Did the Anglo-Saxons build stone castles?

The simple answer to this question is no. The Anglo-Saxons did not build stone castles in the same way that the Normans did from the 11th century onwards.

In fact, there is very little evidence to suggest that the Anglo-Saxons used stone to build any secular buildings at all. Apart from their stone churches, the Anglo-Saxons typically built with timber.

Historian Michael Shapland believes this might have been due to an unwritten cultural rule of Anglo-Saxon society. Stone (solid and likely to remain intact beyond the lives of the builders) was reserved for Christian buildings, whereas timber, a much less permanent material, was used for other buildings and dwellings. Houses made from wood were likely to age alongside those who constructed them and lived within them, unlike the stone religious buildings that would seemingly last forever, just like the Christian faith and a Christian soul.

However, there are a couple of examples where it could be argued that Anglo-Saxons did use stone for buildings that played a part in defending their kingdoms. They definitely weren’t the elaborate Norman castles like the Tower of London, Durham Castle or Chepstow Castle, but they are certainly worth looking at in more detail.

Anglo-Saxon Burhs

Constructed during the 9th century in response to Viking invasions and raids, burhs were fortified settlements. Alfred the Great developed a network of burhs in strategic locations, and although some were built from scratch, others were built on the sites of old Iron Age hillforts or Roman forts or settlements.

The Anglo-Saxons repaired the Roman stone wall defences in Winchester, Exeter, Dover and Porchester, and there is evidence that stone was used to face the bank of the ditch encircling the burh at Tamworth.

Anglo-Saxon Towers of Lordship

From the late 9th century up to the 11th century, many Anglo-Saxon lords built tall timber towers. These were often located close to their halls and were part of their manorial complexes along with gatehouses and chapels. Not only were these towers a symbol of aristocratic status, but they were also probably used as watchtowers.

Evidence of such towers has been unearthed at sites in Bishopgate in Sussex, West Cotton in Northamptionshire, Ketton in Rutland and Thwing in Yorkshire.

Dr Michael Shapland believes that some of these timber towers evolved into the ‘nave-towers’ identified at more than twenty sites across England, including Caistor in Lincolnshire and Potterne in Wiltshire.

Constructed during the first half of the 11th century, these nave-towers were essentially a tower containing the whole body of a church. They had limited capacity, were located at manorial sites, and often had elaborate and ostentatious stonework features. Shapland argues that this might have been a way to get around the Anglo-Saxon cultural tradition of not building secular buildings out of stone. If an Anglo-Saxon wanted to convert his timber tower into stone, he could simply place a chapel inside it, thereby justifying his choice of building material.

Shapland suggests that nave-towers might have been used as watchtowers and in the case of the tower in Wickham in Berkshire there is evidence that it was used as a beacon.

Shapland goes onto argue that these tower-naves can be seen as the forerunners of the simple and modest examples of the early Norman stone keeps.

If he is correct, there might have been more continuity between late Anglo-Saxon residences and early Norman castles than was previously acknowledged. And some Anglo-Saxon tower-naves were incorporated into Norman castles, as is the case in Earls Barton, Hastings, Porchester, Oxford and Caistor.

Many tower-naves were extended in the 12th century by attaching a new nave to the existing tower.

Discover more about the Anglo-Saxons by visiting our resources page.


Anglo-Saxon Towers of Lordship and the Earliest English Castles – Dr Michael Shapland

Fortifications in Wessex c. 800–1066 – Lavelle

Anglo-Saxon Battles

There were numerous battles, skirmishes, and conflicts during the Anglo-Saxon period (from the 5th century to the arrival of the Normans in 1066). Initially, the battles were mostly fought between the Britons and the invading Germanic tribes, but soon conflicts emerged between the different groups of settlers as a patchwork of rival territories began to emerge. Leaders jostled for power and alliances were forged and destroyed.

From the 9th century onwards, many of the battles were fought between the Anglo-Saxons and the Viking invaders and settlers.

Here are five important and famous Anglo-Saxon battles.

