People living in Anglo-Saxon England were turned off the idea of eating horses once they became Christian as they believed it was 'pagan' food, argues a new research paper.
The finding appears in the latest issue of the Oxford Journal of Archaeology, produced by Oxford University's Institute of Archaeology. The research is based on animal bone data from settlement sites in Anglo-Saxon England that shows that although horses were largely available to all, horse meat was rarely eaten.
Professor Helena Hamerow, from Oxford University's Institute of Archaeology who is a leading expert on early Anglo-Saxon England communities, said, "This is an important paper that shows how far back in history the aversion to eating horses seems to go amongst the English.
"Although the custom of eating horse flesh appears to have been widespread in early medieval Northern Europe and early Anglo-Saxons on occasion consumed horse, it disappeared from the diet after the conversion, as church authorities tried to undermine the habit."
Christianity was reintroduced to England at the end of the 6th century and for around 200 years pagan and Christian practices co-existed. However, at the end of the 8th century, a taboo around horse meat developed due to attempts to standardise Christian beliefs and practices, suggests the paper.
It argues that the Romans had viewed the eating of horse flesh as "pagan" and this view was incorporated into the early teachings of the Catholic Church.