Saxony (people)

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The Saxons (seldom also the Saxons ) were a West Germanic peoples' association, which probably formed in the 3rd century and has been reliably documented since the 4th century. The tribes of the Chauken , Angrivarians and Cheruskers , who united to form the Saxons, lived in the 1st century in the northwest of today's Germany and in the east of today's Netherlands (see Lower Saxony ). Since the Merovingian era , at least parts of the Saxons were loosely dependent on the Frankish Empire until they were finally subjugated by Charlemagne .

Because the Meissnian - Eastern population in the former Wettin Upper Saxony and the Central German citizens of the Free State of Saxony are now considered "Saxony", the name "Lower Saxony" is used for the Lower German residents in the core of the original settlement area. It is difficult, however, the connotation to avoid, either by citizens of the country Lower Saxony talk. This is why the name Altsachsen is preferred in historical studies for the entire settlement area in Westphalia , Lower Saxony (excluding the traditional settlement areas of the Frisians and Slavs ), Holstein (except Wagrien ), the north-eastern Netherlands and western Saxony-Anhalt .

Old Saxon grave goods from the Liebenau cemetery
Partially reconstructed Germanic-Saxon outbuilding on the Liebenau burial ground

Settlement area

The Lower Saxony language area today

The Germanic tribes, which were later counted among the Saxons, settled a wide area from the Zuiderzee (today IJsselmeer ) in the west over the Weser-Elbe area to the areas north of the Elbe in today's Holstein (up to the Eider ). For a long time the prevailing view from Ptolemy was that the Saxons had been advancing south from their presumed original seat in present-day Holstein since the 3rd century, subjugating numerous other tribes and incorporating them into the Saxon tribal union. In this context, the more recent subjugations of the Hamaland (today's West Münsterland ) as well as the tribes of the Brukterer (today's Münsterland and northern Ruhr area ) and Tubanten (today's Twente, province of Overijssel) in the 6th and 7th centuries were seen.

The idea of ​​a gradual subjugation of Northern Germany from the coastal areas is now considered outdated. The most important source that reports on those original seats is today heavily questioned on this point. In the beginning, the Saxon name also seems to have served as a collective term used by the Romans for seafaring robbery groups, regardless of their origin. In addition, the view was widespread, the Saxons had their territory after the conquest of the Thuringian empire (to 531) by the Franks to the Unstrut extended. Based on current knowledge, this is also very unlikely. The eastern border of the Saxon settlement area may have been on the Harz for a long time .

In northern Germany and the eastern Netherlands (Groningen, Drenthe, Overijssel, Achterhoek) the Lower Saxon dialects, which developed from Old Saxon , continue to have their traditional language area.


Since ancient and late ancient authors, the common name of the Saxons (Latin: Saxones , Greek: Σάξονες) has been derived from the tribe's typical cutting knife, the sax . This connection also plays a role several times in the Saxon folk tale. A direct relationship to the popular name can be found in the Annolied from the late 11th century: "von den mezzerin alsô wahsin, wurdin si geheizzin Sahsi" ( from the knives that were so sharp they were called Saxons , chapter 21).

From a manuscript from the end of the 8th century, the so-called Saxon baptismal vow , the person to be baptized was supposed to swear off a presumably tribal god Saxnot alongside the common Germanic gods Wodan and Donar .

Since the 3rd century, Roman sources complained about Saxon pirates. Saxony, Angling and Jutes then immigrated to the south-eastern part of the British main island, today's England , in the 5th century (see also the saga of Hengist and Horsa , as well as the article on Anglo-Saxons ). They became the dominant culture there after a violent conquest of land. In the Celtic or Irish language, the common name of the Saxons was used for England (Irish: Sasana ; Scottish Gaelic: Sasainn ; Welsh for the English language: Saesneg ). The current name England can be clearly derived from that of the fishing, while landscape names such as Wessex ("West Saxony"), Essex ("East Saxony"), Sussex ("South Saxony") and Middlesex ("Central Saxony") refer to the Saxon immigrants.

The terms for Germany used in Finnish ( Saksa ), Estonian ( Saksamaa ) and also in Old Icelandic ( Saxland ) are derived from the Saxon tribe. In Germany, on the other hand, different names refer to the former settlement area of ​​the Saxons, with Lower Saxony , Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt there are three federal states and in the district of Ansbach the places Saxony near Ansbach and Saxony near Leutershausen .

According to reports from the 4th century, the settlement area of ​​the Chauken was congruent with the areas in which the Saxons, among others, were located around the same time. Since there is no evidence of armed conflict between the two peoples, it is assumed that the Chauken were part of the Saxons at that time or that both tribes peacefully united to form the larger ethnic group of the Saxons .

The tribal duchy of Saxony in the Holy Roman Empire around the year 1000

Today's Free State of Saxony, historically also the Electorate of Saxony (Electorate Saxony) or Upper Saxony, has nothing in common with the historical people of the Saxons in the Low German- speaking area - apart from the name: The ancestors of the residents of today's Free State of Saxony belonged (t) to the Central German dialect area on.

