Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Year 1000: What Life Was Like At The Turn Of The Millennium

by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger
What caught my eye about this book was the unusual cover--this hardbound book is covered in tally marks, signifying the primitive manner of counting. The contents of this book are just as inventive at describing life in the year 1000 A.D. The authors use the Julius Work Calendar, a hand-copied manuscript from England's Canterbury Cathedral circa approximately 1020. The layout, they describe, is similar to the calendars we use today--twelve pages of vellum, one for each month. Each month's page contains, in addition to holidays and saints' days, an illustration of the work taking place in that month. These illustrations, along with a cataloguing system based on the Roman emperors, give the calendar its name.
This book is an accessible read that somehow still informs the reader about aspects of life in the year 1000. This was actually the first time that I had understood clearly the successive waves of invasion--Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Norse--that took place even before the famous Norman invasion of 1066. You'll come away from this book with lots of interesting historical, archaeological, and linguistic tidbits, as well as a clearer idea of Britain's historical timeline. For instance, the authors note that most sizable British towns have retained their names from the year 1000, and that allows us to learn about the towns' historical inhabitants. Place-names ending in -ham are of Anglo-Saxon origin; those ending in -by indicate Viking (Norse) origin.
If you finally want to understand the relevance of those Beowulf passages you skimmed for tenth-grade English, this is the book for you.

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