For some context, I am currently studying the history of Britain. We learned that the Romans had captured it in 43 CE under Claudius. We also know that when the Roman Empire was deteriorating and stopped paying its soldiers the Anglo-Saxons soon took over. I also know that one of the reasons that the Anglo-Saxons were so successful was that many had been acting as mercenaries, for Rome, in Britain.

My question then is when did the Romans start to hire Anglo-Saxon mercenaries for protection in Britain. As a follow up, why did they do this?

My sources:


4 Answers 4


In Roman times there were no Anglo-Saxons. Angles were a specific ethinic group in Denmark & Germany, Saxons were another specific ethnic group in Northern Germany, and the Romans customarily referred to most tribes and ethnic groups in northern Germany as Saxons.

So the late Romans fought against many Germanic raiders in Gaul and Britain they called Saxons. And they may have hired many Germanic warriors in Gaul or Britain who they called Saxons. Some of those Saxons may have been ethnic Saxons, some may have been ethnic Angles, some ethnic Frisians, some ethnic Jutes, etc., etc., but the Romans called them all Saxons, when they didn't just call them Germans or barbarians.

But as far as I know nobody ever called himself or anyone else an Anglo-Saxon for five hundred years after that.

According to history or legends told centuries later by Bede, by the Historia Brittonum, and by the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, after the last Roman withdrawal about 410 the Britons hired "Saxon" mercenaries to defend them and eventually the "Saxon" mercenaries revolted and over decades more "Saxon" settlers, warriors, and kings moved to Britain and took over all of southern England before the mission of Saint Augustine in 597.

According to those stories the first Germanic people settled in the island of Britain were three shiploads of warriors sometime after the Roman withdrawal.

Even though there were enough Germanic mercenaries in the Roman Army in Britain in 306 AD for King Crocus of the Alemmani to be the Roman officer who proclaimed Constantine I Emperor at York.


The Romans started hiring mercenaries from the moment they expanded. They also searched which type of troops were stronger against opponents. The core of the army were the legions but they were expanded with mercenaries who can tip the balance for the Romans.

  • Rome expanded during all republican period. But never did it use mercenaries these times.
    – Gangnus
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 12:33
  • 2
    The term mercenary is now used so loosely it causes confusion. As Wikipedia etc. will easily confirm, in the Emperor Claudius' time, when this question begins, the core of the Roman army was its legions, recruited from Roman citizens, at a time when outside Italy Roman citizenship was a privilege granted to only a minority of subjects of the Empire. Recruits from the Roman provinces who were not citizens, and some from outside the Empire, could join the army but in auxiliary cohorts, which had different dress and function from legions. I would not consider them mercenaries.
    – Timothy
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 18:12
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    Although the question title changed out from under you, I still think this answers the question.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 19:10

Romans began to hire Anglo-Saxon mercenaries in around the beginning of the 4th century A.D. (fun fact, they rebelled in 442 because they weren't being paid).

The reason they did this was because there was mass migration into Britain and with all the "barbaric" invasions going on at the time, Roman legions were withdrawing and the British people were calling to the Roman Emperor for help, who responded by hiring mercenaries.

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    Could you by any chance provide sources for this? Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 5:17

As a source I would recommend History of Britain 407-597 by Fabio P. Barbieri

It describes the recruitment of Saxon fedorati after the departure of the Romans. Fedorati had previously been setteled in Britain but there is no reason why those of germanic descent would ally with other germanic groups in other parts of Britain in a dispute over terms and conditions. Linning up along ethnic lines for a fight is more a product of the modern nation state.

  • This doesn't seem to answer the question. Commented Jan 27 at 12:27

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