It is a dynastic name migration. It happened when the title of Duke of Saxony fell to princes who resided outside the old people's area, and the name was transferred to their countries. The title of duke of Saxony fell after the fall of the lion Heinrichs in 1180 at the Askanier Bernhard , who in Wittenberg resided. At this point in time, the title of " Duke " in the German Empire lost its ties to a people's territory. When the Ascanians died out, the Saxon title of duke passed to the Wettins in 1423 , who held the margraviate of Meißen , which was in what is now the Free State of Saxony. Since the title of Duke of Saxony was associated with the dignity of an elector , it was the highest in rank and took the first place in the title. "Saxony" was the name given to the states under the rule of the Wettin house of the Dukes of Saxony. In this way, with the award of the Saxon electoral dignity to Friedrich the arguable , the name “Saxony” also “migrated ” up the Elbe.

A humorous variant of the common name can be found in the ironic designation coffee axis .


Earliest mention

The earliest mention of the Saxons was long ascribed to the Greek Ptolemy , who wrote in Alexandria , who died during the reign of Emperor Mark Aurel (161-180 AD) and in whose surviving texts the name of the people appears in several places. According to its geography , they inhabited the land on the North Sea between the Chauken , which settled as far as the Elbe, and the Sigulonen , who lived north of an isthmus on the Cimbrian Peninsula . The Sigulons, like numerous peoples whom Ptolemy names together with them, are otherwise completely unknown.

For a long time it was concluded from this information that the Saxons were originally seated around 150 AD in what is now Schleswig-Holstein . Today, however, the reliability of this information is very much called into question. Especially because it is assumed that Ptolemy's information about the geography of Northern Europe may have been from the time around the birth of Christ, but that the Saxons are not mentioned in any other source before him. Tacitus, for example, who in his well-known work Germania around 98 AD claimed to paint a complete picture of the inhabitants of Germania, did not mention the Saxons. It is therefore assumed today that Ptolemy's mention of the Saxons is the result of a corruption of the text . The geography of Ptolemy's like not receive many ancient works in the original. The oldest manuscript is about 1100 years younger than the work itself. Presumably Ptolemy originally wrote of Avionen "ΑΒΙΟΝΕΣ" (pronounced Aviones ), which was changed by later copyists in Saxony "ΣΑΞΟΝΕΣ" (pronounced Saxones ). The majority of the manuscripts do not contain the word Saxony, but an intermediate form “ΑΞΟΝΕΣ” (pronounced axones ).

Saxony in late antiquity

Apart from Ptolemy, Saxons are mentioned for the first time in Eutrop for the year 285, with Eutrop's text originating between 364 and 380 AD. This is important in that ancient authors often used the peoples names of the present to describe the past. So it is conceivable that the name was not yet known around 285, although Eutropus had recourse to a relatively good source, the Enmann Imperial History . Eulogies of the 3rd century from Gaul do not directly mention Saxons, but the Panegyricus of 297 could allude to them.

The earliest contemporary and therefore certain mention of the saxon name comes from a speech by the future emperor Julian (ruled 361–363) in the year 356, who mentions him alongside that of the Franks and both together as the "most controversial peoples on the Rhine and the western sea" describes. Despite numerous mentions in late antique sources (e.g. Ammianus Marcellinus ), the Saxons are not geographically comprehensible until around 450 AD. The common name appears regularly in the sources of this time as a designation for warlike seafarers in the area between the North Sea and the English Channel , whose exact origin usually remains in the dark. As a parallel to this largely vague talk of the Franci and Saxones appears to that extent the later common of the Dani and Nordmanni to characterize the Viking raids . In response to the frequent raids, the Romans built the so-called Litus Saxonicum , a chain of heavily fortified military camps and naval stations, along the south and south-east coast of Britain and on the Channel coast of Gaul around the year 300 .

Like other Teutons, Saxons entered Roman military service. A Saxon squadron, the Ala prima Saxonum, is mentioned in the Notitia Dignitatum (around 400). The first piece of information that could provide information about the original seat of the Saxons is provided by the church father Hieronymus (around 347–419 AD) in his biography of Hilarion. According to this source, a bodyguard of Emperor Constantius II came from the area between Saxony and Alemanni, which is referred to in the text as Francia (Franconia). The first mentions of Saxony (gr. Σαξονεία, Saxoneía ; lat. Saxonia ) come from the late 4th century, but are not associated with clear geographical ideas. Zosimos provides a further clue , who reports that Saxons expelled the Salian Franks from their land, the large Rhine island of Batavia, around the middle of the 4th century. However, it is confusing that Zosimos speaks at this point of the Saxon sub-population of the Quads , who never lived on the Lower Rhine.

