Think Times Are Tough? Try The Recession Of 410-1100

Cheer up! Sure, you may be unemployed. The bank may be close to foreclosing on your home. And other creditors are circling like vultures to make sure they get a piece of your hide before you declare bankruptcy or go underground. But at least you don’t have to deal with a complete collapse of all commerce, no infrastructure to speak of and the total loss of all skilled labor. Of course, as long as you weren’t covered in sh*t, you were probably doing OK.

According to FT:

In this year [410] Rome was sacked, and the empire gave up trying to defend Britain. While this marks the glorious beginnings of “English history”, as Anglo-Saxon barbarians began their inexorable conquest of lowland Britain, it was also the start of a recession that puts all recent crises in the shade. …

For about 300 years, from around AD 420, Britain’s economy functioned without coin.

Core manufacturing declined in a similar way. … From the early fifth century, and for about 250 years, the potter’s wheel – that most basic tool, which enables thin-walled and smoothly finished vessels to be made in bulk – disappeared altogether from Britain. The only pots remaining were shaped by hand, and fired, not in kilns as in Roman times, but in open ‘clamps’ (a smart word for a pile of pots in a bonfire). …

For two or three hundred years, beginning at the start of the fifth century, the economy of Britain reverted to levels not experienced since well before the Roman invasion of AD 43. The most startling features of the fifth-century crash are its suddenness and its scale. … It is impossible to say with any confidence when Britain finally returned to levels of economic complexity comparable to those of the highest point of Roman times, but it might be as late as around the year 1000 or 1100. If so, the post-Roman recession lasted for 600-700 years.

Before you start gloating, however, FT adds this little warning:

The more complex an economy is, the more fragile it is, and the more cataclysmic its disintegration can be. Our economy is, of course, in a different league of complexity to that of Roman Britain. Our pottery and metal goods are likely to have been made, not many miles away, but on the other side of the globe, while our main medium of exchange is electronic, and sometimes based on smoke and mirrors. If our economy ever truly collapses, the consequences will make fifth-century Britain seem like a picnic.

At least we won’t have to put up with demands for shrubbery as we make our way through our collapsed countryside.

Call this a recession? At least it isn’t the Dark Ages [ via Business Insider]


Edit Your Comment

  1. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    I remember hearing Larry King relate stories about how he and Andy Rooney made it through that recession.

  2. ktetch says:

    Silly English Kkkkkk-niggots!* raspberry*

    Oh wait, crap, I AM English….

    • ktetch says:

      Oh, and just think of the boon to the swamp-based castle industry during that time!

    • katia802 says:

      I’m part French. That means I can say “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries!”

      • thisistobehelpful says:

        FETCHEZ LA VACHE! Favorite line.

      • ktetch says:

        oh no, not that ‘part this’ and ‘part that’ you yankees love to do. I SWEAR there are more people claiming to be Irish, or German, or than could be accounted for with an entire continent of randy buggers.

        When I say I’m English, I mean I have the accent, the education certificates, the lot!

        Seriously though, You really have to wonder about the mindset that most Americans go “well I’m part . You don’t see Queen Lizzy going “well, I’m part German, donchaknow” Or prince Charley talking about his Greek half. I think Greg McHugh got it spot on in his sitcom “Gary:Tank Commander” when he has an American Army General supposedly come to do NATO stuff, but spends the entire time trying to get to his “Scottish roots” (

        • echovictorecho says:

          We do this because we have no native culture of our own (besides the ones we forcibly eradicated) and feel the need to point to our forebears to explain our behavior, like my Irish-German friend who gets wasted very, very efficiently.

        • MsAnthropy says:

          A friend of mine (an American one, obviously – whose parents were both born in the US, and who has lived the whole of his life in New Jersey) will tell anyone who’ll listen, with a totally straight face, something to the effect of “I’m a quarter English, a quarter German, one-eighth Swedish, one-eighth Italian, one-eight Dutch, and one-eighth Irish” (I forget the exact proportions of each nationality)… uhhh, no, you’re American, dear. American.

    • diasdiem says:

      You see what you did now, Marc Perton? Thanks to that last line of yours, this page is going to be nothing but Monty Python quotes.

