Anglo-Saxon Deviant Burial Customs by Andrew Reynolds

By Andrew Reynolds

Anglo-Saxon Deviant Burial Customs is the 1st precise attention of the ways that Anglo-Saxon society handled social outcasts. starting with the interval following Roman rule and finishing within the century following the Norman Conquest, it surveys a interval of primary social swap, which integrated the conversion to Christianity, the emergence of the overdue Saxon country, and the advance of the panorama of the Domesday publication. whereas a magnificent physique of written facts for the interval survives within the type of charters and law-codes, archaeology is uniquely put to enquire the earliest interval of post-Roman society, the 5th to 7th centuries, for which files are missing. For later centuries, archaeological proof promises us with an self sufficient overview of the realities of capital punishment and the prestige of outcasts. Andrew Reynolds argues that outcast burials express a transparent development of improvement during this interval. within the pre-Christian centuries, 'deviant' burial continues to be are stumbled on basically in group cemeteries, however the development of kingship and the consolidation of territories throughout the 7th century witnessed the emergence of capital punishment and locations of execution within the English panorama. in the community made up our minds rites, akin to crossroads burial, now existed along extra formal execution cemeteries. Gallows have been situated on significant limitations, frequently subsequent to highways, consistently in hugely obvious locations. The findings of this pioneering nationwide research hence have very important effects on our knowing of Anglo-Saxon society. total, Reynolds concludes, equipped judicial habit was once a characteristic of the earliest Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, instead of simply the 2 centuries sooner than the Norman Conquest.

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The eighth-century Ruthwell Cross runic inscription mentions gallows, but with reference directly to the crucifixion of Christ (Bradley 1982, 5), whereas the mid-ninth-century or later poem The Dream of the Rood (which partly follows the Ruthwell inscription) records how: ‘Strong enemies seized me [the Rood] there, fashioned me as a spectacle for themselves and required me to hoist up their felons. There men carried me upon their shoulders until they set me up on a hill’ (ibid. 159–61). These literary references, although far from proving a developed legal system in the eighth and ninth centuries, reflect the locational characteristics of, and thus biblical influence on, Anglo-Saxon judical execution.

Sources, approaches, and contexts 17 Fig. 3. Late Anglo-Saxon shackles from Winchester. (After Goodall 1990a, 1013, fig. 314, cat. no. 3671, 1014, fig. 315, cat. nos 3672 and 3674. Reproduced by permission of the Winchester Excavations Committee) Eddius Stephanus’ Life of Wilfrid, written about 720, records how the saint’s captors ordered their smiths to ‘forge iron fetters’ (ch. 38; Colgrave 1927), while later poetry refers to similar instruments of confinement. The Genesis B poem, for example, speculatively dated to the mid-ninth century (Bradley 1982, 11), contains a description of hell that potentially exhibits a degree of influence based on contemporary experience.

Bearing in mind, then, that archaeological discovery and observation will only ever provide a partial sketch of patterns of disposal of human remains in the past, we can still examine the evidence to hand to establish degrees of normative and non-normative mortuary behaviour. In early Anglo-Saxon England the predominant burial rite (except where cremation prevailed) was apparently supine inhumation in graves cut into the ground (Wilson 1992, 69 and 80), normally without elaborate above-ground structures, although this latter aspect is difficult to be sure of, again owing to issues of survival and recognition in the archaeological record.

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