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Author Topic: Hunting in Anglo-Saxon England  (Read 29518 times)

Ceawlin

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Hunting in Anglo-Saxon England
« on: February 23, 2014, 11:31:47 AM »
I was listening to an episode of Shared Planet in which Douglas MacMillan, 'Professor of Conservation and Applied Resource Economics' at Kent Uni, remarked in passing that the Anglo-Saxons were notoriously reluctant to hunt and eat wild meat. He seemed to suggest that this was a social reaction to the experience of agriculture and livestock; the inference being that wild meat had acquired a stigma associated with a lack of civilisation or social status. This seemed a little incredible: agriculture by this time was thousands of years old, and presumably our continental ancestors had been thoroughly exposed to it. Also, and perhaps more pertinently, early medieval Britain contained some very tasty and nutritious wild animals.


Professor MacMillan did go on to comment that as a result of social hierarchies developing, the hunting of animals like deer was becoming an exclusive social activity. Again, while kingship became more formalised, social hierarchies strike me as something of a constant throughout the period (if not throughout history!). I would have expected game to have been a valuable resource that was, if not monopolised by the higher social echelons, at least more likely to appear on their table, and as such to have an additional social cache.


So I suppose my question is, what is known about the consumption of wild meat and hunting culture in Anglo-Saxon England, and can anyone point me to any sources, primary or secondary?
« Last Edit: April 23, 2014, 11:49:19 AM by Ceawlin »

Blackdragon

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Re: Hunting in Anglo-Saxon England
« Reply #1 on: February 23, 2014, 01:53:35 PM »
Hunting birds with falcons seems to have been popular. I believe that Anglo Saxons also exported live trained hunting birds zas well, although I have not got a reference to hand. In The Battle of Maldon the Ealdorman Byrthnoths son was said to have taken a falcon to the battle field and been ordered to set it free.

Carl

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Re: Hunting in Anglo-Saxon England
« Reply #2 on: March 03, 2014, 05:32:34 PM »

Linden

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Re: Hunting in Anglo-Saxon England
« Reply #3 on: March 04, 2014, 11:10:02 AM »
Given that people were barred -amongst other enjoyable occupations - from hunting on a Sunday and that priests were enjoined not to participate in hawking or hunting, it seems odd that it should be thought that hunting had gone out of fashion.

As far as eating the game so acquired - there are at least two 'recipes' in the leechdoms which require the flesh of game (boar and hare) and imply therefore that they are good for the health.

There are also hunting scenes in the Bayeux tapestry.

Hunting may have been becoming a more regulated and privileged occupation but I have no idea where Douglas MacMillan might have sourced his assertions that the Anglo-Saxons were becoming reluctant to either hunt or consume game.  Mind you - given the choice between a stringy old boar or buck and a succulent, young, free-range, organic, pasture-fed domestic beast - I know which I would prefer. 
Cræft biþ betere ðonne æhta

harryamphlett

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Re: Hunting in Anglo-Saxon England
« Reply #4 on: December 29, 2014, 07:33:37 PM »
I was listening to an episode of Shared Planet in which Douglas MacMillan, 'Professor of Conservation and Applied Resource Economics' at Kent Uni, remarked in passing that the Anglo-Saxons were notoriously reluctant to hunt and eat wild meat.

That's overstating it. One can see from the archaeological record that the meat consumed was largely from domesticated livestock, but that is not the same as saying they were reluctant. They did fish and they ate mussels. We do find deer antler and we have carvings and people would use things like boar tusks as fashion accessories. It might have become rare, there was a change from antler combs to wooden combs, but it was probably an economic change, not a 'reluctance to hunt'.

West germanic woden was a god of the hunt so it may have been a reaction to that. See The Anglo-Saxons from the Migration Period to the Eighth Century by John Hines

