Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Year 1000: Heads For Food

This chapter highlighted March, the month during which the short days of winter give way and at the equinox, March 21st-ish, the amount of daylight in the day equals the amount of light. The picture from the Julius work calendar brings to center stage the plowman, the guy who tills the soil, allowing it to be planted. Back when your food came from the ground and not the grocery store, the beginning of the planting season was very much anticipated. Two passages from this chapter really struck me.

The first;
Stop reading this book a minute. Can you hear something? Some machine turning? Of all the varieties of modern pollution, noise is the most insidious. Yet in the year 1000 the hedgerows actually had a sound. You could hear baby birds chirping in their nests, and the only mechanical noise you would hear came from the wheezing of the blacksmith's bellows.

Imagine. Silence when you wanted it, or needed it. Even now, in my quiet house, I am listening to the furnace running and a truck coming close to pass by my house. It was a simpler time, some say, without all the hustle, bustle and worry of our day. But I wonder if there weren't as many things to worry about then...

The second;
It is a commonplace that slavery made up the basis of life in the classical world, but it is sometimes assumed that slavery came to an end with the fall of Rome. In fact, the Germanic tribes who conquered Rome captured, kept and traded in slaves as energetically as the Romans did...the tribes of central Germany enjoyed particular success raiding their
Slavic neighbors. If you purchased a bondservant in the centuries leading up to the year 1000, the chances were that he or she was a "Slav"-- hence the word "slave."

Well, yeah, there was slavery in Europe. That makes sense; Europe had been Roman for a long time, and old habits die hard. But wait...

In England, the Anglo-Saxons proved to be slavers on a par with their Germanic cousins. Weallas, or Welshman, was one of the Old English words for slave--which shows where the Anglo-Saxons got their slaves.

Bristol, on the west coast of England, was a slave port. It is close to Wales and close to Dublin, where Viking merchants ran the largest slave market in 11th century western Europe, according to sources from the time.

And...people also surrendered themselves into bondage at times of famine or the year 1000 the starving man had no other resort but to kneel before his lord or lady and place his head in their hands. No legal document was involved...It was a basic transaction--heads for food.

The man became a bondservant, a slave. Us moderns might think the concept of slavery to be ancient, un-evolved, inhuman. But it exists today,and for the same reasons. People are hungry, poor, alone, have no other recourse. I never thought of it that way. I always saw it as a power grab by the slaver, and didn't really look at it from the point of view of the slave other than thinking it must be an awful way to live.

But I'm coming to realize that we all live in some form of slavery. To debt, to our appetites, to recognition from others. It's why, as a Christian, I can accept the concept that I am a dirty, rotten sinner in need of help. I get it from my Lord, and revel in the fact.

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