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Samuel D R




Location: UK
Joined: 04 Mar 2017

Posts: 53

PostPosted: Sun 05 Mar, 2017 9:18 am    Post subject: Post-Roman British weapons         Reply with quote

I've only seen archeological evidence for Britons starting from the late 6th and early 7th centuries, when the majority of them had been enslaved by the Saxons or absorbed into their culture. Do we know anything of their own weapons from 400-600 AD? Ignoring the fact they probably looted and used German gear and leftover Roman gear, it seems unlikely no spears or knives at all were made for two centuries.
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
Joined: 17 Sep 2003

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PostPosted: Sun 05 Mar, 2017 3:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If you find anything out, let us know! I've been seeing this same question come up on numerous boards for years, with nothing more solid than a shrug.

Just as generalities, spear and shield seem like safe bets. Also, anything the Britons would have been using would have been derived from what was used under Roman rule, i.e., Late Roman equipment. Which had a lot of Germanic influence. So how different from the Saxon gear would it have been? Sure, some cosmetics and decoration--I'm sure *they* could tell the difference easily enough!

Unfortunately, sometimes there's a reason we call it "The Dark Ages"...

Matthew
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Samuel D R




Location: UK
Joined: 04 Mar 2017

Posts: 53

PostPosted: Sun 05 Mar, 2017 9:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
If you find anything out, let us know! I've been seeing this same question come up on numerous boards for years, with nothing more solid than a shrug.

Just as generalities, spear and shield seem like safe bets. Also, anything the Britons would have been using would have been derived from what was used under Roman rule, i.e., Late Roman equipment. Which had a lot of Germanic influence. So how different from the Saxon gear would it have been? Sure, some cosmetics and decoration--I'm sure *they* could tell the difference easily enough!

Unfortunately, sometimes there's a reason we call it "The Dark Ages"...

Matthew


Thank you for your answer!

If one were to agree with Martin Henig and Ken Dark that the Vergilius Romanus is from Britain, and accept the dating of 400-500 (which is fairly accurate thanks to science), couldn't that tell us some things on the Britons? I've had a look at some of the illuminations, and it's quite clear they're depicting things with their own biases. They show coptic tunics, which didn't exist when Vergil was alive, as well as the shieldwall, which is not a tactic Vergil describes in the battle the image depicts. So it wouldn't be a stretch to guess that they had coptic tunics and used shieldwalls. They seem to use fantasy helmets, as if someone had told them Ancient Romans or Trojans had horse-hair crests and the illustrator had just stuck some sort of red plume on a copper, migration period helmet:

The plumed helmet.

The shield wall.

The Coptic tunic.

That said, the armour seems to be modern rather than Vergil's contemporary bronze breastplate and Roman chainmail. Even more so for the scenes from the Aeneid, which would be from about 1100 BC (given no accurate dating has been accepted on Troy). The people wear medieval chainmail and scale armour.

I can't see any swords, but they seem to have leaf-blade spears and migration period bucklers, with the traditional protruding cone domes.

Sadly only a few of these are digitised, there are more in the real manuscript.
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Mon 06 Mar, 2017 6:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oh, yes, I love that manuscript! I based my shoes on those ones. I suspect you're right that it is basically "modern" dress and gear with some "archaic" details (such as the crests). You see things like that in artwork from most any era. And we may not have any *proof* for that, but it's about all we can conclude, however tentatively.

Somewhere I also ran across a nice illustration showing a tunic with a hem and cuffs that had a border decorated with circles or rings, so I made a tunic embroidered like that. I used the Bernusthfeld tunic as a model for the basic shape, though I didn't do it patchwork-style!

Yeah, a couple times in the last 15 or 20 years I decided to get going on a serious Arthurian-era impression. And both times I had a sudden car repair that ate $900. "Well, there went my budget!" Kinda makes me leery of trying again... But I REALLY want a nice Valsgarde helmet some day! My favorite is #7 or #8.

Been too long since I looked at any of this stuff! You're probably ahead of me in the research department, really. The lack of archeological finds is frustrating, but heck, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot more for the *Norman* era, so I try not to let it bother me.

