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Topic Summary

Posted by: Leofwine
« on: February 19, 2013, 23:05:37 »

Firstly, The name Hengist/Hengeist/Hengest (as it is variously spelt, depending on where you look), do you think this could have some kind of significance derived from the German word Geist- spirit, as in Zeitgeist... like the spirit of the horse, or something like that; Is it the same word (piece)?

As I understand it  the Old English from 'hengest' means stallion, but the original Old German is 'hengst' in turn derived from Indo-European roots. Interestingly in Medieval German 'hengist' was a word for a gelding, very different to  the 'stallion' of Old English.  The word Geist (again to my understanding, I may be wrong) is etymologically identical to the English ghost (from a Common Germanic word 'gaistaz') but in German has retained its full range of meanings -  mind, spirit, or ghost (as opposed to the English version - the spirit of a dead person.)  However, I don't think it has anything to do with the name Hengest.


Secondly, what can not have failed to impress anyone who has visited the Coty, and Blue Bell Hill area when walking up it, is just how steep it is!  Even going up the longer, shallower inclines is a task in itself... what are the practicalities of getting an army up there to fight, and can this tell us anything about likely routes taken to get there, or the actual site of battle (let alone getting stones up there from anywhere else!)?

The practicalities of an attack up a hill like that are simple - it is extremely difficult for the attacker and offers great advantage to the defender on the higher ground!!!  Which would be precisely why the Anglo-Saxon war-leaders chose it as their point to defend.  They knew the Britons would cross there as it was the only practical crossing point for miles. In our modern world of good roads and many bridges we sometimes forget the restraints mother nature put on moving large numbers of people in the past. Once across the ford (probably a fairly tiring exercise in its own right) the attacking Britons would have probably had very limited choices of route. They could have marched along the river bank via Wouldham, towards Rochester and avoided the steep hill, but that was, at that time, probably mostly marshy or scrubby woodland, very impractical for armies. This second choice would have the Prehistoric trackway that ran about halfway up the hill, which would have offered a better, but still not ideal for an army. The third choice was the Roman road which ran to the top of the hill (approximately where the road still runs today) which was designed for moving armies along, so what the best choice, despite the gradient. From the position on the top of the hill the Anglo-Saxons would be able to quickly judge which route the British commander was going to take as they are a long way apart nearer the river, converging as they approach the hill. From the top of the hill it would be no trouble to move your troops to intercept either route long before the attackers got there.  All in all it shows how well the Anglo-Saxon commander chose his ground to fight.  Such a position would also have given a smaller number of well trained warriors an advantage over a much larger conscripted army with lower levels of discipline and training.  In real terms, the Anglo-Saxons had probably won the battle before the Britons had even crossed the ford, and the fact that the accounts of the battle make it such a close run thing at first probably speaks for a British commander of considerable skil and/or a vastly larger British army.


Thirdly, when considering the origins of the megaliths, it's often a question of whether the builders quarried the stone locally, or from afar... but could it also be that the builders of the monuments took the stones from other, pre-existing sites, like the tombs of the ancestors of the vanquished, after all, it saves them the work of cutting new stone.  You see this with the pyramids at Giza, with most of what used to cover them being found in newer buildings, and other recycling of old buildings... should we not consider these more ancient builders just as likely to do this as more recent peoples, and at least a possible source of the stones at Kit's Coty?

Prehistoric monuments are not my area of expertise so I'm just going to point at davpott's excellent answer to that one!
Posted by: YonderYomper
« on: February 19, 2013, 18:58:05 »

Thanks on that point Davpott,

It answers that question for me about getting the stones there. No way they'd get them up the hill, even with horses or oxen pulling- although it offers a funny thought if they had, as to why Little Kit's Coty is further down the hill, as the chaps remembered their labours the first time round, and thought, well we liked this guy as a leader, be he wasn't that great... let's just build it here at the bottom of the hill!"

It just occured to me that it's an impressive statement to those you've beaten, to take what was sacred to them, and "bury it" in your own new structure... and wondered if older artefacts may have been incorporated into more recent buildings, effectively "lost" in plain sight.
Posted by: davpott
« on: February 19, 2013, 17:57:20 »

As a sort of update there was an article on the BBC at around 6.30pm this evening in which those interviewed made a case for Beowulf being based on Sheppey rather than in Denmark.  The presenter mentioned this would be on i-player and the BBC site.  I couldn't find a link (sorry) but did anybody else, and is anybody placed to comment?

