Part of the reason for agreeing to do The Great East Swim at the weekend was that it would give us the opportunity to visit Sutton Hoo, a group of Anglo-Saxon burials in Suffolk where amazing hordes of treasure were found amid the graves. I heard about these when I studied the Anglo Saxons in my first term at university. I didn't enjoy studying them at first, I found it all quite impenetrable, given that I had predominantly been studying Hitler and Stalin for the past two years. Despite the fact that my father is a medieval historian, I had little interest in such early history, although I think this was part of a conscious desire that if I was going to follow in his footsteps and go to Oxford to read history, I would do it differently from him.
However, one book made the period accessible and converted me to the wonders of the Anglo Saxon world. This was The Anglo Saxons by James Campbell who is perhaps one of the foremost Anglo-Saxon historians. The book is lavishly illustrated and extremely readable; it synthesises much of Campbell's other work on the period and makes it understandable. However, I think that the book is worth buying for the wonderful photographs alone. The photograph on the cover is part of the armour dug up at Sutton Hoo.
We didn't actually make it to Sutton Hoo in the end as we decided we'd rather come home and sleep in our own beds after the swim, but it should still be there next year, and I'm glad that planning to visit that area of the country made me get this book off the shelf. Plus, it was quite timely to revisit the Anglo Saxons given the news reports of the discovery of an Anglo Saxon hoard in Staffordshire. This is really exciting, and I hope that the treasure will eventually be on display in the British museum.
PS: If you are interested in the Anglo-Saxons, then another must-read is this, Asser's Life of King Alfred the Great (the one who burnt the cakes (perhaps if a bake of the week goes wrong I will write about him)) - it is the account of the great medieval king written in 893 by a monk. It is hagiography for sure, but that in itself is interesting because it tells us about what people were writing about (and reading!) in the 9th century.