Revolt Of The Angle, Saxon and Jute Mercenaries In Britannia

Hengist by John Speed's

Revolt Of The Angle, Saxon and Jute Mercenaries In Britannia

Three Saxon keels slipped effortlessly through the waves towards the Kentish coast. The white cliffs glided past as the rowers, 20 on each side kept a constant rhythm. The shallow-draft oaken hull, 90 feet long (27 meters), drew just four feet of water. The shores of Britannia were within easy reach of such ships from north-western Europe. Settlers or raiders generally put to sea March to October to make best use of prevailing winds and tides. The people of Britannia had experienced both for decades. The coast towards which the three ships turned their prows had formerly been known as the ‘Saxon Shore Command’ implying the presence of mercenaries, settlers or raiders. Perhaps a combination of all three. But the men in the three keels had not come to settle, nor did they have goods to sell.

The nine British Saxon Shore forts in the Notitia Dignitatum. Bodleian Library, Oxford. (Public Domain)

These were ‘sea-wolves’, ‘wave-riders’, warships, swift and shallow. Each ship could hold up to 50 men. The earliest record of Saxon piracy along the Channel and North Sea coasts occurred in the 280s. By the mid-fourth century contemporary writers were recording serious and continuous raiding. In the fifth century Sidonius Apollinaris, writing in Gaul, described in harrowing terms their predatory nature, how they sacrificed one in ten captured slaves to the waves. But these men were not raiders. Not this time.

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