A reconstruction of Anglo-Saxon life

Comparison of Early Anglo-Saxon society
to that of Roman Britain
400 AD to c600 AD


Comparison by Dr Stanley West

(Please click images to enlarge)

This comparison only applies to the period known as Early Anglo-Saxon. By 1066 Anglo-Saxon England was the most highly organised and regulated state in Europe. But from their first arrival in around 425 AD the invaders and settlers set up a scattered agrarian economy based upon their life in the un-Romanised north Germanic area. At forst it must have been a "New Frontier".

Roman Britain had been part of a centralised Empire, with central government. The early Anglo-Saxons depended upon their tribal structure for law and order.
The country was run by a bureaucracy. There were no officials and no bureacracy.
All laws and decrees were recorded and codified in writing. There was no writing and no written record. Laws were transmitted orally.
Literate individuals wrote histories and treatises. All history was passed down orally, often as a saga or story.
The empire used money in the form of coinage. There was no coinage or money used as a store of value.
The empire ran a standing army of paid professionals. There was no standing army, or wages for fighting.
The economy supported specialist workers like smiths and jewellers. Very few specialists. Perhaps only itinerant traders and bards.
There were organised industries selling their products. No organised industries.
The empire had formal market places and shops. The early Saxons had no market places.
Large scale farming and forestry were carried on. Only small family farms existed.
Agricultural estates were normal. No estates existed at this time.
There was a large agricultural surplus, available for sale and trade internationally. Surpluses, if any, were in short supply.
Towns and cities were normal. No Anglo-Saxon towns at this time, and they avoided existing towns.
Organised road building, bridges and other public works. The Anglo-Saxons did not build roads or public buildings.
The Romano-British economy was complex and at least partly international. A simple agrarian economy with subsistence farming was normal.
Religion was organised and intertwined with the state. There was no organised Anglo-Saxon religion until Christianity arrived in the 7th century.
High status buildings could be built of stone, brick or concrete. All building depended upon wood-working skills.

This comparison by Stanley West
is taken from his book entitled "Understanding West Stow", published in 2000.

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