Skip to main content

Deer, Land, Knives and Halls: Social Change in Early Medieval England

  • Naomi Sykes (a1)

It is well known that Anglo-Saxon England witnessed dramatic changes in landscape organization, economy and social structure but this paper aims to demonstrate how a more nuanced appreciation of these transformations can be gained by weaving together different (and superficially incompatible) strands of information. Here zooarchaeological data relating to the distribution and consumption of venison are combined with evidence from studies of weapons, landscape, Old English texts and anthropology. It is argued that, between the fifth and eleventh centuries, Anglo-Saxon society moved from being a culture centred on redistribution, in which the concept of cutting up and sharing permeated every facet of life, to one of closure and privatization, as the elite attempted to distance themselves from the lower classes.

Nous savons bien que l’Angleterre anglo-saxonne avait connu de frappants changements au niveau de l’organisation de son paysage, de son économie et de sa structure sociale, mais cette communication vise à montrer comment nous pouvons aboutir à une évaluation plus nuancée de ces transformations en entrelaçant différentes (et apparemment incompatibles) filières d’informations. Ici, des données zoo-archéologiques au sujet de la distribution et de la consommation de la venaison sont alliées à des indices tirés de l’étude des armes, du paysage, de textes en vieil anglais et de parallèles anthropologiques. On soutient que, entre le cinquième siècle et le onzième siècle, la société anglo-saxonne avait passé d’une culture axée sur la redistribution, dans laquelle le concept de la découpe et du partage imprégnait tous les aspects de la vie, à une culture de fermeture et de privatisation dans la mesure où l’élite essayait de se distancier des classes inférieures.

Es ist gut bekannt, daß das angelsächsische England von dramatischen Veränderungen der Landschafts-, Wirtschaft- und Sozialstruktur geprägt war. Diese Abhandlung hat zum Ziel zu zeigen, daß eine nuanziertere Einschätzung dieser Umgestaltungen erreicht werden kann, indem man verschiedene (und oberflächlich unvereinbare) Informationsquellen miteinander verbindet. In diesem Zusammenhang werden hier zooarchäologische Daten über die Verteilung und Konsumierung von Wildfleisch mit Studien von Waffen, Landschaft, altenglischen Schriften und Anthropologie kombiniert. Es wird argumentiert, daß zwischen dem fünften und elften Jahrhundert die angelsächsische Gesellschaft sich von einer Kultur distanzierte, die auf Aufteilung und gemeinsame Nutzung von Gütern in allen Lebensaspekten basierte, und sich stattdessen auf eine Gesellschaft zubewegte, die auf Abgrenzung und Privatisierung aufgebaut war und in der sich die Elite von den niedrigen Klassen distanzierte.

