The main focus for Iron Age Britain involved agriculture and survival. However this didn’t mean there wasn’t any time to take part in games, sports, challenges and generally enjoy life.
Many of the past times were social, having various forms of entertainment at festivals, markets and weddings.
Sport was prominent as it brought that basic competitive nature and gave those who weren’t taking part a chance to bet on the winner. Swimming was the main sport of the day, a simple routine with a minimum of rules. It would have agreeable to try and drown your opposition to win. Water endurance tasks, such as wearing heavy items of clothing and holding your breathe for as long as possible would have acted as an alternative to a swimming racing.
Running races was another staple of sport during the Iron Age. Often running would involve carrying a heavy item, like a suit of armour or an animal to the make the task more endurable. For the real macho, wrestling was also a favourable past time for Anglo Saxon Britons. But of course there were no rules in those days, so occasionally the fight would end with either broken or dislocated limbs, and in more rare cases fatalities.
For children growing up, it wouldn’t have been unheard of for them to go hunting with the elders as a form of survival training. An educational experience which progressed into a sport to hunt a rare or wild animal such a bore of deer. The pay off would be the feast at the end of the day. This can still be seen in today’s culture through today’s sport of fishing.
For the more academic members of Iron Age Britain games were invented. Some which are even played today in one form or another for example chess and backgammon. These involved strategy and thinking ahead of your opponent. However it’s been unclear as to whether chess came before or after the Iron Age, but I think it’s clear the idea and the rules were in the making during the time. Dice based games were also prominent, but instead using dice knuckle bones from pigs were used. The diversity of these would mean virtually any sort of game could be formed within 2 or three members.
Another social past time was music and storytelling. Stories were often told of ancient heroes such as Beowulf and the Norse. A tale which still survives today. In those days, other than raw imagination story telling came from reality. Old war stories and fables which changed like Chinese whispers, however as the old saying goes, there’s no smoke without fire. The ability to spin a story was highly regarded to the point where professional story tellers known as “Scops” would roam the land going from village to village to tell tales for money or food. Singing and dancing was also another well sought after skill with one or two entertainers known as “Gleemen” again travelling the country entertaining the villagers. There was no radio or television in those days, everything was live! Archaeological digs have found evidence that whistles were formed out of bones, along with horns and pipes. Ancient literature has also revealed that some sort of a harp or other string based instruments were crudely put together along with some sort of a drum.
Where there’s music, there’s dancing. Social gatherings such as weddings would invite musicians to play and make the occasion go down well. Which is not much different from today’s. The only difference is that it is unknown what the music would have been like during the Iron Age as the instruments have deteriorated with time.
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