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The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle by Michael Swanton
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The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

by Michael Swanton (Translator)

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”The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle” is a collective name for a series of manuscripts recording English history in “annals” form; for each year, a notable event gets listed. For example:


809. Here the sun grew dark at the beginning of the fifth hour of the day, on 16th July, on Tuesday, the 29th day of the moon.


There are five manuscripts known, a couple of fragments, and some derivative texts (Asser’s Life of Alfred , for example). The manuscripts can be related in sort of a cladogram; a copying error in a manuscript is the equivalent of a biological mutation and gets passed on to subsequent generations. The analogy isn’t quite exact; at least on of the manuscripts was apparently prepared by copying from two sources, so branches of the tree merge after separating.


Since the Chronicles were prepared by clergy, most of the significant yearly events are consecrations of bishops, dedications of churches, etc. However, of interest to me were scattered astronomical observations (like the one quoted above), and I spent an afternoon setting up the various events and running them with astronomy software. This has been done before, of course, but it was still fun.


I was intrigued to find that some of the early solar eclipses, notably the eclipse of February 25 538 and June 20 540, were only partial in England, despite being described as total in the Chronicles. For example, for the 540 eclipse:


Here on 20 June the sun grew dark and stars appeared for well-nigh half an hour after nine A.M.”

From London, this eclipse was only about 40% partial; however, it was total from Rome. That would suggest that at least part of the Chronicles were originally prepared elsewhere and perhaps brought to England by some of the earlier missionaries. It also seems like different chroniclers paid a different amount of notice to astronomical events; most of the eclipses for the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries are mentioned, but there’s none at all in the 11th century; perhaps everybody was to busy trying to stay one jump ahead of Danes, Norse and Normans to worry about minor things like the sun going out.


Most astronomical events other than eclipses can’t be assigned to specific phenomena. (The famous mention of Halley’s Comet before the 1066 battle of Hastings is an exception). The chroniclers apparently thought there was only one comet, that appeared from time to time to presage some disaster (the word “disaster” derives from “bad star”). Meteors are mentioned from time to time, as are what are probably auroras (usually as some sort of light in the north, although this could also be noctilucent clouds). IIRC mention of auroras in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was used to establish that the sunspot cycle existed before the Maunder Minimum.


Given interest in climate change, I looked for annals related to that; there are some but they are generally equivocal. For example, “This was the year of the bad winter” doesn’t tell you if the winter was unusually cold or unusually snowy or unusually long.


This version presents all the manuscripts in parallel; i.e. a few pages from the Winchester manuscript followed by the same few years from the Canterbury manuscript followed by the same few years from the Peterborough manuscript, etc. This makes it easy to track the differences between the versions but hard to get a general flow of narrative; I suppose you can’t have both. There are nice maps of England and northern France, plus extensive genealogical tables. ( )
  setnahkt | Dec 20, 2017 |
Essential for students of British history ( )
  Rhohanin61 | Mar 18, 2008 |
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(Dedication to the Michael Swanton edition:)

To my family and friends I am perpetually indepted. If this edition needs a dedication then it should be to the saints and demons of the word processor. It seems to be a truism of our times that while to err may be human, to really louse things up takes a computer.
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Preface (to the Michael Swanton edition):

This book's immediate predecessor, the edition and translation of the late Professor Garmonsway published by J. M. Dent in Everyman's Library in 1953, served several generations of historians and students of literature not yet familiar with the original language but needing an entrée to this most remarkable of early texts.
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Editions by different translators should not be combined, as they will have made a different selection from the various original texts available.

Particularly, do not combine the translations by Rev. James Ingram, G. N. Garmonsway, Anne Savage, or Michael Swanton, as they differ significantly.

Also, do not combine this complete translation with the selection of short extracts edited by Swanton, "An Anglo Saxon Chronicle" in the Exeter Medieval Texts series.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0415921295, Paperback)

The first continuous national history of any western people in their own language, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle traces the history of early England from the migration of the Saxon war-lords, through Roman Britain, the onslaught of the Vikings, the Norman Conquest and on through the reign of Stephen.

Michael Swanton's translation is the most complete and faithful reading ever published. Extensive notes draw on the latest evidence of paleographers, archaeologists and textual and social historians to place these annals in the context of current knowledge. Fully indexed and complemented by maps and genealogical tables, this edition allows ready access to one of the prime sources of English national culture. The introduction provides all the information a first-time reader could need, cutting an easy route through often complicated matters. Also includes nine maps.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:37 -0400)

"The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is the first continuous national history of any western people in their own language. Compiled over several centuries, it traces the migration of Saxon warlords to Roman Britain, their gradual development of a settled society and conversion to Christianity, the onslaught of the Vikings and then the Norman Conquest. It continued to be written long after the last Saxon king was dead, and goes on to describe atrocities perpetrated by the barons during the reign of Stephen." "Professor Swanton's translation is the most complete and faithful reading ever published. Extensive notes draw on the latest evidence of paleographers, archaeologists, and textual and social historians to place these annals in the context of current knowledge. The introduction provides all the information a first-time reader could need, cutting an easy route through often complicated matters. Fully indexed and complemented by maps and genealogical tables, this edition allows ready access to one of the prime sources of English national culture."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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