The Battle of Badon

Also known as the Battle of Mons Badonicus or the Battle on Badon Hill, this conflict was supposedly fought between the Britons and the Anglo-Saxons and took place in the late 5th century or early 6th century. There are accounts of the battle in the works of Gildas, Bede, Nennius, and Geoffrey of Monmouth, but there is no consensus about the battle’s date, location, or the details of what actually happened during the fighting.

Writing in the mid-6th century, Gildas describes a battle being fought between an army of Britons led by Ambrosius Aurelianus, and the invading Anglo-Saxons. According to him, the resisting Britons were victorious.

In Historica Brittonum, written in the early-9th century, Nennius identifies a soldier called Arthur as the leader of the victorious Britons. In the 12th century, Geoffrey of Monmouth adds more details to the story. He seems to link Badon to Bath, and he develops the King Arthur character by introducing a Merlin character. In this embellished version of events, King Arthur and his knights charge, killing 470 enemy warriors.

There is much debate about the exact location of the Battle of Badon, but most modern historians would probably agree that the battle took place somewhere in the south of England at some point close to the beginning of the 5th century.

Several locations for the site of the Badon Hill battlefield have been suggested, including Badbury in Wiltshire, Badbury Rings in Dorset, Bath in Somerset, Bathampton Down in Somerset, Maesteg in Wales, Bowden Hill in Wiltshire, and Ringsbury Camp in Braydon in Wiltshire.

The battle is featured in the Bernard Cornwell novel Excalibur: A Novel of Arthur and the 2004 King Arthur movie.

The Battle of Ellendun

Sometimes referred to as the Battle of Wroughton, the Battle of Ellendun was thought to have taken place south of Swindon, Wiltshire in 825, and was fought between the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex (led by Egbert) and the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia (led by Beornwulf).

The battle was won by the kingdom of Wessex, and this victory transformed the balance of power in England. Following the victory in the Battle of Ellendun, the West Saxons (Wessex) went on the conquer the kingdoms of Sussex, Kent, and Essex, doubling the territory controlled by Wessex.

By the year 829, East Anglia was once again independent, and Egbert (Echbehrt) occupied Mercia. Although the Mercians would reassert their independence a year later, the kingdom of Merica would never again regain the level of dominance it had in England before the Battle of Ellendun.

The Battle of Edington

In 878 Alfred the Great led the army of the kingdom of Wessex to victory against the Great Heathen Army of Vikings led by Guthrum. It is likely that the battle took place at Edington in Wiltshire.

The main reason for the Anglo-Saxon victory was probably mainly due to the size of the Wessex army, and the lack of unity and organisation between the different forces making up the Danish army. By 878, Guthrum was no longer supported by other Danish leaders such as Ivar the Boneless and Ubba.

The Wessex victory led to the signing of the Treaty of Wedmore. Guthrum was baptised in Somerset with King Alfred as his sponsor. He left Wessex with the remains of his army and returned, via Mercia, to East Anglia. Guthrum reigned as king in East Anglia until his death in 890.

The Battle of Edington is featured in numerous novels including The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell, Sarum by Edward Rutherford, and The Titus Chronicles: Eagle and Wyvern by R W Peake.

The Battle of Brunanburh

Fought in 937 between Athelstan, King of England, and the combined forces of Olaf Guthfrithson (King of Dublin), Constantine II (King of Scotland), and Owain ap Dyfnwal (King of Strathclyde), the Battle of Brunanburh is often said to be significant because it prevented the dissolution of England. Historian Michael Livingstone says the battle was “the moment when Englishness came of age”.

The location of the battle is not known. Many historians think it is likely to have taken place in the north of England. One good possibility is Bromborough in Merseyside.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the battle lasted a whole day before the invaders were routed by the combined forces of Wessex and Mercia. Apparently, Olaf fled back to Dublin, and Constantine returned to Scotland. The fate of Owain is not known.

The Battle of Hastings

On 14th October 1066, the Norman army of William, Duke of Normandy (William the Conquerer) defeated the Anglo-Saxon army of King Harold II (Harold Godwinson) in a battle that took place close to Hastings in Sussex.

Harold’s army was mostly made up of infantrymen with few archers and no cavalry. Only half of the Norman army was infantry. The other half was a mix of archers and cavalry.

It is thought that the battle was fought from about 9 o’clock in the morning until dusk. Harold was killed towards the end of the day, and this caused his army to retreat, allowing the Normans to secure victory.

It is estimated that as many as 4000 of Harold’s army and 2000 of the Norman army were killed in the battle.

William was crowned on Christmas Day in 1066.

The events leading up to the Battle of Hastings and the battle itself are depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, a 70 metre long embroidered cloth commissioned by William’s half-brother, Bishop Odo, and manufactured in England (not Bayeux as previously believed) in the 1070s.

Click the link to learn more about the Battle of Hastings.

Discover more about the Anglo-Saxons by visiting our resources page.

Did the Anglo-Saxons have tattoos?

Historians do not know for certain whether or not the Anglo-Saxons had tattoos.

Most of the evidence to support the argument that they did have tattoos comes from a passage written by the historian William of Malmesbury in his Gesta Regum Anglorum (Deeds of the English Kings). He describes the English encountered by the Normans in 1066.

In brief, the English of those days wore garments halfway to the knee, which left them unimpeded; hair short, chin shaven, arms loaded with gold bracelets, tattooed with coloured patterns, eating till they were sick and drinking till they spewed.

William of Malmesbury was the son of a Norman father and an Anglo-Saxon mother. He was born after the Norman conquest, and some historians have questioned the accuracy of his description.

The Waltham Chronicle (written in the late-12th century) includes an account of how Harold Godwinson‘s body was identified by marks on his chest. The marks are described as ‘intimate’ (or perhaps ‘private’). These might have been birthmarks or scars, but some have suggested that they could have been tattoos.

The question of whether the Anglo-Saxons had tattoos will probably never be answered with absolute certainty because the body’s skin (the key evidence) decomposes after centuries of burial in Britain.

Learn more about the Anglo-Saxons by visiting our resources page.

Did the Anglo-Saxons have slaves?

Yes. Throughout the Anglo-Saxon period, slaves and slavery were an accepted part of life.

The Anglo-Saxons did not introduce slavery to Britain (both the Celts and the Romans kept slaves) but it is estimated that at times during the Anglo-Saxon period more than 10 percent (and possibly up to 30 percent) of the population were enslaved.

Where did Anglo-Saxon slaves come from?

In the early Anglo-Saxon period, many slaves were likely to have been members of the conquered British population, or their descendants. Slaves were also taken from rival Anglo-Saxon settlements, tribes, and kingdoms. The near-constant wars, skirmishes, and conflicts during the Anglo-Saxon period provided a ready supply of slaves.

Being a spoil of war was not the only way people could be forced to become slaves. Slavery was the punishment for a range of different crimes (for example, some forms of theft), and penal slaves were commonplace in Anglo-Saxon society.

It was also possible to voluntarily enter a life of slavery. In times of extreme economic hardship, parents might have been forced to sell their children into slavery, and even whole families might have elected to avoid starvation by becoming slaves.

During the Anglo-Saxon period, English slaves were exported all over the world, often from Ireland via Bristol. English slaves could find themselves being put to work in Iceland, Scandinavia, or Arabic Spain.

How were Anglo-Saxon slaves treated?

Slaves had very few rights in Anglo-Saxon society. And, although not all slaves would have lived in the same conditions and suffered the same experiences, life would have likely been intolerably hard. Historian Marc Morris says that it is clear from studying Anglo-Saxon law codes that slaves could be branded and punished by castration, mutilation, stoning to death, or being burned to death.

Laws set down during the reign of Alfred the Great set out that “the four Wednesdays in the four Ember weeks are to be given to all slaves, to sell to whomever they please anything of what anyone has given them in God’s name, or what they can earn in any of their spare time.”

Slaves had value as property. If a slave was harmed by another, that person would have to compensate the slave’s owner, not the slave who suffered the injury. If a slave was killed, the slaveowner usually received a sum of money equivalent to the price of eight oxen.

In Anglo-Saxon society, as well as the slaves themselves, slaveowners were responsible for the conduct of their slaves.

What did Anglo-Saxon slaves do?

Slaves filled many functions in Anglo-Saxon society. Although many of them were known to work the fields as agricultural labourers, many also served as cooks, weavers, millers, dairymaids, or domestic servants. Some of the slaves were forced to become concubines. There is even evidence that some slaves were put to work as priests.

Were Anglo-Saxon slaves ever granted their freedom?

Anglo-Saxon slaves were sometimes granted their freedom. This could happen for two main reasons. Firstly, it could happen as a form of punishment levied against the slave’s owner. The slave would benefit in situations like this, but that wasn’t the aim. The aim was to deprive the slave’s owner of his property.

Secondly, manumission (the freeing of slaves) became an accepted practice of Anglo-Saxon Christianity. Slaves were sometimes freed on special occasions, or their grant of freedom was set down in the slaveowner’s will.

Manumission might have been motivated by a desire to demonstrate God’s power and grace, or to better the souls of the released slaves’ former masters. However, although there is evidence to suggest that Christian Anglo-Saxons pitied slaves and knew that life as a slave was a life full of sorrow, this knowledge did not stop them from keeping slaves. And it did not stop slavery from being an accepted part of life throughout the Anglo-Saxon period.


Slave Raiding and Slave Trading in Early England – David Pelteret

The Church and Slavery in Anglo-Saxon England – Patricia M Dutchak

Normans and Slavery: Breaking the Bonds – Marc Morris

Learn more about the Anglo-Saxons by visiting our resources page.

Anglo-Saxon Shields

Not as much is known about Anglo-Saxon shields as is known about the swords and spears from the period. This is largely because shields were mainly constructed from wood and leather, materials that don’t often survive being buried underground for hundreds of years.

As a result, the main sources of evidence for Anglo-Saxon shields are the remains of the shield’s metal parts, depictions of shields in carvings and engravings, and written descriptions of shields from the Anglo-Saxon period.

Due to the lack of evidence, historians have formed different opinions about the size of Anglo-Saxon shields, how they were constructed, and how they were used in battle.

How big were Anglo-Saxon shields?

  • Most depictions of Anglo-Saxon shields seem to suggest that shields from this period were quite small. The Repton Stone from the 8th century, for example, shows a warrior holding a shield that is only a little larger than his head. The same is true of the shields of the warriors depicted on foil designs in the Staffordshire Hoard. However, some historians have questioned the accuracy of such images, arguing that the artists purposefully made the shields small so that they wouldn’t obscure the artwork’s other details, such as the warriors’ armour and their weapons.
  • It is also hard to judge the size of Anglo-Saxon shields by looking at archaeological remains. Shield sizes seem to vary considerably, although most historians agree that the majority of shields found in Anglo-Saxon burials were between 50 cm and 73 cm in diameter, with a few being much smaller, and many much larger.
  • Some historians have suggested that the smallest shields wouldn’t have been much use in battle and were, therefore, produced only for the purpose of being buried with a dead warrior.

Anglo-Saxon Shield Facts

  • Early Anglo-Saxon shields were circular and made from poplar, alder, or willow wood. These timbers are all very tough and have a close grain-pattern that makes them hard to split.
  • Reconstructions have shown that Anglo-Saxon shields were probably made from several planks of wood glued together with animal bone glue. The planks would then have been shaped with axes and chisels into a slightly convex board. The shallow curve increases the shield’s strength.
  • The wooden shield would have been covered with stitched leather panels and secured with animal glue. A rawhide rim was probably added to the shield’s edge and stitched to the board with leather thongs looped through pre-drilled holes.
  • It is thought that it is the joined sections of leather that give the Anglo-Saxon shields their distinctive swirling pattern.
  • The shield rim found in the Sutton Hoo burial site was made from copper alloy. It has been pierced with a series of holes, suggesting that it might have been stitched into place.
  • Anglo-Saxon shields had iron bosses in their centres. These were designed to protect that hand holding the shield, and they were riveted in place. Leather padding may have been added to the inside of the boss to cushion the hand.
  • The shield grips were made from iron and had handles made from wrapped leather or textiles. Some more complex handles also incorporated wooden elements. They were fixed to the shield with rivets.
  • There is little evidence to tell us for certain whether or not Anglo-Saxon shields were decorated with paint.
  • The Hurscarls or Housecarls, the mercenary warriors who fought with Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, would mainly have used kite-shaped shields.

Learn more about the weapons of the Anglo-Saxons, or discover more Anglo-Saxon facts by visiting our resources page.


Early Anglo-Saxon Shields – T Dickinson and H Harke

Anglo-Saxon Weapons & Warfare – R Underwood

Reconstruction as an Aid to Interpretation: The Anglo-Saxon Shield – R Underwood

The Anglo-Saxon Shield – I P Stephenson

Anglo-Saxon Spears

Spears were the most common Anglo-Saxon weapons. They were the main weapon of Anglo-Saxon warriors (sometimes called Aesc-berend – spear-bearers), and numerous examples have been excavated by archaeologists from Anglo-Saxon burials and graves.

Facts About Anglo-Saxon Spears

  • Anglo-Saxon spears were much cheaper, easier, and less time-consuming to produce than swords. As a result, spears were the most popular weapons among Anglo-Saxon warriors and freemen alike.
  • The spear shafts would have been made from ash, hazel, willow or alder, and the spearheads were made from iron.
  • Although more than thirty different types of Anglo-Saxon spearheads have been identified in England, they broadly fall into two categories – thrusting spears (the most common type of spear) and javelins (spears designed to be thrown).

The Spere (Thrusting Spear)

  • Although there are lots of variations, thrusting spears commonly had heads shaped like flat narrow leaves.
  • They were designed to keep the enemy at bay, far out of sword reach. They were often used in combination with a shield, and a group of Anglo-Saxon warriors armed in this way could combine to form a shield wall, pointing their spears at the enemy.
  • Modern experiments have revealed that a spear is a significantly less effective weapon without a shield. In hand-to-hand combat, it is hard for an un-shielded warrior to defeat an opponent wielding a sword. Because of this, it is believed that soldiers would enter battle with a backup weapon. In addition to their spears, most would carry a seax (a single-edged knife) or an axe to fend off attackers who had managed to evade the spear point and get in closer. The wealthiest warriors would carry an Anglo-Saxon sword for this purpose.
  • Anglo-Saxon spearheads ranged from about 15 cm to 35 cm in length, and the spear shafts were between 1.5 metres to 2.8 metres, but most were around the 2 metre mark.


  • Purpose-made throwing spears were commonly used by Anglo-Saxon warriors in battle.
  • Lighter and more aerodynamic than the thrusting spears, these javellins would have had been long and slender with barbs close to the spear point. They were possibly modelled on the pilium, the javelin used by Roman soldiers.
  • One of the main aims of the Anglo-Saxon throwing spear was to disable the enemy shields. Once a shield had been stuck, the angon (throwing spear) is difficult to remove because of its barbs and hangs down with its end on the ground, forcing the shield down. The soldier holding the shield must lower it to attempt to break the spear’s shaft. As soon as this happens, they are vulnerable and unprotected against another attack.
  • Simple throwing spears were probably used by the Anglo-Saxons for hunting.

