1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Britain/Anglo-Saxon

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III. ANGLO-SAXON BRITAIN[edit]

1. History.—The history of Britain after the withdrawal of the Roman troops is extremely obscure, but there can be little doubt that for many years the inhabitants of the provinces were exposed to devastating raids by the Picts and Scots. According to Gildas it was for protection against these incursions that the Britons decided to call in the Saxons. Their allies soon obtained a decisive victory; but subsequently they turned their arms against the Britons themselves, alleging that they had not received sufficient payment for their services. A somewhat different account, probably of English origin, may be traced in the Historia Brittonum, according to which the first leaders of the Saxons, Hengest and Horsa, came as exiles, seeking the protection of the British king, Vortigern. Having embraced his service they quickly succeeded in expelling the northern invaders. Eventually, however, they overcame the Britons through treachery, by inducing the king to allow them to send for large bodies of their own countrymen. It was to these adventurers, according to tradition, that the kingdom of Kent owed its origin. The story is in itself by no means improbable, while the dates assigned to the first invasion by various Welsh, Gaulish and English authorities, with one exception all fall within about a quarter of a century, viz. between the year 428 and the joint reign of Martian and Valentinian III. (450-455).

For the subsequent course of the invasion our information is of the most meagre and unsatisfactory character. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the kingdom of Sussex was founded by a certain Ella or Ælle, who landed in 477, while Wessex owed its origin to Cerdic, who arrived some eighteen years later. No value, however, can be attached to these dates; indeed, in the latter case the story itself is open to suspicion on several grounds (see WESSEX). For the movements which led to the foundation of the more northern kingdoms we have no evidence worth consideration, nor do we know even approximately when they took place. But the view that the invasion was effected throughout by small bodies of adventurers acting independently of one another, and that each of the various kingdoms owes its origin to a separate enterprise, has little probability in its favour. Bede states that the invaders belonged to three different nations, Kent and southern Hampshire being occupied by Jutes (q.v.), while Essex, Sussex and Wessex were founded by the Saxons, and the remaining kingdoms by the Angli (q.v.). The peculiarities of social organization in Kent certainly tend to show that this kingdom had a different origin from the rest; but the evidence for the distinction between the Saxons and the Angli is of a much less satisfactory character (see ANGLO-SAXONS). The royal family of Essex may really have been of Saxon origin (see ESSEX), but on the other hand the West Saxon royal family claimed to be of the same stock as that of Bernicia, and their connexions in the past seem to have lain with the Angli.

We need not doubt that the first invasion was followed by a long period of warfare between the natives and the invaders, in which the latter gradually strengthened their hold on the conquered territories. It is very probable that by the end of the 5th century all the eastern part of Britain, at least as far as the Humber, was in their hands. The first important check was received at the siege of "Mons Badonicus" in the year 517 (Ann. Cambr.), or perhaps rather some fifteen or twenty years earlier. According to Gildas this event was followed by a period of peace for at least forty-four years. In the latter part of the 6th century, however, the territories occupied by the invaders seem to have been greatly extended. In the south the West Saxons are said to have conquered first Wiltshire and then all the upper part of the Thames valley, together with the country beyond as far as the Severn. The northern frontier also seems to have been pushed considerably farther forward, perhaps into what is now Scotland, and it is very probable that the basin of the Trent, together with the central districts between the Trent and the Thames, was conquered about the same time, though of this we have no record. Again, the destruction of Chester about 615 was soon followed by the overthrow of the British kingdom of Elmet in south-west Yorkshire, and the occupation of Shropshire and the Lothians took place perhaps about the same period, that of Herefordshire probably somewhat later. In the south, Somerset is said to have been conquered by the West Saxons shortly after the middle of the 7th century. Dorset had probably been acquired by them before this time, while part of Devon seems to have come into their hands soon afterwards.

The area thus conquered was occupied by a number of separate kingdoms, each with a royal family of its own. The districts north of the Humber contained two kingdoms, Bernicia (q.v.) and Deira (q.v.), which were eventually united in Northumbria. South of the Humber, Lindsey seems to have had a dynasty of its own, though in historical times it was apparently always subject to the kings of Northumbria or Mercia. The upper basin of the Trent formed the nucleus of the kingdom of Mercia (q.v.), while farther down the east coast was the kingdom of East Anglia (q.v.). Between these two lay a territory called Middle Anglia, which is sometimes described as a kingdom, though we do not know whether it ever had a separate dynasty. Essex, Kent and Sussex (see articles on these kingdoms) preserve the names of ancient kingdoms, while the old diocese of Worcester grew out of the kingdom of the Hwicce (q.v.), with which it probably coincided in area. The south of England, between Sussex and "West Wales" (eventually reduced to Cornwall), was occupied by Wessex, which originally also possessed some territory to the north of the Thames. Lastly, even the Isle of Wight appears to have had a dynasty of its own. But it must not be supposed that all these kingdoms were always, or even normally, independent. When history begins, Æthelberht, king of Kent, was supreme over all the kings south of the Humber. He was followed by the East Anglian king Raedwald, and the latter again by a series of Northumbrian kings with an even wider supremacy. Before Æthelberht a similar position had been held by the West Saxon king Ceawlin, and at a much earlier period, according to tradition, by Ella or Ælle, the first king of Sussex. The nature of this supremacy has been much discussed, but the true explanation seems to be furnished by that principle of personal allegiance which formed such an important element in Anglo-Saxon society.

