The People & Language of Early Scotland

The Kingdom of the AnglesThe Angles

From the Kingdom of Bernicia the Angles threatened to conquer the whole of Scotland until their fortunes waned with heavy defeats against Picts and Vikings. They left us the language which became Old Scots - the language of Burns. They also left us the magnificent Ruthwell Cross and one of the earliest poems in the Anglian language, called 'The Dream of the Rood'.


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'The Dream of the Rood' is one of the earliest English language poems remaining, although it bears more resemblance to Old Scots (the linguistic legacy of the Angles in Scotland). Parts of the poem are inscribed on the Ruthwell Cross in germanic runes and a longer version exists in manuscript form. The poem describes the crucifixion of Christ from the point of view of the cross, which tells the story of its own suffering whilst holding up the suffering of Jesus. The Dark Age cult of the Holy Cross was popular in the British Isles and probably influenced the poem's composition. Below is the section of the poem which is carved on the Ruthwell Cross.

The Ruthwell Cross crucifixion poem

The Ruthwell CrossGod almighty stripped himself,

when he wished to climb the cross
bold before all men.
to bow I dared not,
but had to stand firm

I held high the great King,
heaven's Lord. I dared not bend.
Men mocked us both together.
I was slick with blood
sprung from the man's side.

Christ was on the cross.
But then quick ones came from afar,
nobles, all together. I beheld it all.
I was hard hit with grief; I bowed to warriors' hands.

Wounded with spears,
they laid him, limb-weary.
At his body's head they stood.
There they looked to heaven's Lord.


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