More Anglo-Saxon Spear Facts

  • Some iron spearheads were decorated with copper or silver ring inlays. Others were coloured during the forging process. Two East Anglian spearheads, for example, are thought to have been heated to 300°C, causing their surfaces to oxidize to bright blue colour.
  • Very occasionally, rune-like marks were cut, scratched or inlaid into the spearheads. These might have been maker’s marks.
  • Anglo-Saxon spearheads were forged with softer edges than seen on Anglo-Saxon knives. Historians believe this was done on purpose. Hardness was sacrificed for toughness and durability, reducing the chances of a spearhead breaking or shattering after repeated impacts.
  • Although more than three-quarters of all Anglo-Saxon spear shafts were made from either ash or hazel, some examples have been found made from maple, beech, birch and holly wood.
  • About 10% of all Anglo-Saxon spears had iron or copper alloy caps (ferrules) on their bottom ends.
  • The spearheads were usually riveted or nailed to the shaft, and in some examples, the join was then bound with leather or cloth.
  • About one in six of the spearheads recovered from the River Thames show signs of wear and marks of battle. This suggests that battle-tested spears were valued, and careful efforts were made to repair them so that a reliable weapon could be used again.
  • There is evidence to suggest that many Anglo-Saxon spearheads were made from iron scraps salvaged from ruined Roman buildings and abandoned settlements.

What next? Learn more about some of the other Anglo-Saxon weapons, or check out our Anglo-Saxon resources page.


The Spear in Early Anglo-Saxon England: A Social-Technological History – Andrew J Welton

The Spearheads of the Anglo-Saxon Settlement – M J Swanton

Anglo-Saxon Weapons and Warfare – Richard Underwood

Anglo-Saxon Swords

Unlike the other Anglo-Saxon weapons (spears, axes, knives, and bows and arrows), swords were the only weapons of the period used exclusively for warfare. As a result, swords were expensive and very prestigious.

Facts About Anglo-Saxon Swords

  • Because swords were such prestigious weapons, historians believe that swords were passed down from generation to generation as family heirlooms.
  • When archaeologists have found the remains of swords in Anglo-Saxon burials, they have often been located very close to the body, sometimes cradled in the dead warrior’s arms. This is believed to show how important swords were to their owners.
  • The Anglo-Saxon swords recovered from archaeological digs seem to show lots of signs of wear. Many of the pommels are worn on one side, and this indicates that when the weapons were worn high up on the chest in scabbards attached to shoulder-slung leather baldrics, the warriors tended to rest their hands on the pommels.
  • Many of the Anglo-Saxon swords also show mismatched decorations, as if the sword has been owned by numerous warriors during its lifetime, all of whom have made their own changes and modifications.
  • Some swords have been found with interlock ring decorations attached to the pommels. Some historians believe that these signify the oaths sworn by the sword’s owner.
  • Little effort appears to have been made by Anglo-Saxon warriors to hide their swords’ signs of wear and tear. This might indicate that the Anglo-Saxon’s celebrated experience. A well-used weapon was likely to be wielded by a battle-tested warrior.
  • Runic characters and inscriptions have been found on the pommels of Anglo-Saxon swords.
  • Made from iron, Anglo-Saxon swords were approximately 5 cm to 6.5 cm in width, and 85 cm to 100 cm in length. Although most of the designs were fairly similar, a few historians believe that there were two distinct types of Anglo-Saxon swords. The mece, longer slimmer swords for thrusting at enemies, and the sweord, thicker and heavier for hacking and slashing.
  • The blades were straight and double-edged, often with a fuller (a shallow groove) running down the center to make the weapon lighter.
  • The hilts of Anglo-Saxon swords were made from wood or horn, and they were often decorated with copper, silver or gold.
  • Anglo-Saxon swords typically had short guards and richly-decorated pommels.
  • Anglo-Saxon warriors sometimes named their swords. These were sometimes inscribed on the hilt or the sword’s blade. The names of the owner and maker were often added too.
  • Anglo-Saxon swords were manufactured using a technique called pattern-welding. Rods of iron, twisted together and then forged, formed the sword’s core. Cutting edges were then attached. This method produced blades with intricate herringbone or snakeskin markings.

The Sutton Hoo Sword

  • The sword found at the Sutton Hoo ship burial was made of pattern-welded iron and fitted with a hilt decorated in gold. Its pommel is made from gold inlaid with garnets.
  • The sword’s scabbard was made from leather-bound wood, and it was lined with oiled sheep’s wool to keep the sword blade in good condition. The scabbard was also decorated with gold and garnets.
  • It measures approximately 85 cm in length and is about 6.4 cm wide.
  • It is believed that the sword might have been wielded by King Raedwald of East Anglia.
  • The sword’s lower guard is made from gold.
  • From the wear pattern on the sword’s pattern and the sword’s position in relation to the body in the ship burial, historians have suggested that the sword’s owner was left-handed. This might have been an advantage in battle as most warriors would have been used to fighting right-handed opponents.

