The ‘Anglo-Saxons’ inhabited what would become England following the fall of Rome, from c.410 up until the invasion of the Normans in 1066.
Their lives covered some momentous social changes – the widescale (re?)adoption of Christianity, the emergence of an idea of ‘England’, invasion and occupation by the ‘Vikings’ and finally the introduction of feudalism. It’s a period remembered for its kings: Alfred ‘the Great’, Æthelred ‘the Unready’, Edward ‘the Confessor’. But there’s also a lot more to the period than the ‘great men’ of 20th century history-writing. Powerful women, both royal and ecclesiastical, emerge from the written sources and archaeology. The working masses, slaves, and ecclesiatical figures are all identifiable. The hidden forces of cultural exchange and competition, of ideology and identity, are hard to pin-down, but ever-present.
The study of pre-Conquest England remains lively, and new ideas and approaches are emerging. Advances in archaeological sciences lead to new data, inter-disciplinarity with the social sciences has promoted new approaches to old evidence, and an increased awareness of the use of history within modern political discourse has promoted a re-evaluation of how we use this period in defining our current world.
This web page is an attempt to compile an easy and accessible introduction to a study of the history and archaeology of pre-Conquest England. While keen scholars will find nothing new here, it is hoped that those at a loss of where to start their study of the period, or how to specialise on certain topics, will find it helpful. It does not pretend to be complete – no such resource could ever be, especially one made by me. In fact, a ‘complete’ resource would be unhelpfully overwhelming here – this is a collection of some content, as an introduction. Where possible, free or affordable resources have been stressed, in an attempt to increase access to history for everyone, irespecitve of background.
This is a working document – it will be updated over time when I can spend more time on it, or when new books are published. If you have any suggestions for new additions, please do post them in the comments below.
#ComissionsEarned (This post includes Amazon Affiliate links) – As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. If you want to buy any of these books do please consider using the links provided – it doesn’t effect the price you pay at all, but I get a little kick-back.
The aim here is to highlight a number of books that act as an entry-point into the world of pre-Conquest England. Most of these provide extensive bibliographies, so if you find a theme of period you particularly like, you can easily follow up on this.
- Marc Morris, ‘The Anglo-Saxons‘ – A solid and incredibly readable introduction to the entire period, this is a great entry-point. It’s also nicely affordable in paperback.
- John Blair, ‘Building Anglo-Saxon England‘ – a masterful exploration of the archaeology of pre-Conquest England. However, this will likely be a little hard to access for those just entering archaeology for the first time, with a fair amount of complex jargon.
- Brink and Price, ‘The Viking World‘ – useful for the overlap with the Danelaw especially, this is a great (but expensive) resource for all of the Viking world.
- Cat Jarman, ‘River Kings‘ – perhaps the best introduction to how archaeologists work and think in early medieval spaces, with an important section on the Danelaw.
- The Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology – expensive, even in paperback, but this is an exhaustive compilation of the archaeological evidence across pre-Conquest England
- Martin Carver, ‘Sutton Hoo: Burial Ground of Kings?’ – an engaging and accessible (if a little dated) summary of England’s most famous archaeological site – the ship burial at Sutton Hoo.
- James Campbell, ‘The Anglo-Saxons‘ – now on the older side, but still a very useful introduction.
- Higham and Ryan ‘The Anglo-Saxon World‘
- Robin Fleming, ‘Britain after Rome. The Fall and Rise, 400 to 1070‘
Want a more complete collection of literature? Cambridge’s ASNC department has a list here – it’s absolutely huge and lacks some of the most recent publications, but if you’re trying to track down something specific, this is the place to look.
A study of any historical period must reply, ultimately, on the products of that time period. This list includes both literary written sources, and archaeological evidence where possible. Those on the left are books that need to be bought – the cheapest editions have been cited here. Those on the right are free online databases that can be accessed by anyone.
- Crossley-Holland, ‘The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology‘ – A nice all-round selection of sources. Need one book for light-reading/fun? Pick this one.
- Bede’s ‘Ecclesiastical History‘(translation)
- The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (translation)
- Beowulf, an epic poem of mosters and a dragon, exists in several important translation- Tolkien’s is epic, Heaney’s is poetic, and Headley’s is a modernised version.