2. Government.—Internally the various states seem to have been organized on very similar lines. In every case we find kingly government from the time of our earliest records, and there is no doubt that the institution goes back to a date anterior to the invasion of Britain (see OFFA; WERMUND). The royal title, however, was frequently borne by more than one person. Sometimes we find one supreme king together with a number of under-kings (subreguli); sometimes again, especially in the smaller kingdoms, Essex, Sussex and Hwicce, we meet with two or more kings, generally brothers, reigning together apparently on equal terms. During the greater part of the 8th century Kent seems to have been divided into two kingdoms; but as a rule such divisions did not last beyond the lifetime of the kings between whom the arrangement had been made. The kings were, with very rare exceptions, chosen from one particular family in each state, the ancestry of which was traced back not only to the founder of the kingdom but also, in a remoter degree, to a god. The members of such families were entitled to special wergilds, apparently six times as great as those of the higher class of nobles (see below).

The only other central authority in the state was the king's council or court (þeod, witan, plebs, concilium). This body consisted partly of young warriors in constant attendance on the king, and partly of senior officials whom he called together from time to time. The terms used for the two classes by Bede are milites (ministri) and comites, for which the Anglo-Saxon version has þegnas and gesiðas respectively. Both classes alike consisted in part of members of the royal family. But they were by no means confined to such persons or even to born subjects of the king. Indeed, we are told that popular kings like Oswine attracted young nobles to their service from all quarters. The functions of the council have been much discussed, and it has been claimed that they had the right of electing and deposing kings. This view, however, seems to involve the existence of a greater feeling for constitutionalism than is warranted by the information at our disposal. The incidents which have been brought forward as evidence to this effect may with at least equal probability be interpreted as cases of profession or transference of personal allegiance. In other respects the functions of the council seem to have been of a deliberative character. It was certainly customary for the king to seek their advice and moral support on important questions, but there is nothing to show that he had to abide by the opinion of the majority.

For administrative purposes each of the various kingdoms was divided into a number of districts under the charge of royal reeves (cyninges gerefa, praefectus, praepositus). These officials seem to have been located in royal villages (cyninges tun, villa regalis) or fortresses (cyninges burg, urbs regis), which served as centres and meeting-places (markets, &c.) for the inhabitants of the district, and to which their dues, both in payments and services had to be rendered. The usual size of such districts in early times seems to have been 300, 600 or 1200 hides.[1] In addition to these districts we find mention also of much larger divisions containing 2000, 3000, 5000 or 7000 hides. To this category belong the shires of Wessex (Hampshire, Wiltshire, Berkshire, &c.), each of which had an earl (aldormon, princeps, dux) of its own, at all events from the 8th century onwards. Many, if not all, of these persons were members of the royal family, and it is not unlikely that they originally bore the kingly title. At all events they are sometimes described as subreguli.

3. Social Organization.—The officials mentioned above, whether of royal birth or not, were probably drawn from the king's personal retinue. In Anglo-Saxon society, as in that of all Teutonic nations in early times, the two most important principles were those of kinship and personal allegiance. If a man suffered injury it was to his relatives and his lord, rather than to any public official, that he applied first for protection and redress. If he was slain, a fixed sum (wergild), varying according to his station, had to be paid to his relatives, while a further but smaller sum (manbot) was due to his lord. These principles applied to all classes of society alike, and though strife within the family was by no means unknown, at all events in royal families, the actual slaying of a kinsman was regarded as the most heinous of all offences. Much the same feeling applied to the slaying of a lord—an offence for which no compensation could be rendered. How far the armed followers of a lord were entitled to compensation when the latter was slain is uncertain, but in the case of a king they received an amount equal to the wergild. Another important development of the principle of allegiance is to be found in the custom of heriots. In later times this custom amounted practically to a system of death-duties, payable in horses and arms or in money to the lord of the deceased. There can be little doubt, however, that originally it was a restoration to the lord of the military outfit with which he had presented his man when he entered his service. The institution of thegnhood, i.e. membership of the comitatus or retinue of a prince, offered the only opening by which public life could be entered. Hence it was probably adopted almost universally by young men of the highest classes. The thegn was expected to fight for his lord, and generally to place his services at his disposal in both war and peace. The lord, on the other hand, had to keep his thegns and reward them from time to time with arms and treasure. When they were of an age to marry he was expected to provide them with the means of doing so. If the lord was a king this provision took the form of a grant, perhaps normally ten hides, from the royal lands. Such estates were not strictly hereditary, though as a mark of favour they were not unfrequently re-granted to the sons of deceased holders.

