Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>878 Anglo-Saxon thegn

Subjectþegn noble
Culture: Anglo-Saxon
Setting: Viking wars, England 9-10thc
Evolution508 Anglo-Saxon hearthweru > 878 Anglo-Saxon thegn

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Harrison/Embleton 1993 p6-7
"Towards the end of the 8th century the word thegn begins to replace the word gesith.  Royal thegns, who held their land directly from the king, often became officials of the crown.  Some were eminent statesmen, such as Wolfric, the 'Welsh-reeve' who was responsible for collecting the tribute from Wales, and who died in 897.  This official capacity need not have kept him from military duties and he may have commanded Welsh auxiliaries in battle.  Other king's thegns mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle were war heroes.  For example, Ordeh, killed with many fellow thegns in the victory over the Vikings at Exeter in 894.  A thegn served his king as more than just a warrior: the modern division between warfare and statecraft did not yet exist."

* Lavelle 2012 p24
"Alfred did not spell out that fighting men needed to have been affluent to do their jobs (just as the medieval knight of a later age needed a certain amount of wealth) but the implication was there: they were set apart from the labouring classes and those who fulfilled a religious role.  Here was a social class, a social 'order' no less, whose position came from their specialist military role.
​    "This was a far cry from the popular image of the defence of Alfred's West Saxon kingdom by a nation in arms, an idea that owes more to a Victorian sense of state and nationhood than it does to the evidence of the Anglo-Saxon period.
​    "Wulfstan, archbishop of York during the reigns of Æthelred the Unready and Cnut (978-1016 and 1016-1035), is the likely author of other texts on social status.  Looking wistfully to a time when people knew their station, he indicates that there was room for social mobility.  A free landholder could become the equivalent of a knight -- a thegn -- if he had 'five hides of land of his own' (along with other privileges linking him to the royal court), and a merchant might do so if he had crossed the sea three times."

* Crossley-Holland 1975 p64
"Anglo-Saxon poetry tells us much about the thane in time of war; it is the laws that best indicate his peacetime duties: he had to attend the king's court, appear at legal assemblies, maintain law and order in his own area, and keep local bridges in good repair.  For some, there were such occasional duties as riding in pursuit of cattle raiders, fitting out a new ship, 'the bulding of deer-hedges on the king's estate', or, like one man in Beowulf, acting as a coastguard ....
​    "In addition to his public duties, the thane must have been much preoccupied with the management of his own land and the arrangements with the many small farmers who leased land from him, worked for him, and paid him with produce: the thane was in effect Chaucer's knight and reeve rolled into one."


* D'Amato 2013 p58 (reconstructing Alfred at Ashdown, 871)
"The royal prince ... is protected by a battle helmet (Gudhelm), similar to the one found at Coppergate (York).  The style belongs to the late-Roman tradition, comprising a bowl made of iron plates (fyrbendas), iron hinged cheek-pieces, and a mail curtain covering the back of the neck. Evidence of the use of such helmets in the ninth century can be found on the Northumbrian Franks casket and depictions on other stone monuments."


* Lavelle 2012 p23-24
"Despite their links with newly reformed monasteries, social elites defined themselves through their flaunting of material riches ....
"The gulf between the super-rich and poor was evidenced by the goods that Anglo-Saxons disposed of at death in a large (for this period) body of wills from monastic archives.  In life, England's nobility brandished their wealth through bodily adornments in precious silk and in jewellery, and in the vaunting of arms and armour."

* Quennell 1959 p129 (describing a Thane)
"He wore a shirt, and breeches, sometimes to the ankles, and at others cut off at the knee, when hose like leggings were added, and fastened by cross garters which were part of the leather shoes. These latter were sometimes gilded. The breeches were probably fastened at the waist, by a belt passed through loops. Over the shirt, a wool, or linen, tunic reaching to the knee was worn. This was belted at the waist, and had long sleeves tight at the wrist, and fastened with metal clasps. The cloak was fastened on breast or shoulder with a brooch. For everyday use caps of Phrygian shape were worn."

* Owen-Crocker 2004 p183-184
"In Anglo-Saxon art of the Christian period, the majority of male figures wear girdled tunics, usually cut short enough to reveal the knee.  Such tunics are represented in the Vespasian Psalter, not only in the Greek-derived miniature which focuses on King David, but also as worn by one of the figures in the 'David and Jonathan' initial.  This is the earliest surviving English manuscript to depict figures in tunics rather than long robes.  Active figures in the short tunics of secular costume were being depicted on the Continent by the ninth century, in a form which was to influence later Anglo-Saxon art.  It seems clear that the short tunic was the typical secular costume for men right across mainland Europe, though Ireland, with its breeches, distinctive cloaks and long tunic, seems to have kept somewhat independent."

* D'Amato 2013 p58 (reconstructing Alfred at Ashdown, 871)
"Carolingian fashion ... influenced clothing.  According to William of Malmesbury, ex-pensively [SIC] coloured clothes and opulent accessories, like jewelled belts, gold rings, and rich brooches were used as signifiers of rank and status by the ninth century Saxon elite."

* Laver 1982 p53
"In England, Charlemagne's contemporary, Offa, King of Mercia, and the kings who followed him, seem to have worn quite simple garments.  We know, from an illuminated manuscript preserved in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, that King Athelstan wore a short yellow tunic with a narrow gold border, a blue cloak and red hose; and we know from an illuminated grant of lands to the Abbey of Winchester (AD 966) that King Edgar was similarly clad, except that his tunic was shorter and his legs enclosed [SIC] in narrow bands like puttees."


