Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger

Pull back the curtains and take a peek at life in Anglo-Saxon England by reading The Year 1000: What Life was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium by Robert Lacey and Danny Danzinger. This is a delightful trip back in time. By piecing together interviews with an impressive number of scholars in the field and conducting extensive research as evidenced by their notes and bibliography, the authors provide a unique perspective on what life must have been like at the turn of the first millennium.

The organization of the book takes its cue from the Julius Work Calendar, the earliest surviving document of its sort, dated approximately 1020 CE. Divided into twelve months with a page for each month, this perpetual calendar chronicles the holy days and saints’ days to be celebrated during the month and offers a glimpse into the daily lives of Anglo-Saxons in the year 1000. Each month is adorned with a delightful illustration depicting the activity associated with that month, whether it be ploughing, harvesting, sheep-shearing, or performing a myriad of other activities.

Written in a style that is engaging and accessible, the book is full of fascinating little tidbits of information and curious facts about the lives, habits, clothing, homes, and activities of Anglo-Saxons. The details allow us to peek into the lives of Anglo-Saxon villagers—from the texture of their coarse, woolen clothing, to the fleas infesting their beds, to the stench of open sewers, to the back-breaking labor as they worked the land. Life at the turn of the first millennium certainly had its challenges. People were totally dependent on nature and dated their lives by years when weather and land failed to cooperate. July, known as ‘the hungry gap,’ was the hardest month on the poor since spring crops had not yet matured and grain bins were probably empty.

In spite of these challenges, however, life in Anglo Saxon England had a charm all its own. Imagine living according to the rhythms of nature. Imagine stepping outside your home and not being accosted by sounds of machines in the air or on the ground, or cell phones buzzing for attention. Imagine the only sounds you hear are the rustling of leaves, the twitter of birds, the grunts and snorts of nearby animals, the chatter of a brook. Imagine living in a village with such a small population that you know everyone and everyone knows you—who you are and where you came from; the names of your parents, grandparents, and siblings; which animals belong to you and which belong to your neighbor. Imagine the strong sense of community that develops in such an environment. Imagine living in a place where surnames had not yet been invented because everyone really and truly does know your name.

Life in Anglo Saxon England certainly had its challenges. But thanks to the digestible and entertaining format of this well-researched historical glimpse of England, we recognize it also had its charms.

Highly recommended.