At the beginning of the 5th century Rome increasingly lost control of the British provinces. In 410 Emperor Honorius urged the islanders to defend themselves. In the 440s at the latest, Saxons settled on the British Isles. First they were recruited by the British as mercenaries, but then conquered large parts of the main island and settled permanently. Their alleged leaders were Hengest and Horsa . Originally, the Saxons of the British Isles and those of the mainland were indiscriminately referred to as Saxons. The term Anglo-Saxons (presumably by Paulus Diaconus ) was only introduced in the course of the early Middle Ages to distinguish the British Saxons from those on the mainland, until it became established in the 9th century.

Gregory of Tours reports on the incursion of the Saxon military leader Adovacrius (his identity with the well-known Odoacer is controversial and rather improbable) to Gaul ( Angers ), but he was repulsed by the Gallo-Roman troops. The islands of the Saxons were then taken and devastated by the Franks under Childerich I (see also the article on Comes Paulus ). According to Gregor, the Saxon incursion took place after the death of Aegidius († 464).

Saxony in the 6th and 7th centuries

Reconstruction of a Saxon nave from the Merovingian era in the Oerlinghausen Archaeological Open-Air Museum
Reconstruction of a Saxon residential complex: The "Sachsenhof" in Greven -Pentrup

The question of whether the Saxons were significantly involved in the subjugation of the Thuringian Empire (around 531) by the Franks has not been fully clarified . The three most important sources that report on it are a report by Rudolf von Fulda (9th century), the Saxon history of Widukind von Corvey from 968 and the Quedlinburg Annals (11th century). In particular, because all three sources were created long after the defeat of the Thuringian Empire, their credibility in this regard is heavily questioned. It can also be assumed that the latter two sources referred to the report of Rudolf von Fulda, who probably had a personal interest in the depiction of an old Saxon-Thuringian border on the Unstrut. In Rudolf's time, the Unstrut was the border between the Archdiocese of Mainz and the Diocese of Halberstadt , while the Saxon-Thuringian border was most likely on the Harz Mountains even in the 9th century. Above all, no contemporary source (Gregory of Tours, Prokopios of Caesarea ) reports any Saxon participation.

In contrast, the Saxons seem to have come under Frankish influence in the first half of the 6th century. When the Frankish King Theudebald died in 555 , however, the Saxons rose against Chlothar I. He went against the rebels, devastating Thuringia, since the Thuringians had apparently provided the Saxons with auxiliary troops. Shortly afterwards (presumably 556) another Saxon uprising took place in which the Saxons refused to pay the compulsory taxes imposed on them. In this context, Gregory of Tours writes of a defeat of Chlothar, while Marius von Avenches reports of a renewed victory for Chlothar. In particular, because Gregory of Tours pursues a Christian aim of proof here, his presentation is rather doubted. There is also uncertainty about the mention of a third dispute (556 or 557) in which the Saxons invaded the Francia (Franconia) and advanced as far as the vicinity of Deutz .

During the Great Migration , the Saxons settled not only in Britain, but also in other areas, for example in western France. Gregory of Tours mentions Saxony around Bayeux in what is now Normandy . Among them was a certain Childerich, who Gregor knew personally and who rose to become Duke in the area to the left of the Garonne . Some Saxons apparently accompanied the Lombards on their journey to Italy in 568. According to Gregory of Tours, these Saxons later invaded the area of Riez in southeastern Gaul, but then signed a treaty with the general Mummolus and swore to serve the Frankish king as auxiliary troops. They should settle in the area from which they once moved. When they returned there, according to the story, Suebi had already been settled, which inflicted two severe defeats on the Saxons. Most researchers suspect the residences of these Saxons and Suebi in the area of ​​the Bode , where the Suebengau supposedly still reminds of the Suebi. It is more likely, however, that it is a region in Gaul.

The Saxon Aighyna , who probably came from the Gallic Atlantic coast, but possibly also from England, achieved a high position in the 7th century . Immediately after Dagobert I took office as part-king in the Franconian part of Austrasia , a Saxon uprising seems to have followed. In the course of a subsequent Frankish attack, the Saxon leader Bertoald was allegedly defeated by Dagobert's father Chlothar II in a duel and the land of the Saxons was devastated. In the following years, the Merovingians increasingly slipped their rule over the Saxon ethnic groups.

After the Franconian defeat against Samo on the Wogastisburg around the year 631, the Slavs made incursions into Thuringia. Thereupon the Saxons apparently sent envoys to Dagobert with the request that they waive the compulsory levy of 500 cows a year if they would fight the invaders at their own expense and protect the Franconian borders. The death of Hausmeiers Pippin in 640 led to a crisis within the Franconian Empire, which came to a head until the army of Sigibert III. supported by the Pippiniden invaded Thuringia, where Duke Radulf had holed up on the Unstrut. The king's army had to retreat defeated, whereupon Radulf made peace with the Wends and “neighboring tribes”, which probably means the Saxons.