      • ktetch says:

        actually, there was one before that, the ‘covered in sh*t’ line, from an early scene just before meeting Dennis, the 37yo man who is NOT an old woman

      • kaceetheconsumer says:

        It was gonna be anyway from the pic alone.

        There’s a lovely bit of filth over here…

  3. StatusfriedCrustomer says:

    Back then, people wouldn’t put up with scammers – if you went to buy a potting wheel and found out that they had all been “optimized” and cost more, you’d say no thanks. Took merchants 700 years to get the message, but from 1100-1980 you could by anything you wanted with no fees, automatic monthly charges, bait and switches, or any other scams.

    • Noir says:

      only if you were a free person

    • OletheaEurystheus says:

      and then there was that whole if they did catch you, you got drawn and quartered if you were lucky thing.

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      I think you’re forgetting the gypsies. And the church.

      • failurate says:

        2 for 1 plenary indulgences. And if you call in the next 10 minutes, I’ll throw in a free pebble from Jesus’ tomb! His corpse might have leaked fluids onto this very pebble… psych! He’d risen you filthy non-believer! Call now!

    • David in Brasil says:

      Oh, and you didn’t *buy* the potter’s wheel – you bought a license to use it. And you could only use it on certain kinds of clay, that you had to buy from the wheel manufacturer. And you couldn’t use the wheel to make just any kind of pot; you had to buy a special kind of wheel to make vases, for example. And if you looked at someone else’s pot and made a copy of it, you were accused of “theft by piracy”, and fined a ruinous sum. And the wheel manufacturers would cover parts of the mechanism with a wooden box to hide them from view; if you broke open the box to see how it was made, then you had circumvented their protection measures, and would rot in jail as a result. …. there – I think that’s a pretty good analogy, don’t you think?

  4. aguacarbonica says:

    Count me in wholeheartedly to a future of hot transgenics. Jessica Alba? Jared Ackles? How do we speed up the collapse of western civilization?

  5. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    thinking of this sort of thing, i am, very very glad that i really DO often “make my own at home”
    of course, i can’t make my own insulin at home so when the zombies come knocking i’ll be the first one thrown out the window

    • cash_da_pibble says:

      I very much feel the same way.
      If the apocalypse comes I’ll try and fight, but hell- I’m not going to kid myself.
      I’m probably going to be one of the first to go.

    • xaositects says:

      insulin keeps for a pretty good amount of time. Just make sure you have ice blocks in your freezer. When the zombies take a break, bury the insulin in the ground deep enough to keep it below the optimal temp long enough and you’ll e able to survive a little longer. Also, being sparing on your carb intake and exercising often can keep your BG low and make your insulin last longer. Finally, make a list now of all the facilities where research is going on toward a cure for type 1. In the event of catastrophe, make your way to the closest one and see what they had learned. They might even have a possible cure (in mice.) Without insulin, you’ll die soon anyway, so it’s worth a shot. Sure beats slowly dying as your body eats itself. I’m in the same boat, but I have some ideas.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        hehe, i have three freezers, live on a river and know how to make a spring house. but i can’t cut down on the carb intake, with gastroparesis i can only eat simple carbs. hunting and gathering are now out of the picture for survival techniques.
        and i’m involved with clinical trials at a teaching university to work toward either a cure or an artificial pancreas.
        here’s hoping, right?

  6. tedyc03 says:

    Oh, and a hearty “happy holidays” to you too, Consumerist!

  7. failurate says:

    How the hell do you just give up on the potter’s wheel?

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      i tried to make my own potter’s wheel at home once out of bicycle parts. it was surprisingly difficult even with premade gears and chains. i can imagine people with no skills in this giving up pretty easily on something that would take all their free time to make when they could just make slightly leaky, ugly, functional pinch pots and harden them in a beehive style kiln [pack clay over wet sand, let it harden, scrape out the sand, fill it with fire.]

      • failurate says:

        Pedal powered potter’s wheel, sounds like an easy enough concept.
        Then I looked at a few patent drawings for pedal powered potter’s wheels. Wow. Good luck with that.
        I would probably just drink whatever I could hold in my hands.

        • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

          well i was also 14. my mom kind of had a fit the third time i took the skin off a knuckle and threw my parts away

  8. Fineous K. Douchenstein says:

    You must cut down the mightiest tree in the forest….