or https://books.google.co.uk/books?isbn=1843830345

Æðelstān

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Re: Hunting in Anglo-Saxon England
« Reply #5 on: December 31, 2014, 09:17:49 AM »
I believe that it wasn't that the Anglo-Saxons were reluctant to hunt, but because it was easier and less dangerous to eat domesticated farm animals, than it was to eat wild animals. Farming is almost a guaranteed success, whilst hunting is not, one day you may not get anything, the next you may etc. another reason is that it is expensive. If you were to go out hunting, you would need: Men, Tools, Some sought of Weapon probably a spear as I will talk about later, and perhaps dogs as well. So you have to buy a lot and here is how much it may amount to: Firstly the Dog. There were 3 types of dogs in Anglo-Saxon society, however they were all mongrels and that word does also come from the OE - "gemong" meaning mixture. The largest dog was similar to the modern day Deerhound, but small not 75cm in height but 55-65cm, as tall as an Alsatian. These were used as Hunting hounds or as guard dogs. The next type was slightly smaller (48-56cm in height) and was like a modern day Collie and was used as a sheep dog. Finally, the smallest dog may have been similar to a Jack Russell Terrier or another type of terrier, and was predominantly used to keep rats away. Now you want a hunting dog. Lets say you want it young, not when its eyes are still shut, as it will still need its mother, but young is a good age, easy to train. This young pup will cost you £600 (modern day). However, as you are working your farm, you won't really have time to train it, so why not buy instead a 1 year old, probably slightly well trained, but it will cost you £1,200! Now,you'll need a spear, spears are good, as they have long range, and especially good against the Wild Boar, as it can get it right in the throat. However, this spear may need a crossguard. Why? well wild boar could sometimes push themselves up the spear and still keep fighting until they died. So this spear will cost you £660, and £1,770 if you want a shield as well. So the total price is at the most £2,970 and at the least £1,260! You'll also need more men and the business is very dangerous, why well England had: Boars, Bears and Wolves all lurking in the woods! Wolves and Bears are always thought of as the "Kings of the Forest", wolves are good in packs, whilst the bear is a colossal beast. However, the bear only ways around 100lb-265lb however standing upright it would be around 5-10ft! But, the bear is thought to have "gone" in 500 BC with a few remaining, and becoming extinct in 1000 AD, so you are not really likely to meet a bear. Wolves were prominent in the woods, if met in one, you could get away, but if you met a pack and provoked it maybe not (of course depending on numbers and other stuff). However, I want to talk about the wild boar. The boar is a huge part of Germanic culture, from Ing (Frey) riding one to the Suebi wearing boar skins. There are also 3 helmets featuring boars on them: Benty Grange, Pioneer and Sutton Hoo out of 4 found helmets! The wild boar was a worthy foe, 6 ft in length and 3.5 in height, weighing 200 lb and sometimes even up to 700! The boar was also best when it was in the worst situations, you had to always concentrate on hitting it through the mouth or throat and make sure it was dead. However, it was also really nice and used at Yule. However, it was easier to farm. People wouldn't have enough money to feed all the boars (domesticated) in winter and so would salt them all besides one, which they would eat at Yule with apples! Again, we get back to the point that it is easier to farm then hunt. Hunting requires a lot of money, is very dangerous and time consuming. Why stop farming to go out hunting so you can get food when you could just get it hazard "free" and at a more affordable cost. This is why hunting developed into a higher class sport. The king/Ealdorman/Thegn could afford many dogs, tools and men, whilst with a Ceorl it wouldn't be necessary. Since the neolithic times, hunting had become more like a sport and a luxury, and to put it simply somebody who isn't high up can't really afford to do that if they can do it in a more efficient way!
Here are the websites I used and these are good, especially the first one for understanding Hunting in Anglo-Saxon England:
http://www.regia.org/research/misc/fauna.htm Animals and Hunting
http://thethegns.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/the-dog.html Dogs
http://thethegns.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/boar.html Boars
http://www.regia.org/research/misc/costs.htm Prices (note: for the dog prices I had to use a "king's" dogs so the price may have actually been cheaper)
http://thethegns.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/ajt11.html Wolves
http://thethegns.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/bear.html Bears
Sorry it was quite long!!!
« Last Edit: December 31, 2014, 10:31:54 PM by Æðelstān »

harryamphlett

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Re: Hunting in Anglo-Saxon England
« Reply #6 on: December 31, 2014, 07:55:57 PM »
I believe that it wasn't that the Anglo-Saxons were reluctant to fight, but because it was easier and less dangerous to eat domesticated farm animals, than it was to eat wild animals.

I'm sure it's a time thing. It takes a long time to catch enough game to feed a family and farming too is a labour intensive full time job. You do one or the other and, as you say, farming is more productive. Plus, you probably had obligations and so, no option.

Only those who had people paying tribute to them, by way of food, had enough free time to go and hunt for pleasure.


Æðelstān

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Re: Hunting in Anglo-Saxon England
« Reply #7 on: December 31, 2014, 10:32:22 PM »
I believe that it wasn't that the Anglo-Saxons were reluctant to fight, but because it was easier and less dangerous to eat domesticated farm animals, than it was to eat wild animals.

I'm sure it's a time thing. It takes a long time to catch enough game to feed a family and farming too is a labour intensive full time job. You do one or the other and, as you say, farming is more productive. Plus, you probably had obligations and so, no option.

Only those who had people paying tribute to them, by way of food, had enough free time to go and hunt for pleasure.


Yes, I agree it was one or the other and farming was both an easier and more productive option! (sorry for writing fight instead of hunt)

cenwulf

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Re: Hunting in Anglo-Saxon England
« Reply #8 on: February 07, 2015, 08:15:12 PM »
Yes, I agree it was one or the other and farming was both an easier and more productive option! (sorry for writing fight instead of hunt)


If by that you mean farming versus a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, then research suggests that hunter-gatherers had better health and more leisure time than their farming brethren, although farming allowed for a larger population. Most farmers lived at subsistence levels, with any surpluses going to the elite. Of course, when farmers took over the land, then hunter-gatherers couldn't compete. By the Anglo-Saxon period, it would have been near impossible to survive by hunting alone. 