In the following years, Saxon groups seem to have penetrated via Soest and Brilon (in the eastern Sauerland of North Rhine-Westphalia) to the Ruhrbuckel, the Lippe and the IJssel . However, this can only be reconstructed from archaeological finds, since written sources are silent on these processes and there was no text at all from the hand of a person who describes himself as a Saxon until the 9th century. The evaluation of archaeological finds is also problematic in this regard, since the spread of art styles and types of weapons does not necessarily allow conclusions to be drawn about the spread of peoples. The princely grave in Beckum, for example, has long been interpreted as that of a Saxon land acquisition leader. Today one sees more of a Frankish nobleman in the dead man.

8th and 9th centuries

Charlemagne (768–814), the ruler of the Franconian Empire, was able to subjugate and Christianize the Saxons in bitter battles towards the end of the Saxon Wars (772–804). After the collapse of the Franconian Empire, the tribal duchy of Saxony developed in the area between the Lippe and the Harz mountains , which was ruled by a Saxon duke ( Dux totius Saxoniae ) from 880 onwards


  • 98: The Roman author Tacitus describes the tribes of Germania in his text De Origine et situ Germanorum and names different tribes in the later Saxon language area, but does not know the Saxon name.
  • around 140: The Greek geographer Ptolemy, who wrote in Alexandria, compiles his atlas Geographike Hyphegesis . In its traditional form, this mentions the Saxons as being between Chauken and Sigulonen . For a long time this was considered to be the earliest mention of the Saxons in ancient sources and has led to the fact that the Saxons are still frequently on modern maps of Germania of the 1st / 2nd centuries. Century. Today, science assumes a corruption of the text, in which the name of the Avionen originally used by Ptolemy (via an intermediate form "ΑΞΟΝΕΣ" documented by Markianos of Herakleia ) has been replaced with the more well-known name of the Saxons.
  • 285/286: For this year Eutrop mentions an uprising of the Saxons, which together with the Franks made the sea unsafe off Belgium and Armorica . Eutrop's text, however, did not emerge until the end of the 4th century and, with the term "Saxones", similar to the names "Franconia", " Alemanni " or " Heruler ", seems to represent an umbrella term that has not yet been defined geographically and that hardly allows continuities to identify older peoples. "Saxony" is also reported to have carried out pirate raids on the coasts of Belgium, Britain and Gaul.
The Saxon coast ( Litus Saxonicum ) around the year 380
  • Around 300: Due to frequent raids by the Saxons on the Roman coasts of the North Sea and the English Channel , the Romans fortified these coasts and set up the Litus Saxonicum, a chain of heavily fortified military camps and naval stations, along the south and south-east coast of Britain and the Channel coast of Gaul.
  • 356: Emperor Julian mentions the Saxons in a speech - the earliest contemporary and therefore certain mention of the Saxon name.
  • From around 400: In addition to fishing and jutes, Saxons also settle in Britain. Toponymy suggests that the majority of these "Saxons" came from western Lower Saxony and Flanders. The term Anglo-Saxons did not appear until the end of the 8th century.
  • Around 450: The British ruler Vortigern is said to have recruited Saxony to protect against the Scottish Picts .
  • Around 469: According to Gregory of Tours, the Saxon general Adovacrius (his identity with the well-known Odoacer is controversial and rather improbable) invaded Gaul (Angers), but was repulsed by Gallo-Roman troops. The islands of the Saxons were then taken and devastated by the Franks under Childerich I (see also the article on Comes Paulus ).
  • 477: Alleged establishment of the Kingdom of Sussex ("South Saxony").
  • Around 500: the Kingdom of Essex ("East Saxony") is founded.
  • Probably in the 6th century: Foundation of the Kingdom of Wessex ("West Saxony").
  • Around 530: The Saxons reach the Rhine .
  • 531: The Franks smash the Kingdom of Thuringia in the Battle of Burgscheidungen . The participation of Saxons in this battle is controversial and is probably based on an incorrect weighting of younger authors, but traditionally served to explain the later border between Franconia and Saxony. In fact, as a result of the destruction of the Thuringian Kingdom, the Saxons seem to have become loosely dependent on the Franconian Empire.
  • 568: Many Saxons move to Italy with the Lombards , but soon return, which leads to a dispute with the Suebi , who were settled in the former Saxon residences .
  • For the year 577 and later, Gregory of Tours mentions the "Saxons of Bayeux".
  • From 596: The British Saxons are converted to Christianity . The mainland Saxons stick to their old beliefs.
  • Around 695: The Saxons defeat and subdue the Brukterer who settled between Lippe and Ruhr .
  • 7th century: The Saxons begin to elect dukes , supposedly initially only in times of war. This administrative hierarchy could, however, also indicate a Frankish supremacy, since the names of the dukes are only passed down in Frankish sources. The probably Frankish dukes tried to gain autonomy and took the lead in the resistance against the Christianization of all parts of the country, including the Saxons, which was proclaimed under the Pippinids .
  • Around 715: The Saxons subjugate the Hattuarians who live between the Ruhr and Lenne .
  • 738: Pippin the Younger's first attempt at more solid submission to the Franconian Crown
  • 772 to 804: The attempt to introduce Christianity into the largely dependent areas led to Charlemagne's Saxon Wars, which lasted more than thirty years
  • 772: Conquest of the Saxon Eresburg and destruction of an important religious center of the Saxon religion, the Irminsul . The old belief is considered pagan by the Christian occupiers .
  • 775: Second campaign of the Franks. Charlemagne decides the complete submission (or extermination) of the Saxons. Conquest of the strategically important Saxon Sigiburg high above the Ruhr , reconstruction of the Eresburg and advance to Brunisberg. After a lost battle on the Weser, the Ostfalen submit under the leadership of Hessi; The same thing happens on Charlemagne's march back, now on the part of the Engern under their leader Bruno (first evidence of the names "Engern" and "Ostfalen" in the Einhardsannalen ).
  • 777: Charlemagne calls a Frankish imperial assembly in Paderborn , in the middle of the land of the supposedly defeated Saxons. The failed engagement of Karl in Spain lets the Saxons resume their struggle for independence under the leadership of Duke Widukind .
  • 785: The baptism of the Saxon Duke Widukind initiates the Christianization of the Saxons.
  • 794: Decisive battle on the Sintfeld .
  • 799: As Charles's demonstration of power, another imperial assembly takes place in Paderborn; the Saxons are finally defeated.
  • 804: Incorporation of the Saxons into the empire of Charlemagne while retaining the Things .
  • 809: Charles' ambassadors agree with ambassadors of the Danish king on the Eider as the border river between the Franconian Empire and the Danish Empire. Charles's influence on the Saxons ends at Esesfeld Castle at the transition from the march to the Geest ; the Saxons of northern Albania hold on to their traditions and their princes on the Geest.
  • 841–843: The “ Stellinga uprising ” was the last of the uprisings of the Saxon people, spurred on by Lothar I , who was looking for allies in the fight against his brother Ludwig the German .
  • 9th century: Formation of the Duchy of Saxony, consisting of the parts Engern, Westphalia, Ostfalen and Northern Albingia. The sovereign in northern Albingia only has something to say during the march, the traditional Saxon princes and princely families still rule on the Geest.

