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Sample text

Livestock were smaller than their Roman predecessors and far smaller than their modern descendants; and meat and milk yields were much lower. Most labour was manual, repetitive, often arduous and usually monotonous. Communications were relatively primitive, both for goods and for people. Long-distance bulk transport was only economic by water, but rivers were affected by freezing and drought, while sea travel was at the mercy of wind, waves and tides. Horses were used for power and as pack animals for transport, as well as for military service and pleasure.

Durable and effective control of much of Britain was, however, beyond the capability of any one of the kingdoms. Wessex rejected Mercian protection in 802; Mercia was weakened in the 820s by conflict in Wales and dynastic feuds; and in 825, after defeating the Mercians at Wroughton, Egbert of Wessex conquered Kent, Essex, Surrey and Sussex. Mercia followed in 829 but was soon independent again. Thus, there was little sign of political unification. There were faint indications of a sense of national identity: the canons of the Synod of Hertford (672) were issued for and applied to the whole English Church, and Bede, a Northumbrian monk, wrote his Ecclesiastical History of the English People in 731.

Upland areas such as the Pennines, the backbone of northern England, have not served as centres of political power. For most of English and Scottish history wealth and influence have been disproportionately present in the south and east. Wales clearly shows the consequences of terrain and climate. It is largely mountainous: 60 per cent of the surface area is above the 2 A HISTORY OF THE BRITISH ISLES 200-metre line. Until nineteenth-century bridge-building and tunnelling, such terrain acted as an effective brake on communications: the natural links in Wales run east-west, not north-south, and this has had historical and political implications over the centuries.

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