The Anglo-Saxon Invasion of Britain

Beyond Gildas and Bede


  • Sarah Solomatin Department of Secondary Education, University of Alberta



The Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries is typically a story of slaughter and
destruction. This is largely because Gildas, the only known contemporary to write about the events,
portrayed it as such, and subsequent writers have taken his interpretation as fact. However, Gildas was
not a historian, nor did he claim to be. Modern archeological research has proven that Gildas exaggerated
much of the destruction he claims took place, but this has not changed the popular notion that the
Anglo-Saxons conquered and subdued the native Britons. However, the literature, art, and language of
the Saxons and the Britons prior to and during the Anglo-Saxon period indicates the two peoples must
have joined together in more than just war. However, the question remains: to what extent did this
affect the peoples, and the culture that emerged from this period? This paper uses an interdisciplinary
approach. First, it uses archeological evidence to critically examine the modern historiographic
evidence for the conquer-and-destroy model of Anglo-Saxon colonization. It then uses literary analysis
to demonstrate the Celtic story-telling influences in the Anglo-Saxon literary opus Beowulf, and finally
considers the linguistic evidence of Celtic language influences on Old English. Ultimately, though the
Anglo-Saxon language (Old English) emerged as the dominant language of the island, there was far more
cultural exchange between the two peoples than has previously been acknowledged. This is crucial to
understanding this important era of British history and the development of British-English culture.






Social Sciences & Humanities