GCSE History Revision: Norman England: Anglo-Saxon Economy
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Everything you need to know about Norman England: Anglo-Saxon Economy!
The population in burghs (towns) grew rapidly and developed along important trade routes and in centres of concentrated activity (eg. Market places, churches, meeting halls). Some burghs were built on roman sites, using existing fortifications. The burhs had ditches and ramparts and the larger burghs would have wooden balustrades. Larger trade deals always took place in these towns so they could be witnessed and appropriately taxed.
By 1060 there were around a 100 burghs and by 1066, 10% of the population lived in them. The most populated was London (Ludenwic) and York (Eoforwic) with approximately 10,000 people, followed by Norwich, Lincoln and Southampton with a population of around 6,000. Although these were large, fortified burghs, the capital was still seen as Winchester as the king’s gold and important documents were kept there. Each of these burghs grew in strength and developed special trade links with different countries. York, with its ancestral links with the Danes, had a special trade link with Denmark, evident in the millstones and whetstones found on archaeological sites in York. There is also documental evidence showing trade between London and Germany, France, Normandy and Flanders. Trade routes both inland and across the world had been well established long before the Anglo-Saxons and they merely continued trading in the commodities that suited their need at the time. Trade was aided by the improvement of the road system connecting the burghs and the ever increasing size of the weekly market and the towns surrounding them. No burgh was more than 20 miles from each other which made travel safer and the deployment of troops quick and effective.
It was agricultural economy where families produced just enough to keep the family going. This was called a subsistence economy. Peasants and ceorls were farmers producing wheat, barley, oats, vegetables and livestock. In 1060 there was an estimated 6,000 mills in operation, grinding corn for flour and thousands of breweries and bee hives for turning grains and honey into ales and meads. Many of the villagers developed a skill in crafts such as pottery, cloth weaving and blacksmithing. Those who managed to produce a little extra were able to barter for goods, a form of exchange. This was called the exchange economy. In Anglo-Saxon times, more goods were sold through bartering than through the exchange of coin.
Thee burghs operated using an exchange economy. They held weekly markets where crafts people set up alongside visiting traders. Markets in towns often sold things not available in the smaller shires, such as weapons, jewellery and leather items. Some traded in luxury items such as wine from France, Pepper and spices from Asia and the Middle East and silk and gems from Italy and Spain, Coptic bowl from Byzantium (Turkey) and amber beads from the Baltics. Most of the Anglo-Saxons bartered for what they needed and very rarely exchanged coin. It was only at market where they would earn coin to spend on cattle or machinery. Only the nobles and elite of Anglo-Saxon society used money to buy military equipment and luxury goods to display their wealth and power. The coins used were silver pennies, the raw material of which was imported from Germany. The king controlled the mint of the coin, making it law they only be made in towns with a mint and overseen by a royal official. In 1066 it was estimated there were 9 million silver pennies. Sheep cost 5 silver pennies, a pig cost 10 and an Ox cost 30 silver pennies.
Most of the larger towns like York and London had their own resident specialists and permeant shop such as silver smiths, weapons, leather workshops. Coast and rive towns became important ports for international trading where evidence of importing glass, wine, gems prices and precious metal and exporting cheese, wool, iron and cloth. The smaller towns near coast and rivers tended to be both farmers and fishermen, providing fish for the other towns
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