Most famously known for their invasion of post-Roman Britain, the Saxons are a tribe important to Western history. Their interaction with the Romans in late antiquity characterized them as opportunistic pirates and raiders, yet they would go on to be a founding element of English civilization. Later, the Saxon Wars (772-804) with Charlemagne would be critical to the Christianization of central Europe; these conflicts would also presage the Viking raids that would devastate the Carolingian Empire. Here, I hope to give an account of Saxon history from the earliest times with a focus on their life on the European continent, though some discussion will be spent on their invasions of England.
The Saxons: Early Sources
The Saxons are first mentioned with certainty in history from the writings of Ptolemy (100-170 AD), a Greek Egyptian born under Roman rule in Alexandria. Ptolemy, in his tenth chapter of Geographia (150 AD)¸ writes about the Germanic peoples inhabiting the lands east of the Rhine river (Rhenus), north of the Danube (Danubius), and west of the Vistula. This work was written during the reign of Marcus Aurelius.