The Anglo-Saxon World

Nicholas J. Higham and Martin J. Ryan. Yale Univ., $45 (480p) ISBN 978-0-300-12534-4
For a field of history as obscure and shrouded in myth as that of Anglo-Saxon England (from the 400s to the late 11th century), Higham and Ryan, both professors at the University of Manchester, do an excellent job of delving as deep as possible into the past of the ancient isle. Part of that process includes clearing away the many myths and revisionist histories that have threatened to alter, subjugate, or erase altogether the true story of England’s complex origins. But Higham and Ryan don’t simply dismiss these as unimportant; after all, folklore—whether native or imposed—is part of a nation’s narrative. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th-century History of the Kings of Britain, for example, popularized the legend of King Arthur and claimed that Britain was founded by Trojan refugees—an assertion that had the effect of “displac[ing] and... devalue[ing] the Anglo-Saxons, marking them down as pagan, wicked and other.” In order to set the record straight, Higham and Ryan opt for a dutifully academic approach, relying heavily on archeological excavations and various historical, cultural, and literary artifacts to weave together a thorough (if occasionally dense) and illuminating textbook-style history. A perfect primer for serious scholars. Photos, maps, and illus. throughout. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 07/08/2013
Release date: 06/01/2013
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