I have been reading for the past few hours about all the various players in Western/Northern Europe:

  • Celts
  • Gauls
  • Germanic People
  • Anglo Saxons
  • Britons
  • Iberians
  • Aquitani
  • etc.

Wikipedia says of the Anglo-Saxons that their identity arose out of complex interactions with several Germanic tribes and the indigenous Britons. The Britons, were some form of Celts living in the "British Isles" I guess, so they were the ones occupying the many islands there.

But then Wikipedia goes and says:

The Anglo-Saxons were a cultural group who inhabited England in the Early Middle Ages.

England wasn't formed though then, so I am confused. The Kingdom of England goes back a few generations to Edward the Elder, who was "King of the Anglo-Saxons".

First question, did they call themselves "Anglo-Saxon" at this time, or is this an after-the-fact term?

Then it goes back to Edwards great grandfather, who was "King of Wessex" until 871 (Kingdom of "England" was formed in 927 as far as I can tell).

This list of Wessex Monarchs is kind of helpful. Which goes back to the Kingdom of Gewissae, and then it says Birinus converted the Gewisse to Christianity in AD 636. So it goes Anglo Saxon -> Gewisse -> Wessex -> England -> Great Britain (in 1700's)? Since the Anglo-Saxons merged in with the indigenous Britons in their land, perhaps this is why ultimately they called it Great Britain (just guessing).

But then in the Early Anglo-Saxon history section, it says there are Angles and Saxons (amongst others), and the Angles were "one of the main Germanic peoples[2] who settled in Great Britain in the post-Roman period." I guess the "Saxons" become what is now Germany, so the name just got reused for some strange reason.

So to summarize:

  • Did the Anglo-Saxons call themselves Anglo-Saxons? Or something else? So when did they become "Anglo-Saxons"?
  • The Anglo-Saxons are just Germanic tribe settlers, being moved west for some reason?
  • And then England wasn't formed until 927, after Gewisse -> Wessex -> England. But they must have interbred with the native Britons, and the other neighbors I'm guessing, so is everyone by 927 called "English" now?
  • The first usage of the term is explained in your first link: Anglo-Saxons - Wikipedia: The term Anglo-Saxon began to be used in the 8th century (in Latin and on the continent) to distinguish "Germanic" groups in Britain from those on the continent (Old Saxony and Anglia in Northern Germany). Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 19:03
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    The Anglo-Saxons went far wider than Wessex: it was Wessex's annexation of Mercia and Northumbria (both of which included Anglo-Saxons and Danes) which created England.
    – Henry
    Commented Sep 5, 2022 at 15:23

2 Answers 2


England wasn't formed though then, so I am confused.

Wikipedia is being a little obscure here. It would have been clearer to say

The Anglo-Saxons were a cultural group who inhabited parts of what is now England in the Early Middle Ages.

However, that's a bit verbose to go in the first sentence of an article.

The name "England" has changed down the years, having been formerly something like "Angle-Land," which survives in the French name "Angleterre." The invaders who became the Anglo-Saxons were traditionally from three groups of tribes, the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes. Those tribes did not move as a whole to Great Britain: the Jutland peninsula that forms a large part of Denmark used to be "Jute-Land", and the area known as Saxony within Germany takes its name from the Saxons, albeit indirectly.

Great Britain is the name of the island, which is independent of the names of the states that exist on it. Brittany, now a part of northwest France, was "Little Britain" because it was inhabited by the same tribes as made up the ancient Britons.

Calling the island "England" is a mistake, but one that is common in some countries. At present, the island contains most of the area of three countries: England, Wales and Scotland, which are all parts of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. All of those countries also include smaller islands, which are often included when speaking of "Great Britain" in a political or population context. The other large island in the archipelago is Ireland.

Saying you're in England when you're in Wales or Scotland is often regarded as rude, or at best ignorant, by the Welsh and Scots, and may annoy some people a lot. It's not a mistake the English make when they're in either country.

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    Although note those 3 countries extend outside of the single island of Great Britain, with the Isle of Wight, Anglesey and the various Scottish islands part of their respective countries, but geographically separate. Politically, Great Britain often means the 3 countries, including the islands.
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 5, 2022 at 13:20
  • FWIW, the French "Angleterre" is still "Angle land". Commented Sep 5, 2022 at 15:36
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    Lower-Saxony got its name from the Saxons, Saxony got its via medieval aristocratic shenanigan derivations, with present day borders showing zero overlap with early Saxon territory… The "error" is common for other countries as well: Holland vs Netherlands, and similar the official names for Germany show many such errors (Alemans?, Saksa again? Niemcy? Meaning: "error"/"rude" are probably too proscriptively strong words? People talk inexactly all around… Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 12:50
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    @LangLangC: Calling Welsh or Scots "English" would be like calling a nineteenth-century Bavarian a Prussian. Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 15:32
  • @LangLangC "Niemcy" is the plural of "Niemiec", which supposedly derives from something meaning "unintelligible".
    – Spencer
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 16:46

All the discussion here leaves out the Normans, which had the "final word" in the shaping of England & Britain. They conquered England in 1066 and set themselves as the rulers. From then on there was no other successful external invasion and the political system and names etc. evolved since then with the descendants of the Normans always on top

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    – Community Bot
    Commented Sep 5, 2022 at 16:08
  • 1
    Well, there was a successful Dutch invasion in 1688.
    – Spencer
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 21:36

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