N. A. Vavilov aspects of british history

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The Anglo-Saxon Period (450–1066)

Pre-reading questions

When and why do you think the land of Celtic Britons became ‘England’?

Where do you think the Anglo-Saxons came from?

What do you think happened to the Britons?

The Conquest

At first the Germanic tribes only raided Britain, but after the Romans had left, they began to settle in large numbers. The Anglo-Saxon raids were part of a general migration of Germanic tribes in search of new lands for growing population1.

The Britons fought the raiders and settlers from Germany as well as they could. In the west of the country the Anglo-Saxon advance was temporarily halted by an army of Britons under the command of the legendary King Arthur2. However, the Britons were slowly pushed westwards into the mountains of Wales and northwards into Scotland. A great number of Britons crossed the English Channel and settled in the north-western peninsula of Gaul, which they gave a new name Brittany3. (See the map in Unit 6). Some Celts stayed behind and were either Saxonized or became slaves of the Anglo-Saxons.

Around the year 600, almost all of present-day England was under Anglo-Saxon rule. Hardly anything is left of Celtic language and culture in England, except for the names of some rivers (Thames, Severn, Avon). They have survived only in Scotland and Wales, as well as in Ireland and Brittany.

Radical changes

The Anglo-Saxons established seven kingdoms, some of which still exist in the county or regional names to this day: Essex (East Saxons), Sussex (South Saxons), Wessex (West Saxons), East Anglia (East Angles).

The seven kingdoms were first united into one under Egbert of Wessex, who became the first king of England (829–839). And the country got its new name, England, ‘the land of Angles’.

One of the institutions created by the Anglo-Saxons in the ninth century was the King’s Council, called the Witan, which included nobles and senior churchmen. The Witan advised the king on important matters and was the highest law court. When a king died, the Witan chose a successor.

The Anglo-Saxons had little use for towns, which fell into disrepair. But they had a great effect on the countryside, where they founded the thousands of self-sufficient villages which formed the basis of English society during the next thousand or so years. They cut down many forest areas in the valleys to make new fields.

The Anglo-Saxons divided the land into new administrative areas  shires. Over each shire was appointed a shire reeve (OE scir-gerefa), the king’s local administrator. In time his title became shortened to sheriff. These shires, established by the end of the tenth century, have remained almost exactly the same for a thousand years. ‘Shire’ is the Saxon word which is now obsolete; it has been replaced with the Norman word county but still exists in the names of over 20 modern counties in England: Derbyshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, etc.

Back to Europe

Christianity reached Britain and Ireland well before it was accepted by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great in 313. In the fourth century Christianity became firmly established across Britain, both in Roman-controlled areas and beyond. However, the Anglo-Saxons were pagan when they came to Britain. In the seventh century England became Christian very quickly4. Many bishops and monks in England were from Europe. They were invited by English rulers who wished to benefit from closer church and economic contact with Europe. Anglo-Saxon England became well known in Europe for its exports of wool and woollen goods, cheese, metal goods, hunting dogs, etc. It imported wine, fish, pepper, jewellery.


1. The Angles and the Saxons were the two most powerful of the Germanic tribes that invaded Britain. All the Angles moved to Britain and settled the north (East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbia), the Saxons occupied most of the south (but most of the Saxons ‘stayed at home’, in Germany. See: Saxony, Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt in a map of Germany), and Kent was settled by the Jutes. The Anglo-Saxon and Jutish settlers came from northern Germany and present-day Denmark (Jutland).

The word ‘Anglo-Saxon’ is used to describe all the newcomers (Angles англы, Saxons саксы, саксонцы, Jutes юты, Frisians фризы), their language (Anglo-Saxon = Old English) and a period in British history (about 450-1066).

2. In folklore and myth King Arthur is a great English hero, and he and his Knights of the Round Table are regarded as the perfect example of medieval nobility and chivalry. In fact, he lived long before medieval times and was a Romanized Celt trying to hold back the advances of the Anglo-Saxons – the very people who became ‘the English’! This is practically all we know about King Arthur, if he ever existed.

myth миф

ֽmedi'eval средневековый

no'bility благородство

chivalry ['∫Iv-] рыцарство

3. Brittany (Fr. Brétagne) Бретань. The immigrant Britons retained their language and culture for some time but were eventually assimilated by the French. The name of the province has survived.

retain сохранять

4. The ruling class was brought to the new faith by Augustine, a monk sent by the pope, who became the first archbishop of Canterbury. It was the Celtic bishops from the monasteries of Wales, Ireland and Scotland who brought Christianity to the ordinary people, walking from village to village in Anglo-Saxon areas. In the late 7th century Rome (the pope) extended its authority over the Celtic Church.

monk [mANk] монах

(arch)bishop (архи)епископ


1. halt an advance

остановить наступление

2. 'temporary


3. 'legendary


4. push

зд. теснить

5. hardly anything

syn. almost (next to) nothing

почти ничего

6. the King’s Council, the Witan

Королевский Совет, Витан

7. nobles


8. senior churchmen

высшее духовенство

9. law court


10. issue laws

принимать законы

11. successor


12. have little use for sth

не видеть (не испытывать) большой нужды в чем-л.