The BBC link to the programme. The piece starts at about 19.55 . It will only be available for the next few days http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01qtcyy/Inside_Out_South_East_18_02_2013/
Posted by: davpott
« on: February 19, 2013, 17:03:34 »


Thirdly, when considering the origins of the megaliths, it's often a question of whether the builders quarried the stone locally, or from afar... but could it also be that the builders of the monuments took the stones from other, pre-existing sites, like the tombs of the ancestors of the vanquished, after all, it saves them the work of cutting new stone.  You see this with the pyramids at Giza, with most of what used to cover them being found in newer buildings, and other recycling of old buildings... should we not consider these more ancient builders just as likely to do this as more recent peoples, and at least a possible source of the stones at Kit's Coty?

 The sarsen stones used in Kent are natural rocks found at the top of the downs. There is an abundant quantity nearby on the top of the downs of Bluebell Hill. It can also be found in hill wash on the scarp side of the downs as a result of erosion following clearing of the woodland early in the Neolithic period ( c4000-c2500 BC). Of the Stour valley long barrows only 'Julliberrie's grave' has so far been excavated however none are believed to have been constructed using sarsen stones. To me that suggests their function was more important than what they were constructed from.

The Medway long barrows are believed to have been constructed c 3900-3800BC. That is the first time in the British Isles that sort of technology or knowhow existed to build such structures. At the start of the Neolithic period the population for England is estimated to have been around 100,000 (that's less than the population of Maidstone district council area). Even by the end of the Neolithic the population had probably little more than doubled over the course of c2500 years. So throughout the entire period there would have been little or no land pressures to prompt large scale warfare. And there is so far no evidence of Neolithic constructions being distroyed (in prehistoric times at least), indeed on the contrary ancient sites have often been adapted for modern usage during subsequent periods. 
Posted by: linyarin
« on: February 19, 2013, 11:28:26 »

 

Though I think I may have seen descendants of Grendel's line on Sheppey.....
Ouch!

 :)
Posted by: YonderYomper
« on: February 19, 2013, 01:55:01 »

Hello Leofwine,

Just read all the posts on this thread, and immensly appreciated it all.

A couple of questions, or wonderings I'm curious to know your opinion on:

Firstly, The name Hengist/Hengeist/Hengest (as it is variously spelt, depending on where you look), do you think this could have some kind of significance derived from the German word Geist- spirit, as in Zeitgeist... like the spirit of the horse, or something like that; Is it the same word (piece)?

Secondly, what can not have failed to impress anyone who has visited the Coty, and Blue Bell Hill area when walking up it, is just how steep it is!  Even going up the longer, shallower inclines is a task in itself... what are the practicalities of getting an army up there to fight, and can this tell us anything about likely routes taken to get there, or the actual site of battle (let alone getting stones up there from anywhere else!)?

Thirdly, when considering the origins of the megaliths, it's often a question of whether the builders quarried the stone locally, or from afar... but could it also be that the builders of the monuments took the stones from other, pre-existing sites, like the tombs of the ancestors of the vanquished, after all, it saves them the work of cutting new stone.  You see this with the pyramids at Giza, with most of what used to cover them being found in newer buildings, and other recycling of old buildings... should we not consider these more ancient builders just as likely to do this as more recent peoples, and at least a possible source of the stones at Kit's Coty?
Posted by: Leofwine
« on: February 19, 2013, 00:12:54 »

I've not heard the article, but I suspect his arguments for that are tenuous at best, and that for every argument he can make for Sheppey there are 100 much more convincing ones for it all being based in the Baltic!   

Though I think I may have seen descendants of Grendel's line on Sheppey.....
Posted by: davpott
« on: February 18, 2013, 23:30:05 »

I've got a feeling this is Dr Paul Wilkinson promoting his new book.
Posted by: yeoman
« on: February 18, 2013, 21:01:08 »

As a sort of update there was an article on the BBC at around 6.30pm this evening in which those interviewed made a case for Beowulf being based on Sheppey rather than in Denmark.  The presenter mentioned this would be on i-player and the BBC site.  I couldn't find a link (sorry) but did anybody else, and is anybody placed to comment? 
Posted by: Far away
« on: November 28, 2011, 09:04:29 »

Thanks, it all makes sense  :)

So, when you are reading a document you need to always bear in mind what the writer considered each group was called - which must interesting if a second writer quotes the earlier work a couple of centuries earlier and has not considered this...

Posted by: Leofwine
« on: November 25, 2011, 18:29:44 »

This has made me think, and now I wonder if there is not some confusion in history about references to Wales and the Welsh, and Britons. If 'Welsh' means 'foreigner', are our references to Britons and Welsh for the period actually the same thing, and that 'Wales' was really the rest of Britain that the Germanic tribes had yet to conquer? Basically, was Wales all of Britain except East Kent in those early days? Does 'fighting the Welsh' mean nothing more than 'fighting the Britons from the other side of the river'?

