Life in Anglo-Saxon England

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Part 1: Bringing Class into It

Life in Anglo-Saxon England was static or varied, depending on who and what you were. Some things were very different for rich people or poor people. Some things were very different for people in the northern part of the country or for people in the southern part of the country. Struggle for food and survival and recognition was a constant. Life expectancy was sometimes shockingly short. Yet the Anglo-Saxon culture survives to this day in the England and the Great Britain and the United Kingdom of today.

Class divisions
Anglo-Saxon society in England was divided into three classes, not including the rulers.

The thanes (or thegns) were the upper class, who generally had a lot of money and/or land and, in many cases, enjoyed the favor of the local lord or regional ruler. A thane would sometimes be in charge of a village.

The churls (cheorls) were next in the social pecking order and were most prevalent. This class covered the spectrum of wealth. Some churls had more than enough money to live on; other churls struggled to make ends meet. Many thanes owned land that they rented out to churls.

The lowest class were thralls, or slaves, who depended on their lords and masters for food and shelter, and in exchange the slaves worked and had very little freedom. Some people were enslaved only to pay a debt and became free once the debt was paid; others were slaves for life.

Women stayed close to home, cooking and making clothes and rearing children. Women would serve food at feasts, but even rich women were often not allowed to eat alongside men.

Children had rag dolls and crude wooden toys, like spinning tops. Games involved simple elements like dice or counters. Sometimes, children made music playing pipes made of animal bones. Children were at age 10 seen as adults because they could inherit items and property from their fathers. The Anglo-Saxons did not have the system of primogeniture (which was the right of the first-born male to have first right of inheritance), and boys and girls had an equal right to inherit their parents' belongings and savings.

At the top of a group of people would be the leader, usually a successful warrior.

The Saxon word cyning, a strong leader of other men, became the word king. A king could afford expensive clothes and furnishings and weapons. A king could afford servants and exotic foods. A king was also expected to put on lavish feasts, for thanes and visiting dignitaries. At these feasts, drink (usually wine or fine ale) would flow, tables would overflow with food, artists would tell tales or act out plays, and musicians would entertain, either singing or playing instruments.

Part 2: How and Where People Lived

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