Feasting the Dead

Feasting the Dead: Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon Burial Rituals

Christina Lee
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 202
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt9qdmcb
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  • Book Info
    Feasting the Dead
    Book Description:

    Anglo-Saxons were frequently buried with material artefacts, ranging from pots to clothing to jewellery, and also with items of food, while the funeral ritual itself was frequently marked by feasting, sometimes at the graveside. The book examines the place of food and feasting in funerary rituals from the earliest period to the eleventh century, considering the changes and transformations that occurred during this time, drawing on a wide range of sources, from archaeological evidence to the existing texts. It looks in particular at representations of funerary feasting, how it functions as a tool for memory, and sheds light on the relationship between the living and the dead. CHRISTINA LEE is a lecturer in the School of English Studies at the University of Nottingham.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-542-0
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    What is it that makes us human? Answers to this question vary among theologians, archaeologists and anthropologists. Is it the upright gait, which frees our hands to operate tools? Some animals, too, use implements to gain access to foodstuffs, and certainly a few of the human ancestors were already bipedal. Is it communication? In that case we have to concede that bees, birds and other creatures also communicate with one another. Yet there are two things for sure that differentiate humans from animals. The first is the ability for abstraction that allows us to use symbols in language, art and...

  7. 1 Eorðan wæstmas: a Feast for the Living
    (pp. 17-50)

    It may perhaps seem a little unusual to begin a study on food in the mortuary rituals of the Anglo-Saxons with an examination of agriculture and foods available to living populations. However, food served on special occasions, such as wakes, may have been radically different from the everyday meals consumed in the homes of the Anglo-Saxons. To understand the value of food and feasting in the funerary culture of the Anglo-Saxons it is necessary to take stock of the kind of victuals that could have been part of such a ritual. If, for example, the species pattern found in graves...

  8. 2 Bare Bones: Animals in Cemeteries
    (pp. 51-71)

    The treasures found with pagan graves have fascinated for a long time.¹ In contrast, the post-Conversion period used to be the poor relation of Anglo-Saxon burial archaeology. There are comparatively fewer sites and even fewer objects, which make dating and classification difficult. However, in recent years scholars, including Dawn Hadley, Victoria Thompson and Andrew Reynolds, have successfully combined evidence from material culture and written sources for the study of burial practices in late Anglo-Saxon England.² The archaeological evidence from burial places and funerary rites in the post-Conversion transition period seems to suggest that there was little change. Historians, however, assume...

  9. 3 Pots, Buckets and Cauldrons: the Inventory of Feasting
    (pp. 72-86)

    Containers such as buckets, pots and occasionally glass vessels have been found in many Anglo-Saxon graves. Vessels may have been added to cremation pyres as well, with a minimum of 93 cremations from Spong Hill containing refired Saxon potsherds, as well as some glass vessels.¹ Such objects must have had, at least at some stage, a connection with food and drink, even if their meaning may have become more diffuse by the time they became part of the Anglo-Saxon burial rite. Pottery and containers made from other materials are generally counted in different categories and are examined under separate headings....

  10. 4 Last Orders?
    (pp. 87-103)

    Ample evidence for food deposits, cooking gear and even possible hearths is found in early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries. Vessels and bones may represent symbolic aspects of the deceased person’s status, which was part of the mortuary display, but in some cases these are not found on the body, but in the backfill of the grave. These may be the remains of feasting, which took place either prior to the funeral, or even in the graveyard itself. Feasting may have been part of a transition ritual, in which the dead provided for the living (by bequeathing them succession and status) and the...

  11. 5 The Grateful Dead: Feasting and Memory
    (pp. 104-125)

    Guy halsall has used the expression ‘scene-making’, borrowed from Virgina Woolf,¹ to describe the mnemonic value of burial displays. He associated ‘scene-making’ with the rituals that occur around Merovingian burials and which serve to enhance the family’s standing in the memory of those who participated in the funeral. The burial takes on an act of performance, with the translation of the body from the home to the grave field, feasting around the grave, and the display of goods. The distribution of food and drink in this context is a form of gift-giving.²

    The remains of animal bone and vessels found...

  12. 6 Feasting Between the Margins
    (pp. 126-145)

    Other then religious obligations, such as masses and prayers, there is scant information how the Anglo-Saxons mourned their dead. After the Conversion most information on death rituals comes via text sources, which are highly selective and eclectic in what they choose to transmit. The funeral of Edgar, for example, is described in theAnglo-Saxon Chronicle, but his wake or a funeral feast is not. The eleventh-century illustratedHexateuch(BL, Cotton Claudius B.iv) shows the death of several biblical figures, their shrouding and the sadness of their relatives, but no feast or burial rite. The depiction of common practice, unfortunately, is...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 146-148)

    Food and feasting played an important part in the funerary rites of the Anglo-Saxons, yet not every bone denotes a feast and not every structure in a graveyard indicates acella memoriae. The spacing, sequence and dating of such features are important, and the complexities of feasting in the context of mortuary rites should not be underestimated. I hope to have made a case for a more detailed analysis of animal bone and other food deposits in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries. At the end of the book some questions remain open, such as who exactly was feasted and to what purpose. It...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 149-170)
  15. Index
    (pp. 171-176)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 177-178)