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Catherine Hills summarised the views of many modern scholars in her observation that attitudes towards Anglo-Saxons, and hence the interpretation of their culture and history, have been "more contingent on contemporary political and religious theology as on any kind of evidence." Anglo-Saxon is a term that was rarely used by Anglo-Saxons themselves; it is not an autonym.

It is likely they identified as ængli, Seaxe or, more probably, a local or tribal name such as Mierce, Cantie, Gewisse, Westseaxe, or Norþanhymbre.

The first use of the term Anglo-Saxon amongst the insular sources is in the titles for Athelstan: Angelsaxonum Denorumque gloriosissimus rex (most glorious king of the Anglo-Saxons and of the Danes) and rex Angulsexna and Norþhymbra imperator paganorum gubernator Brittanorumque propugnator (king of the Anglo-Saxons and emperor of the Northumbrians, governor of the pagans, and defender of the Britons).

At other times he uses the term rex Anglorum (king of the English), which presumably meant both Anglo-Saxons and Danes. The term Engla cyningc (King of the English) is used by Æthelred.

The early Anglo-Saxon period includes the creation of an English nation, with many of the aspects that survive today, including regional government of shires and hundreds.Threatened by extended Danish invasions and occupation of eastern England, this identity was re-established; it dominated until after the Norman Conquest.The visible Anglo-Saxon culture can be seen in the material culture of buildings, dress styles, illuminated texts and grave goods.Procopius states that Britain was settled by three races: the Angiloi, Frisones, and Britons.The term Angli Saxones seems to have first been used in continental writing of the 8th century; Paul the Deacon uses it to distinguish the English Saxons from the continental Saxons (Ealdseaxe, literally, 'old Saxons').

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Assigning ethnic labels such as "Anglo-Saxon" is fraught with difficulties.This term began to be used only in the 8th century to distinguish the "Germanic" groups in Britain from those on the continent (Old Saxony in Northern Germany).Above all, as Helena Hamerow has observed, "local and extended kin groups remained..essential unit of production throughout the Anglo-Saxon period." The effects persist in the 21st century as, according to a study published in March 2015, the genetic make up of British populations today shows divisions of the tribal political units of the early Anglo-Saxon period.Use of the term Anglo-Saxon assumes that the words Angles, Saxons or Anglo-Saxon have the same meaning in all the sources.The most contemporaneous textual evidence is the Chronica Gallica of 452 which records for the year 441: "The British provinces, which to this time had suffered various defeats and misfortunes, are reduced to Saxon rule." This is an earlier date than that of 451 for the "coming of the Saxons" used by Bede in his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, written around 731.

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