in today‟s London.000 men and after much fight the Celts were defeated. Around 142 CE the wall of Antoninus and in 180 CE the wall of Hadrain was constructed to demarcate the northern boundary of Roman occupation in the island. and Britons who worked as slaves. colonisation. The Romans however Avon. There is no reason to think that the Celtic language was wiped out. St. However. London. which was the centre of Druidism. never lost contact with their own country. The officials Thames (dark river). The Romans could not occupy the northern part of the island (i. (See Map I) The important figures of Celtic defence were Caratacus. which was occupied by Caledonian and Pictish tribes. It was the Roman-Britons who thought themselves to be as good as Romans. county names like Devon and Kent. day Anglo-Saxons concentrated more in the particularly in place names like. now and traders went to the British island for a few years of Celtic tongue was gradually replaced by their duty taking their families and households with the Anglo-Saxon languages which are mostly derived from the West Germanic them and returned home when their tenure was group of languages. Ouse (meaning water or stream). The coming of the Anglo-Saxons also Fortified towns and fine roads were built to enhance the had a huge impact on the language of security of the settlers. for instance. Unit I. The change of fortune of Britain occurred when the Roman army stationed in the island was called back to their own country to fight the barbarians. p 4 . Albans and London. The northern tribes Picts and Scots (who had arrived Module I. and a tribal queen called Boadicea who destroyed and burned three centres of Roman power: Colchester. Leeds and names of rivers. the Britons who were the children of Roman fathers and Celtic mothers and who followed Roman habits and called themselves Roman-Britons.

It so happened that whenever one small kingdom rose to power it exerted a kind of influence on the rest. But this must also be borne in the mind that political Module I. West and South Saxons. the Marchmen took possession of the kingdom called Mercia which was on the border of the Briton settlements. when the political powers were consolidating we find the names of such important chiefs who for a brief period of time ruled the politics of the land. Unit I. The Germanic tribes of Europe acted quickly. by the North and South folks of the Angles and Northumberland by another tribe of the Angles. In the year 455 CE. The Britons then sought the intervention of the Saxons who gladly accepted this offer. which in Anglian terms meant strangers. (See Maps III and IV) Several historians have recorded the following events in different manners. Completely overpowered. Wurtgern or Vortigern. Britons were now called Welsh. pirates swelled in the English channel. By 800 CE it was Wessex which dominated the political map. Realising the „worthlessness of the Britons and richness of the land‟ more tribes like the Jutes from Jutland. Bede records the names of two important warriors and their men from Jutland who in 449 CE came to fight for the Britons. Norfolk and Suffolk. Wessex and Sussex were taken by East. Jutes and other tribes from the northern borders of the Roman Empire (modern day Germany and Denmark) came to colonise the country. and they were called Saxons or Engles and hence the name English. These seven kingdoms were also known as the „heptarchy‟ and in spite of their similarity in language and culture they fought among themselves for political supremacy. the Britons fled westwards while these northern tribes divided the island among themselves: Essex. Their kings took title of Bretwalda or overlord. Hengest and Horsa fought against the very person who had invited them to the island. First Northumbria and then Mercia rose to power because of their good leadership. Horsa was slain but his brother Hengest killed Vortigern and took possession of the kingdom of Kent which was populated by the Jutes. In the period that followed the migration age. p 5 . The Britons fled westward towards Wales. killing and looting the country. Angles. other Saxon tribes. Oswald (634-42) and Oswiu (642-70) of Northumbria and King Offa (757-96) of Mercia were renowned for their exploits and good governance. However. the condition of the towns deteriorated. In those days political power was a dependent on the chief or king‟s martial prowess and charisma. to present a simpler version of the event it is better to follow what is written by Bede: in 443 CE the Britons went to seek the help of the Romans against the northern tribes but received none for they were busy defending the attack of Attila the Hun on the Roman Empire. At first they fought against the Picts but slowly they started to take possession of the country. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. which was later combined as East Anglia. King Edwin (617-33). Saxons. which was compiled during the reign of one of the most famous English kings. finally. Angles from Schleswig came to the country. Hengest and Horsa. records that Ecgberht or Egbert. his grandfather and the first king of Wessex who had gradually subdued Kent and Sussex.in Scotland from Ireland) poured over the Hadrian‟s wall. King Alfred. It is this political strife that indirectly gave rise to a sense of unity in the later days. then Mercia and finally Northumbria and united the English under him.