The structure of society in England was of a somewhat peculiar type. In addition to slaves, who in early times seem to have been numerous, we find in Wessex and apparently also in Mercia three classes, described as twelfhynde, sixhynde and twihynde from the amount of their wergilds, viz. 1200, 600 and 200 shillings respectively. It is probable that similar classes existed also in Northumbria, though not under the same names. Besides these terms there were others which were probably in use everywhere, viz. gesiðcund for the two higher classes and ceorlisc for the lowest. Indeed, we find these terms even in Kent, though the social system of that kingdom seems to have been of an essentially different character. Here the wergild of the ceorlisc class amounted to 100 shillings, each containing twenty silver coins (sceattas), as against 200 shillings of four (in Wessex five) silver coins, and was thus very much greater than the latter. Again, there was apparently but one gestiðcund class in Kent, with a wergild of 300 shillings, while, on the other hand, below the ceorlisc class we find three classes of persons described as laetas, who corresponded in all probability to the liti or freedmen of the continental laws, and who possessed wergilds of 80, 60 and 40 shillings respectively. To these we find nothing analogous in the other kingdoms, though the poorer classes of Welsh freemen had wergilds varying from 120 to 60 shillings. It should be added that the differential treatment of the various classes was by no means confined to the case of wergilds. We find it also in the compensations to which they were entitled for various injuries, in the fines to which they were liable, and in the value attached to their oaths. Generally, though not always, the proportions observed were the same as in the wergilds.

The nature of the distinction between the gesiðcund and ceorlisc classes is nowhere clearly explained; but it was certainly hereditary and probably of considerable antiquity. In general we may perhaps define them as nobles and commons, though in view of the numbers of the higher classes it would probably be more correct to speak of gentry and peasants. The distinction between the twelfhynde and sixhynde classes was also in part at least hereditary, but there is good reason for believing that it arose out of the possession of land. The former consisted of persons who possessed, whether as individuals or families, at least five hides of land—which practically means a village—while the latter were landless, i.e. probably without this amount of land. Within the ceorlisc class we find similar subdivisions, though they were not marked by a difference in wergild. The gafolgelda or tributarius (tribute-payer) seems to have been a ceorl who possessed at least a hide, while the gebur was without land of his own, and received his outfit as a loan from his lord.

4. Payments and Services.—We have already had occasion to refer to the dues which were rendered by different classes of the population, and which the reeves in royal villages had to collect and superintend. The payments seem to have varied greatly according to the class from which they were due. Those rendered by landowners seem to have been known as feorm or fostor, and consisted of a fixed quantity of articles paid in kind. In Ine's Laws (cap. 70) we find a list of payments specified for a unit of ten hides, perhaps the normal holding of a twelfhynde man—though on the other hand it may be nothing more than a mere fiscal unit in an aggregate of estates. The list consists of oxen, sheep, geese, hens, honey, ale, loaves, cheese, butter, fodder, salmon and eels. Very similar specifications are found elsewhere. The payments rendered by the gafolgelda (tributarius) were known as gafol (tributuni), as his name implies. In Ine's Laws we hear only of the hwitel or white cloak, which was to be of the value of six pence per household (hide), and of barley, which was to be six pounds in weight for each worker. In later times we meet with many other payments both in money and in kind, some of which were doubtless in accordance with ancient custom. On the other hand the gebur seems not to have been liable to payments of this kind, presumably because the land which he cultivated formed part of the demesne (inland) of his lord. The term gafol, however, may have been applied to the payments which he rendered to the latter.

The services required of landowners were very manifold in character. Probably the most important were military service (fird, expeditio) and the repairing of fortifications and bridges—the trinoda necessitas of later times. Besides these we find reference in charters of the 9th century to the keeping of the king's hunters, horses, dogs and hawks, and the entertaining of messengers and other persons in the king's service. The duties of men of the sixhynde class, if they are to be identified with the radcnihtas (radmanni) of later times, probably consisted chiefly in riding on the king's (or their lord's) business. The services of the peasantry can only be conjectured from what we find in later times. Presumably their chief duty was to undertake a share in the cultivation of the demesne land. We need scarcely doubt also that the labour of repairing fortifications and bridges, though it is charged against the landowners, was in reality delegated by them to their dependents.

5. Warfare.—All classes are said to have been liable to the duty of military service. Hence, since the ceorls doubtless formed the bulk of the population, it has been thought that the Anglo-Saxon armies of early times were essentially peasant forces. The evidence at our disposal, however, gives little justification for such a view. The regulation that every five or six hides should supply a warrior was not a product of the Danish invasions, as is sometimes stated, but goes back at least to the beginning of the 9th century. Had the fighting material been drawn from the ceorlisc class a warrior would surely have been required from each hide, but for military service no such regulation is found. Again, the fird (fyrd) was composed of mounted warriors during the 9th century, though apparently they fought on foot, and there are indications that such was the case also in the 7th century. No doubt ceorls took part in military expeditions, but they may have gone as attendants and camp-followers rather than as warriors, their chief business being to make stockades and bridges, and especially to carry provisions. The serious fighting, however, was probably left to the gesiðcund classes, who possessed horses and more or less effective weapons. Indeed, there is good reason for regarding these classes as essentially military.

