Speak Like a Saxon

have you ever wondered what Anglo-Saxon might have sounded like ?

Despite first appearances, the English we speak now is a direct descendant of Anglo-Saxon. So have you ever wondered what Anglo-Saxon might have sounded like ? In this article we look at one particular epic Anglo-Saxon poem, ‘The Battle of Maldon’ to see how Anglo-Saxon was written and how it would have sounded.

When the Saxon invaders came to Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries they brought with them their own language. Although they did not kill all the native Britons they did almost destroy their language and replacing the native ‘Celtic’ language with their own ‘Germanic’ tongue. With the new language, of course, came new place names, many of which survive to the present day. The existing settlements were not destroyed, but the Saxons found the names difficult to pronounce, so they renamed them in their own language.

The Anglo-Saxon poem of ”The Battle of Maldon” is an excellent example of written and spoken Early English. It’s split into 3 sections below with the Anglo-Saxon text, a modern English translation and a narration of the poem so we can again here the ancient tongue of early English. It’s fun to see how much we can recognize from a direct descendant of our modern language that’s over 1,000 years old.

The Battle of Malden

The Battle of Maldon is a poem describing a historical skirmish between East Saxons and Viking (mainly Norwegian) raiders in 991. The poem is remarkable for its vivid, dramatic combat scenes and for its expression of the Germanic ethos of loyalty to a leader. The poem, as it survives, opens with the war parties aligned on either side of a stream (the present River Blackwater near Maldon, Essex). The Vikings offer the cynical suggestion that the English may buy their peace with golden rings. The English commander Earl Byrhtnoth replies that they will pay their tribute in spears and darts.

The poem is incomplete hence the rather odd beginning!

Lines 1-99 Show Verses >>

Lines 100-229 Show Verses >>

Lines 230-325 Show Verses >>

FACTOID #1 : Where did they come from?
Angles, Saxons and Jutes migration 400-500 AD

Angles, Saxons and Jutes migration 400-500 AD

The Anglo-Saxons are in fact a combination of 3 different European peoples: the Angles; Saxons and Jutes. They originated from what is modern day Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.

The impetus to move was land pressure in their home countries. The land was often of poor quality, often flooded and therefore proved difficult to grow crops, so they were looking for new places to farm. In addition some Britons invited them to keep out invaders from Scotland and Ireland, offering them money in return.

The native Britons were gradually displaced by the invaders. Those that didn”t like the Anglo-Saxons fled westward to live in Wales and Cornwall. The evidence of which we can still see today in the Celtic languages of Welsh & Cornish.

FACTOID #2 : The Anglo Saxon Alphabet and Writing System Old English / Anglo-Saxon (Englisc)

Old English was the West Germanic language spoken in the area now known as England between the 5th and 11th centuries. Speakers of Old English called their language Englisc, themselves Angle, Angelcynn or Angelfolc and their home Angelcynn or Englaland. Old English began to appear in writing during the early 8th century. Most texts were written in West Saxon, one of the four main dialects. The other dialects were Mercian, Northumbrian and Kentish.

The Anglo-Saxon Alphabet

Old English / Anglo-Saxon was sometimes written with a version of the Runic alphabet, brought to Britain by the Anglo-Saxons until about the 11th century.

Runic inscriptions are mostly found on jewellery, weapons, stones and other objects. Very few examples of Runic writing on manuscripts have survived.

Runic Inscriptions Old English Alphabet
FACTOID #3 : Days of the Week

The days of the week are named after early Anglo-Saxon Gods:

  • Monday : The Moon is the Goddess of hunting. She wears a white robe and carries a bow and arrow.
  • Tuesday : Tiw is the God of war. He dresses like an Anglo-Saxon warrior and carries a battle-axe.
  • Wednesday : Woden is the chief God. He dresses like a king and carries a spear to show his authority.
  • Thursday : Thunor is the God of thunder. He dresses like a warrior and carries a bolt of lightening.
  • Friday : Freya is the Goddess of love and the wife of Woden. She carries no symbols because she is so beautiful.
  • Saturday : Saturn is the God of fun and feasting. He is fat and jolly.
  • Sunday : The Sun is the God of life. He is often shown as a youth with a sun halo.

Author: Robert

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