Saxons

Saxonians
Sahson
Britain.Anglo.Saxon.homelands.settlements.400.500.jpg
Spread of Angles (red) and Saxons (yellow) around 500 AD
Regions with significant populations
Old Saxony, Jutland, Frisia, Heptarchy (England)
Languages
Old Saxon, Old English
Religion
Originally Germanic and Anglo-Saxon paganism, later Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Anglo-Saxons, Angles, Frisii, Jutes

The Saxons (Latin: Saxones, German: Sachsen, Old English: Seaxe, Old Saxon: Sahson, Low German: Sassen, Dutch: Saksen) were a Germanic people whose name was given in the early Middle Ages to a large country (Old Saxony, Latin: Saxonia) near the North Sea coast of what is now Germany.[1] In the late Roman Empire, the name was used to refer to Germanic coastal raiders, and also as a word something like the later "Viking".[2] In Merovingian times, continental Saxons were associated with the coast of what later became Normandy. Though sometimes described as also fighting inland, coming in conflict with the Franks and Thuringians, no clear homeland can be defined. There is possibly a single classical reference to a smaller homeland of an early Saxon tribe, but it is disputed. According to this proposal, the Saxons' earliest area of settlement is believed to have been Northern Albingia. This general area is close to the probable homeland of the Angles.

In contrast, the British "Saxons", today referred to in English as Anglo-Saxons, became a single nation bringing together Germanic peoples (Frisian, Jutish, Angle) with the Romanized natives, establishing long-lasting post-Roman kingdoms equivalent to those formed by the Franks on the continent. Their earliest weapons and clothing south of the Thames were based on late Roman military fashions, but later immigrants north of the Thames showed a stronger North German influence.[3][4] The term "Anglo-Saxon" came into use by the 8th century (for example Paul the Deacon) to distinguish English Saxons from continental Saxons (referred to in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as Ealdseaxe, "old Saxons"), but both the Saxons of Britain and those of Old Saxony (Northern Germany) continued to be referred to as 'Saxons' in an indiscriminate manner, especially in the languages of Britain and Ireland.

While the English Saxons were no longer raiders, the political history of the continental Saxons is unclear until the time of the conflict between their semi-legendary hero Widukind and the Frankish emperor Charlemagne. While the continental Saxons are no longer a distinctive ethnic group or country, their name lives on in the names of several regions and states of Germany, including Lower Saxony (which includes central parts of the original Saxon homeland known as Old Saxony), Saxony in Upper Saxony, as well as Saxony-Anhalt (which includes Old, Lower and Upper Saxon regions). The current state of Saxony has its name from dynastic history, and not their ethnic history.

Etymology

The remains of a seax together with a reconstructed replica

The Saxons may have derived their name from seax[5], a kind of knife for which they were known. The seax has a lasting symbolic impact in the English counties of Essex and Middlesex, both of which feature three seaxes in their ceremonial emblem. Their names, along with those of Sussex and Wessex, contain a remnant of the word "Saxon".

The Elizabethan era play Edmund Ironside suggests the Saxon name derives from the Latin saxa (stone):[6]

Their names discover what their natures are, More hard than stones, and yet not stones indeed.

— I.i.181-2

Saxon as a demonym

Celtic languages

In the Celtic languages, the words designating English nationality derive from the Latin word Saxones. The most prominent example, a loanword in English, is the Scottish word Sassenach, used by Scots- or Scottish English-speakers in the 21st century[7] as a jocular term for an English person. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gives 1771 as the date of the earliest written use of the word in English.

It derives from the Scottish Gaelic Sasannach (older spelling: Sasunnach). The Gaelic name for England is Sasann, and Sasannach (formed with a common adjective suffix -ach) means "English" in reference to people and things, though not to the English Language, which is Beurla.

Sasanach, the Irish word for an Englishman, has the same derivation, as do the words used in Welsh to describe the English people (Saeson, sing. Sais) and the language and things English in general: Saesneg and Seisnig.

Cornish terms the English Sawsnek, from the same derivation. In the 16th century Cornish-speakers used the phrase Meea navidna cowza sawzneck to feign ignorance of the English language.[8]

"England" in Scottish Gaelic is Sasann (older spelling: Sasunn, Genitive: Sasainn). Other examples include the Welsh Saesneg (the English language), Irish Sasana (England), Breton saoz(on) (English, saozneg "the English language", Bro-saoz "England"), and Cornish Sowson (English people), Sowsnek (English language), and Pow Sows for 'Land [Pays] of Saxons'.

Romance languages

The label "Saxons" (in Romanian: Sași) also became attached to German settlers who migrated during the 13th century to southeastern Transylvania. From Transylvania, some of these Saxons migrated to neighbouring Moldavia, as the name of the town Sas-cut shows. Sascut lies in the part of Moldavia that is today part of Romania.

During Georg Friederich Händel's visit to Italy (1706–09), much was made[by whom?] of his origins in Saxony; in particular, the Venetians greeted the 1709 performance of his opera Agrippina with the cry Viva il caro Sassone, "Cheers for the beloved Saxon!"[9]

Non-Indo-European languages

The Finns and Estonians have changed their usage of the root Saxon over the centuries to apply now to the whole country of Germany (Saksa and Saksamaa respectively) and the Germans (saksalaiset and sakslased, respectively). The Finnish word sakset (scissors) reflects the name of the old Saxon single-edged sword - seax - from which the name "Saxon" supposedly derives.[10] In Estonian, saks means "a nobleman" or, colloquially, "a wealthy or powerful person". (As a result of 13th-century Northern Crusades, Estonia's upper class comprised mostly persons of German origin until well into the 20th century.)

Related surnames

The word also survives as the surnames of Saß/Sass (in Low German or Low Saxon), Sachse and Sachs. The Dutch female first name, Saskia, originally meant "A Saxon woman" (metathesis of "Saxia").

Saxony as a toponym

Following the downfall of Henry the Lion (1129–1195, Duke of Saxony 1142–1180), and the subsequent splitting of the Saxon tribal duchy into several territories, the name of the Saxon duchy was transferred to the lands of the Ascanian family. This led to the differentiation between Lower Saxony, lands settled by the Saxon tribe and Upper Saxony, the lands belonging to the House of Wettin. Gradually, the latter region became known as "Saxony", ultimately usurping the name's original meaning. The area formerly known as Upper Saxony now lies in Central Germany.