Copyright © 2007 Dorling Kindersley
In AD 285 the Roman Empire divided into eastern and western parts, each with its own emperor. Despite this reorganization, by around 400 the western empire could no longer hold out against waves of invading barbarian tribes from northeastern Europe. In 410, Rome itself was attacked.
For the Romans, the Germanic tribes moving across the empire were destructive, disorderly “barbarians.” Over time, these migrant peoples did settle down, eventually giving their names to their new homelands: the Franks in France, the ANGLES AND SAXONS in England, the Lombards in northern Italy, and so on.
The Huns were a nomadic people from today’s Turkestan. Mounted on swift ponies, and armed with bows and arrows, Hun armies rode deep into the Roman Empire in search of plunder. They were not interested in conquering land.
Angles and Saxons, who were later known as Anglo-Saxons, lived along the North Sea coast. They began to raid Britain while it was under Roman rule. After 410, when the Roman army left, they arrived in larger numbers to settle, and gradually took over much of eastern Britain.
The Angles and Saxons were pagan, seafaring people, and ships played an important part in their culture. They believed that boats could ferry a dead person’s spirit to the next world. People who had been wealthy when they were alive were buried in ships, together with the comforts and treasures they were expected to enjoy in the next world. Poorer Anglo-Saxons were sometimes buried with a few ship’s planks.
Around 200, the climate became warmer and sea levels rose, which made life more difficult for the Angles and Saxons living on the North Sea coast. At the same time, they were being squeezed by other westward-moving Germanic peoples. Some of the first Anglo-Saxons in Britain may have been soldiers, hired to protect villages against other raiders.