  9. TommyTutone says:

    Of course you had to make sure the leeches you used weren’t contaminated by lead from China.

  10. Vastarien202 says:

    Look, strange peoples living in tribes, distributing death is no basis for a wrecked economy!
    Supreme buying power derives from the value of the market, not some farcical barbaric invasion!

  11. Cameraman says:

    When the zombies come, I plan on killing my neighbor and taking all his stuff.

    You know. For practice.

    Who runs Barter Town? *I* effing run Barter Town.

  12. admiral_stabbin says:

    I see no mention of derivatives trading in the article. What kind of “Dark Ages” were they running back then? A half-arsed one, I know that much… ;-)

  13. Blueskylaw says:

    Most people also never traveled more than 10 miles (I believe) from their village so they never had the pleasure of running into a Walmart receipt checker or paying $30 to check one of their bags (or overstuffed sheep intestines) on an airline.

    Yes sir, the simple life for me.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      but… but… but… there were NO TAUNTAUN SLEEPING BAGS!
      what kind of life is that?

    • TouchMyMonkey says:

      You know what happens when airlines start charging to check bags? People start bringing maximum-size carry-ons instead, many of which are on wheels. It now takes twice as long to get on and off an airplane because of all these people taking forever to get these big-ass carry-ons in and out of the overhead bins. We even had flight attendants asking people with smaller carry-ons, like laptop cases, to make room for the wheeled carry-ons by putting them under the seat.

  14. twophrasebark says:

    I remember this. They started serving grog in a much smaller bowl and advertising they hadn’t reduced the price. I said “You shrink-rayed this my lord.”

    And the lord was like “What thouest is a shrink ray.”

    So I tried to explain about how in future days men would communicate through great tubes of and they all starting screaming “Burn the witch! Burn the witch!”

    Then they put me in the stockade for a year. And the grog was still in a smaller bowl.

  15. Gtmac says:

    And all of this was well before the Magna Carta outlawed Mandatory Binding (sans arbitration).

  16. dorianh49 says:

    One day, son, all of this will be yours.

    • Gtmac says:

      What, the curtains?

      • RecordStoreToughGuy_RidesTheWarpOfSpaceIntoTheWombOfNight says:

        No, not the curtains, lad!

      • Smashville says:

        When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built in all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. And that’s what you’re going to get, Lad, the strongest castle in all of England.

        (Skipped ahead because the next line wasn’t funny.)

  17. Smashville says:

    Maybe we’ll confuse it by running away more!

  18. Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

    I love it…this is the best…wait…

    there’s a recession??

  19. raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

    Oh man, Medieval Lives was a great series, I keep hoping to run across more on Netflix.

  20. thisistobehelpful says:

    But at least I could trade potatoes to see the doctor!

    • Blueskylaw says:

      Who then bled you with leeches and made you drink wine boiled in a lead pot.

    • kaceetheconsumer says:

      Nope, they weren’t brought back to Europe until the 1500s. And even then most people thought they were poisonous for awhile so your doctor might have just thwapped you over the head with ’em.

  21. Daemon Xar says:

    Sadly, instead of men with bows, swords, and cow-catapults, we now have people with assault rifles, grenade launchers, and light artillery.

    Bring on the cow-catapult. Fetchez la vasche!

  22. SaraFimm says:

    Can I get a Vorpal Rabbit for Christmas? I’ll train it to kill pillagers and zombies.

  23. Paladin_11 says:

    Hey, I’m ready. It’s time to party like it’s 1099…

  24. vesper says:

    That’s silly, just silly. Enough with the whole lot of you.

  25. Elcheecho says:

    I didn’t know they had libraries in every town in Dark Age Britain.

  26. Chuck Norris' wig says:

    Depending on how the elections of 2010 and 2012 go, we might be right back there again.

  27. Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

    I went on an archaeological dig as a vacation along Hadrian’s Wall. One of the things we learned is that along the center of the wall, they didn’t return to Roman levels of quality-of-life until the 1800s!!!

    Sorry to interrupt all the Monty Python jokes. But it was the awesomest vacation ever!

  28. mariospants says:

    Not to mention that there were prohibitions until something like the 1600s limiting the working class from owning land or working/earning over poverty-level amounts.