He tried to bribe the Danes and fight them. (See Map V) Alfred is one of the great rulers of England. As a result of which a huge number of everyday words like man. wife. Sussex. The renowned The first major English ruler philologist. till at last in 878. mother. and was obliged to flee to the woods in disguise. still they came in huge numbers. the two languages came closer and shared their vocabulary with one another. sit are identical in two languages. under him and his Englishman cannot thrive or be ill or die without the Scandinavian words. Bede records in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People that King Oswald was first denied burial in a monastery of the kingdom of Lincolnshire for he had once conquered the land. known as Danelagh or Danelaw. He gained a complete victory at Edington. Unit I. and part of Mercia. p 6 . and forced the Danish leader Guthrun to make a treaty at Wedmore. they successors. after seven years of battle. he was defeated at Chippenham. ill. part of Essex. wise. Otto Jespersen says. under. Thus. Angle-cynn (the English people and their are to the language what bread and territory) became Engla-lond (the land of the eggs are to daily fare. However. English language King Alfred and the Danish Invasion In the language tree. as the intensity of the political enmity between the two groups lessened. well.’ English). By this treaty Alfred was accepted as the overlord of Wessex. At first he failed. come. He made translations of important theological texts and encouraged the writing of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles which is now an important source of information about the age. Many stories are told about his years of hiding. the Scandinavian languages originate from the North Germanic group of languages which are very similar to the West Germanic languages. while he had to relinquish some other parts of the land to the Danes. This time he succeeded. reformed the legal system and was a patron of knowledge and learning. Kent. King Edward conquered some parts of the Danelagh and expanded Module I. He built ships to defend the land against further Danish invasion. Alfred became the king in 871 but his reign began in a dismal situation as the Danish invasion of England had already began (in 794 they had plundered the monastery of Jarrow). After his death his able son Edward (901-925) and his daughter Ethelfled (also known as the „Lady of Mercia‟) ruled the country well. ‘An was King Alfred of Wessex.union always does not necessitate a cultural union of the people. Though King Alfred faced the most virulent period of the Danish attacks he was determined to set his country free. this forced political union was ultimately accepted by the people when they were attacked by the Danes or Scandinavians who started Danish Invasion and its effect on to pour in from 787 CE. egg. He once again collected a handful of faithful men and made a desperate effort. father. over. near Chippenham.

the great landowners. Thus the two races of Anglo-Saxons and Danes or Scandinavians were joined under his leadership. who had a troubled reign. This was indeed a parliament in its rudimentary form.his kingdom till Northumbria. Athelston (925-940). the role of the king or chief was much limited in political matters. Unit I. when Canute a Dane was elected by the Witan. and kingship became hereditary but at the beginning there was much democracy in such meetings. In Anglo-Saxon England. and very soon the English had another enemy to fight with. there was sixteen years of peace but unfortunately he was followed by Ethelred the Unready whose thirty-six years of troubled reign made the country more susceptible to the Danish attacks. He declared himself as the „Emperor of Britain‟ ruling over the Danes. Polity and economy of the Saxons Let us take a look at the nature of the Anglo-Saxon government. As the kingdoms grew too large for all the freemen to assemble. In it sat the „aldermen‟. From the very beginning of Anglo- Saxon invasion in 449 CE to 1016. England was under the rule of Anglo-Saxon kings. He arrived in England with his retinue of Norman friends. this practice changed. called Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) who was brought up in Normandy. the Normans. In case of England the advent of Christianity also initiated a change in the social pattern and power politics. was followed by Edmund. You must understand that this is a long period of time during which any civilisation would grow and develop and become more complex. Canut‟s two sons proved to be incompetent rulers thus English and Danes sent for the son of Ethelred the Unready. He had to depend on the faithfulness of his people. Under Edgar. who like the Anglo-Saxons and Danes came to England in search of its rich resources and set up their colonies. after the Church was established the bishops and archbishops also participated in this political assembly. Module I. and the „thegns‟ or chiefs of the king‟s bodyguards. He also levied a tax called Danegeld to buy them off but his misrule alienated his thanes from him and they joined the Danes instead. p 7 . However the Danish rule was short-lived. Rulers who followed King Edward witnessed the gradual downfall of English kingship due to renewed Danish attacks. Dunstan became the archbishop of Canterbury during the rule of Edgar I (959-975). rulers of the shires. Eadwig ruled only for four years and he was remembered for his quarrel with an influential priest called Dunstan. English and Welsh. Edred and Eadwig (or Edwy). However. We shall read that history separately in the following sections. Local matters were decided by the assembly of free men—the folk moot—that chose their king or leader. The Witan was powerful for it could not only make or amend laws but also elect or depose kings. Danes were at this time led by a very able king Swegen whose son Cnut came to the English throne in 1016. the place of the folk moot was taken up by the Assembly of Wise Men or Witan. at the later stage. Then they set up hundred moots and shire moots for smaller subdivision called hundreds (which was a group of villages) and then shires (which is a group of hundreds). at first.