The chief weapons were the sword and spear. The former were two-edged and on the average about 3 ft. long. The hilts were often elaborately ornamented and sometimes these weapons were of considerable value. No definite line can be drawn between the spear proper and the javelin. The spear-heads which have been found in graves vary considerably in both form and size. They were fitted on to the shaft, by a socket which was open on one side. Other weapons appear to have been quite rare. Bows and arrows were certainly in use for sporting purposes, but there is no reason for believing that they were much used in warfare before the Danish invasions. They are very seldom met with in graves. The most common article of defensive armour was the shield, which was small and circular and apparently of quite thin lime-wood, the edge being formed probably by a thin band of iron. In the centre of the shield, in order to protect the hand which held it, was a strong iron boss, some 7 in. in diameter and projecting about 3 in. It is clear from literary evidence that the helmet (helm) and coat of chain mail (byrne) were also in common use. They are seldom found in graves, however, whether owing to the custom of heriots or to the fact that, on account of their relatively high value, they were frequently handed on from generation to generation as heirlooms. Greaves are not often mentioned. It is worth noting that in later times the heriot of an "ordinary thegn" (medema þegn)—by which is meant apparently not a king's thegn but a man of the twelfhynde class—consisted of his horse with its saddle, &c. and his arms, or two pounds of silver as an equivalent of the whole. The arms required were probably a sword, helmet, coat of mail and one or two spears and shields. There are distinct indications that a similar outfit was fairly common in Ine's time, and that its value was much the same. One would scarcely be justified, however, in supposing that it was anything like universal; for the purchasing power of such a sum was at that time considerable, representing as it did about 16-20 oxen or 100-120 sheep. It would hardly be safe to credit men of the sixhynde class in general with more than a horse, spear and shield.

6. Agriculture and Village Life.—There is no doubt that a fairly advanced system of agriculture must have been known to the Anglo-Saxons before they settled in Britain. This is made clear above all by the representation of a plough drawn by two oxen in one of the very ancient rock-carvings at Tegneby in Bohuslän. In Domesday Book the heavy plough with eight oxen seems to be universal, and it can be traced back in Kent to the beginning of the 9th century. In this kingdom the system of agricultural terminology was based on it. The unit was the sulung (aratrum) or ploughland (from sulh, "plough"), the fourth part of which was the geocled or geoc (jugum), originally a yoke of oxen. An analogy is supplied by the carucata of the Danelagh, the eighth part of which was the bouata or "ox-land." In the 10th century the sulung seems to have been identified with the hide, but in earlier times it contained apparently two hides. The hide itself, which was the regular unit in the other kingdoms, usually contained 120 acres in later times and was divided into four girda (virgatae) or yardlands. But originally it seems to have meant simply the land pertaining to a household, and its area in early times is quite uncertain, though probably far less. For the acre also there was in later times a standard length and breadth, the former being called furhlang (furlong) and reckoned at one-eighth of a mile, while the aecerbraedu or "acre-breadth" (chain) was also a definite measure. We need not doubt, however, that in practice the form of the acre was largely conditioned by the nature of the ground. Originally it is thought to have been the measure of a day's ploughing, in which case the dimensions given above would scarcely be reached. Account must also be taken of the possibility that in early times lighter teams were in general use. If so the normal dimensions of the acre may very well have been quite different.

The husbandry was of a co-operative character. In the 11th century it was distinctly unusual for a peasant to possess a whole team of his own, and there is no reason for supposing the case to have been otherwise in early times; for though the peasant might then hold a hide, the hide itself was doubtless smaller and not commensurate in any way with the ploughland. The holdings were probably not compact but consisted of scattered strips in common fields, changed perhaps from year to year, the choice being determined by lot or otherwise. As for the method of cultivation itself there is little or no evidence. Both the "two-course system" and the "three-course system" may have been in use; but on the other hand it is quite possible that in many cases the same ground was not sown more than once in three years. The prevalence of the co-operative principle, it may be observed, was doubtless due in large measure to the fact that the greater part of England, especially towards the east, was settled not in scattered farms or hamlets but in compact villages with the cultivated lands lying round them.

The mill was another element which tended to promote the same principle. There can be little doubt that before the Anglo-Saxons came to Britain they possessed no instrument for grinding corn except the quern (cweorn), and in remote districts this continued in use until quite late times. The grinding seems to have been performed chiefly by female slaves, but occasionally we hear also of a donkey-mill (esolcweorn). The mill proper, however, which was derived from the Romans, as its name (mylen, from Lat. molina) indicates, must have come into use fairly early. In the 11th century every village of any size seems to have possessed one, while the earliest references go back to the 8th century. It is not unlikely that they were in use during the Roman occupation of Britain, and consequently that they became known to the invaders almost from the first. The mills were presumably driven for the most part by water, though we have a reference to a windmill as early as the year 833.

All the ordinary domestic animals were known. Cattle and sheep were pastured on the common lands appertaining to the village, while pigs, which (especially in Kent) seem to have been very numerous, were kept in the woods. Bee-keeping was also practised. In all these matters the invasion of Britain had brought about no change. The cultivation of fruit and vegetables on the other hand was probably almost entirely new. The names are almost all derived from Latin, though most of them seem to have been known soon after the invasion, at all events by the 7th century.

