Why did the Anglo-Saxons come to Britain?

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How the Romans invited the Saxons

Near the end of Roman rule, Britain was being attacked by the Picts and Scots from the north, and the Anglo-Saxons from the sea.

The Romans built forts to defend the coast and Hadrian's wall defended the north.

Saxon warriors were invited to Britain in around AD380 to help the Romans fight the Picts.

The last Roman soldiers were ordered to leave in around AD410. Britain no longer had the strong Roman army to defend it from the invaders. There were many battles between Anglo-Saxons and Britons. Over time, the Anglo-Saxons took control of most of Britain.

The myth of Hengest and Horsa

There is a myth that the Saxons arrived to take over Britain in AD449. They had two leaders, Hengest and Horsa.

This story was written by an Anglo-Saxon monk called Bede in AD730 and in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles after AD890. No one knows if it’s true.

Where did the Anglo-Saxons settle?

The Anglo-Saxons settled in the eastern parts of Britain, in what is today Kent, Sussex, Essex, and East Anglia.

The majority of the native, British, population either remained where they were, or migrated (moved) west, to what became Wales and Cornwall.

Why did the Anglo-Saxons come to Britain?

To fight

The Anglo-Saxons arrived firstly as warriors employed by the Roman army and then, two generations later, as settlers, to farm the land.

To farm

Many Anglo-Saxons came peacefully, to find land to farm. Their homelands in Scandinavia often flooded so it was tough to grow enough food back there.

To make new homes

Whole families set sail across the sea in small boats to live in Britain. They brought tools, weapons and farm animals with them and built new villages.

They were invited

With Picts and Scots attacking from the north, the Britons invited some Anglo-Saxons to help defend them. But they didn’t leave! They took over.

How the Anglo-Saxons took over Pevensey Castle

One Roman fort in Sussex is Pevensey Castle. After the Romans left, the Britons used the fort at Pevensey as a place to live and be safe. But in AD491 the Anglo-Saxons attacked and took over the castle. We know this because archaeologists have found Anglo-Saxon pots inside.

This is Pevensey Castle today. It was built over 1,300 years ago on the coast of East Sussex.

This happened a lot to Roman towns and buildings. Most Anglo-Saxons kept clear of Roman towns, wanting to build their own houses. But warrior chiefs knew that a walled city was safe, so they would take control of them.

Most Roman buildings not taken over by the Anglo-Saxons were left to become ruins.

Pevensey was later turned into a castle by the Normans.


Activity 1: Settlers in Britain

Find out more about the Romans, the Britons, the Anglo-Saxons and the Picts.

Activity 2: Quiz – Anglo-Saxons' arrival in Britain