1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Saxons

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SAXONS, a Teutonic people mentioned for the first time by Ptolemy about the middle of the 2nd century. At that time they are said to have inhabited the neck of the Cimbric peninsula, by which we have probably to understand the modern province of Schleswig, together with three islands lying off its western coast. We next hear of them in connexion with piratical expeditions in the North Sea about the year 286. These raids became more frequent during the 4th century, and at the beginning of the 5th century the northern coast of Gaul and the south-east coast of Britain were known as litora Saxonica, owing either to their liability to the attacks of the Saxons or, as some think, to the establishment of Saxon colonies there. During the same period the Saxons appear to have conquered a considerable portion of north-west Germany. According to their own traditions they landed at Hadeln in the neighbourhood of Cuxhaven and seized the surrounding districts from the Thuringians. It is clear that by the middle of the 4th century they had advanced westwards into the basin of the Yssel, from whence they drove the Prankish Salii into Batavia. In the following centuries we find them in possession of the whole of the basin of the Ems, except the coast district, while that of the Weser with all its tributaries belonged to them as far south as the Diemel, where they bordered on the Hessian Franks, the ancient Chatti. The conquest of the Boructuari who dwelt between the Lippe and the Ruhr marks the extent of their progress towards the south-west. This took place shortly before the end of the 7th century. They frequently came into conflict with the Franks and on several occasions had to submit to their supremacy, notably after their defeat by Clothaire I. in 553. No thorough conquest was, however, carried out until the time of Charlemagne, who, between the years 772 and 785, annexed the whole region as far as the Elbe, destroying in 772 the Irminsul, their great sanctuary, near Marsberg on the Diemel. Up to this time they had remained entirely heathen. In the 8th century and later we find the Saxons divided into three geographical districts known as Westfalahi (a name preserved in Westphalia), Angrarii and Ostfalahi, each of which had in several respects special customs of its own. They were ruled by a number of independent princes, but it is said that they had a national council which met annually at a place called Marklo on the Weser. At the beginning of the following century Charles also conquered the Saxons known as Nordalbingi in western Holstein, a district which had perhaps been occupied by a southward movement from the original home of the tribe.

It is doubtful how far the Saxons who invaded Britain were really distinct from the Angli, for all their affinities both in language and custom are with the latter and not with the Saxons (Old Saxons) of the continent. During the 5th century we hear also of Saxon settlements on the coasts of Gaul. The most important were those at the mouth of the Loire founded in the time of Childeric, Clovis's father, and at Bayeux, in a district which remained in their possession until towards the close of the 6th century. From the 6th century onwards, however, we hear practically nothing of the Saxons as a seafaring people. Almost all the southern coast of the North Sea had now come into the possession of the Frisians, and one can hardly help concluding that most of the maritime Saxons had either voluntarily or by conquest become incorporated in that kingdom.

See Ptolemy ii. 11; Eutropius ix. 21; Zosimus iii. 6; Ammianus Marcellinus xxvi. 4. 5, xxvii. 8. 5, xxviii. 2. 12, 7. 8, xxx. 5. I and 4; Notitia dignitatum; Gregory of Tours, Historia Francorum, ii. 19, iv. 10. 14, v. 27, x. 9; Bede, Hist. Eccl. v. 10 ff.; Annales Einhardi; Translatio S. Alexandri; Hucbald, Vita S. Lebuini; Widukind, Res Gestae Saxonicae, i. I ff. (F. G. M. B.)