« PreviousContinue »
The Manners of the Saxons in their Pagan State.
CH A P. I.
The Character and Persons of the most ancient Saxons.
THE Anglo-Saxons came to England from the Germanic
continent; and above a century had elapsed from their first settlements before they received those improvements and changes which followed the introduction of the Christian system. These circumstances will make it advisable to exhibit them as they were in their continental and pagan state, before they are delineated with the features, and in the dress of Christianity.
It would be extremely desirable to give a complete portrait of our ancestors in their uncivilized state, because this is an epocha in the history of the human mind which has seldom been faithfully detailed or sufficiently considered. But our curiosity must subunit to disappointment on this subject. The converted Anglo-Saxon remembered the practices of his idolatrous ancestors with too much abhorrence, to record them for the notice of future ages; and as we have no Runic spells Vol. II.
BOOK to call the pagan warrior from his grave, we can only see him
in those imperfect sketches which patient industry may collect from the passages that are scattered in the works which time has spared.
The character of the ancient Saxons displayed the qualities of fearless, active, and successful pirates. It is not merely the Spanish churchman' Orosius, who remarks them as dreadful for their courage and agility, but the emperor Julian, who had lived among barbarians, and who had fought with some Saxon tribes, denotes them as distinguished amongst their neighbours for vehemence and valour.' Zosimus, their contemporary, expresses the general feeling of his age when he ranks them as superior to others in energy, strength, and warlike fortitude."
Their ferocious* qualities were nourished by the habit of indiscriminate depredation. It was from the cruelty and destructiveness, as well as from the suddenness of their incursions, that they were dreaded more than any other people. Like the Danes and Norwegians, their successors and assailants, they desolated where they plundered with the sword and flame.
It was consistency in such men to be inattentive to danger. They launched their predatory vessels, and suffered the wind to blow them to any foreign coast, indifferent whether the result was a depredation unresisted, or the deathful conflict. Such was their cupidity, or their brutal hardihood, that they often preferred embarking in the tempest which might shipwreck them, because at such a season their victims would be more unguarded. Their warfare did not originate from the more generous, or the more pardonable of man's evil passions, It was the offspring of the basest. Their swords were not · Orosius, lib, vii. c. 32.
& Mag. Bib. 787; and Sidonius has the strong • Julian Imp. Orat. de laud. Const. p. 116, expression of “ omni hosti truculentior," 3 Zosimus, lib. iii. p. 147. ed. Ox. lib. viii. c. 7. Even in the eighth century
Salvian says, gens Saxonum fera eft, de the Saxons on the continent are described by Gub. Dei, lib. iv. V. Fortunatus calls them Eginhard as “ natura feroces,” p. 4. “ aspera gens, vivens quasi more ferino,"
S Amm. Marcell, lib. xxviii. c. 3.
unsheathed by ambition or revenge. The love of plunder and CHA P. of cruelty was their favourite habit; and hence they attacked, indifferently, every coast which they could reach.“
Inland provinces were not protected from their invasion. From ignorance, necessity, or policy, they traversed the ocean in boats, framed of osiers, and covered with skins sewed together; and such was their skill, or their prodigality of life, that in these they sported in the tempests of the German Ocean.'
It is possible that men who had seen the vessels in which the Francs had escaped from the Pontus, and who had been twice instructed by Imperial usurpers in the naval art, might have constructed more important war ships, if their judgment had approved. Although their isles, and their maritime provinces of Ditmarsia and Stormaria, were barren of wood, yet Holsatia abounded with it; and if their defective land-carriage prevented the frequency of this supply, the Elbe was at hand to float down inexhaustible stores from the immense forests of Germany.
They may have preferred their light skiffs,' from an experience of their superior utility. When their fatal incursions had incited the Romans to fortify and to garrison the frontier of Britain and Gaul, the Saxons directed their enmity against the inland regions. For their peculiar vessels no coast was too shallow, no river too small; they dared to ascend the streams for eighty or an hundred miles, and if other plunder invited, or danger pressed, they carried their vessels from one river to another, and thus escaped with facility from the most superior foe.
& Amm. Marcell. lib. xxviii. c. 3. xxvii. 8 On the vessels of the Saxons, see Dir c. 8. Sid. Apoll.
