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Hadrian Coffin
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PostPosted: Tue 09 Feb, 2016 4:57 pm    Post subject: Norman vs. Anglo-Saxon Military Technology         Reply with quote

Hello all,

This is part of my new dissertation, and I am asking anyone for academic articles they may have come across.

There is a classic debate: 'Were the Normans successful (specifically at Hastings, but also throughout the campaign in Britain), because of superior military technology, or because of superior tactic against an enemy that hadn't yet understood how to face a mounted cavalry'

This debate centres on an antiquated idea that the stirrup and the lance were brought to Britain on the horses of the Normans.

The question I am trying to ask, is there even a way to strongly differentiate the martial material culture in the archaeological record between the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans. Can we prove that one side had better swords, better shields, better (or even fundamentally different) anything.

I'm not convinced we can.

--Hadrian

Historia magistra vitae est
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Michael Wiethop




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PostPosted: Tue 09 Feb, 2016 5:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As far as I know, both sides had pretty much the same individual equipment, though the English probably had more great axes and lacked cavalry or many archers, while the Normans had a good amount of both archers and cavalry.

Thing was, Hastings was a close-fought battle. At several points Duke William was nearly killed, and that certainly would have hurt the Normans' chance at victory, if not defeated them outright. The English held out against attack after attack for most of the day, and if they had held the line rather than pursuing the feigned Norman retreats, and if Harold had not been killed, the battle probably would have gone the other way.

It's generally not a good idea to draw conclusions on which army or fighting style was better based on a single battle. Any number of unforeseen events can happen in battle that can change the outcome. Isandhlwana, for example, was not proof of the superiority of large numbers of spearmen to small numbers of riflemen, since many other battles in southern Africa and elsewhere proved otherwise.
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Alexander Ehlers




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PostPosted: Wed 10 Feb, 2016 3:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would say the biggest reason for the victory at the Battle of Hastings was because the Anglo-Saxons were worn out due to continuous fighting during the day and one of the battles prior to Hastings, I forgot what it was called.

Like the last guy said, the equipment was probably just the same, especially at that time period. It was just more of a circumstance victory than one or the other force being superior.

Never give up without giving a fight, fighting is an opportunity for victory.
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Daniel Wallace




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PostPosted: Wed 10 Feb, 2016 7:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

taking into account Harold's military successes, I very much believe he would have won the day if he had lived. Harold's quick marches seem to remind me of Stonewall Jackson from the American civil war. once he has momentum, it seems like he continues. to have fought Harold Hadrada so far to the north - and won - and to roll back to Hastings pretty quickly is quite an accomplishment for any military leader of the time.

the role of cavalry in the battle, and the way it was used defiantly aided the Normans. if William used them in an outright charge up the field, he probably would have been routed. the absolute turn was when Harold was killed. with such centralized leadership, on both sides, once gone the army can't hold itself together.

I don't think this has anything to do with which was better equipped for the other, but more two military leaders out thinking each other.
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Wed 10 Feb, 2016 9:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Though I've been to Hastings my knowledge of what exactly happened is minimal, but didn't Harold line up his troops on top of a ridge where they managed to repel cavalry charges for most of the day? I don't think anyone could have done that better.

As for cavalry what is the current conses on cavalry use by the Anglo-Saxons themselves? I recall reading something about cavalry at Stamford bridge on this forum not too long ago.
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Daniel Wallace




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PostPosted: Thu 11 Feb, 2016 6:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

yes, Harold was successful in repelling multiple charges from the upon the hill top. but also remember, cavalry was not used in the same sense as the later shock charge that the Normans were so famous for developing. at this time, cavalry is a supporting role for the infantry, they're attempting to weaken the lines for the real melee.

it was upon these repelled charges that William noticed groups of soldier breaking lines and chasing after them that he began to order the refrained retreats. he was picking away at Harold little by little, but the time of day was on Harold side, we was outlasting William. William couldn't make a big enough punch to make a difference.

Harold had the field, he was on hill top, flanked by forests at both ends so William could not maneuver him off the hill. Williams refrained retreats may have been the only thing working in his favor.

Anglo-Saxon cavalry use, was basically nonexistent. Anglo-Saxon's would have used horses to move equipment, or just use them to hurry soldiers to the field - then dismount to fight. the Shield wall was their proven tactic of the day.
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Gregory J. Liebau




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PostPosted: Thu 11 Feb, 2016 6:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hadrian,

Surprisingly few articles related to the battle come up on sources like academia.edu. Out of curiousity, what sort of previous scholarship have you already accumulated to analyze for your argument? Good luck, 'n cheers!

