This slim volume is one of the new Shire Living Histories series, whose stated aim is to show “How we worked, how we played, how we lived,” focussing as much on the life of ordinary people as on their social superiors. It follows the same format the other books in the series, tackling topics such as family life, home and neighbourhood, food and drink etc. in turn, devoting a few pages to each to build up a view of life in the early Saxon era.
Of course in such a slim volume (80 pages) a comprehensive view is impossible, but how well does it manage as an overview or introduction for the non-specialist? Pretty well, I would say. The author, Sally Crawford, is an academic specialising in the Anglo-Saxons and has written longer, more academic tomes on the subject of everyday life in this era but here she manages to distil it down very well into a short book suitable for the general reader.
The book is very well illustrated, with line drawings and photos of actual surviving artefacts, photos of modern reconstructions and several artist impressions of sites as they would have looked. As someone who wants to be able to visualise life as it was in any given era this was particularly useful for me.
The author is honest about the limits of our knowledge of life in this era. As an example, when discussing homes she says that they were probably a single open space but that it is possible that areas were partitioned off with cloth or other screens that would not leave any trace in the soil for archaeologists to find.
The book ends with a list of historic sites relating to the Anglo-Saxons, which can be visited by the public. This is a useful feature and on the basis of it I have added several to my ‘must visit’ list. On the down side there is no bibliography or further reading list.
Having a particular interest in the late Saxon era, or Anglo-Danish period, I found it a shame that the book only covers the early Saxon period but that limitation is stated up front in the subtitle (400 – 790). I can only hope that Shire will choose to plug the gap between this and the companion volume on Norman England some time in the future.
In summary, this book is a good overview, well worth reading as an introduction to life in Anglo-Saxon England at an affordable price, with the illustrations in particular helping one to create a vivid mental image of what it must have been like back then.
5 stars out of 5
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Title: Anglo-Saxon England, 400 – 790 (Shire Living Histories series)
Author: Sally Crawford
Publisher: Shire Publications, UK
Length: 80 pages
Link to book on Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Anglo-Saxon-England-Shire-Living-Histories/dp/0747808368