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Farming in Dark Age Britain
Suite 101 ^ | 3-18-2011 | Brenda Lewis

Posted on 07/06/2012 4:50:58 AM PDT by Renfield

In the Dark Ages, the early Anglo-Saxon settlers in Britain led a hard life farming the land, in total contrast to their Romano-British predecessors.

When the Romans invaded Britain in 43AD, they found a land of thick forests, heath and swampland. There were no towns, no roads - or nothing that a Roman would have recognized as proper roads - and no bridges. After the Romans

However, by the time the Romans abandoned Britain four centuries later, they had turned it into a quite different place. The Anglo-Saxon settlers who began to arrive in large numbers in around 450AD found the country criss-crossed by almost five thousand miles of straight, splendid roads.

There were forty-five towns, about 2,500 villa-farms, rich, extensive cornfields and thriving mining and potter industries.The population at this time was small, only about half a million people.

Many of the British Celts, mostly chieftains and other nobles, had been “Romanized”. They lived in fine town houses or country villas, enjoyed Roman education and generally led the Roman way of life

Even so, Roman luxuries and leisure, did not touch all the British Celts . When the Anglo-Saxons arrived, these rural people were still living, as their long-ago Celtic ancestors had done, in small settlements and hill forts.

They were mainly farmers and in general, their farming methods were much the same as they had been hundreds of years before the more sophisticated Romans turned Britain into their imperial province of Britannia. Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Plows

Although Roman farming methods were practised in Britannia, by far the greater number of British farms were arranged on the Celtic field system. This first came to Britain in around 1000BC. Celtic fields were square-shaped and small, covering some 8,372 - 11,960 square yards of land.

Here, the Celts used the somewhat primitive “ard” plows which did not turn the soil over, but simply cut it open. The Anglo-Saxons, on the other hand, used the “colter” plow which had cutters attached and farmed their fields in strips rather than squares..

The Anglo-Saxons heavy plow. or “carruca” was capable of slicing up the thick, heavy soil of Britain into deeper furrows. However, the “carruca” was such a hefty piece of equipment that it needed at least four oxen to draw it.

Joint Ownership of Land

Anglo-Saxon land was “common” land, owned jointly by everyone in a village or community. Each farmer was given a number of strips of land to work. Each strip measured between 1,555 and 2,392 square yards, although an individual farmer’s strips were scattered over both the fertile and less fertile land.

The Anglo-Saxons realized the value of good land and were careful not to over-farm it or do anything else that might reduce its fertility. This was why they farmed by the “rotation” system which normally used three field, each employed differently every year. The Field “Rotation” System

For example, in one year, farmers would grow oats in one field, barley in the second but would leave the third to lie “fallow”, growing no crops in that year so that it could “rest”. Instead, the fallow land, which was plowed and harrowed, but was used for grazing cattle and sheep.

The next year, the crops would rotate, the second field growing oats, the third, barley and the first lying fallow. The following year, the crops would rotate again so that, in effect, no one field grew the same crop more than once in four years.

The Anglo-Saxon Strip Fields

It was not all “fair shares”, however. Some Anglo-Saxon farmers owed more strips than others, depending on their position in the community. A thane or village lord owned at least five “hides” of land measuring between 600 and 1,800 strips.

A ‘”ceorl” or yeoman farmer owned on hide while other farmers, like the “gebur” or “cotsetlan” did not own the strips they farmed but rented them from their lords.

In addition to farming their rented land - these poorest of Antl-Saxon farmers had to work two days a week on their lord’s land and three days in harvest time. However, even the “gebur” and the cotsetlan” were better off than the serfs. Many of them were captured Britons.

In Kent in southeast Britain, they were called “laets” and elsewhere they were named “wealas” or “welsh”.

The word meant “slave” and these unfortunate Britons were treated exactly like slaves. They wore heavy rings around their necks and could be bought and sold like farm animals.

Aelfric the Farmer

Life was hard for all farmers, but it was hardest for the poorest, who had to labor unendingly in all weathers. In later Anglo-Saxon times, a writer called Aelfric wrote his Colloquy, in which he described the lot of the poor farmer.

"I go out at dawn, drive the oxen to the field and yoke them to the plow ....There is no storm so severe that I dare to hide at home, for fear of my lord, but when the oxen are yoked and the share (blade) and coulter (cutter) have been fastened to the plow,

``I must plow a whole acre or more every day ....I must fill the bins of the oxen with hay, water them and carry off their dung ....it is indeed great drudgery!”

