Posts Tagged ‘Anglo-Saxon’

Anglo-Saxon Summer: Fun and Games Anglo-Saxon Style

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

When they weren’t at war (yes, they weren’t always at war), the Anglo-Saxons were playing.

We know this because sports such as hunting and fighting were well-documented by Anglo-Saxon poets. Also, we’ve found a bunch of game boards in archeological finds and in Anglo-Saxon graves.

There were dice games, with dice made from bone or antler.

“Knucklebones,” an ancient form of Jacks, used sheep or pig knuckles as playing pieces.

The board games that the Anglo-Saxons played shed light on how different cultures mixed and mingled across Dark Age Europe. England is an island, but the Anglo-Saxons were worldlier than you’d think.

Take board games: the game known as “Hnefatafl” and the game now known as “Nine Men’s Morris” were based on ancient games from distant lands such as Rome or Egypt, or, in the case of chess, from as far away as India. The world was in flux, and we mustn’t forget that the Angles and Saxons were themselves invaders originating from Germany and Scandinavia — and they brought their games with them.

“Hnefatafl” was one of the most popular board games, and came to Britain from Scandinavia; it was probably a Germanic version of the ancient Roman game “latrunculi.”

Since it’s the future, you can now play this game online. So mix yourself an Anglo-Saxon the Beach, pull up a computer screen, and enjoy!


Anglo-Saxon Summer: Armed and Dangerous

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

In the United States these days there’s all sorts of debate about the right to carry weapons in public.

The Anglo-Saxons had no such debate.

Anglo-Saxons carried knives, spears, swords, axes, and bows and arrows. As befitted a warrior culture, if you were a post-adolescent man, you were armed.

The spear was the most common weapon, and was carried by every class of citizen. Next was the axe. It came in many varieties: single hand axes, two-hand axes, throwing axes, and then some.

Swords were not very common, but all sorts of knives and daggers were in use, both for battle and for “domestic use” whatever that may be.  Almost every free Anglo-Saxon man had a “scramsax,” which was a single-bladed knife.


That said, not everyone was allowed carry a weapon. Only freemen could be armed. If a slave was caught with a spear, it was legal to beat him with the wooden shaft of the spear until it snapped. Consider that an early version of gun control.

Anglo-Saxon Summer: The First Post-Apocalyptic Society

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

After years of debilitating war or disease or environmental catastrophe, society crumbles.

Technological know-how is lost, people live in darkness and fear, and under constant threat of violence. Generations pass, the cities are abandoned, and people forget the past glories of their lost civilization as they struggle to scrape by.

Sounds like any number of post-apocalyptic stories you’ll see on TV or at the movies. But before there was Mad Max and The Walking Dead, there were the Anglo-Saxons.

The Roman Empire occupied what is now known as Great Britain (Britannia) for 400 years. To give you some context about how long Roman influence lasted, if you include Rome’s invasions under Julius Caesar, the Romans were in Britain about as long as Westerners have been in the Americas. It was a long time.

While they ruled Britannia, Romans established great cities  (such as Londinium), built great baths (such as those at Bath), built great roads (such as Roman Road), and built aqueducts (in St. Albans, Colchester, and elsewhere despite all that rain). The conquerors established economic systems and social structures, and they built a still-partially-standing wall up north (Hadrian’s) to keep out anyone who would threaten their rule.

But eventually Rome suffered a long and slow decline, and by around the year 440, they were unable to sustain the empire’s reach into Britain. The Emperor recalled the military to cope with persistent barbarian invasions elsewhere in the empire, and once the troops were gone, they never come back. Feelings were mixed about that. The remaining British Roman rulers had to resort to hiring Anglo-Saxon mercenaries to keep order and provide protection against all those pesky sea invasions they had in those days.

Sometime around 442 the Anglo-Saxons mutinied (remember: always pay your Anglo-Saxon mercenaries!); though the British Romans appealed for help, none was forthcoming from the Falling Roman Empire Formerly Known as Rising.

Years of fighting commenced, and it was Angles versus Saxons versus Picts versus Jutes versus Danes versus Frisians versus remaining Romans and even the bookies lost out.