Please carry on, and please keep posting! I would love to see what else you come up with.

Matthew

PS: And yes, at some point I should probably dig out what I've got, and get some photos!
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Samuel D R




Location: UK
Joined: 04 Mar 2017

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PostPosted: Mon 06 Mar, 2017 6:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
Oh, yes, I love that manuscript! I based my shoes on those ones. I suspect you're right that it is basically "modern" dress and gear with some "archaic" details (such as the crests). You see things like that in artwork from most any era. And we may not have any *proof* for that, but it's about all we can conclude, however tentatively.

Somewhere I also ran across a nice illustration showing a tunic with a hem and cuffs that had a border decorated with circles or rings, so I made a tunic embroidered like that. I used the Bernusthfeld tunic as a model for the basic shape, though I didn't do it patchwork-style!

Yeah, a couple times in the last 15 or 20 years I decided to get going on a serious Arthurian-era impression. And both times I had a sudden car repair that ate $900. "Well, there went my budget!" Kinda makes me leery of trying again... But I REALLY want a nice Valsgarde helmet some day! My favorite is #7 or #8.

Been too long since I looked at any of this stuff! You're probably ahead of me in the research department, really. The lack of archeological finds is frustrating, but heck, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot more for the *Norman* era, so I try not to let it bother me.

Please carry on, and please keep posting! I would love to see what else you come up with.

Matthew

PS: And yes, at some point I should probably dig out what I've got, and get some photos!


Oh, indeed. Very tentatively. As Gale Owen-Crocker said in her Dress in Anglo-Saxon England, “Not for the first time, we must question whether art is truthful.”.

I'd be very interested to see your reconstructed shoes. What fabric/material did you use for them?

It's an area of history that fascinates me, I'm hoping to specialise in it and do actual professional/academic research. Though the ideal situation would be some new excavations (especially of the untouched Sutton-Hoo mounds!), they're very costly and there's just no funding. But it does seem unlikely nothing at all from the Post-Roman era has survived. It's undeniable domesticated animals (mainly oxen and cows) inhabited Britain, yet I can't find any reports of 5th century animal bones have been found. Maybe I've not looked hard enough. A big source I used was Deborah J Shepherd's Daily Life in Arthurian Britain, though other authors such as Guy Halsall (despite his Arthur skepticism) and John Morris (polar opposite of the latter and often criticised) are great as well.

It's certainly a tricky area. Little archeological evidence, only two contemporary sources, and archeologically confusing overlap with the Saxons.
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Dave Black.




Location: Australia
Joined: 27 May 2016

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PostPosted: Mon 06 Mar, 2017 8:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Probably of little value, but the following stanza comes from the old Welsh poem Y Gododdin

Men went to Catraeth with a war-cry
Speedy steeds and dark armour and shields
Spear-shafts held high and spear-points sharp-edged
And glittering coats-of-mail and swords
He led the way, he thrust through armies
Five companies fell before his blades
Rhufawn His gave gold to the altar
And a rich reward to the minstrel

Y Gododdin is contained in the Book of Aneirin which is thought to recount a raid by the men of Gododdin around about 600 AD. The force assembled at Edinburgh and attacked Anglian settlements in Yorkshire. The conquest of Edinburgh and its incorporation into the kingdom of Northumbria in 638 mean that events commemorated in the poem must be earlier.

The caveat here is that the poem is thought to have been orally transmitted until the 8th or 9th century and then was later copied into middle Welsh around the 13th century with various interpolations added. Some think the poem may not even refer to the events of the 7th century.

It might be worth mentioning in passing that Gildas in his De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae refers to a tyrant called Cuneglasus who is described as being the guider of a chariot. But whether this was a war chariot or a general purpose wagon or something else altogether isn't clear.
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Samuel D R




Location: UK
Joined: 04 Mar 2017

Posts: 53

PostPosted: Tue 07 Mar, 2017 4:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dave Black. wrote:
Probably of little value, but the following stanza comes from the old Welsh poem Y Gododdin

Men went to Catraeth with a war-cry
Speedy steeds and dark armour and shields
Spear-shafts held high and spear-points sharp-edged
And glittering coats-of-mail and swords
He led the way, he thrust through armies
Five companies fell before his blades
Rhufawn His gave gold to the altar
And a rich reward to the minstrel

Y Gododdin is contained in the Book of Aneirin which is thought to recount a raid by the men of Gododdin around about 600 AD. The force assembled at Edinburgh and attacked Anglian settlements in Yorkshire. The conquest of Edinburgh and its incorporation into the kingdom of Northumbria in 638 mean that events commemorated in the poem must be earlier.

