Space fall is now most of the way towards completion, and I’ve been thinking about what my next writing project might be. I have a few contenders. Presently, I’m fascinated in Anglo-Saxon England and what life was like during this period, especially for the 90-95% outside the aristocracy and clergy. Life was very difficult back in this era and famines were a constant source of threat to people’s survival. There is a tendency to dismiss Europeans as being primitive farmers and barbarians before the renaissance, but I figure common sense discounts this idea. Europe as a continent, especially in the north, has this annual catastrophe called “winter” and in order to survive this the inhabitants of these lands had to adapt to winter conditions in ways people in other parts of the world didn’t need to. For example, in jungle regions there is fruit all year round, while in Europe fruit is only available in the warmer months. Europeans had to develop technologies and strategies for coping with winters that exist nowhere else in the world except perhaps Japan, Korea, and Manchuria.
Keeping this in mind, it doesn’t make much sense to say these ancient Europeans weren’t technologically advanced. I’ve had a go at homesteading and it is an extremely intellectually challenging thing. Every crop plant has its own particular needs, parasites, and problem that need to be understood. However, what is particularly tricky is storing food over the winter and preserving a seed crop for the following spring. Europeans mastered this tens of thousands of years ago and it was no small achievement. To give you an example of these techniques food used to be stored in vats of animal fat for the winter, then later glass jars were used and the food fermented, then eventually canning was developed during the Napoleonic wars. The European need to store food reliably over winter means that supermarket shelves all around the world can be reliably stocked all year round. It’s the kind of thing only a winter minded people would spend time developing.
However, not everything would go according to plan. In the dark ages England was gripped by a more than two centuries of warfare between the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes (Vikings). Sometimes the Anglo-Saxons had the upper hand, other times the Danes were taking the lead, but the two sides never completely defeated each other. What is particularly interesting for me is that the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes were so similar to each other that their language was mutually intelligible. In fact, many English words are actually Norse words brought to England during this time period because thousands of Danes settled permanently in England and almost immediately started inter marrying with the Anglo-Saxons. Words like shirt (Old English) and skirt (Old Norse) are actually both words for clothing. However, in modern English these words have come to mean specific items of clothing. Old English and Old Norse have a common ancestor language because the Anglo-Saxons and the Norse used to be the same Germanic tribe long ago. The Anglo-Saxons and the Norse did not actually realise they were fighting their own blood relatives. Well, I suspect some astute individuals must have picked up on the language and cultural similarities and realised these people were decent enough folk to marry and trade with.
During this period of lengthy warfare, the armies consumed a lot of food, and as such the peasants couldn’t grow enough food for their needs if there was a bad year. Famines were common and there was no Red Cross or international aid at the time. The common people had to make life and death decisions in order to survive and I’m thinking my next story will focus on exploring what it might have been like for people living in this time period dealing with life and death in such a way.