With Heinrich I , a Saxon duke became German king in 919. He was followed by the first German emperors Otto the Great, Otto II and Otto III. The era of the emperors from the Liudolfinger family ended with the death of Henry II in 1024. During this century, the political and cultural focus of the empire was in the area of ​​the Saxons.

After the declaration of eighth by Henry the Lion in 1180, because of his refusal to bring the Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa military victories to Italy, the emperor smashed the old tribal duchy of Saxony. Westphalia was handed over to the church; Heinrich the Lion stayed in Braunschweig and Lüneburg , the princes and bishops were declared to be directly subordinate to the empire ; the name Duchy of Saxony was only attached to a small part of the country on the Elbe .

On January 6, 1423, this part was awarded to the Margrave of Meißen , Frederick the Arguable. Since the ducal title had the higher dignity, from now on it carried the title “Duke of Saxony”, which is what today's Free State of Saxony got its name. The inhabitants of this region were descendants of the Slavs (Sorbs, Wends) who had been resident since the 7th century, but above all the Central German settlers who immigrated from the areas of today's Thuringia and Hesse in the course of the eastern expansion since the 12th century and had none until the name was transferred historical reference to the former Saxon tribal association. This new duchy of Saxony was then referred to as Upper Saxony for a long time, and the historic Saxon settlement area as Lower Saxony. The latter name was revived as the name of today's state of Lower Saxony when Prussia was dissolved after the Second World War .

Inner circumstances

Little affected by the migration of peoples , the Saxons who remained on the mainland probably preserved a relatively original Germanic people's constitution and were never under a common king until the conquest by Charlemagne . Beda Venerabilis is the only one who reports on the internal affairs of the Saxons before the time of Charlemagne. He writes that the Old Saxons did not have a king, but a great many local rulers above the people. In the event of war, they would have drawn lots to decide who would temporarily lead the army. After the war, all of these local rulers would have had the same power again. The Saxon local rulers may have been tribal kings in the tradition of the thiudan title.

In the oldest biography of St. Lebuin (written after 840), there is a record of a meeting of the Saxons in Marklo , at which the satraps with an entourage of 36 men each would have gathered. For a long time it was assumed by misinterpreting the word “electi” that elected representatives would have come together here. Until the very recent past, based on Tacitus , who reported about Germanic monarchies and republics, a kind of Saxon republican tribal constitution was thought of. However, this should not correspond to the facts, just as the interpretation of Tacitus is now regarded as wrong.