That is exactly what it means. Following the Battle of Aylesford England (Angleland) was the area from the River Medway to the Kent coat, Wales was all the rest of modern England and Wales!  The term Welsh (wealas) was and English (Anglo-Saxon) term for the Britons, the Britons would have used the term Briton, or perhaps have used the Brittonic word Combrogi, meaning fellow countryman (also the origin of the place names Cumbria and Cymru.)
Posted by: Far away
« on: November 25, 2011, 10:08:25 »

This has made me think, and now I wonder if there is not some confusion in history about references to Wales and the Welsh, and Britons. If 'Welsh' means 'foreigner', are our references to Britons and Welsh for the period actually the same thing, and that 'Wales' was really the rest of Britain that the Germanic tribes had yet to conquer? Basically, was Wales all of Britain except East Kent in those early days? Does 'fighting the Welsh' mean nothing more than 'fighting the Britons from the other side of the river'?
Posted by: Far away
« on: November 23, 2011, 10:09:40 »

Great piece of work, reminded me of many things I had forgotten :)

In order to understand the concept of Englishness you first have to understand how the Englishman perceives foreign-ness. In most countries foreign-ness starts beyond your country's borders. In England it starts beyond the end of your street! However, don't be fooled into thinking foreign-ness is purely a product of distance. It is equally as much to do with distance and common history. To an Englishman, a Frenchman, whose country lies a mere 20 miles or so from England, is far more foreign than say, a Canadian, an Indian or an Australian....

I heard all this kind of thing when I used to live in the UK, and then when I came to live in Poland I heard exactly the same things. I think people feel a need to find a way of justifying why their group is special, and they come up with the same answers...

I remember talking to this 80-90 year old woman in a village here where my wife's family came from, and she was telling me about things like how the Germans closed down their mill during the war. Then she asked me where I was from, and I told her England. "Never heard of it," she said "But it's probably just like here anyway."
Posted by: Leofwine
« on: November 12, 2011, 22:08:10 »

That is a good question RWTA. At the time I know it was discussed that it would be moved as the garage was due to be built pretty much on the spot it stood on, but then there were some objections and I really don't know for sure what the result was. I think it was moved a few yard, but I'm not 100% certain.  Maybe someone else on the forum does know for sure?
Posted by: Riding With The Angels
« on: November 12, 2011, 21:58:27 »

Great analysis Leofwine question though re point G

Has the White Horse Stone been moved from the site of the service station then? I have never heard this and have seen it where it is now presuming it to have always been there and the Colonels stone on the opposite side of the field?

RWTA
Posted by: PaddyX21
« on: November 11, 2011, 07:37:17 »

It is threads like this that make this forum what it is! Fantastic, well written, well researched, informative and entertaining.
Thank you!
Posted by: Riding With The Angels
« on: November 10, 2011, 23:09:12 »

Brilliant Leofwine - will read when am not so tired after a long day at work :)
Posted by: scintilla
« on: November 10, 2011, 11:50:11 »

Just wanted to add my thanks for these articles as well. You do need to print them off and sit down and read them. I've done a bit of researching about this time on the internet and haven't found anything so clearly and succinctly written as Leofwine's pieces.
Posted by: Merry
« on: November 09, 2011, 23:08:18 »

Golly, this is fantastic.  I'd heard of the battle and always think of it when I go down Blue Bell Hill.

I'm another one who'll be printing off to read in detail.  Thank you for sharing your knowledge so generously.
Posted by: Leofwine
« on: November 09, 2011, 18:11:36 »

During these visits the lord would settle disputes, oversee trials, etc. In a way these might be seen as the first royal walkabouts,......
This seems to me to be the origins of Assizes.

Many of our later legal systems had their origins in the Anglo-Saxon period, although sometimes in a much more primitive form than later versions. This is one of the (many) areas that modern research has shown started before the Norman Conquest, even though in the 19th and early 20th century the Normans got the credit for introducing them. The boom in historical interest in the 18th and 19th century was great for getting things started, but sadly very many fallacies and inaccuracies that the Victorian scholars came up with were taken as incontravertible fact by 20th century scholars, and reproduced time and time again. Fortunately modern 'multi-disciplinary' approaches combined with improvements in archaeology, post-excavation study, digitisation (and wider distribution) of historical documents, etc has meant that over the last 30 years or so much more has been discovered and these old 'truths' have begun to be questioned, often proving to have been false or distorted versions of things. Of course, some have also been proved much more strongly.
Posted by: peterchall
« on: November 09, 2011, 17:14:05 »

I am running out of words of acclaim, so will simply say "Thanks, Leofwine" :)
During these visits the lord would settle disputes, oversee trials, etc. In a way these might be seen as the first royal walkabouts,......
This seems to me to be the origins of Assizes.
Posted by: Leofwine
« on: November 09, 2011, 16:42:51 »

The only other contemporary source I know of from this period is by a monk named Gildas, whose work from the 540's is called "The Ruin of Britain". Unfortunately it seems that this was a bit of a rant about all of the tyrants that were ruling the country at the time and isn't generally looked upon as a particularly reliable source of information. He does, however, mention a major British victory around 500 at a place called "Mons Badonicus" which, if true, has never been properly confirmed or identified. It is believed by some that later memories of this battle (Britons against the invaders) is where the legend of King Arthur first took root.