The caveat here is that the poem is thought to have been orally transmitted until the 8th or 9th century and then was later copied into middle Welsh around the 13th century with various interpolations added. Some think the poem may not even refer to the events of the 7th century.

It might be worth mentioning in passing that Gildas in his De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae refers to a tyrant called Cuneglasus who is described as being the guider of a chariot. But whether this was a war chariot or a general purpose wagon or something else altogether isn't clear.


Given the many Biblical references in Gildas, it could well be some Biblical chariot.

Thank you for the excerpt, Dave. I've read the poem and analyses of it but hadn't considered looking at it to confirm anything: we can at least be sure they used spears and shields, armour and mail!

Doesn't Gildas refer to a sword, "by sword and javelin", to describe Custennin's murder of the two boys in a Church?

By the way, does anyone know why some translators shoehorned in "Gurthrigern" (Vortigern) into De Excidio when he is not explicitly named?
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Dave Black.




Location: Australia
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PostPosted: Tue 07 Mar, 2017 11:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Samuel D R wrote:

Doesn't Gildas refer to a sword, "by sword and javelin", to describe Custennin's murder of the two boys in a Church?


I thought I was doing well to remember the reference from Y Gododdin but yes you're correct, the quote being:

"he nevertheless, in the habit of a holy abbat amid the sacred altars, did with sword and javelin, as if with teeth, wound and tear, even in the bosoms of their temporal mother, and of the church their spiritual mother, two royal youths, with their two attendants, whose arms, although not eased in armour, were yet boldly used, and, stretched out towards God and his altar"

So the upper classes at least were wearing armour. Now its paragraph 18 (J. A. Giles's 1848 revision) where it gets interesting. It is too long to quote but it seems to suggest that the British were told to arm arm themselves (sword, spear and shield are mentioned). The last part of the paragraph reads:

"They then give energetic counsel to the timorous natives, and leave them patterns by which to manufacture arms. Moreover, on the south coast where their vessels lay, as there was some apprehension lest the barbarians might land, they erected towers at stated intervals, commanding a prospect of the sea; and then left the island never to return."

If Gildas is to be believed about the Britons being told to produce weapons of Roman specification, then it would make a lot of sense to me because for all they knew at the time Roman rule was going to be re-established in a few years time.

Quote:

By the way, does anyone know why some translators shoehorned in "Gurthrigern" (Vortigern) into De Excidio when he is not explicitly named?


Too long to get into, but the usurper was identified as Vortigern by Bede. At least one manuscript of Gildas (10th c.) also contains the name, although possibly a later addition. The Bern Codex 178 of the 9th century also identifies Vortigern and lastly its argued that Gildas's "Superbus Tyrannus" is actually a pun on Vortigern's name. So it seems a reasonably well grounded identification.
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Samuel D R




Location: UK
Joined: 04 Mar 2017

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PostPosted: Tue 07 Mar, 2017 11:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm aware of his later identification by Bede and Geoffrey of Monmouth, but was wondering why a translator would tamper with De Excidoo by adding his name in.

His name does certainly mean "over king", which could be translated as superbus tyrannus (uƒortigernos in reconstructed Proto-Celtic).
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Andrew W




Location: Florida, USA
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PostPosted: Wed 08 Mar, 2017 1:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The spears we find in 'Anglo-Saxon' burials are probably not very different from those used by the 'British' kingdoms to the west. The difference is, weapons were buried in the southeast and hence survive, while those from the west are archaeologically absent.

