Primary History

Anglo-Saxons: Anglo-Saxon life

  • Where did the Anglo-Saxons settle?

    When the Anglo-Saxons arrived in Britain, most kept clear of Roman towns. They preferred to live in small villages. However, warrior chiefs knew that a walled city made a good fortress. So some Roman towns, like London, were never completely abandoned. Many Roman buildings did become ruins though, because no one bothered or knew how to repair them.

    Some Saxons built wooden houses inside the walls of Roman towns. Others cleared spaces in the forest to build villages and make new fields. Some settlements were very small, with just two or three families.

    Back to top

  • An Anglo-Saxon home

    In an Anglo-Saxon family, everyone from babies to old people shared a home. Anglo-Saxon houses were built of wood and had thatched roofs. At West Stow in Suffolk archaeologists found the remains of an early Anglo-Saxon village. They reconstructed it using Anglo-Saxon methods. They found that the village was made up of small groups of houses built around a larger hall. Each family house had one room, with a hearth with a fire for cooking, heating and light. A metal cooking pot hung from a chain above the fire.

    Back to top

  • Clothing

    People wore clothes made from woollen cloth or animal skins. Men wore tunics, with tight trousers or leggings, wrapped around with strips of cloth or leather. Women wore long dresses. Women spun the wool from sheep and goats to make thread. They used a loom to weave the thread into cloth.

    Clothing styles varied from region to region. For instance, an Anglian woman fastened her dress with a long brooch. A Saxon woman used a round brooch. Clothing also changed over time. The dress in the pictures is the kind worn by Angles when they first arrived in Britain.

    Back to top

  • What jobs did people do?

    Men, women and children helped on the farm. Men cut down trees to clear land for ploughing and sowing crops. Farmers used oxen to pull ploughs up and down long strip-fields. Children with dogs herded cattle and sheep. They kept a lookout for wolves - which still lived in Britain at this time.

    Some people had special skills. The smith made iron tools, knives and swords. Woodworkers made wooden bowls, furniture, carts and wheels. Potters made pottery from clay. The shoemaker made leather shoes. Jewellers made metal brooches, beads and gold ornaments for rich people.

    Back to top

Fun Facts
  • It took about 18 trees to provide enough wood to build a Saxon house.

  • Saxon door keys were often made of deer antler.

  • Candles were made of tallow (animal fat) and were smoky and smelly.

  • Grain was ground into flour on flat 'quernstones'. The stones were often made of volcanic lava stone from Germany

  • Bread and cheese was the original English ploughman's lunch.

  • Hot bean stew made a family evening meal in a poor home.

  • People used bottles made of leather. Glass was for rich people only.

  • Can you guess this Anglo-Saxon riddle? 'My nose points downwards. I crawl along digging into the ground' Answer: A plough

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Jump to: A-D | E-L | M-R | S-Z

A to D

ale
Drink made from barley.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
A history of England begun in the 800s.
archaeologist
A person who finds out about the past by looking at old objects or buildings that are buried under the ground.
barn
A farm building.
Bayeux Tapestry
An embroidery telling the story of the Norman Conquest in 1066.
Bede
An English monk and historian. He lived from about 673 to 735.
Beowulf
A long poem about a hero, probably made up before AD 800, and written down later.
brooch
Ornament used to fasten clothing.
capital
The main town or centre of government of a country.
Celts
People in Britain before the Romans invaded in AD43.
Charlemagne
King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor.
charm
A magical object or words, to protect a person from harm.
Christian
A person who follows the religion taught by Jesus Christ.
conquer
To beat an enemy and control them using force.
court
The place where a king meets his followers and gives commands.
cremate
To burn a dead body to ashes.

E to L

evidence
Objects and facts that give clues as to what happened long ago.
freeman
A person who was not a slave and owned land.
Hadrian's Wall
Wall marking the northern frontier of Roman Britain.
historian
A person who studies the past.
hearth
A fireplace, usually in the middle of a house, and with no chimney.
influence
The effect of a person or things on another.
invaders
People who attack and try to take over land from other people.
Latin
Language of the Romans.
longship
Viking ship with a sail and oars.
loom
Machine for weaving cloth.
lyre
A small harp played at Anglo-Saxon feasts.

M to R

mail shirt
Armour made from chain mail, worn on the upper body.
monastery
The building where monks live.
monk
A male member of a religious group, living, praying and working together and following a set of rules.
nun
A female member of a religious group, living, praying and working together and following a set of rules.
oxen
Strong cattle used to pull carts and ploughs.
pagan
A person who worships many gods.
Picts
People who lived in Scotland at the time of Roman Britain.
Pope
Head of the Roman Catholic Church.
potter
Person who makes pots, jars and bowls from clay.
raider
An enemy who attacks and then goes away.
rank
Status or position in society.
Reconstruct
To rebuild something as it was.
riddle
A puzzle based on playing with words.
Romans
People who ruled an empire 2,000 years ago
runes
The letters of the Anglo-Saxon alphabet.

S to Z

Scots
People in Scotland; they called themselves Gaels - 'Scots' was a name the Romans gave them.
settlement
A place where people make their homes.
slave
A person who is not free but is owned and made to work by another.
smith
A worker who makes things from metal, usually iron.
strip fields
Long narrow ploughed fields.
Sutton Hoo
Site in Suffolk, England, of a king's ship-burial.
thane
An Anglo-Saxon nobleman who owned land.
thatch
A roof covered in straw or reeds.
tribe
A group of people who share a common background and culture.
Vikings
People from Scandinavia who were fighters, sea-travellers, traders and farmers.
walled
Having a defensive wall or wooden barrier around it, such as a walled town.
warrior
A person trained to fight in battle.
weaving
Making cloth.
well
A hole dug to supply drinking water to a settlement or house.
Wergild
Money paid to a murdered Anglo-Saxon's family by the murderer.
will
A document setting out how a person wants their possessions shared out after death.