From the considerations pointed out above we can hardly doubt that the village possessed a certain amount of corporate life, centred perhaps in an ale-house where its affairs were discussed by the inhabitants. There is no evidence, however, which would justify us in crediting such gatherings with any substantial degree of local authority. So far as the limited information at our disposal enables us to form an opinion, the responsibility both for the internal peace of the village, and for its obligations to the outside world, seems to have lain with the lord or his steward (gerefa, villicus) from the beginning. A quite opposite view has, it is true, found favour with many scholars, viz. that the villages were orginally settlements of free kindreds, and that the lord's authority was superimposed on them at a later date. This view is based mainly on the numerous place-names ending in -ing, -ingham, -ington, &c., in which the syllable -ing is thought to refer to kindreds of cultivators. It is more probable, however, that these names are derived from persons of the twelfhynde class to whom the land had been granted. In many cases indeed there is good reason for doubting whether the name is a patronymic at all.

The question how far the villages were really new settlements is difficult to answer, for the terminations -ham, -ton, &c. cannot be regarded as conclusive evidence. Thus according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ann. 571) Bensington and Eynsham were formerly British villages. Even if the first part of Egonesham is English—which is by no means certain—it is hardly sufficient reason for discrediting this statement, for Canterbury (Cantwaraburg) and Rochester (Hrofes ceaster) were without doubt Roman places in spite of their English names. On the whole it seems likely that the cultivation of the land was not generally interrupted for more than a very few years; hence the convenience of utilizing existing sites of villages would be obvious, even if the buildings themselves had been burnt.

7. Towns.—Gildas states that in the time of the Romans Britain contained twenty-eight cities (civitates), besides a number of fortresses (castetta). Most of these were situated within the territories eventually occupied by the invaders, and reappear as towns in later times. Their history in the intervening period, however, is wrapped in obscurity. Chester appears to have been deserted for three centuries after its destruction early in the 7th century, and in most of the other cases there are features observable in the situation and plan of the medieval town which suggest that its occupation had not been continuous. Yet London and Canterbury must have recovered a certain amount of importance quite early, at all events within two centuries after the invasion, and the same is probably true of York, Lincoln and a few other places. The term applied to both the cities and the fortresses of the Romans was ceaster (Lat. castra), less frequently the English word burg. There is little or no evidence for the existence of towns other than Roman in early times, for the word urbs is merely a translation of burg, which was used for any fortified dwelling-place, and it is improbable that anything which could properly be called a town was known to the invaders before their arrival in Britain. The Danish settlements at the end of the 9th century and the defensive system initiated by King Alfred gave birth to a new series of fortified towns, from which the boroughs of the middle ages are mainly descended.

8. Houses.—Owing to the fact that houses were built entirely of perishable materials, wood and wattle, we are necessarily dependent almost wholly upon literary evidence for knowledge of this subject. Stone seems to have been used first for churches, but this was not before the 7th century, and we are told that at first masons were imported from Gaul. Indeed wood was used for many churches, as well as for most secular buildings, until a much later period. The walls were formed either of stout planks laid together vertically or horizontally, or else of posts at a short distance from one another, the interstices being filled up with wattlework daubed with clay. It is not unlikely that the houses of wealthy persons were distinguished by a good deal of ornamentation in carving and painting. The roof was high-pitched and covered with straw, hay, reeds or tiles. The regular form of the buildings was rectangular, the gable sides probably being shorter than the others. There is little evidence for partitions inside, and in wealthy establishments the place of rooms seems to have been supplied by separate buildings within the same enclosure. The windows must have been mere openings in the walls or roof, for glass was not used for this purpose before the latter part of the 7th century. Stoves were known, but most commonly heat was obtained from an open fire in the centre of the building. Of the various buildings in a wealthy establishment the chief were the hall (heall), which was both a dining and reception room, and the "lady's bower" (brydbur), which served also as a bedroom for the master and mistress. To these we have to add buildings for the attendants, kitchen, bakehouse, &c., and farm buildings. There is little or no evidence for the use of two-storeyed houses in early times, though in the 10th and 11th centuries they were common. The whole group of buildings stood in an enclosure (tun) surrounded by a stockade (burg), which perhaps rested on an earthwork, though this is disputed. Similarly the homestead of the peasant was surrounded by a fence (edor).

9. Clothes.—The chief material for clothing was at first no doubt wool, though linen must also have been used and later became fairly common. The chief garments were the coat (roc), the trousers (brec), and the cloak, for which there seem to have been a number of names (loða, hacele, sciccing, pad, hwitel). To these we may add the hat (haet), belt (gyrdel), stockings (hosa), shoes (scoh, gescy, rifeling) and gloves (glof). The crusene was a fur coat, while the serc or smoc seems to have been an undergarment and probably sleeveless. The whole attire was of national origin and had probably been in use long before the invasion of Britain. In the great bog-deposit at Thorsbjaerg in Angel, which dates from about the 4th century, there were found a coat with long sleeves, in a fair state of preservation, a pair of long trousers with remains of socks attached, several shoes and portions of square cloaks, one of which had obviously been dyed green. The dress of the upper classes must have been of a somewhat gorgeous character, especially when account is taken of the brooches and other ornaments which they wore. It is worth noting that according to Jordanes the Swedes in the 6th century were splendidly dressed.

