The Anglo-Saxons were a people who inhabited Great Britain from the 5th century. They comprise people from Germanic tribes who migrated to the island from continental Europe, their descendants, and indigenous British groups who adopted some aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture and language. Historically, the Anglo-Saxon period denotes the period in Britain between about 450 and 1066, after their initial settlement and up until the Norman conquest. 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. During this period, Christianity was established and there was a flowering of literature and language. Charters and law were also established. The term Anglo-Saxon is popularly used for the language that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons in England and eastern Scotland between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century. In scholarly use, it is more commonly called Old English.
The history of the Anglo-Saxons is the history of a cultural identity. It developed from divergent groups in association with the people's adoption of Christianity, and was integral to the establishment of various kingdoms. Threatened by extended Danish invasions and military 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. Behind the symbolic nature of these cultural emblems, there are strong elements of tribal and lordship ties. The elite declared themselves as kings who developed burhs, and identified their roles and peoples in Biblical terms. Above all, as Helena Hamerow has observed, "local and extended kin groups remained...the 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 makeup 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. This term began to be used only in the 8th century to distinguish "Germanic" groups in Britain from those on the continent (Old Saxony in Northern Germany). 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."