In the midst of all that raiding and pillaging, the great Roman settlements were abandoned and fell into ruins. Roman science and technology was lost throughout Europe as the so-called “Dark Ages” began.

Britain, on the far outskirts of the empire, was especially “dark” during this time. Around the year 973, an Anglo-Saxon poet would write about Roman ruins (most likely the ruins of Bath) in the poem “The Ruin,” presuming that they were the remains of structures erected by giants. Not only were the skills and technology of the Romans lost to Britain, but more than 500 years after the Romans abandoned Britain, this Anglo-Saxon poet couldn’t even imagine that human beings were capable of building such structures.

The British would have to wait centuries before such achievements were possible for them again. Meanwhile, everyone kept their eyes peeled for giants.


“the work of giants”

So let’s salute the Anglo-Saxons, the first great post-apocalyptic society!

Anglo-Saxon Summer: A Signature Libation

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Summer is a nice time of year for a signature cocktail, and since we’re writing about the Anglo-Saxons on the PhLog, we thought it would be nice to pay homage to our favorite Germanic peoples to occupy what is now known as Great Britain with a special cocktail.

We reached out to UPG consulting bon vivant Miriam Leuchter and mixologist Rush Kress to assist us in making an Anglo-Saxon-inspired drink.

Miriam and Rush’s tasting committee included the tasteful Helen Kim, the astute Adam Rosenberg, and the discerning L.M. Sorré. UPGistas Jay Stern and M. Sweeney Lawless joined for a secondary tasting and to deliver the UPG seal of approval. (Photos below are from the secondary tasting.)

Creating a Flavor Profile

To source potential drink ingredients, we looked at what we know about the Anglo-Saxon diet. Their food was simply seasoned with the kind of herbs and spices they could grow themselves. Mint, thyme, dill, fennel, hyssop, rosemary, sage, garlic, chives… that kind of thing. We wanted something to capture an earthy green herbal flavor to reflect these Anglo-Saxon seasonings. (Jay’s suggestion — using a few drops of the blood of your enemies — was determined to be impractical.)

We also wanted a slightly sweet component to this drink (after all, it is a summer cocktail) such as honey or a berry that could be found in England during the Anglo-Saxon era.

Choosing an Alcohol

The Anglo-Saxons drank a lot of alcohol, mostly in the form of ale and honey wine (a.k.a. “mead”). Because we didn’t want an ale-based beverage, and honey wine isn’t the best mixer or always easy to find, we decided to use a modern alcohol as a base.

The first drink the team attempted used various combinations of Elderberry liqueur and gin. This combination proved unpalatable without lemon. Lemon would have been a rarity in the Anglo-Saxon diet; in fact, it’s highly unlikely that most Anglo-Saxons ever saw a lemon, let alone tasted one.

The decision was then to try a whisky. Though whisky was not an Anglo-Saxon beverage, it is certainly enjoyed by their descendants so it seemed to be not too big of a stretch. Fortunately for us, it turns out that honey whisky is now a “thing,” so Rush and Miriam took that idea and ran with it.

We now present UPG’s great new summer cocktail:

Anglo-Saxon the Beach


2 oz. honey rye whisky*
2 oz. hard apple cider
2 drops celery bitters
splash of club soda
handful of fresh chives, chopped
one sprig of fresh thyme
plenty of ice

*If you can’t find whisky that’s already infused with honey, make a simple syrup using honey and add 1 tbsp. to 2 oz. of regular rye.

The ingredients.

The ingredients.

NOTE ON THE WHISKY: The first tasting team used Catskill Provisions New York Honey, which is a honey-flavored rye whiskey. For the secondary tasting, we opted in favor of something more readily available at your local liquor store, and went for Honey Jack Daniels. Honey Jack is technically classified as a honey liqueur, and it makes for a lighter cocktail that has a more dramatic chive-y taste. You may want to use one or two fewer sprigs of chives with honey liquor. A honey whisky, either store bought or homemade with honey simple syrup and rye, will have a deeper and more robust taste. We found both options to be delicious.


