EBK Activity Sheets


British & Saxon Slaves
They worked the hardest

Anglo-Saxon Slave -  Nash Ford Publishing
  • Like the Romans, the British and the Anglo-Saxons had lots of slaves. A slave was a person who was the property of another person. They were thought of as objects rather than people and could be bought and sold.

  • A slave was called a 'caeth' in Brythonic and a 'theow' or 'thrall' in Old English. They could be men, women or children.

  • Most of the people in a village could be slaves. They probably lived in small houses or grub huts, several slaves to one room.

  • Slaves had to do what their masters (owners) said. Most of them would have worked very hard.

  • Most slaves worked in the fields looking after crops and animals. They didn't get any wages although more skilled slaves, like craftsmen, might.

  • They weren't allowed to leave or get a job somewhere else. If they ran away and were caught, they would be executed.

  • Saxon owners could do what they liked with their slaves. They  were allowed to beat them or even kill them if they wanted to (King Alfred later put a stop to this). But in British areas, slaves could claim compensation (money) if they were treated badly.

  • The British and the Saxons both had different grades of slave; and they were allowed their own possessions, but not weapons.

  • Most slaves in the Saxon kingdoms were British and most slaves in the British kingdoms were Saxon. They were usually the families of soldiers killed in battle or peasants from raided villages, like St. Patrick. The English word for the British was 'wealh' (Welsh). This can mean both foreigner and slave. 

  • But slaves in Saxon areas could be Saxon and, in British areas, they could be British, because the kingdoms were always fighting each other. Criminals or people in debt could also be made into slaves.

  • Slaves could be freed in an owner's will or in a temple or church. This is called 'manumission'. The British wrote manumission documents in gospel books, like the Lichfield Gospel.

  • The slave trade was big in Britain. Bristol (Wessex) and Corbridge (Northumbria) became important slavery centres. Many slaves were sold abroad, particularly in Rouen (France).


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