10. Trade.—The few notices of this subject which occur in the early laws seem to refer primarily to cattle-dealing. But there can be no doubt that a considerable import and export trade with the continent had sprung up quite early. In Bede's time, if not before, London was resorted to by many merchants both by land and by sea. At first the chief export trade was probably in slaves. English slaves were to be obtained in Rome even before the end of the 6th century, as appears from the well-known story of Gregory the Great. Since the standard price of slaves on the continent was in general three or four times as great as it was in England, the trade must have been very profitable. After the adoption of Christianity it was gradually prohibited by the laws. The nature of the imports during the heathen period may be learned chiefly from the graves, which contain many brooches and other ornaments of continental origin, and also a certain number of silver, bronze and glass vessels. With the introduction of Christianity the ecclesiastical connexion between England and the continent without doubt brought about a large increase in the imports of secular as well as religious objects, and the frequency of pilgrimages by persons of high rank must have had the same effect. The use of silk (seoluc) and the adoption of the mancus (see below) point to communication, direct or indirect, with more distant countries. In the 8th century we hear frequently of tolls on merchant ships at various ports, especially London.

11. Coinage.—The earliest coins which can be identified with certainty are some silver pieces which bear in Runic letters the name of the Mercian king Æthelred (675-704). There are others, however, of the same type and standard (about 21 grains) which may be attributed with probability to his father Penda (d. 655). But it is clear from the laws of Æthelberht that a regular silver coinage was in use at least half a century before this time, and it is not unlikely that many unidentified coins may go back to the 6th century. These are fairly numerous, and are either without inscriptions or, if they do bear letters at all, they seem to be mere corruptions of Roman legends. Their designs are derived from Roman or Frankish coins, especially the former, and their weight varies from about 10 to 21 grains, though the very light coins are rare. Anonymous gold coins, resembling Frankish trientes in type and standard (21 grains), are also fairly common, though they must have passed out of use very early, as the laws give no hint of their existence. Larger gold coins (solidi) are very rare. In the early laws the money actually in use appears to have been entirely silver. In Offa's time a new gold coin, the mancus, resembling in standard the Roman solidus (about 70 grains), was introduced from Mahommedan countries. The oldest extant specimen bears a faithfully copied Arabic inscription. In the same reign the silver coins underwent a considerable change in type, being made larger and thinner, while from this time onwards they always bore the name of the king (or queen or archbishop) for whom they were issued. The design and execution also became remarkably good. Their weight was at first unaffected, but probably towards the close of Offa's reign it was raised to about 23 grains, at which standard it seems to have remained, nominally at least, until the time of Alfred. It is to be observed that with the exception of Burgred's coins and a few anonymous pieces the silver was never adulterated. No bronze coins were current except in Northumbria, where they were extremely common in the 9th century.

Originally scilling ("shilling") and sceatt seem to have been the terms for gold and silver coins respectively. By the time of Ine, however, pending, pen(n)ing ("penny"), had already come into use for the latter, while, owing to the temporary disappearance of a gold coinage, scilling had come to denote a mere unit of account. It was, however, a variable unit, for the Kentish shilling contained twenty sceattas (pence), while the Mercian contained only four. The West Saxon shilling seems originally to have been identical with the Mercian, but later it contained five pence. Large payments were generally made by weight, 240-250 pence being reckoned to the pound, perhaps from the 7th century onwards. The mancus was equated with thirty pence, probably from the time of its introduction. This means that the value of gold relatively to silver was 10:1 from the end of Offa's reign. There is reason, however, for thinking that in earlier times it was as low as 6:1, or even 5:1. In Northumbria a totally different monetary system prevailed, the unit being the tryms, which contained three sceattas or pence. As to the value of the bronze coins we are without information.

The purchasing power of money was very great. The sheep was valued at a shilling in both Wessex and Mercia, from early times till the 11th century. One pound was the normal price of a slave and half a pound that of a horse. The price of a pig was twice, and that of an ox six times as great as that of a sheep. Regarding the prices of commodities other than live-stock we have little definite information, though an approximate estimate may be made of the value of arms. It is worth noticing that we often hear of payments in gold and silver vessels in place of money. In the former case the mancus was the usual unit of calculation.

12. Ornaments.—Of these the most interesting are the brooches which were worn by both sexes and of which large numbers have been found in heathen cemeteries. They may be classed under eight leading types: (1) circular or ring-shaped, (2) cruciform, (3) square-headed, (4) radiated, (5) S-shaped, (6) bird-shaped, (7) disk-shaped, (8) cupelliform or saucer-shaped. Of these Nos. 5 and 6 appear to be of continental origin, and this is probably the case also with No. 4 and in part with No. 7. But the last-mentioned type varies greatly, from rude and almost plain disks of bronze to magnificent gold specimens studded with gems. No. 8 is believed to be peculiar to England, and occurs chiefly in the southern Midlands, specimens being usually found in pairs. The interiors are gilt, often furnished with detachable plates and sometimes set with brilliants. The remaining types were probably brought over by the Anglo-Saxons at the time of the invasion. Nos. 1 and 3 are widespread outside England, but No. 2, though common in Scandinavian countries, is hardly to be met with south of the Elbe. It is worth noting that a number of specimens were found in the cremation cemetery at Borgstedterfeld near Rendsburg. In England it occurs chiefly in the more northern counties. Nos. 2 and 3 vary greatly in size, from 2½ to 7 in. or more. The smaller specimens are quite plain, but the larger ones are gilt and generally of a highly ornamental character. In later times we hear of brooches worth as much as six mancusas, i.e. equivalent to six oxen.