13. self-sufficient

экономически независимый, самообеспеченный

14. administrative area

административная единица

15. county

графство; округ (в США)

NB. A large area that includes several towns and their surrounding countryside and forms a unit of local government. England is now divided into 46 counties.

shire ['∫aIə] уст. графство, округ; В названиях графств произносится
[-∫iə]: Hampshire, etc.

16. 'obsolete [obs.]

вышедший из употребления, устарелый [уст.]

17. appoint

He was appointed manager.


Его назначили управляющим.

18. 'pagan

1. язычник

2. языческий

19. benefit from

извлекать пользу, выгоду из ч.-л.

20. jewellery

ювелирные изделия

21. 'export (n)

'import (n)

ex'port (v)
im'port (v)

вывоз, экспорт

ввоз, импорт



NB. Большое число двусложных романских заимствований – грамматических омонимов – различаются местом ударения, что можно выразить так: import ['– –] (n): [–'–] (v).


1. Read the text. Look up new words in the vocabulary.

2. Read the following phrases aloud. Find the sentences with these phrases in the text. Translate them into Russian.

a) Germanic tribes; to settle in large numbers; part of a general migration; in search of new land; their advance was halted; the legendary King Arthur; in the northwestern peninsula of Gaul; hardly anything is left.

b) In the county and regional names; to establish seven kingdoms; to unite the kingdoms into one; nobles and senior churchmen; to advise the king on important matters; to choose a successor; to have a great effect on the countryside; self-sufficient villages; new administrative areas; to appoint a sheriff.

c) To become firmly established; bishops and monks; close church and economic contact with Europe; well known for its wool.

3. Comprehension check: Answer the following questions. Check your answers with the text.

1. Where did the new invaders come from?

2. What were the names of the Germanic tribes?

3. Did the Britons offer resistance (fight back)?

4. How long did the Anglo-Saxon conquest of former Roman Britain last?

5. What happened to the Britons?

6. What new name did the conquered territory get? Why?

7. What was the role of the Witan?

8. What changes did the Anglo-Saxons make in the country?

9. When did England accept Christianity?

10. Did England have contact with the outside world?
4. Put a preposition in each gap. Underline the prepositions in your notebooks.

a) ___ first the Anglo-Saxons raided Britain. Then they began to settle ___ large numbers. ___ the west ___ the country their advance was temporarily halted ___ a Celtic army _____ the command ___ King Arthur. However, the Britons were slowly pushed _____ the mountains ___ Wales and Scotland. ___ the end ___ the sixth century the Anglo-Saxon way ___ life predominated ___ nearly all ____ England. Hardly anything is left _____ Celtic language and culture ____ England _____ _____ the names ___ some rivers. The larger part ___ Britain got its new name, England, ‘the land ___ Angles’.

b) One ___ the institutions created ___ the Anglo-Saxons was the Witan. It consisted ___ nobles and churchmen who advised the king ___ certain matters. ___ the countryside the Anglo-Saxons founded thousands ___ self-sufficient villages which formed the basis ___ English society ____ the next thousand years. The country was divided _____ shires, or counties. ___ each shire was appointed a sheriff.

c) England became Christian ___ the seventh century. Many bishops were invited ___ English rulers _____ Europe. England benefited _____ close economic ties _____ Europe. It became well known ___ the mainland ____ its exports ___ woollen and metal goods, cheese, etc.

5. Put the verbs in brackets in the correct tense and voice. Underline the verb forms in your notebooks.

a) The Germanic tribes (to begin) to settle in Britain after the Romans (to leave). A great number of Britons (to cross) into Gaul after the Anglo-Saxons (to invade) the island. By the end of the sixth century the Anglo-Saxons (to occupy) all of former Roman Britain. Celtic culture (to survive) only in Wales and Scotland.

b) The land (to divide) into new administrative areas, 'shires', which (to remain) practically the same to this day. The Anglo-Saxons (to have) little use for towns. They (to found) thousands of self-sufficient villages which (not to depend) on the outside world. They (to be) the basis of English society for nearly ten centuries.

c) The Anglo-Saxons (to be) pagan when they (to arrive) in Britain. By the mid-seventh century most of England (to become) Christian. England (to export) metal and woollen goods, cheese, etc. Wine, spices, jewellery and other goods (to import) from the European mainland.