Another argument for this interpretation is also no longer tenable today. Charlemagne had meetings in Saxony prohibited in the Capitulatio de partibus Saxoniae law. In the past, the text of the law was interpreted in such a way that it implied a single large assembly of the Saxons. Today, the Landtag of Marklo is seen by some as a pure fable, others as not proven with certainty. The skeptics probably believe in the numerous individual rulers of the Saxons until the conquest by Charlemagne, but interpret Beda's concept of satrap as an already temporarily existing relationship of subordination to the Frankish overlord. Matthias Becher, on the other hand, tried to illuminate the legal practice and inner constitution of the Saxons by comparing them with the Anglo-Saxon legal system and therefore sees the satrapes as tribal kings , whose assembly was also necessary if they were to elect the general mentioned by Beda. In Holstein, annual meetings of the Thing continued until 1546.

Tribal groups

In historical literature the names of various Saxon tribal groups appear again and again. It has not yet been clarified whether this is not also about the Franconian division into administrative provinces. The use of the term satrap in Beda suggests, however, that the Saxons were not a politically fully united people, even if the same source also mentions a "provincia Antiquorum Saxonum" (roughly synonymous with an "empire of the Old Saxons") we're talking about being inhabited by a "gens". However, it remains unclear whether the tribal names of the Westphalia ( Westfali, Westfalai ), Engern ( Angarii ( also called Angrarii in older literature and older text editions )), Ostfalen ( Ostfalai , Osterliudi , Austreleudi , Austreleudi Saxones or Austrasii ) and Northern Albingians when the earliest sources could already look back on a longer history or whether they had perhaps even emerged recently in connection with the Franconian threat to Saxon territory. The existence of the Northern Albingians (historically also Northern Liudi ), the Bards , the Wigmodians , the Haruden or the Northern Swabians as independent entities of the Saxon people speaks against a traditional three-part tribe - which is often given as West and Ostfalen as well as Engern . It was only later that the northern people and Bardengauer were apparently assigned to the Ostfalen.

It seems possible that the three canonical tribes of the Saxons owe their fame to their southern location near the Franconian aggressors, to whom they were the first to submit and were consequently highlighted as "fideles Saxones". It cannot be ruled out that in the course of the Franconian-Saxon conflict, smaller territories came together to form larger structures and thus formed the well-known large tribes. This would also explain the temporal priority of the Westphalians over the Engern and Ostfalen, who only came under military pressure later, and even more so to the Wigmodians, Bardengauer and Northern Albingians who were further north. In addition to the Westphalian Widukind, the names of the partial kings Bruno (Engern), Hessi and Theoderich (both from Ostfalen) have been preserved. Since the peace treaties with the Franks (as subjugation of Saxon leaders or petty kings) were carried out at the regional level, the tribal names were incorporated into the administrative structure of the Franconian Empire and were later possibly continued to the north; The accumulation of documents in the southern Saxon region fits this assumption.

In historical times the three known sub-tribes were distinguished from one another as follows:

  1. Westphalia: the western part of the old Sachsenland around the rivers Ruhr, Sieg , Lippe and Ems , i.e. today's Münsterland via Osnabrück to the Frisian border, in the south including today's eastern Ruhr area and Sauerland and in the west the today's Dutch provinces Overijssel and Drenthe.
  2. Closer: the middle part of the old Sachsenland around the rivers Weser , Diemel , Leine up to Aller , i.e. the eastern Sauerland or eastern Westphalia on the Weser from Hannoversch Münden to Minden around Göttingen to the lower Leine in Hanover down to Holstein and Friesland .
  3. Ostfalen: the eastern part of the old Sachsenland around the rivers Aland , Ohre , Saale , Oker , Bode in the east to the Elbe, i.e. the area around Magdeburg , Braunschweig, Hildesheim , Halberstadt in the south including the Harz , in the north and east to the Elbe .

The name Westphalia was the only one that was retained as the name of a political territory at a later date, while the names Engern and Ostfalen were lost when the Duchy of Saxony was dissolved after Henry the Lion's declaration of eighth in 1180. Only in the title of the regents of the younger Duchy of Saxony, Duke of Saxony, Engern and Westphalia , the name Engern continued to exist. Ostfalen only existed as the name of the Ostfalengau .


The Westphalia lived mainly between the Rhine foreland (Münsterland, middle Ruhr, Sauerland) and the Weser. Their name means "Westmen" or "West Saxons" and is first attested to at the time of Charlemagne. In recent times the ethnic affiliation of the Westphalia to the Saxons has been convincingly questioned. It is noticeable that the archaeological finds from Westphalia prove that the population resident there was under strong Franconian influence as early as the 6th century, but without being attributable to the Franconian Empire.

Belonging to the Saxon ethnic group cannot be proven either. It was probably only the pressure of the Frankish conquest that forced the Westphalian population to join forces with the Saxons. When viewed by the successful Franconian side, the independent parts of the population of Westphalia were also subsumed under the term of the Saxons.

Ostfalen ( Saxonia orientalis )

The Ostfalen ("Ostmänner") lived between the Weser and Elbe. This originally Thuringian area was not settled by Saxony until the 7th to 10th centuries.


