Anglo-Saxon Warriors handout

Anglo-Saxon Warrior

Hlafdige Arastorm aka Tchipakkan ©2008


History:            The Anglo-Saxons arrived in England with the Roman legions as Germanic legionaries.I In the 5th century CE there was a massive migration (invasion) from Northern Europe. Petty kingdoms conquered each other consolidating to 7 then one high king. Mercia became dominant in the mid-7th century, and Wessex in the 8th.  In the 9th & 10th centuries the Saxons fought off Viking attacks. In 1066 Normans invaded .

Terms:             Kings were selected from those of noble blood Æthlings by the Witan, council of elders. The Ealdorman was lord over “hundreds “ or wapentakes (Danelaw), leading 100 or more fighters to battle.

In the 11th c. Eoldormen started being known as Earls,from Danish Jarl.

The warriors who served a king were called thanes.  His closest companions gisith were called the hearth troop or hearthweru.  Eoldormen as well as kings kept such a band. The King’s was differentiated as The King’s Thanes, the hird– later huscarls (paid warriors) served in the hird.

Beyond the hird, there was a standing army of full time fighters called the Select Fyrd,  which consisted of trained and equipped warriors.  The Great Fyrd consisted of all able-bodied free men, who were called up in times of emergency for local defense. Only free men (Ceorls) had the right and duty to fight in the fyrd.  The Select Fyrd  provided a constant trained and mobile force with horses. In the 11th century the Select Fyrd consisted of about three thousand thanes, split between London and Yorkshire. Besides the members of the kings household, there were foreign fighters paid by the king.

Weapons            The spear was the usual weapon for an Anglo-Saxon warrior. Many pictures show them carrying three spears- two in their shield hand (which are presumed to be throwing spears), while the thrusting spear was for closer combat.. Spear shafts varied from 5 to 9 feet long, spearheads from about 7 to 12 inches. Some were pattern welded. The Seax is the signature weapon of the Saxons, just about everyone had one. They ranged frseax_3_by_eblackmoreom as 3 inch blade to the two handed longseax (30 inches). The sharp side was the straight side. The average had about a 6 inch blade. The sword was a prestige weapon. It appears in less than 10% of men’s graves, Only thanes and ealdormen would have swords. Scabbards were made of thin wood, lined with fleece and covered with leather- with metal fittings. During the time of Cnut (and when other Northmen were hired) some huscarls used two handed battle axes. Occasional Frankish throwing axes (francescas) are found.

A knight was expected to have two (or more) spears, two shields, & two horses as well as a helm and sword. It is debated whether the extras were to anticipate breakage, or indicated a follower who would be equipped with them. (I lean toward spare equipment.)

Armor                        Helms, like swords, were rare (although they were probably more common among the select fyrd). The Bentey Grange Helm is the only one of 4  Anglo-Saxon helms to have been discovered in England. Most fighters had no body armor. The thanes and other trained fighting men had mail, but this was only the Select Fyrd. Most men fought in what they wore every day. A mail shirt was incredibly expensive Written descriptions describe that they needed to be repaired mail after every battle implying not all links were riveted.

Shields were round up to the Norman invasion, ranging from a foot to 30 inches across. The handle was in the center covered by a pointed iron boss  The shields were made of thin wood, usually linden, and covered with one or two layers of cowhide They were expected to be replaced after every fight.
Distance weapons consisted of bows and slings. Arrows had 4 fletching and leaf shaped heads- like small spearheads.

Horses were ridden to battles, but fighting was on foot. The basic offensive tactic was charging in a wedge, the basic defensive tactic was the shield wall.

Fighting was a very personal commitment for the Anglo-Saxons. In the Great Fyrd, the levies from each area fought as separate groups, and each band of housecarls or personal band fought around its lord. Kings and ealdormen led their hearthweru personally. The Fyrd was known to have refused to fight if the king wouldn’t lead them. A leader was called ordfuma which means point leader.

it was not common for women to fight, but occasionally they were able leaders of armies.

Hlafdige Arastorm

Aka Tchipakkan

aka Virginia Fair Richards-Taylor                                    2008

feel free to contact me with comments, questions and corrections



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