Anglo Saxon Warfare

Anglo Saxon warfare evolved significantly between the 5th and 11th centuries. In the 5th century, Anglo Saxons arrived on British Isles as tribal bands with rudimentary weapons, they used simple and ferocious fighting techniques.

By the 11th century, Anglo Saxons had attained significant warfare experience, evolved their own weaponry and had a unique style of offensive and defensive warfare.

Most notable aspects of Anglo Saxon warfare was the fact that they preferred to fight on foot rather than on horseback and that they excelled in the use of the formidable shield wall formations which was a unique part of Anglo Saxon combat.

Shield Wall

Anglo Saxon battlefield combat greatly centred upon the shield wall formation. The shield wall formation was typically created by Anglo Saxon warriors standing shoulder to shoulder and holding their shields firmly in front of them to make up a veritable wall. From behind this wall, both sides on the battlefield would then exchange javelins and other missiles.

As a battle progressed, the shield walls of both sides moved together so that eventually, they would be pitted against each other in close combat and both sides would try to push and break the formation of the other side. This continued until one side gave way. Anglo Saxons deployed this formation at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 against and were able to withstand multiple initial attacks before they broke the formation.


The Anglo Saxons were famous for their shield formation battle tactics

Warfare Training

Superiority in combat and battlefield prowess were considered essential features of Anglo Saxon nobles. It was for this reason that the Anglo Saxon war leaders and warriors excelled in athletic sports and exerted themselves considerably in physical training. Training included excelling in sports such as swimming, running, wrestling and the use of spear.

Single Combat

Single combats between two warriors were rare in Anglo Saxon warfare. If they took place, they mostly comprised of distant strikes with javelins.

Typically, in Anglo Saxon warfare a soldier would come forth from the protection of the shield wall to throw his spear with greater speed. In doing so, the warrior was exposed to the missiles from the other side.

If a missile from the other side hit him and killed him, the thrower from the other side would then attempt to retrieve his body and armour. Other forms of single combat included the use of spear in hand-on-hand combat. The spear was typically held over head and thrust in a downward movement to wound the enemy.

Battlefield Fighting

Anglo Saxon battles were mostly fought in shield wall formations. By the time the two shield walls on either side of a battlefield crashed into each other and one of them was breached, the battle’s outcome was mostly decided.

At close combat, the warriors on each side attempted to wound their enemies on the other side through spears, knives and swords while protecting themselves by holding their shields in front of them. Once a shield wall was breached, Anglo Saxon warriors from the other side would widen the breach until the enemy formation was completely broken. This was followed by the pursuit of the fleeting enemies.

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