Life in Anglo-Saxon England

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Put yourself in the shoes of a member of a Germanic tribe living in England in the turbulent first millenium A.D.

If you’re a warlord, you’re lucky. You have any number of other warriors beholden to you, you have your choice of women and grog, you live in a nice structure, and you get the lion’s share of all the spoils that pass by your rather large table. You’re the boss, and all the men around you have to jump when you say jump and run into battle when you say run into battle and hand over their money when you say hand over their money. All the women around you, of course, exist to serve you, keeping your household running and you and your men fat and happy.

If you’re a warrior but not a warlord, you have it pretty good. You live a dangerous but potentially lucrative life, especially if your warlord looks favorably on you. You spend a good amount of time preparing for battle, doing things like maintaining what little armor you use to protect yourself, sharpening your sword, intimidating your fellow warriors, etc. You probably also have a good, reliable woman at your side, keeping whatever children you may have out of your hair (figuratively and literally) while you go about the business of being a warrior.

If you’re a woman, you have a limited number of choices. You can be the wife of a warlord or a warrior, throwing yourself over to their control. Depending on the character and social position of your husband, your life can be nasty and brutal or downright pleasant or something in between. You could also be a single woman, although once you reach a certain age (usually the beginning of the teen years) you run the risk of being overlooked or overworked (or possibly both).

If you’re a child, your future depends on your gender. Boys are trained in the ways of the warrior, emulating their fathers and most likely hoping for a greater amount of success than their role models. Girls are trained in the ways of the wife, emulating their mothers and also most likely hoping for a great amount of success than their role models.

If you’re a religious leader, you have a special place in the tribe or kingdom or whatever the administrative area ruled by the warlord is called. The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes placed great stock in their beliefs, pagan though the Christian “upstarts” believed them to be. The leader of the religious ceremonies, the keeper of the temple, was held in very high regard and was often exempt from the fighting requirements placed on other males. (It goes without saying that these religious leaders were males. If women were not warlords, they were certainly not religious leaders.) The words spoken by these “priests” were often revered as law, and the portents brought forth were often seen as certainties, not just possibilities.

There you have it. Your life depended on your station or your gender or both. Naturally, exceptions abounded. (The warlordess Boudicca of the Iceni comes to mind.) But overall, the above descriptions covered the majority of the Germanic experience in the years between the Roman abdication and the Viking invasions.