), a German tribe, which, though it acted a very prominent part about the beginning and during the early part of the middle ages, yet is not even mentioned in ancient history previous to A.D. 287.
In that year, we are told by Eutropius (7.13
; comp. Oros. 7.25
), the Saxons and Franks infested the coasts of Armorica and Belgica, the protection of which was intrusted to Carausius.
The fact that Pliny and Tacitus do not mention them in the country in which we afterwards find them, does not prove that they did not exist there in the time of those writers. For the inhabitants of the Cimbrian Chersonesus, where subsequently we find the Saxons, are mentioned by those writers only under the general appellation of the Cimbri, without noticing any special tribes under separate names. Ptolemy (2.11.11
; comp. Steph. B. sub voce
is the first authority describing the habitations of the Saxons, and according to him they occupied the narrow neck of the Cimbrian Chersonesus, between the river Albis (Elbe
) and Chalusus (Trave
), that is, the country now called Holstein.
Their neighbours on the south of the Albis were the Chauci, in the east the Suardones, and in the north the Singulones, Angli, and other smaller tribes of the peninsula.
But besides this portion of the continent, the Saxons also occupied three islands, called “Saxon islands,” off the coast of Holstein
(Σαξόνων νῆσοι, Ptol. 2.11.31
), one of which was no doubt the modern Helgoland;
the two others must either be supposed to have been swallowed up by the sea, or be identified with the islands of Dycksand
which are nearer the coast than Helgoland.
The name Saxones is commonly derived from Sahs
a battle-knife, but others connect it with seax
(earth) or seat,
according to which Saxons would describe the people as living in fixed seats or habitations, as opposed to the free or wandering Franks.
The former, however, is the more probable origin of the name; for the living in fixed habitations was certainly not a characteristic mark of the ancient Saxons.
They appear to have gradually spread along the north-western coast of Germany, and to have gained possession of a large extent of country, which the Ravenna Geographer (4.17, 18, 23) calls by the name of Saxonia, but which was certainly not inhabited by Saxons exclusively In A.D. 371 the Saxons, in one of their usual ravaging excursions on the coasts of Gaul, were surrounded and cut to pieces by the Roman army under Valentinian (Oros. 7.32
; Amm. Marc. 28.2
; comp. 26.4, 27.8; Zosim. 3.1, 6); and about the middle of the fifth century a band of Saxons led by Hengist and Horsa crossed over into Britain, which had been completely given up by the Romans, and now fell into the hands of the roving Saxons, who in connection with other German tribes permanently established themselves in Britain, and there developed the great features of their national character. (Beda, Hist. Eccles.
As the Romans never invaded the original country of the Saxons, we know of no towns or places in it, with the exception perhaps of the town of Treva (Τρήουα
) mentioned by Ptolemy (2.11.27
). Besides those already mentioned, there are but few passages in ancient writers in which the Saxons are mentioned, such as Marcian, p. 53; Claud. de Laud. Stil.
2.255; Sidon. Apoll. 7.90, 369. Among modern writers the reader may consult Kufahl, De Saxonum Origine,
Berlin, 1830, 8vo., and the best works on the early history of England and Germany.