The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at The Turn of the First Millenium by Danny Danziger and Robert Lacey

What was life like in Anglo-Saxon England around the year 1000?
Writer Danny Danziger decided to find out and he teamed up with historian Robert Lacey to write a book about it. The duo read up on the topic and interviewed more than 50 historians, and this approach “provided a mass of almost anecdotal details, recalled from lifetimes of study.”

The result was a bestseller that inspired a radio series broadcasted by the BBC, and the book is rich with detail and it manages to bring the year 1000 to life in a wonderful way.

This was, of course, before the brutal Norman conquest of England, and the power structure inspired by Rome had not yet been forced upon the people of the land.

For centuries the British Isles had been under attack from the ancestors of the Normans – the Vikings – and life tended to be short. But people’s lives weren’t necessarily wretched, and “the bones that have been excavated from the graves of people buried in England in the years around 1000 tell a tale of strong and healthy folk.” The Anglo-Saxons were the size of anyone alive today, and their simple and healthy diet ensured “sturdy limbs – and very healthy teeth.”

Nine out of ten lived in the countryside, green and unpolluted, but the country was not heavily wooded, as one might imagine. Britons, Romans, and Anglo-Saxons had all participated in the deforestation of the land in order to plant crops, and the countryside was actually similar to what can be found today. Most villages and towns that exist now had already been settled, and the foundation for the English language was already in place. The folk poems tended to be violent and bloody tales of monsters and warriors “which retained the echo of the voyages that had brought their forefathers to the ‘outermost islands’” on the edge of a seemingly endless sea. The laws, on the other hand, were counterweights to the sometimes brutal life and many were meant to protect women from different kinds of abuse. Slavery was common, but hardly anyone was free. Those who had been forced or surrendered themselves into bondage lived lives that were similar to those of any member of the laboring classes, and few could imagine a life without a protector. The power politics of the time can best be understood by observing how contemporary criminal gangs operate, and the greatest lords tended to be the greatest thugs, “for the English aristocracy […] was a cadre that had been trained to kill.”

The Year 1000 shows a society that is both alien and strangely familiar, and – as the writers point out – “we might […] consider whether, in all our sophistication, we could meet the challenges of their world with the same fortitude, good humour, and philosophy.”

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

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One Response to “The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at The Turn of the First Millenium by Danny Danziger and Robert Lacey”

  1. Heidi Says:

    Great review! Have you read “The Little Ice Age” about Europe’s 500 year cold wave?

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