Beowulf: Fact or Fiction

Jaime & Meg-han

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Historical Context

1. The Angles and Saxons, along with other Germanic tribes, began arriving from northern Europe around A.D. 449. The Britons perhaps led by a Celtic chieftain named Arthur fought a series of battles against the invaders. Eventually, however, the Britons were driven to the west, the north, and across the English Channel to an area of France that became known as Britanny. Settled by the Anglo-Saxons, the main part of Britain took on a new name: Angle-land, or England. Anglo-Saxon culture became the basis for English culture, and their guttural, vigorous language became the spoken language of the people, the language now known as Old English.

2. One of the finest epic poems of Anglo-Saxon literature, Beowulf is a stirring adventure story and a deeply serious commentary on human life. It tells the story of the life and death of the legendary hero Beowulf in his great battles with supernatural monsters and in his reign as a cultured and popular monarch. Beowulf is a model of heroic spirit at its finest, the ideal Anglo-Saxon image of warrior-aristocrat.

Background of Beowulf

Scholars consider the author of Beowulf an immensely gifted poet, but that is all that is really known about him. His name and biographical information were not preserved, leaving the issue open to much speculation. Some critics suggest that each of the poem’s three fights may have been composed by a different author and later combined by others who added the various digressive narratives, but most subscribe to the notion of a single poet. Since the early English masterpiece was first published, scholars have tried to determine where and when the work could have been originated. They have employed the study of archaeology, history, linguistics and Christianity in the pursuit but still have no conclusive answer. Within some time frames, there are a few likely places the poet could have composed him work. Whether or not the poet originally produced an oral or a written composition, the work definitely follows conventions of the oral poetic tradition.

Archeological Finds

1. The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial: Mound 1 was excavated in the early summer of 1939, initially by Basil Brown from Ipswich Museum, for the landowner Mrs. Edith Pretty. He uncovered the remains of a ninety - foot - long, clinker - built wooden ship of the 7th century , outlined by it iron rivets in the sand. It contained a fabulously rich burial, generally taken to be that of Raedwald, leader of the Wuffing dynasty of the East Angles, dated to c.625 A.D.

2. Sutton Hoo prince: Carver discovered thirty-nine burials, some appearing as 'sand bodies', all interpreted as execution burials of probably the 8th-11th centuries. Over on its western edge he identified Mound 17. This revealed the remains of 'the Sutton Hoo prince', a high-born young man in his twenties with fragment of his coffin , sword and shield, and also the skeleton of his horse, with substantial pieces of a leather bridle, an iron snaffle bit and glit-bronze ornaments (c.600-620).

3. In 2000, a rescue dig examined the footprint of the planned National Trust Visitor Centre, revealing nineteen inhumations and seventeen early Anglo-Saxon cremations. This site known as the Tranmer House cemetery lies 500 meters north of the main Sutton Hoo site and is thought to be slightly earlier in date. When work began on the western half of the site, the first of eight Anglo-Saxon ring-ditches was identified. The diameter of the ring-ditches varied between 2 and 4 meters - the ditches themselves were rarely wider than 30cms and often displayed near vertical sides, resembling 'slot' ring ditches, rarely found in this country, but more common on the continent. The 'slots' were originally dug to hold some sort of structure, but at Sutton Hoo no sign of posts or beams was found. At least 3 of the ring-ditches contained a significant amount of burnt bone deposit which suggests they may have been backfilled with pyre material at their creation.

4. Of the nineteen inhumations, eight showed the vertical edge of coffins within the grave stratification. Some degree of body-staining was seen in most burials and 'sand bodies' survived in several instances. Every burial was furnished with at least one object: thirteen presumed male graves contained weapons (typically a spear and shield) and four contained brooches or bead assemblages, suggesting the graves of women. One grave contained a male with sword, spear, shield boss and decorative shield-mounts.

Factual Connections

1. Back in the Anglo- Saxon time period people would bury the royal with their belongings. (Seen in the photographs above, along with the Archeological Finds.)

2. The Sutton-Hoo evacuation resembled the time when the town evacuated when Grendel attacked the towns people in the mead hall.


In our opinions regarding our research findings and finding how they relate to the epic poem Beowulf, is that it is fiction. Due to our research we couldn’t find anything anywhere that said Beowulf was for sure an actual fact. However we did find some similar occurrences related to the poem that resembled the same meaning. Beowulf was an important figure during the Anglo-Saxon time period.

Works Cited

1. (Allen, etal, 23)

2. Boucquey, Thierry, gen. ed. "Beowulf." Encyclopedia of World Writers, Beginnings through the 13th Century. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. Bloom's Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 26 Sept. 2014

3. Boucquey, Thierry, gen. ed. "Beowulf." Encyclopedia of World Writers, Beginnings through the 13th Century. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. Bloom's Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 30 Sept. 2014