Heroic values and its effect on literature The great migration (Völkerwanderung) of the Germanic tribes to England and the subsequent defeat of the Celtic tribes turned England into a melting pot where people of various cultures and ethnicity were forced to live together. This sort of compensation shows the prominence of violence. Thus by the time the Danish invaders came English society was a well-governed. The Anglo-Saxon society used to be a stratified one and the social structure was relatively stable. It is a rule of history that every economic change snowballs into a social change. The noble-blood obviously cost more than that of the free-men. This also led to the growth of towns along the English coast and the population increased in them. A slave however had no wergeld though his owner was compensated in case of his death. p 8 . Roughly around the seventh century the business and trade improved across the channel and North Sea. King Offa established monopoly over the coins issued in his name and made huge profits for his kingdom. blood-feuds. the Anglo-Saxons were already a mixed and mongrel people. England was also an important centre for trade during the Roman rule but now this unprecedented growth was a result of the replacement of the monometallic gold currency with lower value silver coins better suited for everyday business transactions. and expressed by a wergeld or man-money: it is the amount of money that the killers were supposed to pay to the next of the kin if case of a violent death of the person. This helped in the large-scale importation and exportation of common daily products which was previously done only for luxury items. (See King Offa‟s coins) This economic expansion had its drawback: it tempted the Vikings or Scandinavians to make inroads into the country. Michael Swanton writes: Ethnic blurring was a natural consequence of the Völkerwanderung. aggression and revenge in Anglo-Saxon society. Noble and free status was inherited. urban-based commercial hub. respectively. vengeance bedeck their literature that you are going to read. as nations shifted. driven by economic and political necessities. Unit I. Any trader who had crossed the sea for three times was promoted to the rank of the Thegn. but in an era where kingdoms rose and fell in quick succession with the rise and fall of its leader such unity cannot be a long-standing one. but the middle order was composed of „free men‟. absorbing and absorbed by others.England also prospered under the Saxon kings. The law codes reveal that the nobles and the slaves occupied the highest and the lowest rung in the social ladder. Yet. Archaeological evidences suggest that on the eve of great land-takings. As the economy prospered the upward social mobilization becomes easier. Ample evidence can be found in the literature of the time: stories of battles. Archbishop Wulfstan of York lamented that slaves have become their owners‟ masters. (6) Political competition between the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms may finally have resolved with the forceful geographical unification. as history would show us that Module I.

The dispossessed Irish or Picts or Celtic nobles whoever joined the comitatus enjoyed its fortunes irrespective of their social or racial origins. The have to pledge allegiance to him till death. In the famous story of Cynewulf and Cyneheard. worked with the aristocracy to strengthen the power of the king over his territory and created the distinctive British identity. the second is definitely the coming of Christianity which at a later stage. Thus the society was much more lenient in matters of ethnic plurality if. of course. but in that case all the rewards are . the picture you see is a reconstruction of the same lyre. yet in the history of England both has contributed towards the consolidation of nationhood. narrated in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. rose. land-based. The only source of allegiance was the loyalty to the lord. Though the ideology of the heroic society and that of Christianity are mutually exclusive. Instead of the Empire. This also speaks of a change in the society that took place on the event of the dissolution of the Roman colonies. p 9 . Thus. Thus. The first is the heroic values that were deeply ingrained in the socio-economic rubric of the post-Migration society in England. the other side was not a political threat. the free-men of The importance of music and poetry in Anglo-Saxon culture can hardly be the society enjoyed a greater mobility and they could overemphasized At the Sutton Hoo Ship enrol themselves under any lord or overlord but they burial site. cultural differences got erased as people of different ethnic background would come under an efficient or powerful lord. the man who has been rejected by his lord. the former‟s warriors „said that no kinsman was dearer to them than their lord. Thus a Danish warrior‟s story of Beowulf becomes the epic of the English people. Unit I. which maintained its own military responsibilities through the war-band or comitatus. The lord on the Module I. and they would never serve his slayer‟. (you shall get ample evidence of such incidents in the elegiac poetry of the time). Hence. story of Charlemagne‟s feats or legends of King Arthur (perhaps a Roman-Briton) are all preserved with equal care and enthusiasm. Again. As the central authority decayed.from these seeds of differences some kind of harmony was imagined that gave rise to the concept of a unified English nation. the importance of the local leadership. had every reason to mourn. They sought for heroic ideals in a man. he was the one who could save his people from dangers of every sort. (which was in most of the cases an economically self-sufficient one). heroic society was dependent on the leadership qualities of a single man. The concept of the heroic society is based on the fundamental principle of the warrior owing loyalty to his master or lord in return for his generous gifts. whom they believed to be greater than all others for his martial prowess and mental attributes. Such concept of loyalty and rewards can also be found in the later age of feudalism. Two different and opposite forces can be responsible for this gradual change in the society. As you have already seen. a Lyre was also found. which was preserved in a leather bag.