Although farmers also owned herds of pigs and goats, sheep were the most important animal they reared. From the sheep, a farmer obtained wool for clothes, milk to drink and meat to eat. The Lonely Herdsmen

Herds of goats were tended by boys who spent long hours watching over them in hilly grazing country. Goatherds and shepherds spent most of their time alone with only their animals for company, listening to the wind as it whistled through the rocks and trees and watching the sun in the sky to make sure they returned to their village with their flocks before it grew dark.

To be caught on the hill or mountainside at night could be dangerous and if any of the goats or sheep were lost, the herdsman would be harshly punished by his lord.

Sources

Creighton, John: Britannia: The Creation of a Roman Province (New York, NY: Routledge, 2006) ISBN-10: 0415487145/ISBN-13: 978-0415487146

Blair, Peter Hunter and Keynes, Simon: An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England (Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003) ISBN-10: 9780521537773/ISBN-13: 978-0521537773/ASIN: 0521537770


TOPICS: Agriculture; Gardening; History
KEYWORDS: agriculture; anglosaxons; animalhusbandry; britain; farming; godsgravesglyphs
I must correct an error in this article. When the Romans invaded Britain, they did indeed find roads....good, well-engineered Celtic roads...as attested to by an article I posted here a few weeks back.
1 posted on 07/06/2012 4:51:08 AM PDT by Renfield
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To: SunkenCiv

Ping


2 posted on 07/06/2012 4:52:17 AM PDT by Renfield (Turning apples into venison since 1999!)
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To: Renfield

“Fields of corn...” ?


3 posted on 07/06/2012 4:54:28 AM PDT by Eric in the Ozarks
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To: Renfield

Save for later


4 posted on 07/06/2012 4:57:24 AM PDT by Gay State Conservative (Bill Ayers Was *Not* "Just Some Guy In The Neighborhood")
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To: Renfield

You know you’re right because you quote yourself? I think you meant something else. Can you provide proof of Celtic road building?


5 posted on 07/06/2012 4:58:16 AM PDT by Pecos ("We hold these truths to be self-evident ..... ")
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To: Renfield

Really? I never thought the Celts were great road builders. How interesting.


6 posted on 07/06/2012 4:59:15 AM PDT by Vanders9
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To: Eric in the Ozarks

In Britain, ‘Corn’ in the context of a crop refers to any cereal crop, as opposed to the US, where it refers specifically to Maize...


7 posted on 07/06/2012 5:02:11 AM PDT by sinsofsolarempirefan
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To: Renfield

Interesting. Thanks for posting.


8 posted on 07/06/2012 5:07:45 AM PDT by afraidfortherepublic
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To: Renfield
When the Romans invaded Britain, they did indeed find roads....good, well-engineered Celtic roads...

So what have the Romans ever done for us then?

9 posted on 07/06/2012 5:10:43 AM PDT by Oztrich Boy (Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the blind obedience of fools - Solon, Lawmaker of Athens)
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To: Renfield
However, by the time the Romans abandoned Britain four centuries later, they had turned it into a quite different place. The Anglo-Saxon settlers who began to arrive in large numbers in around 450AD found the country criss-crossed by almost five thousand miles of straight, splendid roads.

"All right... all right... but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order... what have the Romans done for us?"


10 posted on 07/06/2012 5:11:22 AM PDT by SkyPilot
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To: Eric in the Ozarks

I had the same thought on the “fields of corn” since that crop was brought to Europe from the New World well after the Dark Ages. The Europeans had to learn how to extract nutritional value that the New World natives had not shared with the invaders.


11 posted on 07/06/2012 5:11:24 AM PDT by T-Bird45 (It feels like the seventies, and it shouldn't.)
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To: Oztrich Boy

Beat me by 39 seconds........


12 posted on 07/06/2012 5:13:21 AM PDT by SkyPilot
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To: Renfield
rich, extensive cornfields

"Corn, which the Indians called 'maize'".

(apologies to Bart Simpson)

13 posted on 07/06/2012 5:14:48 AM PDT by SIDENET ("If that's your best, your best won't do." -Dee Snider)
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To: SkyPilot
All right... all right... but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order... what have the Romans done for us?"

Inspired THE ONE, Hallowed be His Name... /sarc


14 posted on 07/06/2012 5:23:48 AM PDT by BigEdLB (Now there ARE 1,000,000 regrets - but it may be too late.)
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To: Eric in the Ozarks

Yep, Maize and Corn are confusing.