The spears we've dug from so-called 'Anglo-Saxon' graves don't closely resemble those used in the fifth-century Continental regions from which the Angles and Saxons supposedly migrated, but they do share some common features with late Roman (4th century) spears found in the north of England. I'm personally of the opinion that these weapons are local developments, not imported styles (Swanton 1973 agrees) -- and as such, I would not be surprised if the weapons used in parts of Britain where weapons weren't buried (Wales, the north) shared a lot of common stylistic features. The fact that many of the persons buried with these weapons were actually born in Wales, not Germany (something revealed by isotopic studies of persons buried in so-called 'Anglo-Saxon' cemeteries) further emphasizes the fact that populations -- and presumably also military technology -- moved back and forth across the island.

The pattern-welded swords we find in early 'Anglo-Saxon' graves are, in contrast, a much more clearly Continental style; whether they would have been adopted in the West is a harder question to answer.
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Samuel D R




Location: UK
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PostPosted: Wed 08 Mar, 2017 1:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
something revealed by isotopic studies of persons buried in so-called 'Anglo-Saxon' cemeteries


How accurate is this? It seems every year some new theory about how X culture are secretly related to Y because of a haplogroup appears. How do you even tell a Welshman from a Germanic person? What specific genes do they use to distinguish the two? It's always seemed dubious. They usually can't even tell the sex without looking at the objects they're buried with.
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Andrew W




Location: Florida, USA
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PostPosted: Wed 08 Mar, 2017 1:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pretty accurate, though it's important to understand how and why the science works (like all scientific analyses, the data must be interpreted, and these interpretations have error rates and other known issues).

Isotopic studies look at the ratios of different stable isotopes of Oxygen and Strontium in teeth, which come from the groundwater that a person was drinking in his or her childhood. Different regions have different ratios, and you can measure the local groundwater to see whether people are native to where they were buried.

Strontium can tell you very conclusively whether someone grew up where they're buried or elsewhere, but it can't tell you where else they came from, because strontium varies very randomly across the landscape and there are too many possibilities to say more than possibly local / definitely not local.

Oxygen, in contrast, varies depending on rainwater and climatic patterns that cover large regions. Determining precisely which regions in the past had which concentrations of different oxygen isotopes isn't a perfect science and accuracy is still being improved, but we can pin down general patterns of western Britain / lowlands Britain / Northern Europe / Mediterranean.

There have been a few dozen such studies in England now, and one of the more interesting patterns is the number of individuals whose oxygen isotopes show them to have grown up in western Britain before migrating to the 'Anglo-Saxon' regions of the island. Interesting, but perhaps not surprising -- archaeologists have long questioned the simplistic narrative of a violent invasion, and the near consensus among the scholarship has for several decades been that Romano-British people and Continental migrants intermarried and exchanged cultural practices. Mobility between west and east fits this larger pattern.

Hakenbeck has a good overview of the scientific issues one needs to understand with isotopic studies, on her academia.edu page: https://www.academia.edu/3851029/Potential_and_limitations_of_isotope_analysis_in_early_medieval_archaeology

Like you, I have a lot of skepticism about the DNA studies. They depend on models of genetic mutation which, to me, seem to be very much in their infancy, and the final conclusions of these studies (10-40% Anglo-Saxon migration, in the 2015 study published in Nature, for example) are not entirely consistent with the details included in the evidence itself. There's much yet to be done before this newer science becomes trustworthy, I think. This is different science from isotopic studies of tooth enamel, however, which we've been using about a decade longer and understand much better.

Sex from grave goods...oh dear. That's a habit forensic anthropologists have been trying to drill out of archaeologists for decades, often to no avail! I'll save that rant for a later day Happy
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Samuel D R




Location: UK
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PostPosted: Wed 08 Mar, 2017 1:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you for your detailed answer.

The problem is then people just try and deny there was an invasion at all, when about two dozen primary sources say there was. A war was fought.

Yes, peaceful foederati intermingled. Yes, the Bernicians and Eastanglians took over peacefully (at first). But there were three centuries of war. They were warriors.

I don't see why we can't just follow both narratives. There were peaceful and violent Saxons. Must they be either raping, murdering warriors to the last or all very friendly neighbours (who just happened to set fire to Pagan and Christian temples and churches, raze entire fortresses to the ground, slew the Gododdin (backed out by archeological excavations of absolutely mutilated seventh century corpses) and are behind the line “The barbarians drive us to the sea; the sea drives us back to the barbarians; between these two forms of death we are either slaughtered or drowned.”)

