Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Anglo-Saxon Period, Archaeological computing, Archaeology, Britain, Britannia, British, computing, Culture, Dark Age, Dark Ages, England, Germanic, History, Identity, Kingship, Medieval Period, Middle Ages, Migration Period, North Sea Region, Public engagement, reconstruction, Scandinavia, Settlement Archaeology, simulator, the Dark Ages, videogames
My post a few weeks ago on the subject of archaeological reconstruction using EQN Landmark got a lot of hits, and I really enjoyed writing it. This week we are continuing the trend by using a new settlement/survival simulator to think about the Anglo-Saxon migrations. The game in question, called Banished, is really awesome and costs around £12.
Around about the year AD 410, the economy and central administration of Roman Britain collapsed. At this time, or perhaps only a decade or so after, migrants from northern Germany and southern Denmark began to arrive. The number of people involved is still poorly understood, but was significant enough to affect drastic changes in the archaeological record.
The factors influencing the Anglo-Saxon migration, commonly known as the Adventus Saxonum, are disputed. Early scholarship saw this population movement in terms of invasion. Vera Evison’s 1965 book, The Fifth-Century Invasions South of the Thames, is a good example of this approach to the material. Recent archaeological studies have been more inclined to view the migrants as opportunistic settlers rather than conquerors, though.
Migration is a hugely important and contentious issue in the modern world, particularly to EU member states. The arguments within Britain recently over whether to remain in the EU or not are significantly influenced by the issue. In this context, exploring ancient migration is not only interesting but also incredibly relevant.
Banished is a game about settlement and survival. It is set in a generic medieval time, although the use of stone foundations and certain clothing dyes would put it a bit later than the 5th century. Despite these issues, Banished is really good for thinking about the practicalities of migration, and the difficulties of doing so.
You begin the game with a handful of settlers and some basic resources. For the purposes of our reconstructive exercise, let’s imagine that a couple of families have made the journey from Saxony and have brought enough supplies, tools and cattle to establish a new settlement. Upon arriving in southern England they are, of course, met with rain.
I think the chap in the middle with the green jacket looks like a strong leader. We will call him Ælthed. Under his direction, our humble Saxons begin to gather timber from nearby trees to construct some homes. Shelter, after all, is the first priority.
Now that our Saxons have somewhere dry and warm they can begin working on the next priority: food. Ælthed’s brother – let’s call him Ælreth – heads to the nearby forest to forage and hunt. He constructs a little shack, which he uses as a base for gathering nuts, berries and firewood. Others join him and they also begin to hunt the local deer population. Here he is posing next you his creation.
As the food situation was being addressed by Ælreth and his peers, the remaining settlers can begin securing suitable pasture for the cattle. As the first snowflakes of winter fall, the settlement is slowly becoming sustainable.
The Saxons hunker down for their first British winter. Survival is not easy, but they manage with no casualties. Ælreth’s exploits in the forest mean that no one goes hungry, but Ælthed’s leadership ensures no one gets too greedy. Once the snows clear, it’s time to sow crops.
As the settlement begins to stabilise, the villagers can rely more on mixed farming than on hunter-gathering. Trade links are established with neighbouring villages and the first children are born. Life seems to settle down and become easier. Survival leads to prosperity and the structure of society can be meted out. A simple legal system is established to deal with disputes and Ælthed assumes an official leadership role. Over time, he could even become the king of a small territory.
I’m not saying this is how it was in 5th century England, but it is certainly plausible. This has not been a serious academic exercise, but it is an interesting way to approach the past. Take it with a pinch of salt, but don’t say a videogame can’t change the way you think.