Anglo-Saxon Farming
with Dr Debby Banham (University of Cambridge)
at Sutton Hoo, Saturday, 9th July 2016.


We shall explore how agriculture supported the Anglo-Saxon population, looking at arable farming and animal husbandry, tools, techniques and beliefs, as well as changes during the half millennium and more of the Anglo-Saxon period.

Without Anglo-Saxon farming, the rest of English history couldn’t have happened. It was agricultural prosperity that underlay the great wealth of later Anglo-Saxon England, making it such a prize for conquerors in the eleventh century. This course will explore how the people of early medieval England supported themselves from the land and produced a surplus to maintain their rulers and landlords. We shall focus on the nitty-gritty: the crops and livestock, the tools and techniques that made all this possible. Although arable and livestock farming were inextricably connected, we’ll focus on them one at a time.

Provisional Programme:

09.50 – 10.15: Coffee on arrival
10.15 – 11.15: Arable farming 1: the crops that people grew and ate – Arable crops were the basis of Anglo-Saxon subsistence, the ‘staff of life’, and so we shall start by exploring which ones were grown: many familiar, but many of them less so. We’ll also examine how the choice of crops changed during the period, and why.
11.15 – 11.40: Coffee break
11.40 – 12.40: Arable farming 2: tools and techniques – The big debate in this area is about when the mouldboard plough was introduced, and the ‘primitive’ ard abandoned, but we’ll also look at other types of equipment, and how they were used.
12.40 – 14.00: Lunch break
14.00 – 14.50: Animal husbandry 1: the livestock – Domestic animals constituted an important form of wealth for Anglo-Saxons, as well as a source of food, clothing, craft materials, and motive power. In this session we’ll look at which species were kept, and which weren’t, and which modern breeds they might have resembled.
14.50 – 15.10: Tea break
15.10 – 16.00: Animal husbandry 2: processes and products – This final session will focus on the regimes under which livestock were raised, as well as the products for which they were kept, and the ways in which these interacted: what people did for livestock, and what livestock did for people. We’ll finish up with a few remarks drawing together the day’s discussions.
c.16.00: Thanks and Close

About Dr Debby Banham

Debby Banham has been working on Anglo-Saxon farming, diet and medicine since the 1980s. She is currently an affiliated lecturer with the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, Director of Studies, Murray Edwards and Lucy Cavendish Colleges, Special Supervisor, Newnham College, and Tutor in Latin at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge. Next year, Debby begins a new project on Anglo-Saxon bread with Professor Martha Bayless.

Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

D. Banham & R. Faith, Anglo-Saxon Farms and Farming (OUP, 2014)
H. C. Darby, Domesday England (CUP, 1977)
Petra Dark, The Environment of Britain in the First Millennium AD (London, 2000)
R. J. Faith, The English Peasantry and the Growth of Lordship (Leicester, 1997)
Peter Fowler, Farming in the First Millennium AD: British Agriculture between Julius Caesar and William the Conqueror (CUP, 2002)
G. N. Garmonsway, ed., Ælfric’s Colloquy (Exeter UP, 1978)
Della Hooke et al., ‘Food production’, in Helena Hamerow, David Hinton and Sally Crawford, eds, The Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology (OUP, 2011), pp. 315–401
David Pelteret, Slavery in Early Medieval England (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1995)
Tom Williamson, Shaping Medieval Landscapes (Macclesfield: Windgather, 2002)