Today, Maize is small round grain, smaller than a BB. It can be reddish or white. Corn is a large kernel grain.

At different points in time Maize has been used to describe both.


15 posted on 07/06/2012 5:26:52 AM PDT by Texas Fossil (Government, even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one)
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To: SkyPilot

Pizza?


16 posted on 07/06/2012 5:28:35 AM PDT by 9YearLurker
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To: T-Bird45

The list of new world foods including corn, tomatoes, peppers, squash, is amazing.


17 posted on 07/06/2012 5:28:44 AM PDT by Eric in the Ozarks
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To: T-Bird45

I had thought that in European usage, ‘corn’ was a generic term for cereal grains, such as oats, wheat and rye. What we call ‘corn’, they call, ‘maize’, with all due respect to the Native American lady on those old Mazola commercials.


18 posted on 07/06/2012 5:56:23 AM PDT by jmcenanly ("The more corrupt the state, the more laws." Tacitus, Publius Cornelius)
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To: jmcenanly

I can see your point that this may all be about semantics/language. Perhaps that old saw about Britain and the US being separated by a common language is to blame. During my 3 years in Europe, corn/maize was not presented to me as food. My understanding was Europeans saw corn/maize only as an animal feed. I wonder if an encounter with a properly roasted ear of corn at an American picnic would offend them or change their mind about corn/maize.


19 posted on 07/06/2012 7:06:01 AM PDT by T-Bird45 (It feels like the seventies, and it shouldn't.)
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To: T-Bird45

Corn/maize is/was a major food source in many European countries. Notably Italy and the Balkans. To the point where pellagra, a deficiency disease caused by eating almost exclusively corn, became a major health threat.


20 posted on 07/06/2012 10:44:53 AM PDT by Sherman Logan
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To: Renfield; StayAt HomeMother; Ernest_at_the_Beach; decimon; 1010RD; 21twelve; 24Karet; ...

 GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach
Thanks Renfield. Celtic roads topic?

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.


21 posted on 07/06/2012 10:36:32 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: Eric in the Ozarks

corn refers to any grain crop. Americans call maize “corn” but the word in other countries is still used the older way.


22 posted on 07/07/2012 1:22:37 AM PDT by LadyDoc
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To: Eric in the Ozarks

Europeans had tomatoes long before they settled in the new world, however, they were thought to be poisonous. Did they learn from the explorers to the new world that they were not poisonous?


23 posted on 07/07/2012 7:20:44 AM PDT by FrdmLvr (culture, language, borders)
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To: Eric in the Ozarks

In Britain, “corn” is a generic term meaning any cereal grain. “Maize” is their word for what whe call corn.


24 posted on 07/07/2012 8:36:09 AM PDT by Squawk 8888 (Tories in- now the REAL work begins!)
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To: Eric in the Ozarks

“Corn” in England is wheat or grain in general.The word came to ne applied to Amerìcan maize because it was the American grain, the American “corn.” Maize in England is the specific grain that Americans call corn.


25 posted on 07/08/2012 5:02:11 AM PDT by ThanhPhero (Khach hanh huong den La Vang)
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To: ThanhPhero
You and others are correct. And FWIW, Robert Burns penned the poem John Barleycorn but the poem and folksong actually long predates Burns.

"John Barleycorn" is an English folksong. The character of John Barleycorn in the song is a personification of the important cereal crop barley and of the alcoholic beverages made from it, beer and whisky. In the song, John Barleycorn is represented as suffering attacks, death and indignities that correspond to the various stages of barley cultivation, such as reaping and malting.”

“Corn” in the English language of our ancestors refers to the actual grain, the kernel part of the plant, i.e. the “corn” of the barley plant, hence the "barleycorn". When the early Americans from England saw the native Indians cultivating Maize and grinding its dried kernels to make a type of unleavened flat bread, they said, “Oh that must be “corn” and the name stuck. Here in America when we go to the produce stand and buy “corn” we are actually buying at type of Maize.

Traffic - John Barleycorn (Must Die)

26 posted on 07/08/2012 5:44:55 AM PDT by MD Expat in PA
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To: Renfield

Very interesting. Thanks for posting.

(It’s a shame, though, that the writer did not proofread.)


27 posted on 07/08/2012 9:56:27 AM PDT by Bigg Red (Pray for our republic.)
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