- Asser’s Life of Alfred
- The Penguin Edition of Domesday Book is by far the most affordable.
- FREE AND ONLINE
- The Electronic Sawyer – Charters (legal documents, mostly covering the giving of land)
- The Corpus of Early Medieval Coin Finds – Numismatic (coin) Evidence
- Old English Poetry Project – translations
- The PAS Archaeology Database – a database of reported metaldetector finds in England, including pre-Conquest finds
- Electronic Beowulf – manuscripts and audio reading
- The Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture
- Early English Laws – Collection of legal texts
- The Exon Domesday Survey
- Internet Medieval Sourcebook – a collection of a whole load of primary sources
- Bayeux Tapestry Online – HD online images of every frame of the Bayeux Tapestry
- The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England (PASE) – every ‘Anglo-Saxon’ individual named in written sources is included in this database, alongside facts about their life
Past Seaxeducation.com blog posts
Previous blog posts from this website, covering a range of pre-Conquest topics and deep-dives into interesting questions. This list will be updated as more articles are written.
- Anglo-Saxon ship burials
- Snape – England’s other ship burial
- The Prittlewell Prince – Essex’s royal burial
- Old English Poetry in Facsimile
- Vikings in the Danelaw: An Archaeological Footprint
- The ‘Viking’ Settlement of Northumbria: Large and Archaeologically Distinctive, or Invisible?
- The Vikings and Post-colonialism
Language Resources – Books
Pre-Conquest history is well-served by a great number of translations to modern English, and you don’t need to learn any contemporary languages to enjoy studying this period. However, you may wish to learn the original languages in which texts were written, for either simple fun of learning a new langauge or for better access to primary materials. The major languages at play in this period are: Old English, (Medieval) Latin and, after the Conquest, Old (Norman) French.
- Drout’s Quick and Easy Old English – a cheap Ebook which gets you translating sentences almost immediately, this is probably my number 1 suggestion for anyone wanting to get going with Old English.
- Mitchell and Robinson, ‘A Guide to Old English‘
- Moreland and Fleischer, ‘Latin: An Intensive Course‘
- This one! Sign up with the email subscription box at the footer of this page
- British Library Medieval Manuscripts
- Lady of the Mercians – prefer your blog content in Tiktok format? Here you go!
- Old English Wordhord – OE Word of the Day
- Thegns of Mercia – A Reconstruction Society
- Thijs Porck’s Personal Blog
- Anglo-Saxon Portraits – short audio clips about important figures
- Ælfgif-who? – Biographies of early medieval English women
- Archaeodeath – blog of archaeologist Howard Williams
Traditionally these charge a yearly fee to become a member – they’re absolutely not a necessity, but can be fun to access more resources/ meet likeminded scholars etc.
- English Place Names Society
- International Society for the Study of Early Medieval England
- Society of Name Studies in Britain and Ireland
The following is a list of significant modern academics within the field, with links to their Academia.edu pages – these often provide free PDF versions of articles or book chapters for easy free access. This list is far from complete, and misses out very many important academic figures – it will be updated with time.
- Ann Williams (Tenth and Eleventh-Century)
- George Garnett (Norman Conquest)
- Robin Fleming (everything, but most recently the fall of Rome and early A-S period)
- Sarah Foot (Theology)
- Janet ‘Jinty’ Nelson (a little bit of everything!)
- Peter Sawyer (esp. charters)
- Susan Oosthuizen (archaeology, especially migration)
- Stephen Baxter (Late Saxon/ Norman Conquest)
- John Blair (Archaeology/ Ecclesiastical History/ Everything to be honest…)
- Helena Hamerow (Archaeology/ Agriculture)
- Helen Gittos (Archaeology/ Liturgy)
- Simon Keynes (Charters, Laws, Coins)
- Richard Dance (Lang and Lit)
- Rosalind Love (Literature, especially Insular Latin)
Just for Fun and Socials
- Create your own Bayeux Tapestry
- Anglo-Saxon Timelines Game
- The Dig – A Netflix film about the Sutton Hoo excavation
- r/anglosaxon – the reddit page for the study of this period, and sharing resources
- Anglo-Saxon History and Language – an exceptional Facebook page, frequently updated with more specific resources and a lively community.
- Anglo-Saxon Society – another impressive Facebook community.
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