Book Review – The Mead Hall

Stephen Pollington’s “The Mead Hall: The Feasting Tradition in Anglo-Saxon England” is a fascinating read.

Using Old English texts, including Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Pollington explains the importance of communal meals and how they shaped early English society. This is backed up with archaeological evidence showing how halls were structured, what their feasting gear looked like and where it has been found.

The book explores the feasting rituals that created bonds of community, the seating plans that showed each person their place in society, the gift giving that created bonds of obligation as well as friendship and the symbel that gave a formal structure to drinking including toasts to the gods and making pledges to the community.

More than anything the book connects the meadhall with the role of the jarl, it reveals what was expected from the leader of the community and how he was responsible for the physical and spiritual wellbeing of his warband.

Jarl Ragnar from Odin's Aett Viking Reenactment at Iceni Meadery Peterborough September 2020
Our jarl doesn’t look too worried by all the responsibility

As you would expect from Stephen Pollington the book is immaculately researched and referenced. The level of detail is exemplary and I particularly enjoyed the poetry of his translations of the source material. It would be worth buying just for the appendixes. It is always a pleasure to read the work of someone who not only really knows their subject but also has a flair for making it interesting while explaining it.

It may seem odd for a “Viking” Reenactor to be posting reviews on books about Anglo Saxon society, but they were contemporary cultures living alongside each other and there is a lot of overlap between the two. This is a highly recommended read for anyone who has an interest in the dark ages.

The Meadhall is published by Anglo Saxon Books, and is just one of many excellent books they offer. If you’re thinking of buying go direct, they’re usually cheaper than Amazon or equivalent.

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