During this topic, we will be discovering what life was like in Anglo Saxon Britain before the Vikings invaded and settled too.
We will explore whether there is any evidence of Anglo Saxon settlements in our local area. Looking at evidence, we will be learning about the importance of Sutton Hoo, helping us to learn about Anglo Saxon beliefs. Were the Vikings bloodthirsty? Did they want to settle in peace? How was Britain ruled and by who?
When the Romans left Britain, the country was divided up into a lot of smaller kingdoms and sub-kingdoms that often fought with each other and against any invaders who tried to take over.
By the 800s, there were four main kingdoms in England: Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia and Wessex.
One of the most well-known kings from Mercia was Offa. He declared himself the first ‘king of the English’ because he won battles involving kings in the surrounding kingdoms, but their dominance didn’t really last after Offa died. Offa is most remembered for Offa’s Dyke along the border between England and Wales – it was a 150-mile barrier that gave the Mercians some protection if they were about to be invaded.
Religion changed quite a bit in Anglo-Saxon times. Many people were pagans and worshipped different gods who oversaw different things people did – for instance, Wade was the god of the sea, and Tiw was the god of war.
In 597, a monk named St. Augustine came to England to tell people about Christianity. The Pope in Rome sent him there, and he built a church in Canterbury. Many people became Christians during this time.
Everyone in Anglo-Saxons villages had to work very hard to grow their food, make their clothes, and care for their animals. Even children had to help out by doing chores such as collecting firewood and feeding the livestock.
There are nine versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles still around today – this is because copies of the original were given to monks in different monasteries around England to keep up-to-date with information about the area where they lived. Nobody has ever seen the original Anglo-Saxon Chronicles that the copies were made from.
Beowulf is an Anglo-Saxon heroic poem (3182 lines long!) which tells us a lot about life in Anglo-Saxon times (though it is not set in England but in Scandinavia). Beowulf is probably the oldest surviving long poem in Old English. We don't know the name of the Anglo-Saxon poet who wrote it, but it was written in England some time between the 8th and the early 11th century.
The Anglo-Saxons minted their own coins – they made different designs that were pressed onto the face of a coin, so archaeologists who find those coins today know when they were used. The coins changed depending on the region where they were made, who was king, or even what important event had just happened.
Vikings from the east were still invading England during the time of the Anglo-Saxons. Sometimes, instead of fighting the Vikings, people would pay them money to leave them in peace. This payment is called Danegeld.
The Vikings wanted new land because the places where they came from in Scandinavia – Norway, Sweden and Denmark – weren’t very easy to live on. It was hard to grow crops, which meant there wasn’t a lot of food as the population got bigger. Britain and Europe had plenty of good farmland, so the Vikings tried to claim some of that land for themselves.
Even though the Anglo-Saxons were pretty well established in England, the Vikings would turn up every now and then to raid towns and take a bit of land. Sometimes, instead of fighting the Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons decided it was better to pay them money so they’d stay away. This payment was called Danegeld.
The first Viking attack on England was in 787 on the Isle of Portland. The Vikings went home straight afterwards, but they came back to England in 793 and raided a monastery at Lindisfarne. Monastaries made easy targets because the monks who lived there didn’t have any weapons, and they did have money and food.
The Vikings believed in many different gods, and they thought making sacrifices to the gods kept them all happy. They also told stories about the gods, called Norse mythology. Some of the gods included:
The Vikings believed that if a warrior died while fighting in battle, he’d go to Valhalla, which is where Odin was. Other heroes who had died would also be there. Odin would send his warrior maidens, called Valkyries, across the sky to ferry dead warriors to Valhalla.
Viking warriors were very good fighters. They’d wear helmets and carry shields to defend themselves, and they’d also have one of these weapons:
Boats that the Vikings built are called longships – they are long, narrow boats that can be used in both deep and shallow water, making them perfect for travelling over the ocean and carrying lots of warriors onto the shore. VIkings sailed all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to Newfoundland in their longships. Longships were symmetrical, meaning they looked the same at the front as they did at the back. They’d often have dragon heads carved at either end.