Yes, Gildas' work is one of those frustrating pieces that so nearly tells us so much, but doesn't quite deliver. It hints at some things that help us understand other sources though, but is more religious propoganda than hard fact. One thing of interest to this thread, however, is that many modern scholars now believe that the Tyrant it was aimed at was Vortigern or, more likely, his direct descendants.

As far as Arthur is concerned, the mention of "Mons Badonicus" is thought to be the origin of the battle of Mount Badon in later Arthurian myth, but Gildas never mentions Arthur, and does not even make it clear if the forces concerned were led by one man or a coalition of local leaders.  I also find it interesting that in his various rants he chastises the British leaders for making the same mistakes their leaders made a century earlier - the employment of 'barbarian' mercenaries who would likely turn on them. Although we don't know his fate, I always like to imagine him living to a ripe old age in some monastery in the west of Britain, a bitter old man watching the streams of refugees fleeing the onslaught, ans waving his fist at the leaders  saying "I told you so!"
Posted by: Leofwine
« on: November 09, 2011, 16:33:49 »

Regarding taxation - this requires a system of record keeping, a mechanism for collection, and the existence of coinage. I know that the Romans had coins but in the (presumably) less organised and centralised Anglo-Saxon society, was there a common coinage, and were the 'workers' paid in cash? Presumably even a slave would have an allowance for a minimum of personal needs. It seems that there was no equivalent of the modern village shop, so if a family didn't have the skill to bake its own bread or make a pair of shoes, how did it get them?

The term taxation when dealing with this period can be misleading when used to modern monetary systems. The taxes were generally paid in produce and goods (more like the later medieval church tithes). The Anglo-Saxon term feorm was used for this 'food rent' and may well be the origin of our modern words 'farm' and 'farming'. Whilst undoubtedly some of this produce would have been sent to the lord or the king directly, much of it was supplied in situ, as the nobleman and his retinue would spend a certain amount of his time travelling to the villages on his manor, and would there literally live off this rent/tax before moving on to the next. Likewise, the king would go on tours of his noblemen's halls and the villages on his own lands and receive similar hospitality. As well as the economic significance, it also reinforced the bonds between the lord (whether king or nobleman) and his subjects. During these visits the lord would settle disputes, oversee trials, etc. In a way these might be seen as the first royal walkabouts, but the had a much more important socialogical and political significance than the simple PR exercises of today, they served  (hopefully) to unite a small and warlike tribal kingdom, and cement the loyalty of the subjects to the overlords.

As mentioned before, little is known about the life of slaves in Anglo-Saxon England. Presumably they were fed an clothed by their owners, but what rights (if any) they had are unknown. Whether they were treated like the serfs of feudal England, much like freemen but without free right of movement, and with heavy labour, or whether they were as rightless as livestock is unclear. Later, after the advent of Christianity, on the feast of Michaelmas (I think, going just from memory here, so it may have been a different feast) they were entitled to a gift of coin and a sheep which they may have ben allowed to sell, or use as a feast. There are also later examples of slaves buying their own freedom or that of their families, but how similar pre-Christian era slavery was is unclear.

The exact economics of an early Anglo-Saxon village are unclear, and probably varied from place to place, so the following is a very generic explanation.  As mentioned before, most villagers were primarily farmers of one kind or another, but most would also have other skills. It is likely that the parents taught the children the skills they had ,so certain families might become the village 'specialist' - baker, leatherworker, boneworker, etc. This said, most people would probably know the basics of most everyday skills, but if they needed something a bit more advance they would go to the village specialist and barter for the goods. Some skills, such as pottery, might be something found only in one village on an estate, so would be bartered between villages, not just familes. Other skills, such as spinning, weaving, carpentry, etc would be so widespread that most members of most families would know them (although many were gender specific).