Bos, llist. Crit. de la Mon. de France, 7 That this ocean was anciently dangerous 1. p. 150.--Mioparo quasi minimus paro; from its tempests, Boniface, the self-devoted idem et carabus. Est parva scapha ex viniissionary of Germany, often states: peri- mine facta quæ contexta crudo corio genus culosum est navigantibus, p. 52. Germanici navigii præbet. Isidorus Orig. I. 19. c. 1, tempestatibus maris undique quassanti:us fatigati senis miserere, p. 59. vol. xvi. Bib. 9 See Du Bos, 149. 2 Gibbon, 524. Mag. Parrum.
of the Saxons, an author of the fifth century says to a friend who was opposed to them, “ You see as many piratical “ leaders as you behold rowers, for they all command, obey, “ teach, and learn the art of pillage. Hence, after your
greatest caution, still greater care is requisite. This enemy “ is fiercer than any other; if you be unguarded, they attack; “ if prepared, they elude you. They despise the opposing, “ and destroy the unwary; if they pursue, they cvertake; if “ they fly, they escape. Shipwrecks discipline them, not “ deter; they do not merely know, they are familiar to all the
dangers of the sea; a tempest gives them security and
success, for it divests the meditated land of the appreheno sion of a descent. In the midst of waves and threatening “ rocks they rejoice at their peril, because they hope to
As their naval expeditions, though often wildly daring, were much governed by the policy of surprize, so their land incursions were sometimes conducted with all the craft of robbers. “ Dispersed into many bodies,” says Zosimus, of one of their confederates, “ they plundered by night, and when day ap
peared, they concealed themselves in the woods, feasting on “ the booty they had gained."" They are, however, seldom mentioned by the historians of the fourth and fifth centuries without some epithets which express a superiority over other men in their achievements or their courage.
The ferocity of the Saxon character would seem to suit better the dark and melancholy physiognomies of Asia and Africa, than the fair, pleasing, and blue-eyed countenances by which our ancestors are described." But though nature had supplied them with the germs of those amiable qualities which have become the national character of their descendants, their 10 Sid. Apoll. Epist. 6. 1. 8.
Franc, who organized some corps on the
same plan. Zosimus, lib. ii. .p. 149. This tribe, 12 Sidon. Apoll. lib. viii. ep. 9. Bede, whom he calls Quadi, Marcellinus, lib. xvii. lib. ii. c. 1. The expressions applied by c. 8, more correctly names Chamavi. These Tacitus to all the German, nations are, robbers were destroyed by one Chariette, a truces, et cerulei oculi,”
direful customs, their acquired passions, and barbarous educa- CH A P. tion, perverted every good propensity. So ductile is the human capacity, that there is no colour, climate, or constitution, which governs the moral character so permanently as the good or evil habits and discipline to which it is subjected. An incident mentioned by Symmachus shews that they had a pride of mind which could not endure despair. He
that twenty-nine Saxons strangled themselves, to avoid being brought into a theatre for a gladiatorial show."
Their persons were of the largest size. On the continent they were so proud of their forms and their descent, and so anxious to perpetuate them, that they were averse to marriages with other nations." Hence the colour of the hair of their males is mentioned as uniform. In the fourth century they had a peculiar method of arranging and cutting their hair, which Sidonius has described. It had the effect of enlarging the appearance of the face, and diminishing the head.'s In the following ages it is mentioned as diffused upon
their shoulders ;" and an ancient Saxon law punished the man who seized another by the hair.'
In their dress, their loose linen vests were adorned with trimming, woven in different colours. Their external
Their external garment was the sagum, or cloak,', and they had shoes. Their females had gowns, and several ornaments for the arms, hands, and neck.ad
13 Ep. 46. 1. 2. p. 90.
19 Wittichind, p. 5; and see Lindenbrog 14 Meginh. ib. ap. Langh. Script. Dan. Glossary, Voc. Sagum, and Weiss. The cut. 2. p. 39. Wittichind, p. 5. Tacitus had rious may see a description of the dress of expressed the same of all the German tribes. a Franc in the Monk of St. Gall's life of is Cujus vertices extimas per oras Charlemagne, and of a Longobard in P.
Non contenta suos tenere morsus Warnefridus, lib. iv. c. 23.
Rhedo, to the stealing of which the same Decrescit caput, additurque yultus. penalty was attached as to stealing six sows
with pig. The mother, in the same law, 16 Wittichind, p. 5.
might at her death leave to her son, land, 17 i Linden. Codex Legum, p. 474. slaves, and money; to her daughter, the
18 Paul. Warnefrid de Gest. Langob. lib. ornaments of the neck; id est, muraenas iv. c. 23. p. 838. Grot. ed. The vest is (necklaces), nuscas, monilia (collars), inaures mentioned in the old Saxon law, p. 474, and (car-rings), vestes, armillas (bracelets) vel their idol, Crodus, had one. - Fabric. Ilist. quidquid ornamenti proprii videbatur babue Sax. tom. 1. p. 61.
isse. 1 Lindenb. p. 48+.