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Germanic people, first mentioned in the 2d cent. by Ptolemy as inhabiting the southern part of the Cimbric Peninsula (S Jutland). Holding the area at the mouth of the Elbe River and some of the nearby islands, they gradually extended their territory southward across the Weser River. A politically unified people, the Saxons were ruled by princes or chieftains. Their assemblies, in which all classes except slaves were represented, were consulted on all issues of war and peace. In the 3d and 4th cent. the Saxons were active in raiding expeditions along the coasts of the North Sea. The European coast from the Loire to the Scheldt rivers and the southeastern coast of Britain, where defenses were erected against their piratical raids, were known to the Romans as litora Saxonica [Saxon shores]. By the 5th cent. Saxons had established settlements along the north shore of Gaul, especially at the mouth of the Loire, and eventually these Saxons came under Frankish domination. As the Roman occupation of Britain weakened, the Saxons increased their marauding attacks and also began (c.450) to make settlements there, resisting all efforts to drive them off. By the end of the 6th cent. they and their neighbors the Angles were firmly established in the island, laying the foundations of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (see Anglo-SaxonsAnglo-Saxons,
name given to the Germanic-speaking peoples who settled in England after the decline of Roman rule there. They were first invited by the Celtic King Vortigern, who needed help fighting the Picts and Scots. The Angles (Lat.
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). Wessex, the kingdom of the West Saxons, became dominant. After the migration to Britain, the Saxons on the Continent came to be identified by historians as the Old Saxons. By virtue of their conquest (531) of Thuringia, they occupied NW Germany. In 566 they were subjugated by the Franks and forced to pay tribute. The Old Saxons waged intermittent war with the Franks until the end of the 8th cent., when they were conquered by Charlemagne and absorbed into his empire. After this conquest they were forcibly converted to Christianity. In the division of the empire by the Treaty of Verdun (843), the lands of the Saxons were included in the section that formed the basis for modern Germany.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(German Sachsen), a group of Germanic tribes that formed a tribal union during the third and fourth centuries. In the early Middle Ages the Saxons occupied lands in northern Germany to the east of the Rhine and to the west of the Elbe. From the mid-fifth century through the first half of the sixth century some of the Saxons moved to Britain (see ANGLO-SAXON CONQUEST and ANGLO-SAXONS). During the sixth through eighth centuries, the continental Saxons split into the Westphalians, Eastphalians, Angrarians (Engerns), and Nordalbingians.

The principal source for information on the social structure of the Saxons is the Lex Saxonum (seeBARBARIAN LAW). The development of the Saxon social structure was not influenced by the slaveholding relations of antiquity. The social structure retained archaic features and, at the same time, was distinguished by marked social stratification among the free tribesmen, who were divided into the edhelingi (tribal nobility) and frilingi (a lower social stratum of freemen). There was no royal authority over the Saxons.

Charlemagne’s bloody campaigns against the Saxons from 772 to 804 brought about the subjugation of the Saxons by the Franks and the incorporation of Saxony into the Frankish kingdom. As a result, feudal relations were forcibly established. The Uprising of the Stellinga of 841–843 was directed against feudal dependence. In 843 the Saxons were included in the kingdom of the East Franks. The Duchy of Saxony was formed on the territory of the Saxons at the end of the ninth century. The Saxons constituted the ethnic base of the population of Lower Saxony.


Neusykhin, A. I. Vozniknovenie zavisimogo krest’ianstva kak klassa rannefeodal’nogo obshchestva ν Zapadnoi Evrope VI-VIII vv. Moscow, 1956. Chapter 4.
Lintzel, M. Ausgewählte Schrifien, vol 1. Berlin, 1961.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
When Charlemagne conquered the Saxons he not only demanded conversion, but in the laws written for them in 785, he thundered, "If anyone in contempt of the Christian faith should spurn the Holy Lenten fast and eat meat, let him die." Same goes for cremation: If anyone follows pagan rites and causes a man's body to be consumed by fire, and reduces his bones to ashes, let him pay with his life." Freedom of religion was not an option: "If there is anyone of the Saxon people lurking among them unbaptized, and if scorns to come to baptism and wished to absent himself and stay a pagan, let him die." Tough stuff!
The latter part of the 10th century consisted of an uneasy truce with the Danes in the north and a tax on the Saxon people, called Dane Geld amounting to pounds 167,000 to keep the Danes in their own territory.
One spelling text asked: "Is papacy at variance with paganism?" After 1870, religious bigotry gave way to racial bigotry; all non-Anglo Saxon peoples were described as permanently inferior due to their intellectual, moral, and physical degeneracy.