The Anglo-Saxons: Warriors Who Didn’t Get Paid

Anglo-Saxon and early medieval food.
Anglo-Saxons: peoples from mainland Europe who conquered parts of Britain.
An Anglo-Saxon era shield.

When the mighty Roman army left the island they called Britannia, in the 5th century, southern and central Britain were left without a coordinated, strong defense force. As a consequence, these areas now became targets of raids, and fear engulfed towns and villages exposed to violent attacks. For many Britons in former Roman areas, at this point, life become strictly about surviving, and as a desperate measure to repel the many intruders, the Britons decided to pay one group of raiders as mercenaries to fight off other groups of raiders. This, needless to say, was a risky endeavor, but luckily for the Britons, the trick succeeded. The group they had paid money to, the Angles and the Saxons, fended off the other raiders and temporarily saved Britain.

Warriors on stand-by

Satisfied with the mercenary defense, one of the many British kings thought that it was a good idea to keep the Anglo-Saxon warriors around on stand-by, in case more enemies showed up. Therefore, he offered the Anglo-Saxons food, land and precious metals in return for protection, with the offer being so good that the mercenary warriors accepted it. Intent on staying in Britain, owning land and receiving a steady income, the Anglo-Saxons then brought their families over from their native lands in present-day Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, and before long a large colony of people speaking Germanic languages had established itself in the southeast corner of the island.

The king unable to pay

Duly receiving their payments, for a while, the Anglo-Saxons lived well in Britain. However, unluckily for the Brits, one year the harvest was so bad that the king who had requested mercenary protection was unable to make the payments he was supposed to. This, as could be expected, enraged the Anglo-Saxons, who now began attacking British villages, stealing what they could and killing anyone who resisted. The brutal newcomers, still dissatisfied, then proceeded to conquer much of Britain, which they went on to rule for hundreds of years.

The centuries-long Anglo-Saxon rule in Britain, among other things, led to Germanic languages becoming the foundation of today’s English language. The words English and England themselves, quite symbolically, also come from the word Angles, the name of one of the Anglo-Saxon peoples.