These synods were the occasions when people could unite as the member of a Church and not of different kingdoms. gave each bishop his own district to manage. the religion spread slowly but consistently and its effect was so overwhelming that when King Offa brought his neighbouring kingdoms under Mercia he proclaimed his right „in the name of Jesus Christ… through whom sovereigns reign and divide the kingdoms of the earth‟. Ethelbert was converted and his kingdom followed his example. his choice had a great importance in the ecclesiastical history of Britain. In 664 CE a synod was held at Whitby to consider the matter in which the verdict of King Oswy went in favour of the Roman Church. which we shall look at in some details. the last person to convert was the King Penda of Mercia. who was chosen to be the Archbishop of Canterbury by the Pope. In 597 CE Christianity arrived again. Theodore of Tarsus. In 634 CE St. King Oswy was an important royal figure at that time: he was the king of Northumbria and after defeating Penda in the battle of Winwaed. missionaries of Celtic origin came from Ireland settled in Scotland. Slowly other kingdoms followed. King Alfred also asked the Danish warlord Guthrun to embrace Christianity as a part of the peace treaty of Wedmore. through a mission sent by Pope Gregory the Great. the very place where Hengest and Horsa had landed fifty years ago. Christian missionaries headed by Augustine landed at Ebbsfleet in Kent. another space of public interaction that strengthened their bond as a community. The Church was established but was not unified as there were several kingdoms. Advent of Christianity and its Effect on the Social Structure Christianity came to the island in two phases: first with the early Romans. p 10 . This time. First the king of Kent. In 669. Thus. He divided the land into dioceses. and the entire community shall willingly participate. who resisted this religion for thirteen years and it was only after his death in a battle. a Scot. he had established himself as King of Mercia and called himself a Bretwelda. and its stay and influence were short-lived because of the coming of the Anglo-Saxons who were pagan. Meanwhile. It is told that certain practices of these two churches differed from one another. Aidan. took up the task of unifying the Church. a Greek monk. Thus you shall also encounter the recurrent image of the mead hall and songs in the non-Christian heroic literature of the period. The lyre would pass from hand to hand round the hall. came from Iona and set up a monastery in Lindisfarne. Module I.other hand had to be generous in his rewards to recognise the loyalty of his followers and also confirm his reputation. his followers were converted. They would also entertain the poets who whose performance of poetry was a mode of entertainment in which the greatest and the humblest would join and enjoy. In the second phase. Unit I. and held national synods. each having its own church.

