Average life expectancy appears to have been in the late thirties or early forties.
This has been deduced from archaeological evidence. However, there are many instances of people living much longer. Infant mortality was high. More
There was usually enough food for everyone
Anglo-Saxon England was quite an empty country. This meant that even if a harvest was poor, starvation could generally be avoided. More
Despite this, disasters sometimes occurred leading to starvation.
It was reported in the Chronicles that, in 682, a terrible drought struck in South England. Shrivelled up crops left the Saxons so starving that they had to resort to eating dogs. More
Wars and feuds would have caused many deaths.
It is clear from the laws of the period that early Anglo-Saxon and Viking societies were violent ones, at least by our standards, with many wars, feuds and deadly quarrels. For a Viking to die in battle was a glorious thing. They believed that the warrior would be conveyed to Odin’s heavenly hall of Valhalla. More
Plagues struck the Anglo-Saxons from time to time.
In the year 450 AD, a plague hit England and it was recorded that 'the living could hardly manage to bury the dead'. This may have played a part in allowing the Anglo-Saxons to conquer parts of Britain. In 664 AD, plague returned and swept through England, killing the Archbishop of Canterbury. Attacks of plague became less frequent towards the end of the period. More
As well as famine and plague there were a number of other common diseases.
Evidence from archeaological excavations shows that leprosy was a threat, chronic arthritis affected many people and tuberculosis was a common killer. More
Anglo-Saxon society may not have been as brutal as was thought.
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of the survival to adulthood of some people with quite severe congenital disabilities (those that would have been present from birth), such as a missing arm, showing that a level of care must gave been given to these people. More
Anglo-Saxon medicine was a mixture of deep knowledge of herbs and their properties, and magic.
Every community would have had a person who specialized in knowing how to use plants for medicine. This knowledge would probably be handed down from generation to generation within the family.
Much medical knowledge came with the Christian missionaries from Italy, after 597 AD.
The Christian missionaries from Italy introduced medical knowledge from the Greek and Roman worlds, as shown in the old medicine books. As well as herbal remedies, the medical books also mention surgery – there is evidence for lancing abscesses, amputation of legs, and even sutures for hare-lips. More
The most famous medical book was the Leech Book of Bald written about AD 900-950.
Leech meant physician in old English. This manuscript contains fragments of several separate books. The leech-book contained mainly charms and recipes for treating 'external and internal' ailments that afflicted humans, such as lice, boils, stomach-pains. More
As monasteries spread across the country, they became known as places for healing as well as learning and prayer.
The fact that the missionaries could draw on knowledge not available to the “natives”, must have given the new Christian communities special medical responsibilities. More
Magic was called in when herbal cures were not available or did not work.
It also must have been quite common after surgery, for infection often set in due to dirty surgical implements. The old pagan gods are referred to in this context, even after the Anglo-Saxons had converted to Christianity. More
Those injured in battle would have had a low chance of surviving.
They would have been prone to infections such as gangrene, as were soldiers in later ages. More
With little knowledge of hygiene, germs may have spread through food preparation (dirty pots, pans and hands).
However, there is evidence in Viking communities of bath houses, with hot stones and Oakwood pails that would have acted as a type of early sauna. In the Anglo-Saxon Leech books, herb baths are prescribed for all manner of ailments, along with smoking the sick with fragrant woods and plants. More
To keep warm, the Saxons and Vikings wore woollen and leather garments.
Women wore a simple tunic or a linen shift under an outer garment, that consisted of two lengths of wool joined at the shoulder by brooches, from which they hung keys and purses. Men wore shirts of linen or wool with a tunic and woollen breeches. More
Both the Saxons and Vikings would have had more exercise in their daily lives than we have today.
The Saxons enjoyed wolf hunting, falconry and hawking and it was in the Saxon era that the idea of the knight developed. The Vikings engaged in many sports, from ball games to rough brawling, no-holds-barred wrestling and horse racing. More
On the whole, the Anglo-Saxons were probably healthier than later English populations, at least before the 18th century.
This is because they did not live in the very unhealthy towns which later grew up, but mostly in small, scattered villages. Even the Saxon towns were tiny in comparison with later periods. This meant that the facilities for dealing with waste (i.e. cesspits) would not have been overwhelmed by over-use. More
Burns Night Crannachan
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