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Old October 31st, 2017, 06:17 AM   #1
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Anglo Saxon Military Organisation


This is primarily a link to a paper uploaded to academia.com by Heinrich Härke. It was one of a collection of papers under Military aspects of Scandinavian society in a European perspective, AD 1-1300

Härke's paper, Early Anglo Saxon military organisation from an archaeological perspective starts by pointing out that, on the continent, there are three sources of information, weapons burials, bog deposits and fortifications. In the UK however, we have only weapons burials from which to draw our inferences. There are no bog deposits and fortifications do not appear until the ninth century. This contrasts with much earlier roman and celtic fortifications.

About 18% of all graves and 47% of adult male graves are buried in early anglo saxon graves. As time progresses, the nature of the buried weapons and the status of the graves appears to change. The general picture changes to one of a more selective picture in later centuries. The paper is an analysis of this process.

https://www.academia.edu/482449/Earl...m_1997._93-101
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Old October 31st, 2017, 06:46 AM   #2

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From the early kingdoms of the late 5th century right up to Hastings, the military was based on levies, ties, and essentially feudal bonds. All Germanics relied on retainers who supported their lord or king for service, in return for war spoils, land, or protection.

I don't think there is much differnce from the early period, up to the united England era post-Athelstan. It's possible that once the Heptarchy was established, more advanced weaponry was made, from more refined steels and iron. Or heavier/stronger shields.
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Old October 31st, 2017, 09:04 AM   #3
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From the early kingdoms of the late 5th century right up to Hastings, the military was based on levies, ties, and essentially feudal bonds.
The military of what? We know of no kingdoms in the 5th century. To which king or kingdom did the Hrype or the Spaldas owe allegiance? We don't know if it extended beyond the common interest of defending the kinship group itself or if it extended to possibly some alliances with other neighbouring kinship groups, but there is nothing to suggest that there was a large geographic range. You can't infer retainers from the early weapons burials as most of them belong to women, men too old to fight or infants. Land tenure was in all probability not an issue as many villa estates with land already cleared was available. It's not safe to back project the 9th century and, as the paper makes clear, it is different from the continental practices.
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Old October 31st, 2017, 01:41 PM   #4

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Kent was established in the late 5th century. Retainers are just people who are in service to a king or lord, in exchange for land or riches. It's not an anachronism, but how Germanic structures always worked. Classical feudalism is just a large scale extension of this.
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Old October 31st, 2017, 03:26 PM   #5
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Kent was established in the late 5th century. Retainers are just people who are in service to a king or lord, in exchange for land or riches. It's not an anachronism, but how Germanic structures always worked. Classical feudalism is just a large scale extension of this.
I think this is a simplistic view of how kingdoms with organised structures are created from disparate groups of unconnected settlers. The point is germanic tribes on the continent weren't organised in the same way and the early settlements in England were not connected in the way you assume. There is no demonstrable connection between norton, heslerton, londresborough, sancton etc. Nothing to tie them together into anything one might call a kingdom under one leader. They appear to be quite independent. Nor does it follow that Æthelberht's 7th century kingdom of Kent is typical of England. What of all those other places mentioned in the tribal hidage such as Gwyras or the Wixnas? We don't even know where they were for sure let alone how they were organsised. There are many settlements areas such as the ones above plus others around the Tame not mentioned in the TH, why assume they all have the same structure. Germanic groups have a long history of forming, disbanding and reforming. They didn't migrate from germany in a homogeneous group complete with social structure.

If you read the paper, you will familiarise yourself with the difficulties in taking an 8th century model and back projecting it to the 5th century. Where are all the royal houses? Where are the fortifications?

Last edited by authun; October 31st, 2017 at 03:31 PM.
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Old October 31st, 2017, 09:20 PM   #6

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The Anglo-Saxons had about seventy words for warrior but none for hero.

See this paper by Rolf Bremmer:

https://www.academia.edu/11726863/Ol...oic_Literature
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Old October 31st, 2017, 11:24 PM   #7

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The earliest terms I’m familiar with were the Gedriht... household troops/personal guard of the chief/king. The Duguth were older experienced warriors and the geoguth were the young men with no or only a few fights under their belt.

Later the Gedriht have divided into Thegns ... lords and leaders and Huscarls, professional retainers. Fryd were .... as I understand a type of militia, though part of it at least might have been full time.