Re coinage, this seems to appear in sixth and seventh century England as kings establish wider power bases and start modelling their kingship on the Roman pattern, including the issuing of formal coinage. Before this things seem to have been done with barter and bullion, rather than coins. Interestingly, even by the eleventh century it was still common to weigh coins to see they had the proper bullion value, suggesting the coin was a piece of kingly vanity and propoganda, and a convenient way to move seilver (and rarely gold) around.
Posted by: smiffy
« on: November 09, 2011, 14:29:34 »


Some excellent work from you there, Leofwine - very informative. One of the reasons I'm interested in this period is the very lack of historical information. I find the mystery surrounding this time to be one of its main attractions, giving plenty of room to speculate! It also means that even minor archaeological finds can have a lot more significance in trying to piece things together than with some other better documented periods.

The only other contemporary source I know of from this period is by a monk named Gildas, whose work from the 540's is called "The Ruin of Britain". Unfortunately it seems that this was a bit of a rant about all of the tyrants that were ruling the country at the time and isn't generally looked upon as a particularly reliable source of information. He does, however, mention a major British victory around 500 at a place called "Mons Badonicus" which, if true, has never been properly confirmed or identified. It is believed by some that later memories of this battle (Britons against the invaders) is where the legend of King Arthur first took root.
Posted by: Islesy
« on: November 09, 2011, 10:15:49 »

An absolutely brilliant posting Leofwine, one that almost deserves to be made a 'sticky'! Kent has always been the 'Arrivals' Hall for Britain and the period between the Romans leaving and the Normans arriving is one that has always fascinated.
Posted by: peterchall
« on: November 09, 2011, 09:48:01 »

After reading Leofwine's latest post I feel as if I could be dropped into Kent in about 600AD, understand what was happening around me, and feel quite at home - brilliant :) However, Leofwine, can I prevail upon you for a bit more info?

Regarding taxation - this requires a system of record keeping, a mechanism for collection, and the existence of coinage. I know that the Romans had coins but in the (presumably) less organised and centralised Anglo-Saxon society, was there a common coinage, and were the 'workers' paid in cash? Presumably even a slave would have an allowance for a minimum of personal needs. It seems that there was no equivalent of the modern village shop, so if a family didn't have the skill to bake its own bread or make a pair of shoes, how did it get them?

Posted by: busyglen
« on: November 08, 2011, 15:01:49 »

....and it's `wow' from me also!

I have only just caught up with this thread not having had much chance to read all of the posts recently, but what a joy!

When I was at school, I hated history!  Probably because my history teacher didn't seem to have the knack or the `enthusiasm' of being able to bring it to life, and I found it boring to say the least. 
Now....as an OAP, and having read all that has been said so far...I have gone on to re-read everything again, and can't wait for more.  At last I am looking for answers, rather than taking everything as `read'.  So...Leofwine, thank you so much for your informative and questioning posts, which are so interesting.
Posted by: peterchall
« on: November 08, 2011, 11:53:13 »

Another post to print and read at leisure - and never mind the expense :)
Thanks again, Leofwine
Posted by: Leofwine
« on: November 08, 2011, 01:16:32 »

Leofwine, printing and reading your post in depth has increased my admiration of your work still further.

I presume this is the period known as the ‘Dark Ages’, which relates to the paucity of knowledge that you mention.

Yes, this is the period that used to be commonly known as the Dark Ages, but now it is usually labelled as Post Roman Period, Migration Period, or Early Medieval Period.  The term Dark Ages was popularised in the Victorian era, as back then Roman culture was seen as "the great guiding light" so Dark Ages had the double meaning of dark in the sense of little information, and dark as in no longer illuminated by Rome's greatness until the Normans come along and re-invent/rediscover the greatness of Rome. More recent multi-disciplinary approaches to historical research have given us much more information, and have shown that much that the Victorians credited the normans with was actually begun in the period 400-1000AD, and that much of the greatness of Rome that the 'barbarian hordes' ruthlessly destroyed was actually disappearing long before the departure of Roman Governance, hence the 're-branding' of the period.

Despite the obvious difficulties of travel, I’m struck by the speed at which news seemed to spread. You mention:
1.   Quote: “…the Picts come from Alba [Scotland] with an immense army and attack the northern part of the island. Vortigern catches word of the attack, …”. And this was news from the other end of England.

There are several factors to bear in mind here, and again the 'dark age' prejudice can affect people's perception. The first is that most armies of this period are primarily infantry, but horses were readily available, so a messenger on horseback, with spare horses, could travel much more quickly. In later Saxon times there were a group of king's messengers (also employed by many nobles) who were termed beadles, and these men could requisition horses, boats, etc to enable them to carry important messages swiftly. This, or a similar system, may have been employed in this period too. A rider with several changes of mount can cover 80-120 miles a day on the sturdy little horses employed in this period (basically the Germanic mount was what we now know as Icelandic Horses, a breed known for stamina and endurance). Germanic tradition (and probably British too) tended to make use of watchmen, coast-guards, etc to guard borders and send warnings. It is also likely that the Roman tradition of beacons/signal fires was also still being used, particularly at the shore forts. Another factor that may have come into play is the Germanic practice of using oared sailing vessels for swift coastal travel and troop deployment (a technique the Vikings used to great effect a few centuries later!). Another factor to bear in mind is that although Germanic warriors fought on foot, many, if not most, were also trained riders who would ride to battle, then dismount to fight on foot (much as modern infantry might deploy with trucks or helicopters). Lastly, espionage is nothing new, especially amongst those from the Roman world, and a powerful king or war leader was likely to have spies or informants in many enemy camps.

