Beer and drinking manners at the Vindolanda fortArticle 8 of 8

8 - Beer and the brythonic culture without the Roman sovereignty.


 8.1  The Roman legions leave Britannia Island.


The Roman legions withdrew from Britain in 410 AD. The Romano-Britonian culture survives about a century after the Romans left. In the south of Great Britain, a Romanised society remained able to survive the Anglo-Saxon attacks during the 6th century. Like in conquered northern Gaul, the Roman cultural and military influence decreased towards the north of Britannia, until it disappeared among the Picts and Caledonnii who lived beyond Hadrian's Wall.

The Anglo-Saxon incursions began in the middle of the 5th century. Germanic tribes (Angles, Saxons, Jutes) invade the island and found small kingdoms. Augustine of Canterbury creates the first Catholic archbishopric in 597. The social environment changes rapidly after the 6th century. The world of Vindolanda gradually disappears. What has been said about the culture of beer during the Romano-British period no longer applies to the Anglo-Saxon period which begins and lasts between 550 and 1066 (foundation of the Norman kingdom).

The uses of beer and the organisation of the brewery given by the Vindolanda tablets changed during the Anglo-Saxon period. According to a general rule in the world of beer, if one of its three dimensions (technical, economic, social) changes, the other two adapt. In this historical case, the brittonic brewery first of all faces a social change: new religion, new Anglo-Saxon culture, kinglets left to their own devices, the fall of the Roman Empire, lifestyles less centred on urban life and military garrisons.

Which consequences for beer?

The fermented beverage from grains is fought against by the new Christian clergy, for whom it embodies pagan values. At the same time, beer is valued at the table of kings and warriors, the next brotherhoods of knights. Beer is brewed in the shadow of the emerging royal powers, in farming villages and in the heart of the upcoming merchant cities. The ancient Roman cities are abandoned. Meanwhile, the rural communities await their rebirth.

Another chapter opens for the history of beer on the British soil.

Beer definitively loses any role in Christian ceremonies, during which wine is the sacred drink par excellence. But beer is still used in agricultural rituals (harvest festivals, fertility rites, summer and winter solstices, etc.). This link between the beverage of grain and agricultural life is a concern of rural communities, not of the central urban authorities.

But information, whether technical or economic, on brewing during the Anglo-Saxon period is scarce. What kind of cereals for brewing? Which craftsmen? Which commercial channels? Role of women in the local brewery? These questions require further study.


8.2  Sources and bibliography. : the official website on the archaeological excavations and especially the online publication of the tablets discovered at Vindolanda, from n0. 188 to 573. An invaluable, reliable and unavoidable source, apart from the academic publications listed below.

Adams J. N. 1985, The Language of the Vindolanda Writing Tablets: an Interim Report. Journal of Roman Studies 85, 86-134.

Adams J. N. 2003, The New Vindolanda Writing-Tablets. The Classical Quarterly, New Series, 53-2, 530-575

André Jacques 1981, L’alimentation et la cuisine à Rome. Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 2ème édition.

Birley E., Birley R.E., Birley A.R. 1993, Vindolanda Research Reports, New Series, Vol.II, Reports on the auxiliaries, the writing tablets, inscriptions, brands and graffiti. Hexham.

Birley Robin 2005, Vindolanda: extraordinary records of daily life on the northern frontier, Roman Army Museum Publications.

Bowman Alan 1974, Roman Military Records from Vindolanda, Britannia 5, 360-373.

Bowman Alan, Thomas David 1996, New Writing-Tablets from Vindolanda. Britannia 27.

Bowman Alan, Thomas David 2003, The Vindolanda Writing Tablets: (Tabulae Vindolandenses) Volume III.

Davies R. W. 1971, The Roman Military Diet. Britannia 2.

Franklin Simon 2002, Writing, society and culture in early Rus c. 950-1300, 42-45.

Todd Malcolm 1985, The Roman Fort at Bury Barton, Devonshire. Britannia 16.

Beer and drinking manners at the Vindolanda fortArticle 8 of 8