How Anglo-Saxons fought
Anglo-Saxon armies were usually small, with only a few hundred men. The soldiers had spears, axes, swords and bows and arrows. They wore helmets on their heads and carried wooden shields. Everyone fought on foot during a battle. It must have been a bit like a giant rugby scrum, with lots of pushing and yelling, and nasty wounds.
The most feared Anglo-Saxon weapon was a battle axe, but the most precious weapon was a sword. It took hours of work by a smith to craft a sword. He softened iron in a red-hot fire, twisted iron rods together and hammered the sword into shape.
Most soldiers had farms, and after a battle went home as soon as they could, to look after their animals and crops. To make sure he had enough soldiers, the king ordered local officials called 'ealdormen' to provide so many men each. The more land you had, the more men you had to provide. These local bands of men made up England's part-time army called the fyrd. If the country was invaded, the king could call up every freeman to join his army.
The warrior code
The king had a small bodyguard of brave warriors who would die to defend him. The 'warrior-code' of the Anglo-Saxons taught that a warrior must fight and die for his leader, if he had to.
An Anglo-Saxon poem called The Battle of Maldon tells the story of a battle in Essex in 991, between English and invading Vikings. The English leader allowed the Vikings to cross from their camp for a 'fair fight'. The English lost, but the poem still praises their heroism.
Wars with the Vikings
Viking attacks on Anglo-Saxon England started at the end of the AD700s. The Vikings came by sea in their longships. They attacked monasteries and churches to steal gold and other treasures. By the 800s, great armies of Vikings roamed England. In AD869, they killed King Edmund of East Anglia.
After King Alfred of Wessex fought the Vikings, he made peace with them. He built ships and walled towns to defend his kingdom against Viking attacks. However, fighting between the English and the Vikings went on into the AD1000s.