The Engern obviously occupied a middle position in Saxony. They lived on the Weser, between Ostfalen and Westphalia . In their area is the site of the annual meeting of Marklo on the Weser. The name of the Engern ( Latin Angarii ) seems to be the shortened form of the name of the Angrivarians , who therefore formed an important tribe of the Saxons.

Northern Albingians

The Stormaren , Holsteiner and Dithmarscher living north of the Elbe are called Nordalbingians (from Latin Albis "Elbe") . The northern Albingians differed from the other Saxon tribes in that they were not divided into estates. So there was no nobility or latin . All farmers were equal in court. Elites only formed themselves for clearly defined areas of responsibility and only temporarily. So offices were not hereditary. The constitution of the three tribes thus resembled Danish rather than Saxon law. The settlement area of ​​the northern Albingians was bordered to the north by the Eider and Levensau (west of Kiel ), to the east by the Schwentine and only touched the Baltic Sea on the Kiel Fjord . The east bordering areas had been abandoned in the 5th century and were reclaimed by immigrating Slavs ( Ostholstein and Lauenburg ) from the end of the 7th century , who were subjugated by the Holstein counts in the High Middle Ages. Dithmarschen, Holstein and Stormarn were separated from the rest of Saxony in the course of the armed conflict between the Danish Kingdom and the German Empire. Danish kings who had fled the land and who had been overthrown from the throne in Denmark often ruled here with the toleration of the emperor - as in some parts of north-west Lower Saxony. Twice this area has been awarded to the Danish royal family by the emperor.


42 horse burials near Rullstorf near Lüneburg indicate an extensive horse cult of the Old Saxons .


The language in the Saxon tribal association is assigned to North Sea Germanic and, together with the related languages ​​of the Angling and Jutes, formed the basis of Anglo-Saxon . Up until the 10th century, mainland Saxon was closer to Old English than Old High German . To this day there is a common basic vocabulary between English and Low German. It was only through the influence of Norman French that English got its Germanic-Romance form.

Lower Saxon or Low German is an independent language with its own grammar. Thereafter, Lower Saxon is divided into the following language subgroups, in which the old Saxon tribal or crook names appear again:

  1. Northern Lower Saxony
  2. Westphalian
  3. Ostfälisch

Low German , which was widespread as the language of the Hanseatic League, goes back primarily to Saxon. In Schleswig-Holstein and the northern parts of the federal state of Lower Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania , Low German is still spoken in addition to High German . Westphalian, Ostfälisch and “Platt”, which was used in rural areas in Brandenburg and in the north of Saxony-Anhalt until the 20th century, are also Low German dialects. Even today's Lusatian-Neumark dialects have a distinctly Low German substratum.

The dialect of Upper Saxony (Electoral Saxony), today's Free State of Saxony, East Thuringia and southern Saxony-Anhalt, which is now colloquially known as "Saxon", goes back to East Central German languages and belongs to the Thuringian-Upper Saxon dialect group .


  • Matthias Becher : Non enim habent regem idem Antiqui Saxones ... Constitution and ethnogenesis in Saxony during the 8th century. In: Hans-Jürgen Häßler (Hrsg.): Studies on Saxony research . Volume 12, 1999, pp. 1–31 ( full version as PDF; 2.73 MB).
  • Dieter Bischop et al. (Ed.): Settlers, mercenaries and pirates. Accompanying publication to the exhibition of the same name in the Focke Museum / Bremer Landesmuseum from March 8 to May 14, 2000 (= Bremer Archäologische Blätter , supplement 2/2000), ISSN  0068-0907 .
  • Torsten Capelle : The Saxons of the early Middle Ages . Theiss, Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 3-8062-1384-4 .
  • Torsten Capelle, Matthias Springer , Heinrich Tiefenbach: Saxony. In: Heinrich Beck , Dieter Geuenich, Heiko Steuer (Hrsg.): Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde. Volume 26, de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2004, ISBN 3-11-017734-X , pp. 24-60.
  • Albert Genrich : "The Name of the Saxons - Myth and Reality", in: Studies on Saxony Research , Volume 7, ed. by Hans-Jürgen Hässler (= publications of the prehistoric collections of the Landesmuseum zu Hannover , Volume 39), Hildesheim 1991, pp. 137–144.
  • Wilhelm Gebers : On the way to Walhall. The horses of the Old Saxons - companions in life and death . Industrie-Museum Lohne, Lohne 2004, ISBN 3-9808151-8-8 .
  • Wolfgang Giese : The Saxon tribe and the empire in Ottonian and Salian times. Studies on the influence of the Saxon tribe on the political history of the German Empire in the 10th and 11th centuries and on their position in the empire structure with an outlook on the 12th and 13th centuries. Steiner, Wiesbaden 1979, ISBN 3-515-02787-4 .
  • Hans-Jürgen Häßler : Lower Saxony's early population: the old Saxons of the late Roman Empire and the early Middle Ages . Hanover 2004, ISBN 3-89995-094-1 .
  • Bruno Krüger (ed.): The Germanic peoples. History and culture of the Germanic tribes in Central Europe. A manual . Two volumes. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1983 (publications of the Central Institute for Ancient History and Archeology of the Academy of Sciences of the GDR, Volume 4).
  • Walther Lammers (Hrsg.): Origin and constitution of the Saxon tribe (= ways of research , volume 50). Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1967.
  • Babette Ludowici (Ed.): Saxones. Lower Saxony State Exhibition 2019 under the patronage of Lower Saxony's Prime Minister Stephan Weil in the State Museum Hanover and the Braunschweig State Museum. Landesmuseum Hannover: 5.4.-18.8.2019, Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum: 22.9.2019-2.2.2020. (= New Studies on Saxony Research , Volume 7). wbg Theiss, Darmstadt 2019, ISBN 978-3-8062-4005-4 .
  • Matthias Springer : The Saxons . Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-17-016588-7 (with partially different research positions; review in Sehepunkte )