Hide All
Almond, R 2003. Medieval Hunting, Stroud: Sutton
Berry, C 1994. The Idea of Luxury: a conceptual and historical investigation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Biddick, K 1984. ‘Field edge, forest edge: early medieval social change and resource allocation’, in Archaeological Approaches to Medieval Europe (ed K Biddick), 105118, Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications
Blair, J 2005. The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Bond, J M 1996. ‘Burnt offerings: animal bone in Anglo-Saxon cremations’, World Archaeol, 28 (1), 7688
Brown, R A 1984. The Norman Conquest, London: Arnold
Cartmill, M 1993. A View to a Death in the Morning: hunting and nature through history, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press
Colgrave, B, McClure, J Collins, R (eds) 1999. Bede: the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Crabtree, P J 1995. ‘The symbolic role of animals in Anglo-Saxon England: evidence from burials and cremations’, in The Symbolic Role of Animals in Archaeology (eds K Ryan and P J Crabtree), 2026, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylania Press
Crabtree, P 1996. ‘Production and consumption in an early complex society: animal use in Middle Saxon East Anglia’, World Archaeol, 28 (1), 5875
Cummins, J 1988. The Hound and the Hawk: the art of medieval hunting, London: Weidenfield & Nicholson
Dickinson, T M 2002. ‘Translating animal art: Salin’s Style I and Anglo-Saxon cast saucer brooches’, Hikuin, 29, 163186
Dobney, K, Jacques, D, Barrett, J Johnstone, C 2007. Farmer, Monks and Aristocrats: the environmental archaeology of Anglo-Saxon Flixborough, Oxford: Oxbow
Faith, R 1997. The English Peasantry and the Growth of Lordship, London: Leicester University Press
Fiddes, N 1991. Meat: a natural symbol, London: Routledge
Fleming, R 2001. ‘The new wealth, the new rich and the new political style in Late Anglo-Saxon England’, Anglo-Norman Stud, 23, 122
Gale, D A 1989. ‘The seax’, in Weapons and Warfare in Anglo-Saxon England (ed S C Hawes), 7184, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Gautier, A 2006. Le Festin dans l’Angleterre Anglo-Saxonne (Ve–XIe siècle), Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes
Gautier, A 2007. ‘Deer parks in Sussex and the Godwinesons’, Anglo-Norman Stud, 29, 5164
Gautier, A 2009. ‘Hospitality in pre-Viking Anglo-Saxon England’, Early Medieval Europe, 17 (1), 2344
Godden, M 1990. ‘Money, power and morality in Late Anglo-Saxon England’, Anglo-Saxon Eng, 19, 4165
Goody, J 1982. Cooking, Cuisine and Class: a study in comparative sociology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Grant, A 1981. ‘The significance of deer remains at occupation sites of the Iron Age to the Anglo-Saxon period’, in The Environment of Man: the Iron Age to the Anglo-Saxon period (eds M Jones and G Dimbleby), BAR Brit Ser 87, 5364, Oxford: Archaeopress
Griffin, E 2007. Blood Sport: hunting in Britain since 1066, London: Yale University Press
Hagen, A 1995. A Second Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food and Drink: production and distribution, Frithgarth: Anglo-Saxon Books
Hamilakis, Y 2000. ‘The anthropology of food and drink consumption and the Aegean archaeology’, in Aspects of Paleodiet in the Aegean (eds W Carlson and S Vaugham), 5564, Oxford: Oxbow
Hardy, A, Dodd, A Keevil, G 2003. Aelfric’s Abbey: excavations at Eynsham Abbey, Oxfordshire 1989–92, Oxford: Oxford University School of Archaeology
Härke, H 1989. ‘Knives in early Saxon burials: blade lengths and age at death’, Med Archaeol, 33, 144148
Härke, H 1997. ‘Early Anglo-Saxon social structure’, in Hines (ed) 1997, 125–60
Härke, H 2000. ‘The circulation of weapons in Anglo-Saxon society’, in Rituals of Power from Late Antiquity to the Early Middles Ages (eds F Theuws and J L Nelson), 377400, Leiden: Brill
Hawkes, A J 1997. ‘Symbolic lives: the visual evidence’, in Hines (ed) 1997, 311–44
Higgs, E S Jarman, M 1977. ‘Yeavering: faunal report’, in Yeavering: an Anglo-British centre of early Northumbria (ed B Hope-Taylor), 325332, London: HMSO
Hines, J (ed) 1997. The Anglo-Saxons from the Migration Period to the Eighth Century: an ethnographic perspective, Woodbridge: Boydell
Hinton, D A 1990. Archaeology, Economy and Society: England from the fifth to fifteenth century, London: Seaby
Hinton, D A 1999. ‘ “Closing” and the later Middle Ages’, Med Archaeol, 43, 172182
Hinton, D A 2005. Gold and Gilt, Pots and Pins: possessions and people in medieval Britain, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Holtzman, J 2002. ‘Politics and gastropolitics: gender and the power of food in two African pastoralist societies’, J Roy Anthropol Inst, 8, 259278
Hooke, D 1989. ‘Pre-conquest woodland: its distribution and usage’, Agri Hist Rev, 37 (2), 113129
Hooke, D 1998. The Landscape of Anglo-Saxon England, Leicester: Leicester University Press
Hough, C 2001. ‘Place-name evidence for an Anglo-Saxon animal name: OE *pohha/*pocca fallow deer’, Anglo-Saxon Engl, 30, 114
Hough, C 2008. ‘Deer in Sussex place-names’, Antiq J, 88, 4347
Johnson, M H 1996. The Archaeology of Capitalism, Oxford: Blackwell
Kent, S (ed) 1989. Farmers as Hunters: the implications of sedentism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Kessinger, K M 1989. ‘Hunting and male domination in Cashinahua society’, in Kent (ed) 1989, 18–26
