The Heroic Age

Issue 6

Spring 2003

Personal equipment and fighting techniques among the Anglo-Saxon population in northern Europe during the early Middle Ages.

By Paolo de Vingo


Notes and Bibliography


1. Throughout this text the term iron is used according to the old lexicon, but in the strict sense of the word. Indeed there are no actual "irons", save the natural ones (very rare), but only alloys of iron and carbon, technically known as mild and hard "steels".

2. Brooks 1999, 46. Although it has always been improperly identified as a tapestry, it is an embroidery. The item was made by Anglo-Saxon embroiders, probably in Canterbury between 1066 and 1082. It was commissioned by Odo, earl of Kent and Bishop of Bayeux (as well as half-brother of William the Conqueror), in order to celebrate the Norman conquest of England and the preparing events, especially emphasizing the role played by Odo himself. The Bayeux Tapestry is an historical record, but it is to be interpreted with great caution. Anyway, it is a social history evidence of unmatched importance, for it provides a detailed picture of contemporary lifestyle, objects and costume (Dodwell 1992, 263-264).

3. The term "mail" has been dividing scholars. Two interpretations are acknowledged today which distinguish two different types of mail. In the Anglo-Saxon version, the term only referred to the mail of iron links, corresponding to the examples mentioned in the text, whereas the French version was made by joining steel plates, scales or disks. Anyway, the question of the relationship between historical and current lexicon should be considered each time in its documentary, historical and chronological contexts (Boccia 1991, 461).

4. Underwood 1999, 24. The role of the barbs is largely debated and there are opposing opinions concerning their precise aim. It is not definitely sure that their configuration had been designed in order to prevent the weapon from being pulled out once it would penetrate the body of the enemy. The point, in fact, was very long compared to its piercing index and once it had penetrated till the short barbs of the ferrule, it would be very difficult to pull it out quickly in order to use it again. Therefore, it is likely that such barbs were designed to parry or ward off a blow of the enemy (Boccia 1991, 493).

5. Isidore of Seville ascribes its use especially to the Franks populations: "...Quas et Hispano ab usu Francorum per derivationem Franciscas vocant....." (Tomei 1991, 497).

6. Infact a man with a sling is shown hunting birds on the lower margin of the tapestry (Underwood 1999, 38).

7. In the History of the Franks he writes that the Frankish King Sigibert was assassinated in the seventh century by men who ".....cultris validis quos vulgo scramasaxos vocant....".

8. The laws passed by the Lombard King Rotari in 643 set principles opposed to what has been said above. They forbade such a settlement of quarrels, and provided for the payment of a sum to be given as compensation. The latter was based on the concept that everybody had their own economic assessment, depending on their social status.

9. Underwood 1999, 28. The composite bow had greater power than the longbow and could penetrate armour at 100 metres. This bow had a core of wood, backed with layers of siney and plated on the inside with horn, the whole glued together with a type of animal adhesive (Laing 2000, 130).

10. There are around forty longbows from the deposit at Nydam, Jutland. They are made of yew, with strings in notches near the ends, and stave ends are tipped with ferrule of iron or antler (Laing 2000, 131).


Boccia, L. (1991) "Armamento difensivo" In Enciclopedia dell'Arte Medievale. edited by Maria Angiola Romanini, II, Milano: Arti Grafiche Ricordi, 460-471.

Brooks, P. (1999) "Arms and Armour" In The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England. edited by M.Lapidge, J.Blair, S.Keynes and Donald Scragg, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 45-47.

Cenni, A. (1997) L'arco e gli arcieri nell'Italia Medievale. Bologna: Greentime Srl.

Contamine, P. (1986) La guerra nel Medioevo. Bologna: Il Mulino.

Dodwell, C.R. (1992) "Ricamo di Bayeux" In Enciclopedia dell'Arte Medievale. edited by A.Maria Romanini, III, Milano: Arti Grafiche Ricordi, 263-264

Keynes, S. (1995) "England, 700-900" In The New Cambridge Medieval History, edited by Rosamond McKitterick, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 18-42.

Laing, J. (2000) Warriors of the Dark Ages. Phoenix Mill: Sutton Publishing Limited.

Nicolle, D. (1999) Medieval Warfare Source Book: Warfare in western Christendom. London: Brockhampton Press.

Picard, J.-C. (1989) Cristianizzazione e pratiche funerarie. edited by G.Cantino Wataghin, Torino: Torino University Press, 7-63.

Pollington, S. (1996) The English Warrior from earliest times to 1066. Frithgarth: Anglo-Saxon Books.

Sandler, F.L. (2000) "Sutton Hoo" In Enciclopedia dell'Arte Medievale. edited by Angiola Maria Romanini, XI, Milano: Arti Grafiche Ricordi, 42-44.

Tomei, A. (1991) "Armi Bianche" In Enciclopedia dell'Arte Medievale. edited by Angiola Maria Romanini, II, Milano: Arti Grafiche Ricordi, 492-498.

Tomei, A. (1994) "Le Armi" In I Normanni. Popolo d'Europa 1030-1200. edited by M.D'Onofrio, Venezia: Marsilio, 113-116.

Underwood, R. (1999) Anglo-Saxon Weapons & Warfare. Brimscombe Port: Tempus Publishing Ltd.

Wise, T. (1986) Saxon, Viking and Norman. London: Osprey Publishing Ltd.



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Copyright © Paolo de Vingo. 2003. All rights reserved.

This edition copyright © The Heroic Age, 2003. All rights reserved.