Æðelstān

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Re: Hunting in Anglo-Saxon England
« Reply #9 on: March 07, 2015, 10:43:22 AM »
Yes, I agree it was one or the other and farming was both an easier and more productive option! (sorry for writing fight instead of hunt)


If by that you mean farming versus a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, then research suggests that hunter-gatherers had better health and more leisure time than their farming brethren, although farming allowed for a larger population. Most farmers lived at subsistence levels, with any surpluses going to the elite. Of course, when farmers took over the land, then hunter-gatherers couldn't compete. By the Anglo-Saxon period, it would have been near impossible to survive by hunting alone.


Yes, I personally believe it may have been an economic issue, because from my research it seems, hunting was a very costly practice and only done by nobles (you may have information to contadict this). As you say, as farmers took over land hunters couldn't compete and I think this is a huge issue. Since the dawn of the Neolithic age when farming 'began' in Britain (though Historians such as Francis Pryor debate this) it replaced the hunter-gatherer life style and then after that the previous method of obtaining resources could never get back. I would like to ask what sources you have uses for your information on time, because I know it is a lot early, but the beauty of Neolithic craftmanship shows that farmera had a lot of spare time. Then again that was 4000 years prior to the period we are talking about. I am not a farmer and no next to nothing about farming but I wanted to know wether the timing was in fact true.

peter

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Re: Hunting in Anglo-Saxon England
« Reply #10 on: March 07, 2015, 06:17:38 PM »
 Hunting probably was a "sport" for the nobility, but as each noble led his own "war-band" then what better way to keep "the boys" on their toes than to track and kill a few wild animals (no guns in those days, you just had to be quick), good training for a young warrior! After all, any weapon that can kill a boar or stag can just as easily kill a man! And the post-hunt feast probably made for an even closer martial bonding. I've often wondered if some of the injuries to bodies found in warrior graves were often caused by a hunt that went seriously wrong than by actual warfare?

David

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Re: Hunting in Anglo-Saxon England
« Reply #11 on: March 08, 2015, 09:14:14 AM »

Hunter-gathering  or farming is an interesting conundrum. I am told that up to the Mesolithic times the norm was hunter-gathering. Then, in Britain, in the early Neolithic times, about 3800BC, there was a switch to cereals and pastoralism as well as some hunter-gathering. However this was not a huge success and the people were poorly nourished. So in the late Neolithic, about 3200 BC, it switched back to mainly hunter-gathering but still significant cereal and pastoralism. This went on into the early Bronze Age. Then in the middle Bronze Age, 1500 or 1400 BC, the emphasis switched back to being mainly cereals and farming. In Europe, where Anglo-Saxon’s ancestors lived there appears to have been a similar pattern but happening earlier. Britain was about a thousand years behind the times.

This throws up several questions.
Is hunter-gathering better when the population density low?
Is hunter-gathering feasible in high density populations? I’m sure that everyone would have said no until they found that the earliest cities seemed to predate cereal farming.
Must one of the techniques always dominate?
 

Æðelstān

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Re: Hunting in Anglo-Saxon England
« Reply #12 on: March 08, 2015, 04:46:27 PM »

Hunter-gathering  or farming is an interesting conundrum. I am told that up to the Mesolithic times the norm was hunter-gathering. Then, in Britain, in the early Neolithic times, about 3800BC, there was a switch to cereals and pastoralism as well as some hunter-gathering. However this was not a huge success and the people were poorly nourished. So in the late Neolithic, about 3200 BC, it switched back to mainly hunter-gathering but still significant cereal and pastoralism. This went on into the early Bronze Age. Then in the middle Bronze Age, 1500 or 1400 BC, the emphasis switched back to being mainly cereals and farming. In Europe, where Anglo-Saxon’s ancestors lived there appears to have been a similar pattern but happening earlier. Britain was about a thousand years behind the times.

This throws up several questions.
Is hunter-gathering better when the population density low?
Is hunter-gathering feasible in high density populations? I’m sure that everyone would have said no until they found that the earliest cities seemed to predate cereal farming.
Must one of the techniques always dominate?


That is really interesting, I hadn't seen that before, but see where you are coming from? I would say that Hunter-gathering works well with a small population, but farming can produce more on a consistent basis (though crops may fail), so perhaps you need a bit of both until you can successfully master one and have animals being farmed as well.

peter

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Re: Hunting in Anglo-Saxon England
« Reply #13 on: March 08, 2015, 06:40:10 PM »
  There's a rather good book on the very early beginnings of modern human agriculture, culture and history called "After The Ice" (A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC) by Steven Mithen (ISBN 978-0-7538-1392-8). It's well worth a read if you can find a copy.

Æðelstān

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Re: Hunting in Anglo-Saxon England
« Reply #14 on: March 13, 2015, 06:43:55 AM »
Thank you Streona, I will have to check it out!