I don't see why so many choose to adopt a black and white view. Before modern times it was they were all evil, now that they were all very nice.
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Andrew W




Location: Florida, USA
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PostPosted: Wed 08 Mar, 2017 2:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If you haven't read it, Guy Halsall's book Worlds of Arthur (2013) will explain much of the why behind academic skepticism of the invasion narrative. I'd recommend it to one with your interest in the period (alongside J. Gerrard's The Ruin of Roman Britain [2013], which just came out in paperback, and R. Fleming's Britain After Rome [2011] -- the least expensive and most comprehensive of the three). Together, these books sum up the current state of research very effectively.

The lack of sources from the western side of the island is the persistent frustration for studying these centuries. The archaeology from fifth, sixth, and seventh-century cemeteries in the southeast is so rich, and allows us to speak with great confidence about the weapons and, with less confidence, social structures of that side of the island's inhabitants. But how the other half lived and fought? Much more guesswork, as the sources either don't exist (in the case of individual weaponry), or are very different kinds of archaeological sites (for example, the architectural evidence from hillforts like Dinas Powys, which is unlike anything that's been excavated in the southeast).
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Samuel D R




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Mar, 2017 3:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There was an invasion. Are you seriously calling Procopius, Jordanes, Gildas, Bede, Nennius, the Chronica Gallia, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (the dozen Manuscripts) liars?
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Samuel D R




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Mar, 2017 3:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have read it. Bit of an ironic name since he fervently believes Arthur never existed.

I've not seen anything Halsall does believe in. He seems to dismiss every archaeological, literary, artistic source that exist about Britain.
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Andrew W




Location: Florida, USA
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PostPosted: Wed 08 Mar, 2017 3:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The author definitely has an ironic personality!

I'd personally make a distinction, though, between scholarly skepticism (which insists upon understanding what a source is and what it can and can't tell us before we try to use it to understand the past) and dismissiveness. Halsall's book says rather a lot about what we do know in its final chapters (and doesn't, actually, write off King Arthur's existence in the end), once it's walked through the scholarly methods that trained historians and archaeologists use to evaluate the evidence. The book's primary goal (and the reason I brought it up) is to expose how little evidence there is behind many of our old assumptions about this period. There are an extraordinary number of unfounded legends circulating about the warrior societies of early medieval Britain, and as a consequence it's really useful to understand the methodologies that academics have developed to sort good evidence from (oft unfounded) interpretation, speculation, or myth.
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Samuel D R




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Mar, 2017 3:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Please, do answer my question. Do you believe a dozen medieval historians who lived during the invasion and its afteath lie about it?
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Andrew W




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Mar, 2017 4:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I thought we were having a polite conversation about history, and must say that I'm a little uncomfortable with the confrontational tone of your question.

But no, I don't think those authors are dishonest. I'm not sure why you bring up Jordanes or Procopius, as I can't think of a reference to the Anglo-Saxon invasions in the first and the second is so vague that we cannot draw any conclusions from him. Gildas' details are all wrong (there are no cities knocked over by battering rams in the archaeology, and Gildas' narrative suggests that Hadrian's Wall and the Saxon Shore defenses were built in the fifth century), but that can be forgiven as he is writing a sermon illustration rather than a work of documentary history, so I wouldn't critique his honesty in this. The Chronicle Gallia, like Procopius, says very little. The others are distant commentators writing many centuries later. As you're familiar with the interpretive issues surrounding these texts from having read Halsall, I won't rehash them here.

Much better to rely upon the thousands of archaeological finds in the ground, in my view, as these are contemporary and abundant, unlike the difficult documentary sources. This is, in my eyes, one of the most exciting periods to study from an arms and armor perspective as it is one of the few times when our knowledge of social structure depends to a great extent on the physical properties and archaeological contexts of surviving weapons, rather than the other way round.
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Samuel D R




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PostPosted: Wed 08 Mar, 2017 4:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't find it exciting. I find it horrifying historians hate the period so much.
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