Learn more about Anglo-Saxon weapons or visit our Anglo-Saxon resources page.

Anglo-Saxon Weapons: Facts and Information

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.

What Did The Anglo-Saxons Wear? Facts About Anglo-Saxon Clothing

Here are some facts about Anglo-Saxon clothes.

  • Wool, linen and silk were the only materials used in Anglo-Saxon clothes. Silk was expensive and worn only by the rich, while most peasants could afford to wear linen and woolen clothes.

  • A knee length woolen tunic was the most common garment, and many very poor people could not afford to wear shoes or trousers.
  • Soldiers wore long coats with chain mail attached to them. Metal collars were worn for extra protection during the 9th and 10th centuries, and weapons were decorated with jewellery.
  • As Christianity became popular throughout Anglo-Saxon Britain, it was thought that women should have their heads covered. Plain or embroidered veils were popular, which often reached down to the ankles.
  • The most common Anglo-Saxon clothes for women were black or brown woolen gowns. All women wore some type of head covering, but many did not wear shoes until the later Anglo-Saxon period.
  • Women’s clothing styles also changed as Christianity spread across Britain from the 6th century onwards. Clothing styles also varied between different parts of the country, often based on the climate.
  • Earrings were popular, often made from precious materials, such as pearl, crystal or garnets. Most people did not wear any rings on their fingers, and women did not wear much make up.
  • Belts and belt buckles were important elements of Anglo-Saxon clothes, especially for men. Belts were usually made from leather and often had decorative items or tools hanging from them.
  • Jackets became popular around the 7th century, made from fur or linen. Shoes and socks became popular too, and socks were worn over longer stockings, by rich and poor people.
  • Several UK museums have collections of Anglo-Saxon clothes and artifacts, including the Ashmolean in Oxford and the Museum of London. The Ashmolean also displays accessories such as combs and belt buckles.

What next? Check out some Anglo-Saxon jewellery facts, or visit our Anglo-Saxon resources page.

The Anglo-Saxons and Christianity: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about the Anglo-Saxons and Christianity.

  • Anglo-Saxon Britain became Christian around the end of the 6th century. The new beliefs originated in Ireland, and were also brought to Britain from Rome by St. Augustine of Canterbury.
  • King Aethelberht was the first Saxon king to be baptized, in around 601 AD. The large kingdom of Mercia officially became Christian in 655 AD, following the defeat of King Penda in battle.
  • St. Augustine chose Canterbury to be the seat of the Archbishop, as London had too many pagan tribes. St. Augustine is today considered to be the founder of the English church.

St Augustine of Canterbury

  • During the 7th and 8th centuries, Anglo-Saxon Christianity was spread largely through the monasteries. Monks travelled through the surrounding area and preached to the villages.
  • The Venerable Bede was one of the most well-known monks and writers of the Anglo-Saxon period. Bede wrote books about Christianity and history, composed hymns and is thought to have coined the phrases BC and AD.
  • Wilfrid was one of the most important 7th century Bishops. He helped to bring Christianity to Sussex, built many churches and several monasteries and was made a saint after his death.
  • Churches in Anglo-Saxon Britain were used for education as well as religion. Church officials carried out other tasks too, including advising the king and overseeing Church estates.
  • Several fairly complete Anglo-Saxon churches can still be seen today in Britain, notably the 9th century Greensted Church in Essex. Many churches were made from brick or stone, whereas wood was the main building material for Anglo-Saxon houses.
  • Anglo-Saxon Christianity was revived in Britain during the 10th century, following Viking invasions. The Vikings became Christians, and many new churches were built.

What next? Discover more facts about the Anglo-Saxons by visiting our resources page.