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Mark Talbot: Bloody, yes, but freedom flourished in the Dark Ages


If you are getting tired of the nanny state and endless instruction of how to live your life safely and without hurting the feelings of people you have never met, the 11th Century is for you. The only people you needed to avoid upsetting are those who could fight better than you. The 55 people in the Viking grave had got that wrong. The penalty was not a tribunal or trial by media, it was a horrid ritual death.

The 11th Century saw far more of the population responsible for their own personal survival than modern Britain. If I wanted my family to eat I would generally need to grow crops but I would also know how to start a fire, what time of year to sow seed, how to store food for the bleak winter, and how to care for health of my livestock and my family. Yes, there was a ruling class and traders, but that was a small proportion of the population. In our re-enactment society, I hold the rank of Silver Thegn – a favoured position within the King's protection. I would have held land and been quite rich but still have faced a daily struggle to survive.

The only people who would have told you how to live were the priests. Regardless of whether you were a Christian Saxon or a pagan Viking, you would have had some basic rules and regulations, some of which were really very cruel in their penalty.

The nanny state wasn't there, though, when you had to build your own house, corral your livestock, or move on because someone bigger and more fierce took a shining to your land.

In The Vikings we hold public events showing what the 11th Century probably looked like – our involvement with experimental archaeology and faithful reproduction of surviving artefacts allow us a look back into the Dark Ages. We have craftsmen, warriors, and temporary encampments which have to make sense of archaeological items and what sparse written evidence survives.

I would have liked to have lived in the 11th Century because I would know more about myself and my environment than I do in this well-educated, environmentally savvy 21st Century we call home.

Mark Talbot is a member of the UK's largest and oldest Dark Age re-enactment group, The Vikings