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The Development of the Anglo-Saxon Society



The Anglo-Saxons lived mainly in villages, which consisted of about 20 to 30 families faithful to their leader. These village communities were based on the open field system (common field). Each peasant family had a land plot called "hide". The hide consisted of more that 100 strips of land of 1 acre scattered all over the open field.

As the common field belonged to the village community, it was not considered a private property. The hide owner could not sell it or give away without the consent of the whole village community.

Each hide had military obligations — in case of war each hide had to furnish one armed and fully equipped warrior.

Professional warriors, or thanes did the fighting while the ceorls — land cultivators paid rent for them. Thus the peasant had to work on both fields — his own and thane's, otherwise the peasant's hide was diminished, divided into shares given to other tillers. If the peasant became poor, he lost his one-ox share and had to earn his living as a village craftsman or a labourer on the thane's domain.

Local rules were made by the "moot" ("Galimot") — a small village meeting which planned the life of the village community and judged cases between the people of the village.

As time went by, many villages were grouped into "hundreds" and the "hundreds" were grouped into shires. Each "hundred" had an open-air court presided by an elected elder — Alderman. At the hundred-moots the men elected as representatives were sent to a shire-moot. The shire-moots, presided by sheriffs, were held two or three times a year.

In the 9th century, the hundred-moot was administered by the most influential landlords of the hundred — the representatives of the central power. The sheriff became the king's official in the shire, the king himself became a supreme judge. Gradually the moots lost their importance and the king's council called "the Witenagemot" ("Witan") appeared. The Witan — a council of wise men could make laws, choose or elect new kings. Initially the king's power was mainly symbolic.

With the growth of the big landed possessions all the important problems in the country were decided by the big landowners. The status of a man in society depended on how much land he owned, his rank and relation to the king. The king's warriors and officials held more land and ruled the country.

Task 5.Fill in the table representing the structure of the Anglo-Saxon society.

 

Unit of the society, village community Local courts Administration
  Galimot  
  Hundred-moot  
Shire   Sheriff
Kingdom    

Task 6.Speak about the life in Anglo-Saxon village using the picture.



 

Cultural Focus: Conversion to Christianity

Christianity was first brought to Britain by Christian refugees from Rome in the 3rd century AD. The fierce prosecution of early Christians was stopped by the Roman Emperor Constantine when he became a Christian himself. As Christianity was made the Roman national faith, it was brought to all dependent countries, Britain among them.

The new religion, the Catholic Church ("catholic" means "universal") and church languages — Greek and Latin were spread all over Europe. In the 4th century, St Patrick came to northern Ireland and other missionaries — to the southern part of the country.

When the Anglo-Saxon pagans invaded Britain, most of the British Christians were killed. The rest fled to Wales and Ireland, were they lived in groups called Brethren (brotherhoods). There they built the churches and devoted themselves to worship.

At the end of the 6th century, Pope Gregory, the head of the Roman Church at the time, sent about 40 Christian monks led by monk Augustine to spread his influence over England. The monks landed in Kent and built the first church in Canterbury, the capital of Kent. Thus Kent became the first Anglo-Saxon kingdom converted to Christianity and the Archbishop of Canterbury is now head of the established church in England.

The Anglo-Saxon kings and nobles accepted Christianity first — the religion satisfied the king's power. According to Roman Christianity the king was no longer a tribal chief— he was a representative of God on earth and was entitled to have his murdered punished by death penalty.

The religion, which taught poor people to be patient and obey then-masters, justified the power of big landowners. In about a century the Anglo-Saxons were compelled to accept the new faith.

By the middle of the 7lh century, there were two forms of Christianity in Britain — Celtic Christianity and new Roman Christianity, which had some slight differences. To decide which should be accepted a synod of Whitby was called in 664. The decision was made in favour of the new Roman form. It brought Britain into contact with the new civilisaton of Europe and strengthened the influence of the Mediterranean. Later British kings began the struggle with Rome for supremacy on their own lands.

Christianity brought important changes in the life of the Anglo-Saxon society. As new churches and monasteries grew all over the country, the king granted much land to them thus providing big landed estates. Christianity brought to Britain Roman culture and the Latin and Greek languages. Monasteries became centres of learning where the first libraries and schools were set up.

The new religion controlled the most important events of people's life — baptism, marriage and burial. It brought greater humanity to the laws and people's conduct. The organisation of the church into diocese and parishes was later taken as a model to political organisation of the country.

Task 7.Speak about the spread of Roman Christianity in Britain using the table. Compare the two ways of establishing religious institutions.

 





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