The Historia Ecclēsiastica Gentis Anglōrum, completed in 731 CE, remains our best source of knowledge about early Anglo-Saxon history. The author, popularly known as The Venerable Bede (ca. 672–735), was born on the lands of the monastery of Wearmouth and Jarrow, in the Kingdom of Northumbria. He entered the monastery at the age of seven, and made it his home for the rest of his life. He was the author of nearly fifty works, written in Latin, including grammatical and metrical textbooks, Biblical exegesis, and church history.

As he explains in the first book of his Historia, five languages were spoken in Britain in his day: Old English (Anglo-Saxon), Brittonic (Welsh), Irish, Pictish, and Latin. While the vernaculars were spoken languages used in everyday speech, Latin was generally a scholarly language, learned from textbooks, as we tend to learn it today, and reserved for use by the Church. The Latin that Bede learned at Wearmouth and Jarrow, and that he wrote in his many books, is remarkably close to what we think of as Classical Latin, with some usages more common to later Latin. More will be said about Bede’s Latin in the section on Bede’s Latin.

Currently, the only available student commentary on selections from Bede’s Historia Ecclēsiastica is F.W. Garforth’s 1967 text and commentary (Bolchazy-Carducci), which has several shortcomings—not least of which is his complete omission of sections on important Anglo-Saxon women such as Saints Æthelthryth and Hild. This commentary seeks to address those omissions, as well as to provide fuller and more helpful grammatical notes and up-to-date digital resources (such as maps) to aid in an understanding of Bede’s text. 

Rob Hardy, August 2017

A note on the Latin text

The digitized Latin text, initially borrowed from the version of Plummer’s 1896 text on The Latin Library, was edited to conform, apart from occasional differences of punctuation and orthography, to the text of Michael Lapidge published in the CSEL series in 2005. The exceptions are as follows:

2.2.1 loco, qui (Plummer)] loco ubi (Lapidge)

2.12.30 quid agendum (Plummer)] et quid agendum (Lapidge)

In matters of orthography we have generally adopted the choices of the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources (DMLBS), which is both authoritative for this period of Latin and spells many words in ways that will be familiar to those used to classical texts. Thus, for example, aerumna (DMLBS) not erumna (Plummer, Lapidge), aeger not eger, paene not pene. For Anglo-Saxon names we have generally followed the authority of The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England (PASE).

In conformity with DCC style, macra over long vowels aid in the proper pronunciation and identification of the words. Macra were added partly with the aid of Johan Winge’s macronizer, though they were also checked by hand. In cases of doubt our authority in matters of quantity has been Woordenboek Latijn/Nederlands, 6th revised edition 2014 (editor-in-chief Harm Pinkster), as kindly made available on Logeion.

Chris Francese, October 2017

Cover photo: Mosaic ceiling detail in the Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs. Source: Photorasa