Anglo-Saxon weaponry

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From the 5th Century to the 11th Century [Anglo Saxons] used a broad array of weaponry, with much of it developing alongside Frankish armament. With many instances of Frankish arms being traded and imitated. Two of the most iconic being the Francisca Axe and the Winged Spear. As with many cultures armour and armaments were related to status and wealth, based upon the current archaeological record, swords have particular connotations with status and power in Anglo-Saxon society.

Spears and Javelins[edit]

Anglo Saxon spears and weaponry were generally light, with long shafts and barbed tips.[1] Spears were carried by men of every class, and were a favored weapon for their length which typically varied from 1.5-2.5 meters. The spears were highly effective in Anglo-Saxon shield walls or "shildburhs"[2] which a scene from the Bayeux tapestry depicts. Spears were typically wielded using an over-arm technique, which allowed the wielder to thrust or throw without changing grip on the shaft. Those with spears typically targeted the faces (specifically the eyes) and upper chests of their opponents.[3] The two most common forms of spears were the thrusting spear and the winged spear. The thrusting spear had a broad leaf or diamond shaped head with a central ridge for strength.[4] The thrusting spear most likely originated from a similar spear in the Ancient Greek peltast, and was a particularly long weapon, the length varying from 1.5-2.7 meters. The other main type of spear was the winged spear. The winged spear had two projections on the base of the blade that could be used to hook an opponent's sword, spear, or shield. After hooking onto the opponent's weapon, the wielder of the winged spear could disarm their opponent or redirect their attack. The Medieval Anglo Saxons utilized javelins in much the same way they did spears, taking advantage of the length of their weapon and using an over-arm technique. The javelin, however, was not quite as popular as the spear. A common javelin was the angon, an elongated javelin with a barbed head. When this type of javelin struck a shield it would bend the shield, making the shield difficult to move. This diminished the shield's utility, making it cumbersome and essentially useless. The angon[5] is speculated to have derived from the Roman[6] pilum.


Most Anglo Saxons carried a single-edged knife called a scramasax[7] (sometimes spelled scramaseaxe). Ownership of the scramasax indicated the freedom of the owner, and the knife was used primarily for domestic use though could also be used in battle. For some warriors a mid to large sized scramasax took the place of a sword. This knife varies from other knives and swords with its single cutting edge and its length. The Scramasax varied in length from 4-20 inches with a long handle that was typically wood, though was occasionally iron.[8] The Morgan Collection of Migration Art currently houses three ancient scramasaxes. The weapon, though used by Anglo Saxons, is actually most associated with Frankish weaponry, and the artifacts in the Morgan Collection were found while excavating a large Frankish cemetery in Niederbreisig in 1900.[9]


The majority of Anglo Saxon axes were small hand axes.[10] The average ax had a flat strip of soft iron folded around a wooden handle, attaching the main blade to the handle. The blade was made from a much iron, comparable to the steel used in swords and knives. Because the weapon was made from iron rather than steel it was cheaper to produce than most other Anglo Saxon weaponry.[11] One of the more popular small hand axes was the bearded axe. This axe was two-handed and was inherited from earlier Danish Vikings.[12]

The Anglo Saxons had a small hand axe called a francisca. The francisca was a throwing axe and had a triangular section at the socket, giving it an extremely heavy blade despite the axe's small size. It was used for combat at close quarters. Typically only the most confident fighters used the francisca. An opponent with a winged spear could easily grasp the axe before it had been thrown using one of the two projections at the base of the blade, disarming the axe-holder. After the axe had been thrown, it could usually be easily avoided because of how slowly it moved. Like the scramasax this weapon is primarily known as an aspect of Frankish weaponry.[13]


Swords, while not entirely common, were highly respected weapons.[14] They were often passed down within families, and ownership of a sword was a signification of one's class status. The lower classes very seldom owned swords, while within the upper classes the extravagance of the sword indicated opulence (or lack thereof). A sword with an extremely ornate handle would have indicated a powerful and wealthy owner.[15] Though swords could be used to breach an enemy's armor, they were primarily used to break bones and destroy internal organs. Anglo Saxons avoided combat where swords intercepted other swords in what we view modernly as a standard sword fight because it had the potential of dulling the blade or snapping the blade all together.[16] The blades were typically between 29-32 inches long and 3 inches wide with a hollow groove running down the center of the blade to make it lighter. The hilts were made from wood, bone, horn, or antler and were often wrapped in leather. A soft iron was used for the core of the blade while steel was used around the edges to be able to create a sharp cutting edge. During the early Middle Ages the core of the blade was often covered in patterns and designs, and in that sense the sword was a form of artwork as well as a functional weapon. Some weapons even had the name of the owner forged into the side of the blade. By the late Middle Ages this was less prevalent, which is indicative of an increasing ability to smelt better iron in larger quantities.[17]


  1. ^ Powell, John (2010). Weapons and Warfare, Rev. ed. Salem Press. ISBN 978-1-58765-594-4. 
  2. ^ Foys, Martin; Wilson, David M., Caccamo James F., Evenson Jody (2003). "The Bayeux Tapestry". Scholarly Digital Editions. 
  3. ^ Levick, Ben. "Arms and Armour Part 1 - The Spear". Regia Anglorum Publications. Retrieved 8 Oct 2013. 
  4. ^ Levick, Ben. "Arms and Armour: Part 1 - The Spear". Regia Anglorum Publications. Retrieved 8 Oct 2013. 
  5. ^ Underwood, Richard (1999). Anglo-Saxon Weapons & Warfare. Tempus. 
  6. ^ "Saxon Weapons". Weapons Universe Corporation. Retrieved 9 Oct 2013. 
  7. ^ "Scramasax". Merriam Webster Inc. Retrieved 6 Oct 2013. 
  8. ^ Powell, John (2010). Weapons and Warfare, Rev. Ed. Salem Press. ISBN 978-1-58765-594-4. 
  9. ^ Brown, Katherine (1989). "The Morgan Scramasax". Metropolitan Museum Journal 24: 71–3. doi:10.2307/1512870. 
  10. ^ Warry, J. (1980). Warfare in the Classical Age. Salamander Books Ltd. 
  11. ^ Levick, Ben. "Arms and Armour - Part 3 - Axes". Regia Anglorum Publications. Retrieved 6 Oct 2013. 
  12. ^ Grandy, Bill. "Eric McHugh Bearded Axe". Retrieved 6 Oct 2013. 
  13. ^ Powell, John (2010). Weapons and Warfare, Rev. ed. Salem Press. ISBN 978-1-58765-594-4. 
  14. ^ "Saxon Weapons". Weapons Universe Corporation. 
  15. ^ Harrison, Mark (1993). Anglo Saxon Thegn. Osprey Military. 
  16. ^ Underwood, Richard (1999). Anglo Saxon Weapons and Warfare. Tempus. 
  17. ^ Williamson, Roland. "Arms lady gaga - Part 5 - Swords". Regia Anglorum Publications. Retrieved 9 Oct 2013.