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(Walas or Wealas), and took spoils innumerable; and the Welsh fled from the Angles (Englan) like fire.”
Several applications for aid are stated by Nennius to have been made to the Romans, particularly one addressed to “ Ætius thrice consul,” which is couched in most abject terms, and is known in history by the title of the
groans of the Britons ;" some succour seems occasionally to have been afforded, but it had no permanent effect on the contest.
In addition to the miseries of war the Britons suffered at this time from religious dissensions, until the spread of the Pelagian heresy induced them to apply to the bishops of Gaul for spiritual aid. Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, twice visited the island for the purpose (probably in 428 and 446), and on one occasion he also gave them military assistance, by leading a body of newly baptized Britons against their enemies, and gaining a victory known as the “Hallelujah,” from the cry with which his converts fell upon their heathen foes.
Meantime the mighty empire of Rome, of which Britain had so long formed a part, was falling into utter ruin. Rome was abandoned by the emperors, who, surrounded by barbarian mercenaries, sought ignoble safety amid the marshes of Ravenna, where they were in reality little more than puppets in the hands of their prime ministers. Iberia was occupied by the Vandals as early as 410; Gaul was about the same time partitioned among the Visigoths, the Burgundians, the Germans, and the Roman settlers, and ere long became a Frankish kingdom. Germany was gradually occupied by Slavonic tribes, who drove the Goths and other
nations into Italy, where they took firm root, and it is a Gothic historian (Jornandes) who relates how, after the death of Valentinian III., Rome was in the course of twenty years occupied by eight " tyrants" in succession; until the last of them, contemptuously styled Augustulus, was in 476 deposed by Odoacer, the captain of the Herulian guard, who, despising the empty name of emperor, governed the country for a while with wisdom and success under the modest title of Patrician, until he in his turn was defeated and soon after treacherously slain by Theodoric, the founder of the Gothic dynasty in Italy.
HE original country of the Saxons cannot
be regarded as fully ascertained. A tale accepted as authentic by Witikind of Corbie,
in the tenth century, represents them as arriving in ships, and settling themselves by force among the Thuringians, in the time of the emperor Vespasian, and from the idolatrous estimation in which they are known to have held the war-horse, it has been conjectured that they probably came from the country eastward of the Baltic, that form of idolatry prevailing in those regions even to comparatively recent times. The first direct mention of them, however, is that by Ptolemy, who, before the close of the second century, speaks of the tribes on the shore and the islands at the mouth of the Elbe, as Saxons, and pirates.
Of the form of government prevailing at that time among them, we know little more than that, as with other barbarous nations, it was based on their idolatry. Their chiefs claimed descent from Woden, the god of wara, and they had many other deities, the names of some of whom are still preserved in our English tongue, little altered, in those of the days of the week. War was the only honourable occupation, and each chief habitually set forth to plunder the richer nations which had fallen under the Roman sway; and although when they first appeared on the coasts of the provinces their vessels were mere boats, and their arms rude and scanty in supply, their daring courage compensated these disadvantages.
Each chief appears to have been wholly independent, acknowledging no superior, but we may fairly conclude from what is recorded of other nations, that confederacies were formed among them under some distinguished leader when any rich prize was in prospect; and thus, and by the junction of other tribes whom the Romans had not been able fully to subdue, as well as by actual colonization in many quarters, the Saxons so extended themselves that their name became, before the close of the third century, a general one for the sea rovers of the North, without implying any national affinity, being in fact derived from the long knife ("seax”) which at first formed their principal weapon. Soon, however, either from the spoils of the vanquished or their own industry, or both, they were provided also with long spears and ponderous battle-axes, and their vessels, now denominated chiules, or war.
r-ships, were of sufficient size to
a A chief of priestly as well as warlike character, styled Sigge Fridulfsen, came from the region near the Caspian sea into the north of Europe, probably not long before the Christian era. The Northern Sagas describe him as the wisest and best of men, and he was after death confounded with their deity by the rude natives, grateful for some degree of civilization imparted.
convey a body of several hundred men each. Such a number of hardy pirates suddenly landing, had little to fear from the comparatively unwarlike provincials, and what had been at first a mere plundering incursion often became a fixed settlement, in the neighbourhood of which fresh descents could be made with assured success; and it is the opinion of many writers that scattered bodies of Saxons were located on various parts of the coast long before the period usually assigned for the first coming of their nation to Britain.
There is abundant evidence that these people rapidly extended themselves along the east coast of the German ocean as far as the Rhine, and before the year 300 their ravages had become so frequent and so formidable that the whole district from the Elbe to the British channel was known as the Saxon Shore, and officers were appointed both in Britain and in Gaul to whom the task of guarding the sea-board of the Roman possessions was assigned, under the title at first of Counts of the Sea-Shore, and afterwards, as the Saxons came more prominently forward, of Counts of the Saxon Shore. One of the earliest of these maritime prefects was Carausius, who took advantage of the fleet entrusted to him for the purpose of his office to establish himself as an independent ruler in Britain.
Meantime the Saxons pursued their ravages with little check, and spread such terror of their name that the emperor Julian and the historian Procopius, equally with Ammianus Marcellinus and Zosimus, speak of them as more fierce and formidable than any other of the barbarous nations. By land as well as by sea they