Michael Wood argues that the most important and influential British kings were a father, son and grandson who lived over a thousand years ago during the age of the Vikings.

King Alfred and the Anglo Saxons - Netflix

Type: Documentary

Languages: English

Status: Ended

Runtime: 60 minutes

Premier: 2013-08-06

King Alfred and the Anglo Saxons - Anglo-Saxon law - Netflix

Anglo-Saxon law (Old English ǣ, later lagu “law”; dōm “decree, judgment”) is a body of written rules and customs that were in place during the Anglo-Saxon period in England, before the Norman conquest. This body of law, along with early Scandinavian law and Germanic law, descended from a family of ancient Germanic custom and legal thought. However, Anglo-Saxon law codes are distinct from other early Germanic legal statements – known as the leges barbarorum, in part because they were written in Anglo-Saxon instead of in Latin. The laws of the Anglo-Saxons were the second in medieval Western Europe after those of the Irish to be expressed in a language other than Latin.

King Alfred and the Anglo Saxons - Overview - Netflix

Inked records of early Germanic law (leges barbarorum) were, in many ways, the product of Roman influence. Throughout the early middle ages, as various “Teutonic”, or Germanic, tribes on the continent came into closer and more peaceful contact with the highly institutionalized civilizations surrounding the Mediterranean – chiefly the Roman empire – it was inevitable that they would be affected by the cultural influences emanating from the south. Many Germanic tribes and nations subsequently began to imitate the cultural and institutional facets of Roman civilization. Few of these imitations were so important or had such a profound impact on the nature of “barbarian” life as the adoption of writing, a technology which spread throughout the Germanic kingdoms hand-in-hand with Christianity, a religion based on literacy. Up to this point, the laws, or customs, of the barbarian nations of Northern Europe were essentially oral: they were occasionally recited publicly, and relied for their continuation upon word-of-mouth, and the memory, perhaps capricious, of those whose burden it was to remember them. With writing, however, it was possible to set the ancient customs of the Northern Europeans into a lasting and more or less fixed form, using ink and parchment. It was a general trend among the Germanic tribes of Europe that adaptation of the Roman system of writing was soon followed by the production of a national code of laws. It was inevitable, too, that, in imitating the Roman practice of writing down law, facets of Roman law and jurisprudence would influence these new Germanic codes. The numerous legal and customary statements which make up the earliest written Germanic law codes from the continent are testament to the influences of Roman language and Roman law, as each was written in Latin (a foreign language) and was often significantly influenced by Byzantine Emperor Justinian's great legal code. In Britain, the situation was somewhat different, as Rome had retreated from the island by about 400 AD, and the native inhabitants who remained were, for a time, left relatively free of foreign influence. When, in 597 AD, strong Roman influence again reached the island of Britain (by now in the hands of the Anglo-Saxons), it was in the form of Christianity, the practitioners of which brought with them the art of letters, writing, and literacy. It is significant that it was shortly after the arrival of the first evangelical mission in England, led by Augustine and sent by Pope Gregory I, the first Anglo-Saxon law code appeared, issued by Æthelberht, King of Kent. The first six pronouncements of this code deal solely with sanctions against molesting the property of the Christian church and its officers, notably demanding twelvefold compensation for stealing from God's house. In contrast, compensation for stealing from the king is set at only ninefold. Writing in the eighth century, the Venerable Bede comments that King Æthelberht, “beside all other benefits that he of wise policy bestowed upon his subjects, appointed them, with his council of wise men, judicial dooms according to the examples of the Romans.” Iuxta exempla Romanorum is the Latin phrase Bede uses here; the meaning of this statement has exercised the curiosity of historians for centuries. It was not, as with the continental Germanic tribes, that Æthelberht had the law written down in Latin; rather, without precedent, he used his own native language, Old English, to express the “dooms”, or laws and judgements, which had force in his kingdom. Some have speculated that “according to the examples of the Romans” simply meant that Æthelberht had decided to cast the law in writing, whereas previously it had always been a matter of unwritten tradition and custom, handed down through generations through oral transmission, and supplemented by the edicts of kings. As such, Æthelberht's law code constitutes an important break in the tradition of Anglo-Saxon law: the body of Kentish legal customs, or at least a portion of them, were now represented by a written statement – fixed, unchanging, no longer subject to the vagaries of memory. Law was now something that could be pointed to and, significantly, disseminated with ease. Whatever the exact motives for making oral law into written code were, King Æthelberht's law code was the first of a long series of Anglo-Saxon law codes that would be published in England for the next four and a half centuries. Almost without exception, every official version of royal law issued during the Anglo-Saxon period was written in Old English.

King Alfred and the Anglo Saxons - References - Netflix