2.   Word of the British incursion into east Kent reached Vortigern in time for him to gather a force to meet them on Bluebell Hill (Battle of Aylesford).

See above, and bear in mind it was usual for a king to grant lands to a young warrior who had proven himself in battle, typically 4-6 farmsteads run by commoners, who supported the young noble in return for his protection.  Anglo-Saxon society was ruled by a warrior elite, and set up in such a way to support the rapid deployment of that warrior elite when tribal lands came under threat. In a newly conquered region these 'manors' were usually much more densely clustered near the borders keeping a ready fighting force on hand. If, as we assume, the Britons were organised along the late Roman lines militarily, the days of the Imperial legions covering 40 miles a day were long gone. Some accounts suggest 10 miles a day was good progress for a late roman army!  At this rate scouts and outriders could give fair warning. In addition, the medway is a formidable barrier with few crossing points and it is likely unlanded warriors in the king's retinue would be kept near these vulnerable crossing points. The speed and mobility of the Anglo-Saxon mounted infantry is borne out from the end of the era by the famous marches from London to Stamford Bridge and back, and then from London to Battle in only a day or so.

3.   The description of the marriage of Vortigern and Rowena suggests it is an event that would be known of throughout the land.

If this marriage actually took place and is not just allegorical, then it would presumably have been well known, and the spread of this news is suggested as the reason for Vortigern losing some of his support amongst his own nobles. In reality, there were probably many more factors involved in the loss of popularity Vortigern (or whoever the leader actually was) suffered including old favourites like increased taxation to pay for the military forces (Briton and Saxon), perceptions of things being better 'in the good old days', the use of foreign troops, etc, and many many more besides.

4.   Vortigern visiting Canterbury and being informed of "the arrival of some tall strangers in three large ships" and ordering that they be received with peace and led to him.
All of which suggests that the news spread faster than a person could travel, and this paradox seems to me to have existed right up until the advent of the telegraph. However, I believe that in Napoleonic times there was a system of semaphore stations within sight of each other, enabling signals to be sent almost as quickly as each letter could be sent on to the next station; was there any equivalent system in earlier times?

I think the answers to that are pretty well covered above.

Which raises another point; with the low density of the population (‘History of Kent’ states a total population of c50,000), why did the Britons and Saxons need to fight at all? With no vital resources like coal or oil to fight over I would have thought there was plenty of room for them to live side by side. Yet Hengist tells of his homeland becoming over-populated (Your note B). Did the style of living at the time require so much more land per person than modern living – for crops, livestock, etc?

There are probably many reasons for this, not least the leaders wanting to be able to point to the land and say "That belongs to me!"  In some of the less densely populated areas of Britain there is strong evidence to suggest peaceful settlement and co-existence between the Britons and Saxons. In other areas it seems the Saxons just replaced the ruling class, but the ordinary populace were the native Britons working for new lords. But Kent (and Sussex, Essex and other parts of the south-east) were densely populated by the standards of the day, and rich in agricultural land, a great prize.  Much of the country was wild, much of that wild area woodland (one estimate has suggested as much as 70% of the country was ancient woodland in about 500AD). On the continent, much of Germany and Scandinavia was also heavily wooded, or extensively marshy, leaving little good arable land. A good, already cleared area of farmland was much more tempting than wild lands that might take years to properly clear and bring under the plough.

Also, as you hint at, the land requirements were greater per person as modern intensive farming, selective breeding of crops and livestock, etc had not begun. The grain yields per acre may have been as low as only 10-15% of what could be grown on the same land today, due to both the type of crop grown and the farming techniques employed; for example the early plough was not much more advanced than the iron age Ard, so generally only lighter soils could be ploughed with it, and these tend to be less fertile than rich clay soils. The moleboard plough with proper share and coulter was an invention of the Middle-Saxon period and allowed these heavier soils to be cultivated, vastly expanding the wealth of the country, the very wealth that attracted the Viking raiders, proving every silver lining has its cloud! The ploughs were pulled by oxem, not horses, which were not as efficient either (the invention of the horse collar in the medieval period was an incredible revolution, allowing fields to be ploughed/harrowed/etc much more swiftly, thus bringing even more land into cultivation).

