during the Anglo-Saxon period was about their cultural
hardships. There were wars to be fought, and food to be farmed, all to serve the higher glory of the nobles, lords, and Kings. Religious literature had little effect upon the masses because of their Pagan beliefs which required no literacy to read Christian values from the Bible
was rampant, reading did not help one survive. In these Dark Ages
a kingdom would more likely be at war than at peace with constant power struggles.
Riddles were popular with the Saxons: "Of honey laden bees I was first born, but in the forest grew my outer coat; My tough back comes from shoes (the leather thongs), An iron point in artful windings cuts a fair design, and leaves long twisted furrows like a plough." This riddle describes the production and use of a wax tablet or wax book. Surviving collections of these riddles include examples by contemporaries such as Aldhelm, Abbot of Malmsbury and Bishop of Sherborne c.640 - 709 A.D., Tatwine, Archbishop of Canterbury (died 734 A.D.) and 'Eusebius', possibly Hwaetherht, Abbot of Wearmouth and friend of Bede c.680 - 747 A.D.. (Regia)
Books and manuscripts were written on vellum, a preparation of calf, goat and sheep skins. The majority of codex, or scripts, used a great number of hides, anywhere up to 800 for the greater books. (Regia) Therefore the production of these scripts was very expensive procedure and the books were mainly produced for kings and the Church and often required a scribe to produce them. Journals, biographies, and copies of the bible were the most common forms of written literature, although they were scarce.
Life and Lifestyle as an Anglo-Saxon:
life during the Anglo-Saxon period from 597 AD to 1066 AD (Britannia) was one of paganism
, and strict social class levels which included slavery. There were seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (Heptarchy
) that coexisted together: Northumberland
, East Anglia
). The Anglo-Saxon settlement of England did not occur overnight. The late-Roman
army had many Germanic elements and from the fourth century they and their families had settled in Britain. It is, therefore, not surprising that after the withdrawal of the legions at the beginning of the fifth century, individual towns looked to Germanic
mercenaries to maintain their security. The fifth and sixth centuries saw increased Germanic settlement although the balance of local power fluctuated between Britons
and Saxons. (Regia)
The crops most frequently grown were wheat, oats, rye, and barley (both as a cereal and as the base for beer). Peas, beans, and lentils were also common. Honey was the only sweetener in use, and it was used to make the alcoholic beverage mead. Pigs were a major food animal, as were cattle, goats, and sheep. Horses and oxen were raised for heavy farm labor and transportation, though the stirrup had yet to make an appearance from the far east. (Britainexpress)
Clothing style was worn depending upon class, gender, and area. The robe or tunic gathered at the waist was the common garment for a man, completed by hose and soft shoes. For a woman the robe or dress extended to the feet. The usual materials were linen and woolens, the more expensive outfits being marked by colorful dyes and exotic borders. Broaches were used to fix clothing by rich and poor, and amulets of stones were worn for luck. (Britannia) During wartimes very little armor was worn for protection when compared to the Vikings. Usually the Saxons wore a simple circle shield and equipped with a spear while the Vikings wore chain mail and helmets, and short stabbing swords which were useful in close quarters, as well as the fearsome double headed battle axe. Only the Anglo-Saxon nobility used swords which were around thirty inches long.
Society was divided into several social classes, which might vary from place to place. At the top was the king. He was essentially a war leader. He was expected to provide opportunities for plunder and glory for his followers. Below the king were the eoldermen, the ruling nobility.
The eolderman was the king's 'viceroy' in a shire, responsible for administration and justice, for calling out the fyrd and leading its forces in the field. (Regia) Next there were two levels of freemen, the upper class thanes and the lower class ceorls (churls). The division between the two was strictly in terms of land owned. A man could only be a thane if he owned at least five hides of land (a hide was defined as the amount of land necessary to provide a living for one family). Aside from the ownership of land, a ceorl could actually be a richer man than the thane. Below the thanes and ceorls were the slaves. Slavery was one of the biggest commercial enterprises of Dark Age life, and much depended on this involuntary labor force. Later much of this land was consolidated into the large estates of wealthy nobles. Ceorls might work the land in return for service or produce, or they might work the lord's land a given number of days per year. As time went on more and more of these large estates were established as integrated commercial enterprises, complete with a water mill to grind the grain. (Britainexpress)
In the countryside the vast majority of the people lived by farming. At first most of the farms were owned outright. The ceorls worked co-operatively, sharing the expense of a team of oxen to plough the large common fields in narrow strips that were shared out alternately so that each farmer had an equal share of good and bad land. (Britainexpress)
The Anglo-Saxons were pagans
when they came to Britain. They worshiped gods of nature and held springs, wells, rocks, and trees in reverence. Religion was not a source of spiritual revelation
, it was a means of ensuring success in material things. For example, they might pray to a particular goddess for a successful harvest, or for victory in battle. A few of the main Anglo-Saxon gods were Tiw
, and Friya
, whose names are remembered in the days of the week Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Religious observance consisted of invocations and charms to ensure the gods' help in securing a desired outcome in the material world, though the presence of grave goods indicates a belief in an afterlife. There is a possibility that female slaves may have been sacrificed on the death of a male owner and included in the grave to accompany him in the next world. (Britainexpress)
For a ruler such as a king to stay in power they often had to provide plunder
, which resulted in many wars. There are numerous examples where the nobility, family, and others dethroned their ruler for power struggles or because there was a lack in riches, power, or slaves: In 656 the murder of King Peada
of Middle Anglia
through the treachery of his wife. In 660 King Sigeberht II of Essex
is murdered by his brothers, Swithelm
, and other kinsmen for being "too ready to pardon his enemies" that is to say, the Christians
. In 697 Queen Osthryth
was murdered by her own noblemen. In 757 King Aethelbald
is murdered by his own household in a dynastic coup by one Beornred and then King Beornred is quickly ousted by Aethelbald's distant cousin, Offa
. In 759 King Oswulf of Northumbria
is murdered by his own household at Methel Wongtun
. (Britannia) Power struggles resulting in death ceased in later years mainly due to the threat of the Vikings
The land was divided into shires, mainly according to the territory of the first tribes, to be administered for the King. The shire was divided into hundreds, or in the Danelaw, wapentakes. To look after the king's interests (see that all the taxes were collected) and administer justice, were the ealdormen and shire-reeves (sheriffs). Within the shires were the towns, or burhs, which ranged in size from 5000 people at York to 500 at St. Albans. Initially only some of the towns were walled, and those often with earthworks reminiscent of the Bronze Age. (Britainexpress)
The Anglo-Saxon period was medieval
in nature, warring was constant, illiteracy rampant, and the function of society benefitted a select few. Social classes often decided your life. This period that lasted roughly 500 years ended just as it started, beaten out by the competition.
Anglo-Saxon Resources Directory. Britannia Internet Magazine. August 2004.
Levick, Ben and Nicholson, Andrew. A Brief History of Anglo-Saxon England. Regia Anglorum.
31 March, 2003 Regia Anglorum Publications 2002. August 2004.
Ross, David. Anglo-Saxon Life. English History. 2001. Ross and Britain Express. August 2004.