Primary History

Anglo-Saxons: Growing up

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  • Girls

    Anglo-Saxons thought sons and daughters were equally important, but girls' work centred on the home. They learned housekeeping skills such as weaving cloth, cooking, making cheese and brewing ale. Girls and boys collected sticks for firewood, and fetched water from a stream or well.

    Only a few girls learned to read and write. By the age of 10 a girl was considered grown-up. Most girls then married, though some became nuns in the Christian Church. A famous nun was Abbess Hild, born a Northumbrian princess, who founded Whitby Abbey (Northumbria) in AD657.

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  • Boys

    Boys learned the skills of their fathers. They learned to chop down trees with an axe, how to plough a field, and how to use a spear in battle. They rowed boats on rivers, went fishing, collected birds' eggs (to eat), caught wild duck in nets, and hunted deer and wild boar with the men.

    Not many boys learned to read and write. The sons of kings or rich thanes might be taught at home by a private teacher. The only schools were run by the Christian Church, in monasteries. Boys went to live in monasteries to train as monks.

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  • Toys and games

    Anglo-Saxon toys were usually home-made. Children had wooden and rag dolls, wooden horses and other carved animals, and toy swords and ships. Children played board games with counters and dice. A popular board game was called Taefl (tav-ell). Children also played five-stones or knucklebones. From finds in graves, and other archaeological sites, we know children had spinning tops, and played tunes on pipes made from reeds or animal bones. They probably practised juggling too - though not with knives, as some men did to show off!

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  • Marriage

    Women did not often marry men of a higher rank than themselves. A slave woman usually married a slave husband. But people were allowed to choose whom they married, unless the family disapproved. Family ties were very important. A woman was expected to marry a man of whom her parents and brothers approved. A brother would look after his sister if her husband died.

    Women could own land and leave wills. We know from wills that have survived from Anglo-Saxon times that some women had small libraries of books. A rich woman's possessions might also include furniture, blankets, cups and jewellery, and horses.

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Fun Facts
  • Anglo-Saxons wore lucky charms to protect them against evil spirits and illness.

  • Hunters used trained hawks to catch ducks, pigeons and other wild birds.

  • Archaeologists have found miniature tools, probably toys for children to practise with.

  • Combs made of wood, bone or animal horn were precious possessions.

  • Small glass or pottery balls found by archaeologists may be counters for games, or marbles.

  • Husbands gave their brides a wedding gift, called the morgengifu or 'morning gift'.

  • It was a woman's job to make drinks (such as ale) and serve them.

  • People suffered from earache, toothache, burns, wounds and stiff joints. Scientists can tell this from testing Anglo-Saxon bones.

  • A famous Anglo-Saxon Christian poet named Caedmon looked after cows at Whitby Abbey until he had a dream, started writing poems, and became a monk.

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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.