One resource in Kent and Sussex that would have been particularly appealing top the Anglo-Saxons would have been wealden iron, a resource well worth fighting for.  The section below on social structures also offers more explanations.

So I wonder how far the division of labour had progressed in those times. Did each family keep its own animals, grow its own crops, bake its own bread, and make its own clothes? Or where there specialised farmers, bakers, tailors, etc? Apart from the existing Roman towns, were there any new population centres larger than farms or villages?

Early Germanic settlement patterns, even before the Romans arrived in North Germany and Britain, were very stratified, consisting (in it's simplest version) of three main classes. At the top were the Warrior nobility. In the middle were the freemen - primarily farmers and craftsmen. At the bottom were the slaves. Although in essence this sounds not unlike later feudalism, it was actually more fluid and more complex than that, and relied much more on reciprocation than feudalism did...

Right at the top of the heap was the King or Chieftain, but this was not a hereditary position. In fact, in the first few hundred years of Anglo-Saxon England remarkably few crowns passed from father to son. The king was chosen by the nobles from amongst the most powerful warrior families. When one king died or was killed the nobles met and chose the one of their number deemed to be most powerful (and hopefully honourable). These successors were usually related to the previous king, sometimes a son, but often a cousin or brother. They were 'of the royal kin', the word King and kin are derived from the same root (O.E. cyn and cyng/cyni(n)g respectively).  In some cases, when there was more than one powerful candidate it could (and did) lead to civil war. The new king would be expected to be brave, warlike, just and generous.  In return for their support the warriors would expect to be rewarded with land, gold, arms, slaves, etc.  A king who did not/could not supply these things would quickly lose support and might find himself ousted in favour of a more suitable leader. Thus, whilst the king could demand service and loyalty, he would only receive it as long as he was brave and generous to his followers. If he did this his warrior nobility would follow him almost unquestioningly, fighting when and where he told them. It was up to the king to pick his wars and his nobles to fight them. Tacitus, writing of the Germanic tribes in the first century, noted that "the warriors fight for their leader, the leader fights for victory." This pattern was still true to some extent even a thousand years later in the Germanic world.  A successful king would attract more followers, sometimes from outside his own kingdom, thus increasing his power and status further. Of course these new followers would expect more rewards (usually via conquest). Of course, successful conquest led to more followers and so on. A term often seen to describe a young or newly crowned king early in his careeer is "when he was still weak", i.e. when he had not fully secured the loyalty of many noblemen.

The warrior classes came in two types, the young unlanded warriors and the older landed ones. The unlanded warriors were generally the sons of the landed warriors. From a young age, maybe five or six, they would be taught skill at arms, poetry & riddles (a swift mind was considered as important as a swift sword-arm) and other things such as running the manors, tribal history and other things they would need in later life. To further bond the tribe, these boys were often fostered with another nobleman for their martial training, ensuring close ties between the various families. At the age of about 12-15, their training substantially complete, these young warriors would be sent to the king, acting as his 'rapid deployment' troops, living in his hall, or on one of his royal manors, ready to spring into action as needed - seeing of raids from enemy tribes, acting as honour guards, or whatever else was needed. These warriors were most often rewarded with arms, gold and other portable wealth. As the young warrior grew older and more experienced he would hope to distinguish himself enough to be granted land. This land was not his permanently, but was 'on loan' from the king for his lifetime, or if he was exceptional, for three lifetimes (his son & grandson too).  After this the land reverted back to the king.  (With the arrival of Christianity this became more complicated as sometimes land was granted to the church, but since God is eternal, so is his lifetime...) Sometimes he might be granted his father's estate after he died, but often it would be a completely different estate. Of course, many warriors would have more than one son, meaning the king's army would be constantly growing in size, and the need for new lands to reward them with would be a constant factor. It was these young warriors referred to above who protected the borders. In times of great threat (such as an invading army rather than just a raid) the king would call upon all his warriors, landed as well as unlanded to come to his aid.

The landed warrior would live in a hall, sometimes fortified with palisade and ditch, surrounded by farmland and one or more villages. At the hall and important nobleman might have his own staff of specialist craftsmen such as weaponsmiths, jewellers, horse-breeders or even glassworkers, as well as slaves and freemen to farm his lands.

