A few notes of Early History
Many scientists, archaeologists, books and television presentations have
put forward many theories about the evolution of mankind, so I leave you
the reader, to follow the path you favour on that subject.
Due to the ingenuity of our early ancestors and their ability to adapt,
invent and solve problems we are here today. They made tools and
mastered fire. They were hunters and food gatherers, totally dependent
on nature and on their own skills. They had few options as far as the
fundamentals of food, clothing and shelter were concerned. Skins were
the earliest clothes. Caves were their shelters.
The first traces of humans in Europe have been found in caves in Spain
and France, and date from 40,000 years ago. The settlers in the fertile
valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates (Iraq) were the worlds first
The first great revolution in human history was the development and
spread of agriculture, which can be traced back to the growing of wheat
and barley in the Near East. Agriculture meant settlement. It required
forethought, people had to know when to sow and reap, and developed the
methods and skills to make it possible.
Hungry wild dogs would scavenge around the settlements and the braver
ones became domesticated as did the young cattle, pigs and sheep taken
by the hunters and raised as a sure supply of fresh meat and the
herding of livestock developed. The women were the gatherers and
through the generations learnt what was good to eat and how best to use
it. Perhaps some grain was dropped near by and the seed germinated.
The grain was gathered and some replanted. This was how the growing of
corn came about.
The people, now settled, found ways of making tools, pots, ploughs,
baking ovens and textiles etc. They cut reed and made boats with cloth
sails and went out to catch fish, learnt how to ferment grain and grapes
for wine and ale. The bartering for goods to make life easier led to trading
and merchanting being developed.
The settlements became villages. Building bricks were made from sun
baked clay to make the early houses and fortified villages, 6000 BC.
The wheel was the most important achievement. It is thought to date
back to 37500 BC. The first wheels were thought to be used to make pots
as we do today. The first wheeled vehicle consisted of two or three
sections of plank cut to form a disc and fastened with wooden brackets.
The wheel was fixed to the axles with a linchpin. Lighter spoke wheels
came around 200 BC. The spokes were held together with a one piece rim
The first people to arrive in Britain came from the eastern land mass.
They may well have been hunters looking for fertile land. Britain was
linked to Europe by a land bridge and many immigrants came to Britain
before this was eroded away by about 5000 BC.
The Celts from Central Europe were seizing lands in the south and
seeking refuge in Britain from the Germanic tribes (1000 - 500 BC).
They were obsessed with fighting and many battles were fought. They
used shields, spears and swords and rode in light chariots drawn by
ponies. Celts built hill forts such as Maiden Castle near Dorchester
and at Glastonbury. Celtic farmers changed the face of the countryside
by laying out large rectangular fields and terraces. They had many
gods, myths and legends, Halloween has Celtic origins. The Druids
mediated between the natural and spiritual worlds of the people, they
are thought to have been the builders of Stonehenge near Salisbury.
The Romans landed a 10,000 strong army in Kent in 55 BC, but is was not
until 43 AD that the Romans began to make headway. Queen Boadicea was
one formidable Celtic leader they encountered. But they were beaten by
the Romans and Boadicea took poison.
The Romans established cities linked by straight roads. The centers
had fine workshops, temples, amphitheatres and bath houses. Even the
slaves lived in conditions which serfs of later eras would have envied.
By the early 400s AD Britain could be described as a model protectorate.
Successful businessmen built luxury villas and their sons had a Latin
education. Christianity spread throughout the Empire and before long
the Celtic peasants were the only large groups of pagans remaining in
This orderly way of life was menaced by Germanic raiders working along
the British coast line. Picts and Scots from the north renewed their
attacks. The Romans fled, the last Roman troops leaving in 436 AD.
The Germanic tribes flooded into Britain after the Romans left. They
came by long boat, and included a host of peoples, Angles, Saxons,
Jutes and Frisians. Some newcomers settled peaceably enough alongside
the native Celtics, but there is evidence of battles and repression,
many had to face a life of slavery.
King Arthur ruled Wessex at this time and many legends have arisen from
In time the invaders settled into kingdoms governed by councils of
wisemen called a witan. The population converted to Christianity
following St. Augustines' mission to Canterbury in 597.
Offa (757 - 796) was one of the Saxon kings who left his mark by
building Offas' Dyke 170 miles long from the Dee to the Severn to keep
the Welsh Tribes at bay. He also set the standard form of currency
which was to last for over 600 years.
The next well known figure to emerge as a ruler was King Alfred (875 -
899). He stopped the Danish invaders with a long battle waged from the
Isle of Athelney on the Somerset Marshes.
For over 600 years the Anglo - Saxon way of life became the basis of
our country as we know it today. They gave us the form of village life.
Place names ending in -ham refer to enclosures and clearings in forests
were -den, -ley, -hurst and -field.
The villages were built of timber, wattle and thatch with boundry
ditches and wooden fences. The Lords or Thanes lived in large halls,
the free peasants in smaller halls and the slaves in poor hovels. Most
villagers had a small garden plot to grow their own food and pens for
livestock. There would have been workshops for weavers, metalworkers
and woodworkers. Water mills came into being for the grinding of corn.
Churches were a focus point of the village. They were built of wood r
masonry taken from the Roman ruins.
The farmers used a large iron plough shear pulled by six or eight ox to
till the land. The fields were in long strips so as the plough team did
not have to make so may awkward turns. The length of the furrow 220
yds (furrow long) is the furlong term used until we went metric.
The Anglo - Saxons held the Bonds of Kinship in much esteem. Everyman
had his wergild, the death price, which defined his standing.
Money, livestock and land were given up if a man should break the laws
and there were set values for certain crimes. Trials were also by
ordeal, the accused would have to hold a red hot iron in his bare hand,
if the wound did not heal within three days he was proven guilty.
The Saxon rulers of this era are as follows:
Egbert 827 - 839 Athelstan 924 - 939
Aethelwulf 839 - 858 Edmund 939 - 946
Aethelbald 858 - 860 Edred 946 - 955
Aethelbert 860 - 865 Edwy 955 - 959
Aethelred 1 865 - 871 Edgar 959 - 975
Alfred the Great 871 - 899 Edward the Martyr 975 - 978
Edward the Elder 899 - 924 Aethelred 11 978 - 1016
Edmund Ironside 1016.
England was to suffer many invasions by the Danes but between 959 and
975 King Edgar "the Peaceable" was accepted by the Saxons and Danes as
ruler of all England. He encouraged learning and set up ecclesiastical
reforms. His son Edward reigned just three years to be followed by
Aethelred the "Unready". He tried to buy off the Danish invaders with a
bribe called the "Danegeld". This he raised by taxing his people.
Aethelred then gave orders for the massacre of all the Danes in the land
Sven Forkbeard, king of Norway and Denmark, swore revenge on England for
his act and many devasting raids took place. Aethelred fled to France,
but was too ill on his return to rule so his son Edmund Ironside took
on the responsibility of defending the country against the claims of Sven's
At a truce parley after Aethelred's death Edmund and Canute agreed to
divide the country between them, but Edmund died soon after and Canute
became King. He married Aethelreds' widow Edith. He ruled from 1016
to 1035 giving England a period of stability. He was followed by Harold 1
Harefoot 1035 - 1040 and Harthacanute 1040 -1042.
In 1042 Aethelred's son Edward was asked to come back from Normandy as king.
Known as Edward the "Confessor" because of his piety. He was not a good
king and retreated from the affairs of state absorbed in the building
of an abbey at Westminster. He was too ill to attend the
consecration of the abbey in December 1065 and died a week later.
[Encarta and Pears Encyclopedia]