Anglo Saxons ruled most of England from 5th century until the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. During this period, the Anglo Saxons frequently fought against their Celtic neighbours to the North and West of the British Isles.
The weaponry of the Anglo Saxons evolved significantly during this period and although their defensive armour remained more or less the same in nature, its construction and outlook changed significantly.
Notable pieces of Anglo Saxon armour used on the battlefield included the shield, mailcoat and different types of helmets. This type of armour was dictated by the fact that Anglo Saxons mostly fought on foot rather than on horseback.
Shields were the most common type of armour used by all Anglo Saxon warriors. Early forms of Anglo Saxon shields were very basic, with multiple pieces of wood held together with a natural glue and then given a circular shape.
The shield was most frequently made from maple, oak or ash wood while the use of linden-wood is also often mentioned when referring to Anglo Saxons shields in old english poems. After giving the shield its rudimentary shape, it was sometimes covered with leather to give it an additional layer of protection while high-ranking noblemen would also decorate the front of their shields with bronze or other metals.
A shield was the most vital, and often the only, piece of an Anglo Saxon’s defensive armour. It was critical in helping Anglo Saxons fight with the famous shield-wall formation which formed the backbone of Anglo Saxon defensive warfare.
Mailcoats made from chain mail were also a notable part of Anglo Saxon armour although its widespread use hasn’t been established through archaeological evidence. The Anglo Saxon mail was typically made by linking riveted rings of metal into a shirt which was then worn during battlefield combat.
The chainmail came with distinct advantages as well as disadvantages. It was very effective against sharp weapons such as axes and effectively blocked any blows from them. When facing a pointed weapon such as a spear, a mailcoat wasn’t as effective and it could often be pierced.
The mailcoat carried a lot of weight, slowing down the movements of the warrior during combat on the battlefield. It seems probable that many Anglo Saxon warriors chose not to wear mail so as to keep their movements swift on the battlefield.
Helmets were another kind of armour used by the Anglo Saxon warriors although its use became popular only towards the 11th century. Extant Anglo Saxon helmets have been found to be made either from a single piece of metal or many pieces held together in a metal frame.
A single-piece Anglo Saxon helmet usually came with a face-mask as well as a neck-guard to effectively shield the body above the shoulders. A multi-piece helmet was inexpensive to produce but was less durable and sturdy. Anglo Saxon warriors often had different animals such as boars engraved or painted on their helmets to give it a distinct identity.