Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Barbarians: The Saxons

In this captivating instalment of ‘Barbarians’, we tell the sensational story of the Saxons – the Germanic tribe who once inhabited the Danish peninsula and northern Germany. In the early Middle Ages, the Saxons migrated from their homelands under pressure from the Franks. They settled in various parts of Europe; they originally came to Britain at the invitation of the British chieftain Vortigern, who asked them to help defend his country against Pictish and Irish invaders.

This episode outlines the piracy undertaken by the savage Saxons in the North Sea and the English Channel. We reveal how they ravaged the coast of Britain, destroying Roman defences, and occupying land. We look at the weaponry they deployed in order to secure their territorial conquests. The name ‘Saxon’ is said to be derived from their national weapon, the seax, a short thrusting sword, in the same way that the Franks, the spearmen, took their name from the Old English franca, a javelin.

According to the English historian Bede, the Saxons arrived in Britain in 449. With a formidable arsenal of weaponry, these pagan forces swept across the country, facing the Christians in battle; and squaring up to their barbarian brothers in a bloody rivalry for power and land. In around 450, their piratical raids ended, and they established their first settlements in southern England.

We examine the blood-soaked story of Edwin, a Saxon prince who fled across Britain after witnessing the ruthless slaughter of his entire family. He gathered his forces, and waited until he was strong enough to enter a battle with his arch-enemy, Aethelfrith. His triumphant victory made him one of the greatest kings of his tribe.

Edwin’s power and fame stood unparalleled and unchallenged until Alfred appeared on the scene. The young, brilliant king defended his people against the merciless Viking invaders, uniting his land, and laying the foundations of English nationhood.


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