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Who was in Britain after the Romans left? Who did the Vikings raid and battle within Britain?
The Anglo-Saxons inhabited Britain for almost 600 years! Read on to find out more about them and what life was like in the Dark Ages!
Anglo-Saxons came from many places all over Europe including Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. They were known at the time as Jutes, Angles and Saxons. They lived in Britain between 410 AD and 1066 AD settling in the country after the Romans left following the collapse of the Roman Empire.
Upon their arrival in Britain, the Anglo Saxons began to battle the Britons left behind by the Romans for land, farms and villages to live in. The Britons moved north and west into areas that are now Wales, Devon, Cornwall and Northern England.
Most people lived in houses made of wood, often built over a shallow cellar. They were rectangular in shape and were mainly just one or two rooms. They heated their homes with open fires in hearths, usually in the middle of the floor. There were no chimneys so smoke escaped gradually through the thatched roofs.
Most people earned their living on the land as farmers but there were craftsmen who worked with leather, wood, pottery, glass and other materials to make shoes, furniture, pots, pans, belts, jewellery and other objects. These were usually men. There were no large cities, no schools and no formal law system. There were no doctors yet either. Some people earned their living travelling from place to place as jugglers, jesters or musicians.
Anglo-Saxons ate what they could grow, harvest, rear and catch. Cows, pigs, chickens and geese were raised and many other wild animals were caught to be eaten. There were hares but no rabbits at this time. Domestic animals gave eggs, milk and cheese. They caught fish and other seafood too, including oysters. There was no sugar but they sweetened their food with honey. They grew wheat and rye which they made into bread, and barley to make beer. They grew fruits and vegetables, including carrots, turnips, onions and garlic, as well as many herbs. Sweetcorn, turkey, potatoes, chillies, sugar and chocolate wouldn’t come to England for hundreds of years.
Anglo-Saxons drank beer and a fermented drink made from honey called mead. They didn’t drink water as the river water was usually very polluted. Weak beer was drunk by everyone, including children. Milk was available if the family kept cows. Stronger beer was saved for feasts and special occasions. Wine was only available for the very rich.
Anglo-Saxon clothes were often made from wool that could be taken from their sheep. Men wore trousers and long tunics and women usually wore long dresses known as ‘peplos’. Both men and women used brooches to pin their clothes in places, normally around the neck or at the shoulders. Belts would also be used to keep their clothes in place. Wealthy people would also wear jewellery.
In their free time, many Anglo-Saxon villages would come together and tell stories. This was an important learning opportunity for younger members of the village and people enjoyed telling stories to each other. One famous story that we know of from this time period is the story of Beowulf: A powerful warrior who conquered the foul creature Grendel.
When not telling stories, people would play music and sing together or they would play board games such as Merels or Tabula.
There were strict ranks in Anglo-Saxon Britain. Kings were the most important people, followed by nobles who helped the king run his kingdom. Thanes were given control over land by the king in exchange for fighting in battles. Farmers and craftsmen would live and work on the land given to the thane. People were fiercely loyal to their thane and their king. Women and slaves had no rights and could not own land.
Laws were harsh in Anglo-Saxon times. Liars had their tongues cut out and thieves had their hands chopped off. Sometimes, a criminal was given a trial by ordeal, such as holding a red-hot iron. If the wound was healed, they were declared innocent. ‘Weregild’ was paid as compensation if you injured someone or did wrong to someone. The amount of ‘weregild’ paid depended on how important the victim was. Jails had not yet been invented as a form of punishment and neither had guillotines, but hanging was introduced to Britain during the Anglo-Saxon era and became one of the most widely used punishments.
Anglo-Saxons did not understand what caused diseases but they tried their best to cure them. Women used plants and herbs as salves and ointments and made special drinks. Moss, for example, was used to help wounds heal. They also wore lucky charms that were supposed to protect them from harm.
When the Anglo-Saxons first came to Britain, they brought their beliefs in gods, goddesses and religion with them. However, in AD 597, Pope Gregory, the leader of the Christian church, sent a missionary to England. After that, more and more people became Christians and the Anglo-Saxons started building churches. However, many people held on to their traditional beliefs and mixed them with Christianity. An example of this is the Christian celebration of Easter. This got its name from the pagan goddess of spring: Eostre. In springtime, pagans would feast and celebrate the new year. This became mixed with the Christian festivities to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.
Despite the growing popularity of Christianity in England at this time, the Anglo-Saxons still practised some of their pagan festivities and rituals. One example of this is burials. Anglo-Saxon burials often buried the body in crouched or curled up positions. They would also bury the person with goods and treasures that the person could take with them to the afterlife such as brooches, games, pots and weapons.
Click here to read about one of the most famous Anglo-Saxon burial sites that has been found by archaeologists: Sutton Hoo.
In the year 793 AD Vikings from Norway, Denmark and Sweden first raided a monastery in Lindisfarne on the northeast coast of England. At this time there were seven separate kingdoms across England.
Over the next 100 years, Viking raids became more and more common, with the Vikings eventually beginning to settle in England and create villages of their own. They were powerful warriors and in 865 AD a huge army arrived in England conquering massive areas of North and East England. It took them only thirteen years to occupy a third of England. This area became known as Danelaw.
After many violent battles the king of Wessex, King Alfred, brokered a peace treaty in 886 AD with the Viking king, Guthrum. Guthrum was to be baptised into Christianity and was to leave Wessex alone. In turn, the Vikings could live peacefully in Danelaw. Alfred became king over all the lands of England apart from Danelaw. He became known as Alfred the Great, king of the English.
In 1016, the Anglo-Saxon king Edmund died. He left the kingdom to the Viking king Cnut. The kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia and Danelaw were now under the control of a single king. Cnut also ruled Denmark and much of Norway. He was a very powerful king.
When Cnut died in 1035, there was a disagreement about who should be his successor. This resulted in several years of war. Eventually Edward the Confessor became king in 1042. England became very powerful during his reign. He ordered that Westminster Abbey (a huge cathedral) be built in London, beginning in 1050. This magnificent piece of architecture still stands today!
Unfortunately, when King Edward died in 1066 there was another argument about who his successor should be. Three men wanted the throne of England: Harold Hardrada (King of Norway), William (Duke of Normandy) and Harold Godwinson (Earl of Wessex).
There were many battles, most famously the Battle of Hastings in October 1066. Both Harolds were killed during these battles and William the Conqueror of Normandy and his Norman army were victorious. Thus ended the Anglo-Saxon and Viking era and Norman Britain began.
Find out more about the Battle of Hastings using these FREE Fact Cards for KS2.
More Interesting Anglo-Saxon Facts:
What Do Scientists Do?
Brilliant planning and differentiated resources
Clear, concise and excellent visual support
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