6. Change the following sentences to passive. Underline the verb forms in your notebooks.

The Anglo-Saxons raided and invaded Britain. They drove the Britons westwards and northwards into the mountains. A great number of Britons who left their homes settled the north-west of Gaul. The Anglo-Saxons founded a number of kingdoms. They created some new institutions. They called one of them the Witan. They founded thousands of self-sufficient villages. They divided the country into new administrative areas – shires. Kings appointed a sheriff over each shire. In time the Norman word ‘county’ replaced the Anglo-Saxon word ‘shire’. In the seventh century the Roman Church and the Celtic Church brought England to Christianity.

7. Write questions to these answers.

1. They came from northern Germany and Denmark. 2. It took them about one hundred and fifty years 3. Most Britons were driven from their land. 4. England, ‘the land of Angles’. 5. Its members were the king’s advisers on various matters. 6. No, they did not need the towns. They founded thousands of villages and lived there for hundreds of years. 7 No, shires and sheriffs were instituted by the Anglo-Saxons. 6. They were pagan. 9. In the seventh century. 10. Yes, England did a lot of trade with European countries.

8. Give the English equivalents to these phrases.

a) Миграция германских племен; в поисках новых земель; на западе страны; под командованием короля Артура; большое число бриттов; дать (получить) новое название; около 600 года; ничего кроме названий некоторых рек.

b) Сохраняться в названиях графств; так называемый Витан; состоять из аристократов и духовенства; давать королю совет; выбирать преемника; оказать большое воздействие; назначать местных администраторов; оставаться почти неизменным.

c) Принять христианство; утвердиться по всей Британии; в римской Британии и за ее пределами; приглашать епископов и монахов из Европы; получать выгоду от экономических контактов; экспорт шерсти и металлических изделий.

9. True or false? Give an adequate response to each statement. Do not content yourselves with sayingYesorNo’.

1. The Anglo-Saxons came to Britain to settle and succeeded in it.

2. The Celtic Britons welcomed the newcomers from Germany.

3. King Arthur was an English king and hero.

4. The Britons were driven from their land or made slaves.

5. Nothing was left of Celtic language and culture in England.

6. The country got its new name, the United Kingdom.

7. The Witan was a kind of elected parliament.

8. The Anglo-Saxons occupied the towns and began to expand them.

9. ‘Shires’, the new administrative areas, were introduced by the Anglo-Saxons.

10. The Anglo-Saxons became Christian after they had settled in Britain.

11. England did a lot of trade with European countries.

10. Points for discussion. (Summarize the text according to the following suggestions).

1. The Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain.

2. The fate of the Britons and their culture.

3. The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

4. A new institution – the Witan.

5. The towns and the countryside.

6. Shires and sheriffs.

7. Change to Christianity.

8. Contact with the European mainland.
11. Translate into English.

В конце IV века римские легионы постепенно начали покидать Британию, чтобы сражаться против варварских племен, вторгавшихся в Галлию и другие римские провинции на континенте. В 409 г. были отозваны последние римские солдаты, и бриттам пришлось обороняться в одиночку против пиктов (Picts) и скоттов, совершавших набеги с севера.

Вожди бриттов обратились за помощью к англосаксам. Последние нанесли поражение северным налетчикам, но уходить отказались. Наоборот, все больше англосаксов прибывали из Германии. Они начали нападать на бриттов и селиться. Они выбирали лучшие места, чтобы строить свои деревни. Около 150 лет бритты сражались против германских племен, но к 600 году большинство из них были оттеснены на запад и север или переселились в Галлию.

Каждая группа пришельцев приносила с собой свои обычаи и традиции, которые скоро заменили как римский образ жизни, так и кельтскую культуру. Старые географические названия, за исключением некоторых рек и городов, были заменены новыми. К середине 7 века большинство англосаксов приняли христианство.

Во время англосаксонского завоевания большинство кельтов были вытеснены из низменной части Британии в Уэльс и Шотландию. В Уэльсе они жили в долинах меж высоких гор. Страна долгое время была разделена на несколько королевств, но в 1043 г. они были объединены в одно. Уэльс оставался независимым до конца 13 века. Завоевание Уэльса было завершено в 1282 г. королем Эдуардом I, который построил там каменные замки, чтобы демонстрировать свою мощь. Он также установил традицию давать титул «Принца Уэльского» старшему сыну и наследнику монарха.

В 1536 г., при Генрихе VIII, английский сделали официальным языком в Уэльсе. Но уэльский сохранился. Ныне он преподается в школе и используется на Уэльском ТВ канале. Все здесь могут говорить по-английски, а около 20% людей говорят и на английском, и на уэльском. Вывески повсюду – на обоих языках. Есть и уэльская культура. Ежегодно в августе проводится фестиваль уэльской музыки, поэзии, песни и танца. Это конкурс, и в конце фестиваля выбираются победители. Там можно увидеть и национальные костюмы.

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