Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Mini-Review: The Year 1000

A couple months back, Colin Green mentioned picking up some new reading material of history for adding flavor and verisimilitude to one of his campaigns.

I recommended The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium, An Englishman's World.

It had been several years since I read the book, so I took a quick burn through to remember its high points.

So here we go ...

As I've groused about before - history is taught poorly, so finding a well-written, entertaining history book is of value. The Year 1000 definitely meets this criteria.

Like many histories, the challenge of the time period is the general lack of surviving documents - either from lack of initial documentation, preservation, or destruction by later regimes.  As the book denotes, the surviving direct documentation for the time period in England may fill a bankers' box.

The book itself is themed around the Julius Works Calendar, one of the few surviving written works of that time period, and describes passage of a year at the approximate turn of the millennia, near the end of the period of Anglo-Saxon rule in England.

Each chapter is inspired by the month's calendar page, and describes both common life and activities for the month, as well as a larger theme for overall English culture or leadership. And, as the book looks at the turn of the millennium, it also uses the calendar as a tool to illustrate the transitions that England underwent during that era, such as unifying from four kingdoms into one under a centralized monarchy, progressions of strong and weak leadership (Alfred the Great vs Aethelred the Unready), the conflict and partial rule by the Danes, and the impending succession conflict between Harold Godwinson, Harald Hardrada, and William of Normandy...

For instance, the July chapter begins with a description of the 'hungry gap,' the annual period between spring and the harvest of the first crops where food stores were exceedingly low, before segueing into a discussion of the evolution and spread of monastic worship and life in the latter part of the first millennia. The chapter then expands on the monarchy (under King Edgar) using the church to legitimize the rule, and the church's role as a repository and distributor of the written word.

Overall, the format make for a fun, easy read, with informative chapters that don't drag.  By combining common life and greater culture, the book builds a whole world, not simply a collection of dates and events.

And for the aforementioned gaming verisimilitude, the book provides much color for background as the players encounter or interact with both commoners and notables in their travels. The monthly format can provide fun "what's going on in the background" descriptions depending on local seasons and activities.  And, of course, the "real history" of invasions, bickering fiefdoms, successions, and growing and waning cultural influences may provide much grist for adventue or campaign seeds. 


(I discovered thru Anchor/MeWe that at least three other people also bought or were considering the book, so I hope that they are enjoying it as well...)


  1. Thanks for the overview.

    1. You're welcome. the book was a fun read to revisit.

    2. It's always been on the back-burner of my to-read list but I've never got around to it. This might give me a push in its direction.

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