Project Wonderful

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Guest Post - Richard Denning - No IPhones in 6th Century Britain

NO IPhones in 6th century Britain.
It is the year 597: The darkest years of the dark ages. You are an Anglo Saxon living in a small village in Northumbria. There are no Ipods, no Internet, no TV, radio and not even newspapers and books (unless you were wealthy ). What do you do to keep from getting bored? Here are some ways that the Anglo Saxons had fun in the dark evenings.
Indoor entertainment and feasts

Having a slap up meal was something that you could do and in fact our ancestors would hold feasts on a number of occasions in the year. At weddings, after the Harvest has been brought safely in and in the depths of winter particularly during the long festival of Yuletide from which we get the modern Christmas celebration.  There was a high degree of ceremony connected with feasts. It would start outside the hall. A horn was blown to summon the guests to table and the host would great them at the door where there would be a hand washing ceremony at the door. The doors were then shut to keep gate crashers away!
Then the guests would enter and sit at benches lining long tables. The king’s warriors or thegns could sit in his halls but only men of high rank would sit at the high table. Women of high rank would be cup bearers and pour drinks for the king and lords. In the Christian era bread was blessed and then broken in remembrance of the Eucharist or holy communion/ mass.
Feasts might go on all day and night: there were even some 3 day feasts.
It was considered a serious matter to commit an offense or undertake violence at a feast
Entertainment at feasts: These might include playing the harp, lyre, horn, trumpet, drums flute or cymbals. There would be accompanying signing: often songs recalling battles.
They enjoyed dancing and juggling,  The Saxons enjoyed poems and stories. Long stories told skilfully could entrance and fascinate the listener. It from these tales that sagas like Beowulf emerge. There would be stories of war and fighting. Stories of adventure and danger and of monsters.  The Saxons also loved riddles. The asking and guessing of riddles was part of many a nighst entertainment. Here is a typical Anglo-Saxon riddle from the Exeter book which has many such riddles in. Some are obscure and some lewd and suggestive. This one is straighter forward.On the wave a miracle: water turned to bone.
What is the answer? See at the end of this section.
Games:

A board game
Above: a game of Hnefatafl 
The Anglo-Saxons were fond of dice games. Dice were made from the knuckle bones of animals such as pigs. Boardgames were also popular and often recalled battles in a symbolic way. An example is Hnefatafl which is played using stone pieces on a carved wooden board.  One player’s pawns coming from the corners of the board would attack the other side’s kings and pawns which were positioned in the centre. The player with the King would be trying to get him off the board (to escape from the battle) whilst the other player would try and trap him. These un-even games – where the two sides were of different sizes and abilities – were very prevalent in Anglo-Saxon and later Viking cultures.
Outdoor Sports:
Horse racing  was mentioned in Beowulf  in 8th century and by the writer Bede in the 7th. There are records of dog racing, hunting, ice skating, swimming, falconry, hawking, acrobatics, wrestling and gymnastics.
Answer to that riddle: 
On the wave a miracle: water turned to bone.
Ice or iceberg.
There are more riddles here: http://news.richarddenning.co.uk/?p=88
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, One period that particularly fascinates me is the early Dark Ages in Britain. This period is the birt of Britain as we know it today with the races of English, Welsh, Scots and Irish emerging through conflict and chaos.
The Amber Treasure is historical fiction set in Dark Age Britain -
597 A.D. Betrayal threatens the Kingdom of Northumbria. “I will take care of the body of my lord and you can carry the sword, story teller. For all good stories are about a sword.”
6th Century Northumbria: Cerdic, the nephew of the great warrior Cynric, grows up dreaming of glory in battle and writing his name in the sagas. When war comes for real though, his sister is kidnapped, his family betrayed and his uncle's legendary sword stolen. It falls to Cerdic to avenge his families’ loss, rescue his sister and return home with the sword.
You can find out more if you read The Amber Treasure . The first part is free on my website.

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