What weapons did the Anglo-Saxons use?
During the Anglo-Saxon period (5th century to the 11th century), the most commonly used weapons by Anglo-Saxon warriors were spears, swords, and axes. Although there is some evidence to suggest that bows and arrows and slings were also used from time to time, they were not typically used by Anglo-Saxons on the battlefield.
- Spears were the weapons most commonly used by Anglo-Saxon soldiers. More than one-third of all of the adult male Anglo-Saxon graves discovered by archaeologists contained a spear.
- The spear shafts were made of wood (usually ash) and the spearheads were crafted from iron.
- Based on the evidence obtained from the artefacts found in graves, it is estimated that the length of Anglo-Saxon spears ranged from about 1.5 metres to 2.8 metres.
- Some spears from this period had a metal cone attached to the bottom of the shaft to protect it.
- The shapes of Anglo-Saxon spearheads varied a lot. Some were flat and wide, others were thin, and some even had barbs to maximise the damage they caused and make the spear harder to pull out of a body or a shield.
- Sometimes the spearheads were decorated with gold and bronze, and it is also possible that the Anglo-Saxons painted the wooden shafts of their spears.
- Anglo-Saxon soldiers often threw their spears at their enemies. There is some evidence of spears (called angons) being created especially for this purpose. They might have been based on the pilim javelins used by soldiers in the Roman army.
- Anglo-Saxon spears were also used during hand-to-hand fighting. Evidence suggests that they could be used over-arm to attack enemies over the top of their shields, and under-arm in a more defensive manner.
- It is thought that groups of Anglo-Saxons armed with spears and shields formed shield wall formations when they were lining up to face opposing armies.
Learn more about Anglo-Saxon spears.
- Anglo-Saxon swords had straight, flat blades with two edges.
- The hilt (the sword’s handle) was protected by two guards (one above the hand, and one below). A pommel was located at the end of the sword, and this was often highly decorated.
- The blades were made from iron and usually measured between 85 cm and 95 cm in length, and about 5 cm in width.
- Lots of Anglo-Saxon sword blades had a fuller – a grove running down the centre of the blade – to make the sword lighter without making it thinner.
- Anglo-Saxon swords were worn in scabbards made from wood or leather. They were either hung from the shoulder or worn at the warrior’s waist.
- It is believed that Anglo-Saxon soldiers used their swords for hacking and slashing at their enemies rather than thrusting.
Learn more about Anglo-Saxon swords.
- Most Anglo-Saxon adults carried a knife (called a seax or a scramsax). Although they were mostly used around the home and when hunting, larger examples would probably have been used on the battlefield too.
- Anglo-Saxon knives varied in size from 10 cm to more than 50 cm. They had one cutting edge, wooden handles, and were worn in leather sheaths, usually to the right-hand side of the body.
- Although modern-day tests have shown that seaxes would have been ineffective against swords and spears, they might have been used to strike injured enemy soldier.
- As with Anglo-Saxon knives, most axes found from this period were small and mainly used as tools rather than weapons.
- A few examples of throwing axes have been found in Britain. These seem to have been based on Frankish designs and may have been used on the battlefield up to the 7th century.
- The Vikings often used larger axes in combat, and, as a result, they were one of the primary weapons of the housecarls of the late Anglo-Saxon period. Axes are depicted throughout the Bayeux Tapestry (usually in the hands of warriors fighting for King Harold). Some historians have suggested that this shows Harold had lots of Norse mercenaries fighting as part of his army.
Bows and Arrows
- Although physical evidence of bows and arrows in Anglo-Saxon graves is very rare (because they were made of wood and easily decomposed), they are mentioned in Anglo-Saxon literature and shown in Anglo-Saxon works of art.
- Most Anglo-Saxons probably knew how to use a bow and arrow for hunting, but there is little evidence that they used them regularly on the battlefield.
- The Bayeux Tapestry does show the use of bows and arrows during the Battle of Hastings, but the weapons are frequently in the hands of the Normans and not the Anglo-Saxons.
Did the Anglo-Saxons have guns?
The Anglo-Saxon period of British history extends from the 5th century to the Norman invasion in 1066. The Anglo-Saxons did not have access to the technology required to manufacture firearms. Gunpowder wasn’t used by English armies until the 14th century.
Did the Anglo-Saxons use catapults or trebuchets?
There is no evidence of the Anglo-Saxons using catapults, trebuchets, or other siege weapons. Although the technology did exist before the Anglo-Saxon period (the Greeks and the Romans both produced missile-firing machines), it is unlikely that the Anglo-Saxons had access to this information. And, even if they did, it is hard to see how such weapons would have been employed in Anglo-Saxon Britain. Most conflicts at this time took the form of open field battles fought between armies of infantrymen, and most strongholds were constructed from wood, not stone.
Did the Anglo-Saxons use crossbows?
Although the Ancient Chinese, Greeks, and Romans all knew how to manufacture crossbows, they weren’t introduced to England until the Norman invasion. Norman crossbowmen aren’t depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, but many historians believe they were present during the Battle of Hastings.
Did the Anglo-Saxons use slings?
Most historians agree that, during the Anglo-Saxon period, slings weren’t used as weapons. There is evidence however to suggest that slings were used for hunting. For example, in the Bayeux Tapestry, a man is shown bringing down a bird with a missile launched from a sling.