Review – Living off the Land: agriculture in Wales c.400-1600 AD

3 mins read

Rhiannon Comeau and Andy Seaman (eds)
Windgather Press, £34.99
ISBN 978-1911188391
Review Amy Brunskill

This important publication is the first study of medieval agriculture in Wales to be produced in many years, and as such offers a valuable contribution to a subject that has been far less comprehensively written about than it has in England and Ireland. It sheds more light on the relationship between agricultural development and wider social and political change in Wales during this period.

The editors have compiled a selection of studies that consider the agricultural landscape of Wales, drawing on a conference held in 2016. The discussion begins with several chapters on the broader context, looking at the continuity of the early medieval landscape and transhumance in Britain, and the archaeological evidence for medieval agriculture in Ireland. A discussion of medieval Welsh law gives an insight into agricultural behaviour and practices and sets the scene for the following chapters, which contain regional analyses focusing on different aspects of the medieval agriculture in Wales, from new classifications of field systems to changing ideas about the relationship between agrarian landscapes and political structures. An overview of pollen data across the country gives a wider view and shows that, despite its limitations, this methodology can identify temporal and possible regional variations in Wales. The final chapter reflects on approaches that could be taken in the future.

This book highlights the importance of a multidisciplinary approach in circumventing the long history of under-research and lack of excavations that make the study of medieval agriculture in Wales so difficult. It uses a range of methodologies and sources to present a thorough and well-researched synthesis of the work that has been done and the understanding of the subject in its current state, as well as presenting a point from which future research can be conducted. The work is enhanced by helpful maps, graphs, and other illustrations, and each chapter contains a comprehensive bibliography for those who wish to explore the topic further. This is a detailed and informative synthesis of the recent work on a subject that very much merits such exploration.

This review appeared in CA 358. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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