Among other ornaments we may mention hairpins, rings and ear-rings, and especially buckles which are often of elaborate workmanship. Bracelets and necklets are not very common, a fact which is rather surprising, as in early times, before the issuing of a coinage, these articles (beagas) took the place of money to a large extent. The glass vessels are finely made and of somewhat striking appearance, though they closely resemble contemporary continental types. Since the art of glass-working was unknown, according to Bede, until nearly the end of the 7th century, it is probable that these were all of continental or Roman-British origin.

13. Amusements.—It is clear from the frequent references to dogs and hawks in the charters that hunting and falconry were keenly pursued by the kings and their retinues. Games, whether indoor or outdoor, are much less frequently mentioned, but there is no doubt that the use of dice (taefl) was widespread. At court much time was given to poetic recitation, often accompanied by music, and accomplished poets received liberal rewards. The chief musical instrument was the harp (hearpe), which is often mentioned. Less frequently we hear of the flute (pipe) and later also of the fiddle (fiðele). Trumpets (horn, swegelhorn, byme) appear to have been used chiefly as signals.

14. Writing.—The Runic alphabet seems to have been the only form of writing known to the Anglo-Saxons before the invasion of Britain, and indeed until the adoption of Christianity. In its earliest form, as it appears in inscriptions on various articles found in Schleswig and in Scandinavian countries, it consisted of twenty-four letters, all of which occur in abecedaria in England. In actual use, however, two letters soon became obsolete, but a number of others were added from time to time, some of which are found also on the continent, while others are peculiar to certain parts of England. Originally the Runic alphabet seems to have been used for writing on wooden boards, though none of these have survived. The inscriptions which have come down to us are engraved partly on memorial stones, which are not uncommon in the north of England, and partly on various metal objects, ranging from swords to brooches. The adoption of Christianity brought about the introduction of the Roman alphabet; but the older form of writing did not immediately pass out of use, for almost all the inscriptions which we possess date from the 7th or following centuries. Coins with Runic legends were issued at least until the middle of the 8th century, and some of the memorial stones date probably even from the 9th. The most important of the latter are the column at Bewcastle, Cumberland, believed to commemorate Alhfrith, the son of Oswio, who died about 670, and the cross at Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire, which is probably about a century later. The Roman alphabet was very soon applied to the purpose of writing the native language, e.g. in the publication of the laws of Æthelberht. Yet the type of character in which even the earliest surviving MSS. are written is believed to be of Celtic origin. Most probably it was introduced by the Irish missionaries who evangelized the north of England, though Welsh influence is scarcely impossible. Eventually this alphabet was enlarged (probably before the end of the 7th century) by the inclusion of two Runic letters for th and w.

15. Marriage.—This is perhaps the subject on which our information is most inadequate. It is evident that the relationships which prohibited marriage were different from those recognized by the Church; but the only fact which we know definitely is that it was customary, at least in Kent, for a man to marry his stepmother. In the Kentish laws marriage is represented as hardly more than a matter of purchase; but whether this was the case in the other kingdoms also the evidence at our disposal is insufficient to decide. We know, however, that in addition to the sum paid to the bride's guardian, it was customary for the bridegroom to make a present (morgengifu) to the bride herself, which, in the case of queens, often consisted of a residence and considerable estates. Such persons also had retinues and fortified residences of their own. In the Kentish laws provision is made for widows to receive a proportionate share in their husbands' property.

16. Funeral Rites.—Both inhumation and cremation were practised in heathen times. The former seems to have prevailed everywhere; the latter, however, was much more common in the more northern counties than in the south, though cases are fairly numerous throughout the valley of the Thames. In Beowulf cremation is represented as the prevailing custom. There is no evidence that it was still practised when the Roman and Celtic missionaries arrived, but it is worth noting that according to the tradition given in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Oxfordshire, where the custom seems to have been fairly common, was not conquered before the latter part of the 6th century. The burnt remains were generally, if not always, enclosed in urns and then buried. The urns themselves are of clay, somewhat badly baked, and bear geometrical patterns applied with a punch. They vary considerably in size (from 4 to 12 in. or more in diameter) and closely resemble those found in northern Germany. Inhumation graves are sometimes richly furnished. The skeleton is laid out at full length, generally with the head towards the west or north, a spear at one side and a sword and shield obliquely across the middle. Valuable brooches and other ornaments are often found. In many other cases, however, the grave contained nothing except a small knife and a simple brooch or a few beads. Usually both classes of graves lie below the natural surface of the ground without any perceptible trace of a barrow.