Below the king was the ordinary freeman. These tended to live in villages of a about 3-6 families, each with their own family house in addition to a communal hall, workshops, barns, etc (the reconstructed Anglo-Saon village at West Stow in Suffolk is an excellent example of this type of settlement). Each village was surrounded by farmland these villagers cultivated. The villages were largely self sufficient with the men being farmers, but also skilled in various basic crafts - woodworking, leather-working, simple ironwork, etc. The women would practice crafts such as cloth production, gardening (in the sense of fruit and vegetables), cooking, food preservation, basketry, etc and the general day to day running of the household. Children, in addition to learning to farm and other crafts would be herders, foragers, etc. It is probable that within each village people speciaised in one or two crafts they had an aptitude for, rather than all being expected to be a jack-of-all-trades. Presumably these skills, or their products, would be bartered amongst the various families. Within the village people might also practice fishing, beekeeping, etc. Villages were often grouped together in estates, and within each estate you might have more specialised, almost full time craftsmen such as potters, smiths, boat-builders, wheelwrights, etc, though even these would help with the farming at busy times of the year.  These villages would send a certain amount of their produce to their nobleman, in return for which they would be protected, have access to his craftsmen, and hopefully receive a share of any spoils he gained on the battlefield or as a reward from the king. The king would regularly send his representatives to the villages, and if the villagers were not happy with their overlord the village elders could petition the king to have him replaced, so in the same way that it was in the King's interest to keep his nobles happy, it was in the nobles' interest to keep the villagers happy.  It should also be borne in mind that interraction between villages would have been widespead due to the sheer number of villages. For every modern village that can claim Anglo-Saxon founding there are likely to be 5 or 6 'lost' villages, and there might well be a dozen or more neighbouring villages within half a days walk (not quite the old image of the isolated peasant who never went more than a mile from his house!) The reason for the later concentration of these villages in the seventh and eighth centuries is thought to primarily be Christianity - quite simply, a church was built to serve a number of villages, but as the villagers would be expected to go to church almost every day, it became easier to move the settlement to the church, leaving the longer walk to the fields as you were visiting the fields less days of the year than the church!

At the bottom of the pile came the slaves, and these we know least about. Scholars disagree on how many slaves there were, figures varying from about 10% of the population up to as high as almost 90% of the population, depending on which scholar you ask. The actual figure was probably very variable depending on time and place, and affected by many factors. Sources for slaves were many - prisoners of war, criminals, bred slaves, slaves bought from traders, spoils from raids, etc.  After a war, for example, the number of slaves might be expected to increase, but after a long period of peace their numbers might have gone down. Needless to say slaves, where available, probably bore the brunt of the heaviest and least pleasant tasks in the settlement. Sometimes slaves might be freed, but most probably died in bondage. We don't know how slaves were treated, and their treatment may have varied from owner to owner, but it seems that male slaves were distinguished by having their hair very closely cropped.  Some freed slave may even have moved highly up the social scale. In Beowulf King Hrothgar's queen is named Wealtheow which means 'foreign slave', leading some scholars to suggest she may have been a slave he took a fancy to and freed, eventually marrying!

As David Frost said in ‘Through the Keyhole’: “Leofwine, it’s over to you”. :)

Hopefully that has helped explain at least some of the answers.

I think that a lot of the fighting between the two tribes is still prevalent today; you put two British Regiments together without a common enemy and they will fight; football fans will fight amongst them selves if no other fans are present. Then you were either Saise (Saxon) or Jute and 'nere the twain should meet'. This is really good. Please sir, may we have some more................ S4.

I once read a book called "The Xenophobe's Guide to the English." It is a jokey book, but contains a lot of things that are funny, because they are true. One that has always stuck with me is a piece from the introduction which I cannot quote exactly, but can give you the gist of. I think it explains what you mean, and is almost certainly one of the traits we have inherited from our Old English forebears. It goes something along these lines:

In order to understand the concept of Englishness you first have to understand how the Englishman perceives foreign-ness. In most countries foreign-ness starts beyond your country's borders. In England it starts beyond the end of your street! However, don't be fooled into thinking foreign-ness is purely a product of distance. It is equally as much to do with distance and common history. To an Englishman, a Frenchman, whose country lies a mere 20 miles or so from England, is far more foreign than say, a Canadian, an Indian or an Australian....

I suspect our Anglo-Saxon ancestors would have fully understood this, and you might have heard a Kentish Jute say something like. "I'm not sure about those foreigners in Essex, Sussex or Wessex. But at least they aren't as bad as those strange Mercians, or Woden help us, Northumbrians!  As for those Britons (Welsh), well the less said the better. Very stange the lot of them. No, I'd much rather have a Frisian as a neighbour than any of THAT lot!"
Posted by: Sentinel S4
« on: November 07, 2011, 22:06:16 »

I think that a lot of the fighting between the two tribes is still prevalent today; you put two British Regiments together without a common enemy and they will fight; football fans will fight amongst them selves if no other fans are present. Then you were either Saise (Saxon) or Jute and 'nere the twain should meet'. This is really good. Please sir, may we have some more................ S4.
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