Anglo-Saxon hegemony in Early Medieval Britain: Cultural and political dominance by foreign minority groups
By Thea Kveiland
Master’s Thesis, University of Oslo, 2019
Abstract: During the Migration Period and the Early Middle Ages both the political and cultural situation in Britain became completely and utterly changed. Where the Western Roman Empire previously had exerted power over the Celtic British population for more than three decades, it appeared as if next to all elements of Roman or British origin was eradicated and instead exchanged with culturally Germanic features. This was traditionally explained with an Anglo-Saxon genocide of the British.
The evidence presented in this thesis, however, rather point to a large degree of continuity between Roman and Anglo-Saxon Britain, both when it comes to the rural population and the elite. The conclusion drawn is that the conditions of post-Roman Britain largely contributed to the rapid adoption of Anglo-Saxon culture among the Romano-British elite, in that the population was very much accustomed to a foreign and culturally different people being superior, and as such were more inclined to accept and adapt to the changes. The distinctly insular Anglo-Saxon culture which developed after the adventus Saxonum – the coming of the Anglo-Saxons – did so with a larger degree of British influence than earlier thought, resulting in an elite with mixed British, Roman and Germanic ethnicities.
This is reflected in both the archaeological and linguistic material and if one closely examines the written sources. The cultural expression of this elite group was, however, very much Anglo-Saxon, with strong connotations to and ideals of a Germanic heritage. This elite culture obscured or pushed away other cultures, as the chaotic nature of the times made strong identifying and empowering statements necessary, effectively speeding up the process.
Top Image: Silver-gilt plated disc brooch, dating to the 6th or 7th century. The brooch contains a nielloed border and gold appliqué with cloisonné garnet and glass cross, five shell bosses and filigree – ©Trustees of the British Museum