17. Religion.—Here again the information at our disposal is very limited. There can be little doubt that the heathen Angli worshipped certain gods, among them Ti (Tig), Woden, Thunor and a goddess Frigg, from whom the names Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are derived. Ti was probably the same god of whom early Roman writers speak under the name Mars (see TÝR), while Thunor was doubtless the thunder-god (see THOR). From Woden (q.v.) most of the royal families traced their descent. Seaxneat, the ancestor of the East Saxon dynasty, was also in all probability a god (see ESSEX, KINGDOM OF).

Of anthropomorphic representations of the gods we have no clear evidence, though we do hear of shrines in sacred enclosures, at which sacrifices were offered. It is clear also that there were persons specially set apart for the priesthood, who were not allowed to bear arms or to ride except on mares. Notices of sacred trees and groves, springs, stones, &c., are much more frequent than those referring to the gods. We hear also a good deal of witches and valkyries, and of charms and magic; as an instance we may cite the fact that certain (Runic) letters were credited, as in the North, with the power of loosening bonds. It is probable also that the belief in the spirit world and in a future life was of a somewhat similar kind to what we find in Scandinavian religion. (See TEUTONIC PEOPLES, §6.)

The chief primary authorities are:

  • Gildas, De Excidio Britanniae, and Nennius, Historia Britonum (ed. San-Marte, Berlin, 1844).
  • Th. Mommsen in Mon. Germ. Hist., Auct. Antiquiss., tom. xiii. (Berlin, 1898).
  • Bede, Hist. Eccl. (ed. C. Plummer, Oxford, 1896).
  • the Saxon Chronicle (ed. C. Plummer, Oxford, 1892-1899).
  • the Anglo-Saxon Laws (ed. F. Liebermann, Halle, 1903), and Charters (W. de G. Birch, Cartularium Saxonicum, London, 1885-1893).

Modern authorities:

  • Sh. Turner, History of the Anglo-Saxons (London, 1799-1805; 7th ed., 1852).
  • Sir F. Palgrave, Rise and Progress of the English Commonwealth (London, 1831-1832).
  • J.M. Kemble, The Saxons in England (London, 1849; 2nd ed., 1876).
  • K. Maurer, Kritische Überschau d. deutschen Gesetzgebung u. Rechtswissenschaft, vols. i.-iii. (Munich, 1853-1855).
  • J.M. Lappenberg, Geschichte von England (Hamburg, 1834).
  • History of England under the Anglo-Saxon Kings (London, 1845; 2nd ed., 1881).
  • J.R. Green, The Making of England (London, 1881).
  • T. Hodgkin, History of England from the Earliest Times to the Norman Conquest (vol. i. of The Political History of England) (London, 1906).
  • F. Seebohm, The English Village Community (London, 1883).
  • A. Meitzen, Siedelung und Agrarwesen d. Westgermanen, u. Ostgermanen, &c. (Berlin, 1895).
  • Sir F. Pollock and F.W. Maitland, History of English Law (Cambridge, 1895; 2nd ed., 1898).
  • F.W. Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond (Cambridge, 1897).
  • F. Seebohm, Tribal Custom in Anglo-Saxon Law (London, 1903).
  • P. Vinogradoff, The Growth of the Manor (London, 1905).
  • H.M. Chadwick, Studies on Anglo-Saxon Institutions (Cambridge, 1905).
  • The Origin of the English Nation (ib., 1907).
  • M. Heyne, Über die Lage und Construction der Halle Heorot (Paderborn, 1864).
  • R. Henning, Das deutsche Haus (Quellen u. Forschungen, 47) (Strassburg, 1882).
  • M. Heyne, Deutsche Hausaltertümer, i., ii., iii. (Leipzig, 1900-1903).
  • G. Baldwin Brown, The Arts in Early England (London, 1903).
  • C.F. Keary, Catalogue of Anglo-Saxon Coins in the British Museum, vol. i. (London, 1887).
  • C. Roach Smith, Collectanea Antiqua (London, 1848-1868).
  • R.C. Neville, Saxon Obsequies (London, 1852).
  • J.Y. Akerman, Remains of Pagan Saxondom (London, 1855).
  • Baron J. de Baye, Industrie anglo-saxonne (Paris, 1889).
  • The Industrial Arts of the Anglo-Saxons (London, 1893).
  • G. Stephens, The Old Northern Runic Monuments (London and Copenhagen, 1866-1901).
  • W. Vietor, Die northumbrischen Runensteine (Marburg, 1895).

Reference must also be made to the articles on Anglo-Saxon antiquities in the Victoria County Histories, and to various papers in Archaeologia, the Archaeological Journal, the Journal of the British Archaeological Society, the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, the Associated Architectural Societies' Reports, and other antiquarian journals.

(H. M. C.)

Endnotes[edit]

1 ^  The hide (hid, hiwisc, familia, tributarius, cassatus, manens, &c.) was in later times a measure of land, usually 120 acres. In early times, however, it seems to have meant (1) household, (2) normal amount of land appertaining to a household.