-Gregory
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Kirk B.





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PostPosted: Fri 12 Feb, 2016 7:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There was a argument being bantered around 20 years ago or so that it was the first major battle in which the cavalry uniformly used stirrups.

Since they did charge the shield wall repeatedly until successful perhaps there is something to that?

On the other hand stirrups are quite a bit older than that...?
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Fri 12 Feb, 2016 9:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kirk B. wrote:

On the other hand stirrups are quite a bit older than that...?


Shock cavalry was quite a bit older than Hastings too, some 1300 years older if my memory serves me right.
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Michael Wiethop




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PostPosted: Fri 12 Feb, 2016 2:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kirk B. wrote:
There was a argument being bantered around 20 years ago or so that it was the first major battle in which the cavalry uniformly used stirrups.

Since they did charge the shield wall repeatedly until successful perhaps there is something to that?

On the other hand stirrups are quite a bit older than that...?
Here's a pretty good article by a modern jouster--though I somewhat recall someone here saying it had some issues, but I can't recall the issues. The author points out that stirrups don't help out with the impact of a charge. They help one mount, dismount, rise in the saddle, and keep their seat during a melee, but they certainly don't transfer the momentum of the horse to the lance point.

http://www.classicalfencing.com/articles/shock.php
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Paul Ballantyne





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PostPosted: Fri 12 Feb, 2016 4:43 pm    Post subject: low point         Reply with quote

I recall a programe with Mike Loades specifically regarding Norman cavalry at the Battle of Hastings.(cant recall the title though). He stated at this time the Norman cavalry would approach the shield line and stab down in an underhand stabbing motion (as well as throwing the spear at rather close range), rather than the braced crouched lance charge.

The Norman cavalry would ride up poke, and try to tempt the men in the shield wall to break line, literally goad them forward to exploit any breach in the line.

Hope this helps you. I could try to flick through my collection if you wanted to find the actual clip.
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Niels Just Rasmussen




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PostPosted: Sat 13 Feb, 2016 7:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Daniel Wallace wrote:
taking into account Harold's military successes, I very much believe he would have won the day if he had lived. Harold's quick marches seem to remind me of Stonewall Jackson from the American civil war. once he has momentum, it seems like he continues. to have fought Harold Hadrada so far to the north - and won - and to roll back to Hastings pretty quickly is quite an accomplishment for any military leader of the time.

the role of cavalry in the battle, and the way it was used defiantly aided the Normans. if William used them in an outright charge up the field, he probably would have been routed. the absolute turn was when Harold was killed. with such centralized leadership, on both sides, once gone the army can't hold itself together.

I don't think this has anything to do with which was better equipped for the other, but more two military leaders out thinking each other.


I agree.
King Harold actually was robbed of "eternal fame" by dying in this battle.
Had he lived he would be regarded as one of the truly great commanders in European martial history.

1) Leading a truly impressive forced march and he surprised totally a great and very experienced opponent in Harald hardrada.
That is in itself a great feat.

2) Another impressive forced march to the south. Here he fails to surprise the enemy decisively, but manages to have the superior ground, so a draw at nightfall would force the Normans back.
As the Normans really haven't secured much ground on their bridgehead, they need to win this before nightfall or they probably would have to retreat and sail away defeated OR land at another spot (very dangerous with Harald's army in the vicinity). That retreat to their ships would be quite dangerous for the Normans, but worth the try from William as Harold's men likely would be tired to follow them?
William's win is only secured by Harold's death on the battlefield. Otherwise it would most likely have been a tactical draw and thus a strategic victory for Harold.

3) If Harold had driven out William he would likely have faced a third attack by the Danish King Svend Estridsen (the last realistic pretender for the crown) perhaps in corporation with William had he escaped to Normandy.
That would have been interesting. This could have made Harald fight 3 major pitched battles and had he won this last hypothetical one as well, he would be a "major league commander"!

Svend Estridsen did conquer York in 1069, but was bought off by William this time and had another failed attempt in 1074/75.
The Danish King probably realized that the Normans were already to entrenched to really make more ground.

Conclusion:
Basically William was lucky - but it is important to remember that he took a calculated risky chance to end this before nightfall and apparently his ploys succeeded in opening lines and was able to get men close enough to Harold to kill him.
Williams tactics paid off showing that he also was quite an able commander.

Why a leaders death caused almost certain defeat:
The point is not only centralized leadership ended the battle, but this is armies that fight each other in a royal pretender battle. Once your leader is dead, what is there to fight for anymore (unless you want to die with your liege)?

