Book 2, Chapter 5, 878 AD to 901 AD – Alfred’s Fortifications
The face of the country must have undergone considerable changes during the struggles of nearly a century with successive hordes of Northmen, and especially during the twenty two years which had elapsed since the death of Ethelwulf in 856. It is difficult in peaceful and prosperous times to realize the condition induced by war, rapine, fire, and bloodshed, such as the Danes delighted in.
Agriculture must have suffered greatly, the crops being often roughly trodden down by the invaders or hastily reaped and secretly stored. A general sense of insecurity, both as to life and property, must have arisen, for none were safe against attack, which might come at a time and from a quarter least anticipated. The dwellers in towns were peculiarly exposed, from the temptations to plunder which these offered, and places like London, York, and Winchester, suffered greatly. Not that when speaking of Saxon towns it is to be supposed that the wealth and grandeur of the old Roman municipia were perpetuated.
As Mr Kemble felicitously remarks, “The Saxons did not themselves adopt the Roman cities, they did not want them, and would have been greatly at a loss to know what to do with them. The inhabitants they enslaved, or expelled as a necessary precaution to their own peaceable occupation of the land, but they neither took possession of the towns, nor did they give themselves the trouble to destroy them. They had not the motive, the means nor perhaps the patience, to un-build what was so solidly constructed.
Where it suited their purpose to save the old Roman work, they used it for their own advantage, where it did not suit they quietly left the old sites to decay. There is not even a probability that they in general took the trouble to dismantle walls or houses to assist in the construction to their own rude dwellings. Boards and rafters they very likely removed, the storms, dews, sunshine, the unperceived and gentle action of the elements, did the rest, for desolation marches with giant strides, and neglect is a more potent leveller than military engines. Clogged watercourses undermined the strong foundations, decomposed stucco or the detritus of stone and brick mingled in the deserted chambers with drifted silt and dust and leaves. Accumulations of soil formed in and around the crumbling abodes of wealth and power winged seeds, borne on the autumnal winds, sunk gently on a new and vigorous bed, vegetation yearly thickening, yearly dying, prepared a genial deposit, roots yearly matting, deepened the crust the very sites of cities vanished from the memory as they had vanished from the eye, till at length the plough went and the corn waved over the remains of palaces and temples in which the once proud masters of the world had revelled and worshipped. Who shall say in how many unsuspected quarters the peasant whistles carelessly above remains of the pomp and luxury of imperial Rome?” (Saxons in England ii. 296.)
Chapter 5, Alfred’s Fortifications
Effects of the Danish Ravages
Chapter 5, Revolt in the Danelagh
Chapter 5, Alfred’s Educational Efforts
Chapter 5, Alfred’s Industry and Zeal
Chapter 5, Saxon Laws
Chapter 5, Summary of Alfred’s Character
Categories: Book 2