Lee, C 2007. Feasting the Dead: food and drink in Anglo-Saxon burial rituals, Woodbridge: Boydell
Lemanski, S J 2005. ‘The Rectitudines Singularum Personarum: Anglo-Saxon landscapes in transition’, unpublished MA thesis, University of Akron, Ohio
Liddiard, R 2003. ‘The deer parks of Domesday Book’, Landscape, 4 (1), 423
Lokuruka, M N I 2006. ‘Meat is the meal and status is by meat: recognition of rank, wealth and respect through meat in Turkana culture’, Food and Foodways, 14, 201229
Loveluck, C 2001. ‘Wealth, waste and conspicuous consumption. Flixborough and its importance for mid- and late-Saxon settlement studies’ (eds H Hamerow and A MacGregor), 78130, Oxford: Oxbow
Magennis, H 1996. Images of Community in Old English Poetry, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Magennis, H 1999. Anglo-Saxon Appetites: food and drink and their consumption in Old English and related literature, Dublin: Four Courts Press
Marvin, W P 2006. Hunting Law and Ritual in Medieval English Literature, Cambridge: D S Brewer
McCormick, F 2002. ‘The distribution of meat in a hierarchical society: the Irish evidence’, in Consuming Passions and Patterns of Consumption (eds P Miracle and N Milner), 2532, Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
Meaney, A L 1981. Anglo-Saxon Amulets and Curing Stones, BAR Brit Ser 96, Oxford: Archaeopress
Meaney, A L 2000. ‘The hunted and the hunters: British mammals in Old English poetry’, Anglo-Saxon Stud Archaeol Hist, 11, 95105
Mew, K 2001. ‘The dynamics of lordship and landscape as revealed in a Domesday study of the Nova Foresta’, Anglo-Norman Stud, 23, 155166
Murphy, R 1988. Social Closure: the theory of monopolization and exclusion, Oxford: Clarendon Press
O’Shea, J 1989. ‘The role of wild resources in small-scale agricultural systems: tales from the Lakes and the Plains’, in Bad Year Economics: cultural responses to risk and uncertainty (eds P Halstead and J O’Shea), 5767, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Owen-Crocker, G R 1986. Dress in Anglo-Saxon England, Manchester: Manchester University Press
Owen-Crocker, G R, Wetherell, C Smith, R 2004. Dress in Anglo-Saxon England, Woodbridge: Boydell
Pluskowski, A (ed) 2007. Breaking and Shaping Beastly Bodies: animals as material culture in the Middle Ages, Oxford: Oxbow
Poole, K forthcoming. ‘The nature of society in England c AD 410–1066’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Nottingham
Rackham, O 1994. ‘Trees and woodland in Anglo-Saxon England: the documentary evidence’, in Environment and Economy in Anglo-Saxon England (ed J Rackham), 711, CBA Res Rep 89, York: Council for British Archaeology
Rackham, O 1997. The History of the Countryside: the classic history of Britain’s landscape, flora and fauna, London: Phoenix
Rigby, S H 1995. English Society in the Late Middle Ages, Basingstoke: Macmillan
Robertson, A J 1925. The Laws of the Kings of England from Edmund to Henry I, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Sawyer, P H 1968. Anglo-Saxon Charters: an annotated list and bibliography, London: Royal Historical Society
Senecal, C 2001. ‘Keeping up with the Godwinesons: in pursuit of aristocratic status in Late Anglo-Saxon England’, Anglo-Norman Stud, 23, 251266
Shuman, A 1981. ‘ The rhetoric of portions’, Western Folklore, 41 (1), 7280
Stafford, P 1980. ‘The “Farm of One Night” and the organization of King Edward’s estates in Domesday’, Econ Hist Rev, 2nd ser, 33, 491502
Sykes, N J 2005. ‘The impact of the Normans on hunting practices in England’, in Food in Medieval England: history and archaeology (eds C Woolgar, D Serjeantson and T Waldron), 162175, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Sykes, N J 2007a. The Norman Conquest: a zooarchaeological perspective, BAR Int Ser S1656, Oxford: Archaeopress
Sykes, N J 2007b. ‘Taking sides: the social life of venison in medieval England’, in Pluskowski (ed) 2007, 149–60
Sykes, N J 2007c. ‘Animal bones and animal parks’, in The Medieval Deer Park: new perspectives (ed R Liddiard), 4962, Macclesfield: Windgather Press
Sykes, N J forthcoming. ‘Woods and the wild’, in The Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology (eds H Hamerow, S Crawford and D A Hinton), Oxford: Oxford University Press
Sykes, N J Carden, R F submitted. ‘Were fallow deer spotted in Anglo-Saxon England?’, Medieval Archaeol
Symons, M 2002. ‘Cutting up cultures’, J Hist Sociology, 15 (4), 431450
Thomas, R 2007. ‘Chasing the ideal? Ritualism, pragmatism and the later medieval hunt in England’, in Pluskowski (ed) 2007, 125–48
Thorn, F Thorn, C 1986. Domesday Book, 25, Shropshire, Chichester: Phillimore
Van der Veen, M 2003. ‘When is food a luxury?’, World Archaeol, 34 (3), 405427
Wickham, C 1994. Land and Power; studies in Italian and European social history, 400–1200, London: British School at Rome
Williams, A 2008. The World before Domesday: the English Aristocracy, 900–1066, London: Continuum
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Antiquaries Journal
  • ISSN: 0003-5815
  • EISSN: 1758-5309
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquaries-journal
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed