During the 7th century the Anglo-Saxons were gradually converted to Christianity by Roman missionary efforts from the continent. Celtic missionaries from the wild parts of Britain and Ireland also worked to bring the Christian message to the pagan Anglo-Saxons. These Germanic invaders became settlers. Tacitus' description of the German as a warrior who shunned manual labor and lived only for the glory of the fight has dimmed by this time. The rich soil of south, east, central and northern England provided the Anglo-Saxons a fertile agricultural-based economy.
The descendants of the chieftains of the invading war bands from the 4th and 5th centuries were becoming a privileged aristocratic leadership. The old egalitarian camaraderie (waffen brudershaft) of the war bands disappeared. The chieftains became the kings of Wessex, Essex, Kent, Mercia and Northumbria, to name a few. Their bodyguard retainers became Thegns, who were given land directly from their king in return for their loyalty. Many of the warriors, and their families, settled on the land as freemen (known as ceorls). The Britons that so rigorously defended the isle against the Germanic invader assimilated into, as well as influenced, Anglo-Saxon society. These Britons and the remaining Anglo-Saxons became serfs or bondsmen. They provided the large labor pool needed to realize a productive agricultural economy. The seeds of feudalism were taking root.
These kingdoms shared a common Germanic heritage and prospered in their new found land. This common heritage did not ensure the peace. The Anglo-Saxon kings fought each other as well as the Celtic (Welsh, Picts, Scots, Irish) peoples living on the periphery of the isle. These tribes issued forth from their wild enclaves in raids and invasions of their more prosperous Germanic neighbors. The kings required military service of their subject to defend against these attacks. Military service was directly linked to an individual's landholding status.
The Anglo-Saxon military organization came to be known as the fyrd. Service in the fyrd was directly linked to an individual's landholding status. It is believed today that the fyrd was divided into two groups. The "select fyrd" consisted of the kingšs personal bodyguards, and his thegns and their immediate retinue. The select fyrd would have been well equipped. The thegns would have had mail shirt, a helm, round shield, sword/axe and spear. They would have rode to battle on horses and dismounted to fight. Their retainers (ceorls mostly) would have at least possessed a shield, spear and the characteristic scramaseax, or long knife. A very few may have been archers/slingers. The "greater fyrd" was a general calling out of the population to arms to meet a serious threat. The better equipped would have a small shield, spear and scramaseax. Most may have only had a spear, club or agricultural implements. The Anglo-Saxons did not field a regular mounted arm. They fought on foot as a rule.
The tactics of the fyrd were not particularly imaginative or flexible. The army would form up into a line, the better-equipped warriors in the front, with their shields forming a wall. The warriors forming this shield wall (schildburh in old Saxon) would attempt to maintain cohesion while in battle. When fighting another shield wall formation the battle would turn into a shoving match until one side lost cohesion. The majority of casualties were inflicted during this stage of the battle. Once this happened the defeated force would retreat with the victors in pursuit.
The fyrd system performed pretty well against Celtic invaders and the limited wars between the kingdoms, however, a new threat sorely tested the system. In 793 AD the Norseman (Danes, Norwegians) raided the island monastery at Lindisfarne. This began over a century of warfare that plagued the entire British Isles (Celt and Anglo-Saxon alike). The Norse used their swift longships to perform lightning fast raids along the coasts and up rivers. Once on land they would "liberate" horses and continue wreaking havoc further inland. They were masters of surprise and only rarely were they caught and defeated by the fyrd. The Danes launched a full-scale invasion in 865 AD and occupied much of eastern England (known as Danelaw). The Anglo-Saxons were on the defensive during this time. King Alfred of Wessex had success against the Danes and by 1014 AD (this army's close date) there was one king of Anglo-Saxon-Danish England.
II/68b Picts, 81d Sub-Roman Britons, III/19a Welsh, III/24 themselves, III/40ab Vikings and III/45a Pre-Feudal Scots.
These armies represent my favorite kind of tactics. Form up and stay together. When fighting most historical enemies place your spear in a single line (shield wall) with the psiloi either right behind the general (against mounted) or on a flank. When fighting another spear army you have a decision to make. You can double rank your spear to get the bonus against other spear, or you can form the single line and try to outflank your enemy.
The hordes are an interesting mix. I have had success in using them to steady my line since they donšt retreat too easily against most historical enemies. Against the Vikings you can only offer the prayer "deliver us, O Lord, from the wrath of the Norseman".
I use Essex SXA line of figures. I paint the general base figures with more color than the other bases. The Essex fyrd (horde) figures are classical and should be used. Drab colors are the rule.
Essex praying monks around a cross shrine. Looks great and the prayers may help.
Chris Brantley: Also take a look at Baueda's Anglo-Saxon Getald tent.
Wise, Terence, Saxon, Viking and Norman, Osprey Publishing.
Harrison, Mark, Anglo-Saxon Thegn 449-1066AD, Osprey Publishing.
Chris Brantley: In addition to Essex, for classic Saxon thegn and fyrd figures, take a look at Magister Militum/Chariot, Donnington, Feudal Castings, Irregular, Old Glory, Outpost Wargames, Tumbling Dice, and Two Dragons miniatures.
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Last Updated: 10 July 2006