Hastings is no ethnic battle between Anglo-Saxon and Normans (though it was later interpreted as such when the Normans brought in a hard ruthless rule) as Angle and Anglo-Danish nobles certainly disliked Saxons having control of their northern English territories. Danes had certainly lots of local Angles + Anglo-Danish support in Northumbria against both Saxons and Normans until the Normans crushed it ruthlessly with the "Harrying in the North" in 1069-70.
This was regarded as really shocking as the Normans were originally Danes that ruthlessly slaughtered Angles and Danes also both from Denmark. It prevented Danish Kings to have future allies in pretender claims, so the Norman slaughter was very effective from a historical point of view. It was basically an cleansing of all Angle + Anglo-Danish independent people, close to almost annihilation of the people living there as it was speculated that 75% of the entire population was murdered.

Anglo-Saxon England as a people united against foreign invaders is in many ways Wessex (Saxon) propaganda", but it becomes a reality under Norman rule, where it didn't really exist before where you had Saxons vs Angles+Danes with Norwegians as wildcard. Everyone could agree to feel under the heel of the Normans......


Last edited by Niels Just Rasmussen on Sun 14 Feb, 2016 5:33 am; edited 1 time in total
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Sat 13 Feb, 2016 11:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

William was lucky to win indeed, perhaps even more lucky as he is now remembered as William the conqueror rather than William the Bastard.

As for the whole ethnicity part, history is written by the victor and more often than not they write down a rather simple good vs. bad variant of what really happend. We might remember Cortez as the guy who toppled the Aztecs but for every Spanish soldier there were a couple of natives helping him. I always pictured Waterloo as an army of redcoats facing the French but in truth only a third of the forces present were British and of those at least a quarter were of the skirt wearing variety.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Sat 27 Feb, 2016 12:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Normans and Anglo-Saxons already had decades of fairly extensive cultural contact and exchange going on before Hastings. I think there was an expedition to Wales in the 1050s that involved a large number of "French" allies or adventurers, many of whom probably made up the unusually large number of cavalry mentioned in connection with the expedition.
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Edward Blick




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PostPosted: Tue 09 Aug, 2016 8:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Are there any surviving examples of Norman armour and weapons? I know there are surviving remnants of English armour and weapons, as well as Viking/Saxon armour and weapons from this period, but i have not seen anything archaeological to back up the artwork portrayed in the Bayeux Tapestry- no large mail hauberks of the period or nasal helms. Im sure there must be some out in private collections or still buried yet to be found; as well as the aforementioned examples possibly collecting dust never displayed or documented in museum basements. I am new here and I am very curious why examples of European armour/weapons have not survived from the years 800-1100; while many other cultures armour and weapons have. Many examples of Saracen from the early crusades but nothing from the crusaders themselves? very strange, especially for desert climates. I am tempted to start a new thread on this topic; while there are many I would like to create my own.
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Andrew Gill





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PostPosted: Wed 10 Aug, 2016 7:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There's another argument against the Normans winning through technological superiority: there are many counter-examples through history of forces who enjoy a much more significant techological advantage but still lose battles or wars. Three of my favourite examples:
-The British lost to the Zulus at Isandwana, despite the fact that they were armed with rifled, breech-loading firearms and most of the Zulus used melee weapons - short spears, clubs and tall shields (the few firearms they posessed were mostly of obsolete types).
-The French had arguably the best tanks in the world in 1940 - certainly better than the early German Panzers, but Germany conquered the whole of western Europe very quickly.
-According to near-contemporary sources, most Finnish soldiers in the Winter War against the USSR had never seen a tank until they had to fight one - but they had some startling successes despite this, and having to use improvised weapons (molotov cocktails) and tactics.
And so on. Even if the dubious claims about stirrups, etc were true, I doubt that would have had nearly as big an effect as guns-versus-spears or tanks-versus-petrol bombs (and given the closeness of the battle, it would probably imply BAD THINGS about William as a tactician if they were true, as they nearly failed to secure him a victory).

To Edward:

People today tend to think that different groups of people of that period used relatively homogeneous equipment which was distinctive to them, but in most cases this is almost certainly untrue, and possibly comes from more recent fiction (where it is a useful way to distinguish between the 'good guys' and 'bad guys'.

