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Representation of Anglo-Saxon warriors in battle. Source: Sarah / Adobe Stock

The Battle of Cymenshore, AD 477


In the aftermath of the Romans’ departure from Britain in the fifth century AD, the coast of the former Roman province was left vulnerable to various invaders who sought to establish kingdoms of their own. These men are usually grouped under term Saxons, but they came from a variety of cultures on the coasts of modern Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark – Jutish, Saxon, Angle, Frisian, Danes, even the Norse – these invasions would eventually lead to the term Anglo-Saxons (from the two Germanic peoples of the Jutland Peninsula – the Angles and the Saxons). What is more, we are often left bereft of details as to how these invasions occurred and progressed.

The first Saxon-and-other invasions of Britain in the fifth century AD are shrouded in uncertainty – it is not for no reason this is the period known as the Dark Ages. There are many challenges with the history of this period – we are uncertain on all of the essential questions of history – we are uncertain about by whom, where, exactly when, and precisely why these invasions occurred. It seems that before long, however, even in the contemporary and near-contemporary sources, Saxon was used as a catch-all term for all invaders (much like Danes would later be used as a catch-all term for the Viking invaders even if they were not originally from Denmark). The second invasion, however, led by Ælle and his three sons (Cymen, Wlencing and Cissa), and occurring (traditionally) in AD 477 was actually Saxon and, what is more, using one surviving source, gives us enough detail to reasonably reconstruct what happened.

The First Invasions – Saxons “Infesting” the Sea

The first invasion of Britain was in Kent, traditionally dated to 449, when the brothers Hengist and Horsa (who were Angle or Jutish – but are later termed Saxon) were invited in to assist the warlord Vortigern against Pictish raids, probably as mercenaries. As such, it was not really an invasion at all, but soon, the mercenaries turned against their employer and carved out an empire for themselves within Kent. Horsa died in battle in 455 but Hengist, with his son Æsc (or Octa), established their dominance in Kent by 457.

The second invasion of Britain in AD 477, at a place named Cymenshore, garners little attention from modern historians but would lead to the establishment of the kingdom of the South Saxons or Sussex (a name which obviously survives until today). In fact, this was the first actual Saxon invasion and there is, surprisingly, enough detail in surviving sources for us to examine it in some depth.


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Top Image: Representation of Anglo-Saxon warriors in battle. Source: Sarah / Adobe Stock

By Murray Dahm



Murray Dahm is an ancient and medieval military historian from New Zealand currently living in Sydney, Australia. He is the assistant editor of Ancient Warfare Magazine (Karwansaray Publishers) and has published various titles on ancient military history for Osprey Publishing.... Read More

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