Life in Anglo-Saxon England

Part 3: Work, Food, and Clothing

Farming was far and away the most popular work that Anglo-Saxon people did. Some churls paid part of their rent in food from lands that they worked. Slaves worked the land and gave the results to their masters.

Crops at this time included grains such as barley, oats, rye, and wheat and vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, celery, parsnips, and peas. Fruits grown at this time included apples, cherries, and plums. Farmers also grew beans and lentils.

Some farmers divided their fields into three large parts, keeping one part fallow, or empty, while planting in the other two parts. This revived the soil in the fallow part, making it ready for fresh planting the following season. Farmers rotated the fallow assignment through the three parts. Oxen helped the farmers plow the fields. Some farmers shared labor and crops across farms.

Animals kept included cattle, goats, pigs, and sheep. Farmers used their animals for meat and, in the case of some cattle, dairy products.

The entire family helped work the farm. Children helped dogs herd cattle and sheep. Women helped pick crops or milk cows and then prepared and served food.

Farming was by no means the only craft practiced in Anglo-Saxon England. Some men were blacksmiths, forging weapons and tools and household items out of iron and other metals. Some men were potters, making vessels and containers out of clay and other materials, in early days by hand and then later by using a potter's wheel. Other men made leather goods. Still others made jewelry.

Most commonly on Anglo-Saxon tables for food were bread, cheese, and eggs. Fish was slightly more difficult to come by, especially for people who lived nowhere near waterways. Meat was still more rare, except for the rich (who could also afford fish).

Anglo-Saxon bakers used grains to make bread and also to brew ale and beer. Another common drink at this time was mead, an alcoholic drink sweetened with honey. Many villages had bee colonies, and the villagers gathered the honey to use as a sweetener (in the absence of sugar). River water was often polluted, so villagers usually drank barley-weakened beer. (The rich, of course, could afford wine and so drank that.)

Cooking was on open fires or in homemade pots, pans, and cauldrons. Bowls and cutlery were made of wood. (With very few exceptions, cutlery included only knives and spoons; forks did not arrive until long after the Norman Conquest.)

Many people piled vegetables or meat on bits of bread and ate it all with their hands; cooks used mortar and pestle to grind other foods to make them easier to eat.

For most people, the clothes they wore were functional at best. Many people made their own clothes, sometimes out of wool but mainly out of linen, at times using a loom. Men's trousers, or pants, were called breeches. Men wore linen shirts, and women wore a similar inner linen item, and the over-garment of choice for both genders was mainly a tunic.

Richer people wore richer clothing, such as robes or dresses, and jewelry such as brooches and rings. Some people wore clothing made from animal skins.

Part 4: Laws and Fighting

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