Web links

  • Björn Bohling: Why the Saxons are not Saxons. The history of Lower Saxony and the migration of the Saxon name from the North Sea to the Mark Meissen , 2011 ( text online ).

Individual evidence

  1. Capelle: (1998) pp. 10, 11.
  2. ^ A b Albert Genrich : "The Name of the Saxons - Myth and Reality", in: Studies on Saxony Research , Volume 7, ed. by Hans-Jürgen Hässler (= publications of the prehistoric collections of the Landesmuseum zu Hannover , Volume 39), Hildesheim 1991, pp. 137–144.
  3. a b Springer, Die Sachsen , pp. 57–96.
  4. See Jaan Puhvel: Comparative mythology. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London 1987, p. 193.
  5. Ernst Schwarz: Germanic tribal studies . VMA Verlag, Wiesbaden 2009, ISBN 978-3-938586-10-5 , pp. 119 ff. And 130 ff.
  6. Springer: Die Sachsen , pp. 17–31.
  7. Eutrop mentions rebellious Saxons for the year in which Emperor Marcus Aurelius Carinus was murdered: Eutrop, Breviarium , 9, 21.
  8. See Klaus-Peter Johne : The Romans on the Elbe . Berlin 2006, p. 287 f.
  9. Springer, Die Sachsen , pp. 32–46.
  10. Springer, Die Sachsen , pp. 47–56.
  11. a b Springer, Die Sachsen , p. 53.
  12. Springer, Die Sachsen , p. 97 ff.
  13. Springer, Die Sachsen , pp. 100–111.
  14. Springer, Die Sachsen , p. 111 ff.
  15. Eugen Ewig, The Merovingians and the Franconian Empire. Kohlhammer Verlag, 5th updated edition 2006, p. 143 f.
  16. Jump up ↑ Springer, Die Sachsen , p. 115.
  17. Ptol. 2.11.
  18. For example in KIP , Vol. 4, Col. 1577.
  19. Springer, Die Sachsen , pp. 17–31.
  20. Eutropus, 9.21.
  21. ^ Atlas of History Volume 1, VEB Hermann Haack, Leipzig 1981, p. 16, map I.
  22. Udolph 1999, p. 447; Udolph 1995, p. 266.
  23. Springer, Die Sachsen , p. 47.
  24. according to Gildas
  25. ^ Rudolf von Fulda (after 850), Widukind von Corvey (968) and the Quedlinburger Annalen (around 1020).
  26. a b cup: Non enim habent regem idem Antiqui Saxones…. P. 29.
  27. ^ Matthias Springer: The Saxons . In: Kohlhammer Urban paperbacks . tape 598 . Verlag W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2004, p. 242 .
  28. ^ Annales regni francorum a. 775, cit. Mug: Non enim habent regem idem Antiqui Saxones…. P. 23.
  29. a b cup: Non enim habent regem idem Antiqui Saxones…. (PDF; 2.73 MB) pp. 6–11.
  30. Springer, Die Sachsen , p. 131 ff.
  31. ^ Beaker: Non enim habent regem idem Antiqui Saxones…. P. 16 ff.
  32. ^ Beaker: Non enim habent regem idem Antiqui Saxones…. Pp. 18-28.
  33. ^ Beaker: Non enim habent regem idem Antiqui Saxones…. P. 25.
  34. ^ Beaker: Non enim habent regem idem Antiqui Saxones…. Pp. 23, 28 f.
  35. ^ Beaker: Non enim habent regem idem Antiqui Saxones…. P. 30.
  36. Kristina Nowak: "The War Against the 'Saxons' - A Contribution to Ethnic Identity in Westphalia", in: Ralf Molkenthin / Bodo Gundelach (eds.): De Ludo Kegelorum, contributions to the appointment of Dieter Scheler as honorary professor. Morschen 2008, pp. 9-19; Kristina Nowak: History is made by winners. Sources from the 6th to 9th centuries and the archaeological context in Westphalia. In: Henriette Brink-Kloke (ed.): The Lords of Asseln, an early medieval burial ground on Dortmund's Hellweg. Munich / Berlin 2007, pp. 89–94.