vow. and an essential part of Anglo-Saxon social ethos was character. To a war. The clergy were sympathetic to the rulers in general for a stronger ruler would be more useful for the extension of the kingdom of God on earth. the pagan Anglo- such things would amount to boasting and self- Saxons highly regarded such behaviour as a exhibitionism. or promise. as history proceeds one would find that the kings engaging in just wars (bellum justum) to spread the word of God and the Church defending the king as someone not chosen by his people but sent by God. Unit I. (Source: Wikipedia) Yet in spite of such differences. ritualized boast. past glorious deeds. leading directly to the usually accompanied by grand stories of one's action which brings lof. The kings could also use the benefits of an organised church for his administrative work and for furthering his imperialist purpose. the praise of one‟s peers. p 11 . The principle of a beot is to proclaim one's torn race. and reverses Module I. bravery. a typical warrior may boast that he will be the first to strike a blow in a battle. Although other cultures and and dom their esteem. Beots were central to Germanic virtue. This change in attitude towards viewing kingship alters the relationship between the governed and the governor. Superbia (pride). For swift. But after Christianisation times might disdain boasting as a sign of arrogance. unquestionably opposed to the Christian Examples of the beot can be seen throughout the epic poem Beowulf. Likewise. such as when Beowulf humilitas.Apart from giving the sense of a unification and brotherhood. that he made much less progress in the sixth century would claim a renowned sword from enemy among the Anglo-Saxons than anywhere else. positive sign of one's determination. the church worked in harmony with the monarch making each other stronger in their acquisition and consilidation of power over the people. But the Christian philosophy was in order to gain tremendous glory for actually accomplishing it. that he will slay a 3) The heroic qualities like beot or assertion was particular monster that has been wreaking havoc on a town or village. that and so on. Christianity also changed the A beot is an Anglo-Saxon word signifying a lifestyle and philosophy of the people. Thus. or sinful pride. the message of peace was a welcome acceptance of a seemingly impossible challenge change. vows to fight Grendel without using any weapons or armour. threat. markedly different from the ideology of the heroic society and we must also understand that Anglo-Saxon warriors would usually deliver beots in the mead hall the night before a military Christianisation process was neither easy nor engagement or during the battle itself.‟ (P warrior as spoils of battle. Patrick Wormald writes that „Christianity… example. a vice.

Laws were no longer made in the folk-moots but by the king and the legal institutions of the state. From heroic Module and elegiac poetry to Christian prose. the task of uniting the people was then done by Christianity and good governance. „What began as a simple pact of mutual benefit between Church and State at a time of crisis. thirdly. thus literacy becomes an important social requirement.the structure of the society—the monarchical power becomes independent from the popular will and to disobey the vicarius dei (Christ‟s substitute on earth) or Christus domini (Lord‟s anointed) is as grave as committing a sin. secondly. likewise. ceremonial elaboration and practical power evolving side by side‟. The old Germanic overlord was now a sacred person demanding not only allegiance or loyalty of his people but material possession and obedience. finally. War was no longer meant for personal victory but for the social or rather national cause. widows and orphans. the nature of hero also changes in literature. keen to join in a battle with death and shall honour the Cross as the sign of salvation and proclaim to the world the news of the Second Coming. the administration became more centralised. The entente between religion and politics becomes the source of practical power. We no longer have the angry proud slayer of monsters but an ecclesiastically sanctioned hero who fights for the uplift of the poor. literature graduates from oral to written state. thought- Unit I. . it could no a. Advent of Christianity had a tremendous and long-lasting impact on the field of literature. we gradually move from the migratory heroic society to feudal society where the subjects or the vassals are bound to the king in terms of land and law. p 12 process of the people that accompanies any socio-economic change. just as the relation between the king and his subjects changed due to Christian influence. the literature represents the change in theI.  As the economy became more dependent on agriculture and landed property. the older comitatus turned into the landed nobility and the ceorlisc class sank into the Reclinitudes. the Folc-land became royal demesne. (Swanton 12) This initiated a number of changes in the society: the church and the state got united and created a centre of power and authority. who is an Anglo-Saxon hero. people‟s dependence on land increases. there was an increasing need felt to translate the Latin texts to vernacular English for the better understanding of the indigenous clergy.  The Migration Age occasioned for this great mingling of cultures while the English soil accommodated them. fourthly. one who is the guardian of the society. As the power consolidates. develops into an increasingly rigid interdependence. Hero of Beowulf is metamorphosed into the dreamer of the Dream of the Rood. longer support the values of a heroic society. We shall look at these points again in greater details when we read Christian poetry and prose. Summing Up:  The early history of England shows how the English identity has been formed of different cultural identities and ethnic origins. this gave rise to a new body of literature which is distinctly homiletic in purpose. since Christianity is a religion of the Book. the Churches become the seat of learning and preservation of different manuscripts.  This gradual transformation of the society is also reflected in its literature. Firstly. but for the time being we shall simply note the most important points. and the heroic culture united them for the pursuit of a common goal: glory and pride.