Anglo Saxons frequently engaged in warfare throughout their reign in Britain. First they were pitted against each other as different Anglo Saxon kingdoms vied for greater control and power in England. Later, the Anglo Saxons had to face the Vikings who began raiding England from 8th century onwards.
Although the Anglo Saxons had trading relations with the Continent, the warfare in England and the style of the warriors differed significantly from that of Europe at the time. In the Anglo Saxon society, different types of warriors existed and it was much later, after the battlefield interactions with the Danish Vikings that Anglo Saxons came to have a small number of professional warriors.
Deployment of Anglo Saxon Warriors
The Anglo Saxons didn’t have a standing army and any army that was fielded before a battle was led by the king himself. The king was immediately surrounded by a group of warriors closely related to him, usually kinsmen and the lords of his kingdom.
The lords, in turn, came to join the king with their own bands of warriors. Typically, battles were fought between such warriors who comprised solely of the lords and noblemen but in time, other groups such as peasants were also armed to fight on behalf of the King during a battle.
Types of Anglo Saxon Warriors
The most important type of the Anglo Saxon warrior was the lord or a warrior allied to a lord and trained with expensive equipment. Since only richer lords could afford such equipment, they alone could afford to be well-armed in the battlefield and have a band of similarly well-armed followers. The groups of these lords formed the core of the Anglo Saxon army during a fight.
Unlike European armies, the Anglo Saxon armies were nearly entirely infantry and rarely fought mounted. Another type of warrior were the “housecarls” which were a sort of professional army kept by the king and notable lords. The housecarls served as the royal guard, were equipped with sophisticated weapons in which they were diligently trained, and formed a formidable force on the battlefield.
The least effective but more numerous type of Anglo Saxon warriors belonged in the militia called “fyrd”. This militia was usually populated with peasants and mercenaries with more rudimentary equipment but advantageous on the battlefield in terms of their numbers.
Weapons of Anglo Saxon Warriors
Anglo Saxon warriors carried different kinds of weapons to the battlefield. Typical was the small javelin which was used as a missile thrown at the enemy lines before the close-quarter fighting. For this purpose, each Anglo Saxon warrior typically carried many javelins. A thrusting spear was used as a more close-combat weapon and was aimed at the head or neck of the opponent.
The royal guard wielded the bearded axe which was heavy and required a lot of training but was effective in attacking the enemy. Although the Anglo Saxon warriors also used swords, these were of limited utility. Once an opponent had been wounded with a spear, the sword was usually used to finish the job.