They seem to have made great use of the horse as transport but not so often to fight. Anglo-Saxon attempts at cavalry combat seem to have been accidental and not ended well.
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Old November 1st, 2017, 01:44 AM   #8
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Our knowledge of the old english is dominated by later west saxon texts wherea this paper is concerned with the early period. Old english is a language of the elite, once kingdoms and societal structure have been created. Härke's paper is about the earliest settlers whose vocabulary is entirely unknown other than a handful of inscriptions in the elder futhark and before the development of the of the anglo saxon futhorc. We don't know what the spoken language sounded like (Tristram, Diglossia) or even if the Angles and Saxons could understand each other (Jorgensen, pers. corresp.) and as Looijenga observed, early saxons didn't appear to use runes (Looijenga, Runes, Texts and Contexts around the North Sea).

Written evidence from the 9th to 11th centuries cannot safely be back projected. The earliest law codes make no references to military organisation. As Härke writes there is a shift in the obligations that were tied to land tenure in the 8th century. We don't know what the situation was in the 5th or 6th centuries.
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Old November 1st, 2017, 03:08 AM   #9

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Quote:
Originally Posted by notgivenaway View Post
From the early kingdoms of the late 5th century right up to Hastings, the military was based on levies, ties, and essentially feudal bonds. All Germanics relied on retainers who supported their lord or king for service, in return for war spoils, land, or protection.

.
Or slaves. Or free men that didn't get paid other than food and Lodge. that's how the Visigoths landed up when ruling Spain anyway. Though most of said 'workers' were ready in situe, I don't think they dragged many across Europe!
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Old November 1st, 2017, 04:37 AM   #10
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The point about the migration period is that the wandering tribes were on the move, the concept of land tenure wasn't a factor and the structure of the migrating groups was different to their later, more settled, periods. Structures then developed according to what they took over. The Franks and Visigoths took over existing systems more or less intact, areas which had things like cities. The anglo saxons took over England, but didn't use the old roman cities, possibly because post roman britain was no longer an intact or fully functioning society. Even where there were pockets of a continuing post roman society, the early anglo saxons appear to have settled as a free peasantry which evolved into a more structured society in later centuries.

Structure starts to appear in the Law Code of Aethelberht in Kent, but it is after Conversion and it is primarily concerned with preserving God's peace by way of compensation, the first 7 laws for example:

1. God’s property and the church’s [is to be compensated] with 12-fold compensation.
2. A bishop’s property [is to be compensated] with 11-fold compensation.
3. A priest’s property [is to be compensated] with 9-fold compensation.
4. A deacon’s property [is to be compensated] with 6-fold compensation.
5. A cleric’s property [is to be compensated] with 3-fold compensation.
6. [Violation of] church peace [is to be compensated] with 2-fold compensation.
7. [Violation of] assembly peace [is to be compensated] with 2-fold compensation.

It then lists the compensations for violations against the King and then against nobles, freemen, maidens, servants and slaves.

9. If the king drinks at a person’s home, and a person should do anything seriously dishonest there, let him pay two[-fold] restitution.
10. If a freeman should steal from the king, let him compensate with 9[-fold] compensation.
11. If a person should kill someone in the king’s dwelling, let him pay 50 shillings.
12. If a person kills a free man, 50 shillings to the king as lord-payment.
13. If [a person] kills the king’s official [?,] smith or ?herald/guide, let him pay an ordinary person-price.


The Lex Visigothorum which is effectively established roman law taken over and covering a much more wider range of topics: the law makers, the law, the courts, witnesses and evidence, contracts, marriages, rape, adultery, pederasty, jews, divorce, inheritance, forgeries, counterfeiting, arson, damage to trees and gardens, bees, conscription into and desertion from the [standing] army and so on.

The Kentish Lawcode is not comparable at all and points to a much less formal structure, one of deference rather than servience. Amongst the Franks, the Mayor held the power rather than the King for example. This is all quite different from the feudal structure of say, Norman Society. According to Tacitus, the 1st century germans "choose their kings by birth" and "their generals for merit". Tacitus informs us that the "kings have not unlimited or arbitrary power, and the generals do more by example than by authority." This is not a feudal society. The question is, for all the places where the germanics settled after their migrations, how did the structured societies that we know from the later centuries develop?
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