1 July 2020

Life of an Anglo-Saxon Warrior at #Bamburgh

Covid-19 may have curtailed travelling and cancelled events, but it has opened a plethora of online talks, lectures, and instructive how-to demonstrations, most available on YouTube.

For the writer and the reader the Society of Authors has run a series of Afternoon Tea With… as well as useful talks on marketing. York Festival of Ideas took its annual festival online with talks on a wide range of subjects. The medieval history of Whitby’s Penny Hedge proved engrossing, but for me the crowning glory goes to Warrior: A Life of War in Anglo-Saxon Britain.

The television programme Time Team, first airing in 1994, brought the fascination of archaeology to ordinary people. It ran for twenty seasons and raised the profile of history programmes. With Warrior: A Life of War... writer Edoardo Albert gets together with York archaeologist Paul Gething to talk about an archaeological dig at what is now Bamburgh Castle, but what in 650AD was the royal residence of the kings of Northumbria.

The hour’s video is introduced by Edoardo Albert who hands over to a rather reluctant Paul Gething. But as with all archaeologists I’ve either seen or spoken to, once on his subject the pure passion of his calling ignites everything it touches. Within thirty minutes I’d ordered their book and I am so very pleased I did.

It is part riveting exploration of the odd breed of self-taught ‘gentleman antiquarians’ – Basil Brown of Sutton Hoo fame being one – who laid the foundations of modern archaeological techniques, also explored in detail, and for context the piecing together of known 7th century history, when Christianity was fighting for minds via the monks of Iona as strongly as royal households were fighting to extend their kingdoms and trade routes. As does Paul Gething in the video, the book brings the period and its people to life in colours worthy of the Book of Kells.

The Dark Ages? More like Arrogant Propaganda.

If you are interested in other aspects of the Anglo-Saxon period, you'd do worse than watch a five minute introduction on the breath-taking craftsmanship of the Staffordshire Hoard.

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