As others have stated, there was a lot of contact across western Europe including Britain, and with that, a well-developed international trade network, which we know included weapons and armour (they are relatively compact but valuable, and there is archeological evidence, I'm told). So in fact, there is not much reason to suspect that the equipment which a Norman soldier would have used would have differed greatly from that of his opposite number in the Saxon shield wall, and the weapons and armour used by the individual soldiers of the Norman army would not have been particularly uniform either. Similarly, most of the swords which people tend to think of as "viking swords" were made somewhere else (eg "ulfberth" swords probably came from the Rheinlands), and are now usually referred to as "viking-era swords" because most of western Europe used them around that time. So without context, there is often no way of saying who (or how many) people of whichever nationalities used a particular weapon or piece of armour, especially as these things tended to get re-used due to their value, rather than left to rust on the battlefield. And (although it is a somewhat questionable source of information), the Bayeaux Tapestry does generally show the Saxons with similar equipment and armour to the Normans, possibly excepting the big dane-axes.

For examples of real artifacts from western Europe for the period from 800-1100 AD, there are actually a fair number in museums: for instance the British Museum has a good collection from this time period, there are some more bits and pieces in the Kelvingrove and other Scottish museums and incredibly, there are actually some surviving wooden medieval longbows and viking-age round shields in a museum in Stuttgart. (also some roman mail, if I recall correctly, but that's besides the point). There is a book which is worth looking out for: it is called "Swords of the Viking Age" which gives a fairly good review of many of the best surviving swords from this period, (and it is a relatively inexpensive book). And here's a thread on surviving mail (of many different periods and cultures): http://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=293...mp;start=0
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Edward Blick




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PostPosted: Wed 10 Aug, 2016 1:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Andrew,

Thank you very much for all of the information; I will gladly research the collections in the museums you mentioned and when I next travel to Europe I will have to make a list to visit. I will also pick up this book and give it a read, I am very interested in the archaeology of this time period and what remains. Thank you again!
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Alexander Hinman




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PostPosted: Thu 11 Aug, 2016 2:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Andrew Gill wrote:

For examples of real artifacts from western Europe for the period from 800-1100 AD


This is a 300 year period which saw a significant transition in the shape of weapons and armour. I don't think it is pedagogically useful to treat it all as a single unit.



As others have mentioned, contact between Normans and English was common well prior to Hastings, and there is no reason to suppose that one was more technologically "advanced" than the other, though their tactics obviously differed. Again, though, I do not find either tactical set more "advanced". Though Godwinson was bereft of archers and cavalry, the former was due to his own need for haste in returning south, while the latter, as we know from many medieval battles (arguably Bremule, Kephissos, etc), were not strictly necessary to achieve victory.

I don't believe that the outcome of the battle was predetermined, but at the same time I think Harold's position can be overstated. It was not simply blind luck that William made a point of constructing a castle and ravaging southern England. These were deliberate actions done to force battle. As we can see with near-contemporary dynastic struggles (Henry I and Robert Curthose for example) when an expedition is undertaken to enforce dynastic claims it is generally preferable for the invader to bring these expeditions to a swift end. This most typically means battle, because it reduces short-term costs for the invader and provides them with their best opportunity to capture or kill the enemy leader, further reducing costs. Additionally, if battle is not forced then, in cases such as William's invasion of England, it can become easy for the invaded domain to fortify their strongholds, prevent the invader from collecting forage, gather reinforcements, etc.

Harold could, hypothetically, have avoided pitched battle entirely, and adopted a "Vegetian" or "Fabian" strategy, wearing down the Normans by denying them foodstuffs and plunder, forcing them to retreat once they ran out of money or food. It is not clear to me, however, how much this would have impacted Harold's legitimacy to his own subjects. Allowing the Normans and their allies to ravage his lands without a culturally appropriate response might have made his reign even more tenuous, which William or the Danish claimant could have exploited. William therefore may have forced Harold's hand, and gotten the battle he desired.

While Harold did have choice of ground (and he made a good choice at that) the speed of his march proved to be more an impediment than a stroke of genius. In addition to tiring his men, he was unable to collect any archers. A less-exhausted army and a wider range of tactical options surely would have given him some advantage.

The feigned retreats of the Normans no doubt had a debilitating effect on the English, and I would personally credit these, and the rally against a detachment of pursuing English earlier in the battle, with the ultimate victory as much as Harold's death. It is not, after all, abundantly clear whether he was cut down in the fray or shot with an arrow, but in either case it is likely the steady wearing down of his forces left him in a progressively more vulnerable position. Edit: I do not mean to say that luck had nothing to do with these events, but rather that there is luck with fair dice and luck with loaded dice.

It is worth noting that if Harold was indeed cut down, his life may have been spared had he been more identifiable as the king. Although it was English custom at this time to kill rebels en masse (which a defeated Harold would certainly count as), Frankish custom (and I include the Normans in this, for their martial practices were essentially identical) was considerably more lenient. Robert Curthose, for example, was not executed but spent his life under house arrest. Odo of Bayeux was exiled, etc.
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