1. In a tall glass or cocktail shaker, muddle the chives with whisky.

Miriam hand picked chives from her back yard, much as an Anglo-Saxon might have done. We used four chives.


Russ rolled the chives up into a tight ball and then chopped them, to maximize their muddling powers.


Smush those chives!


He used a spoon to muddle them, but you can use any blunt object. The Anglo-Saxons loved blunt objects.

We then added the whisky and stirred and mashed for a bit.


Pouring in the whisky.


Mashing it all up.

2. Add cider and two drops of celery bitters, and stir well.

We used a nice dry cider — dry goes a little better with chives — but a sweeter cider would work if you prefer a sweeter drink.


Be careful with those celery bitters. Two drops will do it.


3. Strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice.


4. Top off with a splash of club soda (not low sodium) and give it a quick stir.


5. Garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme.


6. Syntu!


Upon her first sip, UPGista M. Sweeney Lawless deemed the beverage “odd and good.” The chive-whiskey mix with the crispness of the cider and soda certainly makes for a refreshing, earthy beverage.

Enjoy it it with your own band of warriors.

This drink pairs perfectly with a sharp cheddar, Stilton, or other strong English cheese.


Anglo-Saxon Summer: Many Ways to Die

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Hey, Everybody, let’s make it an


It’s summer! What better time to post about one of our favorite Germanic peoples to gain prominence in what is now known as Great Britain? (Sorry, Jutes and Frisians, but you’re so last summer.)

Why is summer such a great time to get your Anglo-Sax on?

Anglo-Saxons liked beaches! We presume! Anyway, they certainly were always landing on beaches! You know – on their way to invading places!

Anglo-Saxon England was a warrior society. It was the time of the Vikings, and thanks to those constant Viking raids across the British Isles, everyone was pretty much fighting everyone all the time.

Since the Anglo-Saxons were a fighty people in a fighty time, violence was commonplace and glorified in language and poetry. Anglo-Saxon literature celebrates their warrior ethos.

Speaking of Anglo-Saxons, the Anglo-Saxons spoke, well, Anglo-Saxon, a Germanic language that sounds Scandinavian to modern ears. We don’t know a huge amount about the Anglo-Saxon language (also known as “Old English”) because it wasn’t a very literate time, and those who were literate tended to write in Latin.

But we do have enough of their writings to be able to understand and appreciate their language today. The Bible was translated into Anglo-Saxon. The Venerable Bede wrote a history of England in Anglo-Saxon. There were other official writings, religious works, and even a few books of riddles written in Anglo-Saxon (more about those in a future post).

And let’s not forget that the oldest epic poem we have in English was the work of an Anglo-Saxon. Some dainty ditty about tea? Get a grip, Cupcake, this was the mighty tale of hero-versus-monsters: Beowulf. Not just one monster, mind you –– THREE: a monster, a mother of a monster, and a dragon! Beowulf was the Destroy All Monsters of its day.

So many of the Anglo-Saxon documents we have are poetic that we might have a way-more-poetic understanding of the language than everyday Anglo-Saxons used. For instance, we have words like hwælweg (literally “whale-way”) for “ocean.” Though it may or may not reflect common speech, this poetic language does tell us something about the life and times of the Anglo-Saxons – and who doesn’t sound cooler talking about the whale-way?

Some of their words (and poetry and coolness) has been handed down to us. For instance, their word for “death”: “déaþ.” The last letter is a “thorn” which comes from the old Norse runic alphabet and is pronounced “th.” So you can see it’s quite similar to our Modern English word. But the similarity ends when you find out the Anglo-Saxons thought a lot more about death than we did, and the proof is that there are many, many more Anglo-Saxon words for death – and these are only the ones we know about. Here’s  a small sample, courtesy of

beaducwealm: violent death
bealusíð: hurt adversity death
ásprungnes: failing exhaustion death eclipse
cwealmdréor: blood shed in death
cwalu: killing murder violent death destruction
cwylming: suffering tribulation metaphorically cross death
déaþbéam: death-bringing tree a death-tree tree of death

Yup, sure was a lot of violent death back then. The Anglo-Saxons didn’t mess around. Or, rather, they did… violently. Life was no day at the whale-way.