* Nicolle/McBride 1984 p15-16
"Interestingly, square-section armour-piercing blades disappeared in the late 7th century, which suggests that armour was becoming less common. Perhaps mail shirts of late-Roman manufacture were finally wearing out. Delicate long-necked spears also died out at this time, perhaps indicating that the hard press of more disciplined shield-wall tactics was taking precedence over disorganised individual combat. Cords fastened to some javelin-shafts were not, of course, to retrieve these weapons, but either spun the javelin as it was thrown or added extra momentum to a throw."


* D'Amato 2013 p58 (reconstructing Alfred at Ashdown, 871)
"The sword (sweord ...) is typical of the kind of Germanic long swords brought to England by the Vikings; the blades became more tapered, bringing the balance point closer to the hilt."

* Ashdown 1909 p50-51
"Swords were essentially cavalry weapons among the Anglo-Saxons, and were not carried by any person beneath the rank of thane. [CONTRA Davidson 1962 p10: "{T}he Anglo-Saxons never developed the art of fighting on horseback ..."]  ...  During the later Saxon occupation a cross-piece was added to the weapon; it became more acutely pointed, and the pommel occasionally showed signs of ornamentation."

* Yorkshire Museum > Medieval York: Capital of the North
"Strength and military skill were crucial for Anglian rulers who led their men into battle. They commissioned highly decorated swords as symbols of their status. Swords were fearsome weapons but they could also be beautiful."

* Capwell 2012 p11
"[T]he early medieval swords of the ... Anglo-Saxons ... were imbued with ritual significance as well as physical lethality. This duality made the sword a symbol of power, one that is found everywhere in poems, sagas and chronicles and reflected in the plethora of words used to describe them. In Anglo-Saxon poetry we find the sword viscerally described as a 'cleaver', 'cutter' and 'slaughter-knife'. Yet butchery commingles with beauty, for the same poets also write of the 'flame', 'wave-sword', 'treasure-sword' and 'battle-light'."


* Owen-Crocker 2004 p252
"The scramasax, which had appeared in male burials in the seventh century, continued to be used up to the tenth, and individual examples from this later period are elaborate, inlaid with silver decoration and, in som cases writing.  Elaborate leather sheaths from York suggest that the scramasax would be carried in a fashionably decorated scabbard and that the weapon and its container were prestigious dress accessories.  It is unlikely that they were only carried on the battlefield."

* Harrison/Embleton 1993 p14
"Seaxes, or single-edged knives, were made in a variety of shapes, the earliest being indistinguishable from Continental types.  Construction methods were identical to those of swords, though pommels are not found on seaxes after the 8th century.  Later seaxes had hilts made entirely of organic material.  The smallest weapons of this category were probably eating utensils rather than weapons.  Those with blades exceeding about 20 cm were intended either for hunting or for war.  Some 9th- and 10th-century seaxes are 90 cm long and are effectively swords."

* D'Amato 2013 p58 (reconstructing Alfred at Ashdown, 871)
"The single-edged seax was a feared offensive weapon of the Saxons.  The ninth-century long-seax (théohseax ...) was a variation, suspended from the belt with the blade positioned horizontally and the edge uppermost.  The blade, like some specimens in the British Museum, London, was often decorated with a niello inscription."

* Hill 2012 p162
"There is much speculation regarding how these weapons were used.  Clearly, the common seax might be employed more as a utility weapon, or a weapon of last resort.  However, the smallest ones that cannot have had any practical military purpose may well have proved more effective in hunting.  It is even suggested that the symbolic connotations of carrying a seax may mark out the hunting man, or perhaps even the freeman.  The elaborate decoration on some of the smaller seaxes might tend to support this theory.
​    "The longer seaxes, however, with their single-edged blade and pronounced v-shaped section, may on the face of it seem to indicate usage as a single-edged slashing sword, perhaps similar in use to the Medieval falchion.  However, the blades are still quite delicately structured for this purpose and it is questionable to what extent a blade would survive first contact with the enemy.  It might be that the long seax was as symbolic as it was functional."


* Royal Armouries Leeds souvenir guide 2022 p23 caption
"The main defensive item of the Anglo-Saxon warrior was the shield."

* Hill 2012 p180 
"At the end of the period of pagan inhumations a change occurs in the morphology of the shield boss with the arrival into the record of a sugar loaf-shaped boss, more pronounced and conical than its predecessors.  It is likely that the sugar-loaf boss and accompanying larger shield boards, with which they are thought to be associated, reflect a switch to the tactical defensive in the Anglo-Saxon warrior, the need no longer being the hack and slash of the marauding war-band, but the solid shield wall of the defensive army."

* D'Amato 2013 p58 (reconstructing Alfred at Ashdown, 871)
"The shields of this age followed Carolingian prototypes.  The wood frame of the round shield (sceolde) was covered by a stitched leather layer, made in panels that divided the shield's surface with curved lines, often painted in bright colors.  Interestingly, the miniatures of the time still show the wide use of the sugar-loaf boss (scyldbúc) by the Anglo-Saxons since the seventh century."


* Owen-Crocker 2004 p190
"The shoes in common use would be either of 'slip-on' type or would be secured by a toggle and thong or a tied thong fastener.  Two of the basic shapes established by Viking examples of leather footwear from York, the ankle-shoe or short boot and the slipper are depicted on contemporary or near-contemporary art.  The ankle shoe seems to have been common in northwest Europe at this time, featuring in the Carolingian Empire and Scandinavia, though methods of thonging may differ.  Both archaeology and art show that footwear at this time was flat-soled and flexible, without exaggerated toes or other ostentatious features.  The personified Senses on the Fuller Brooch wear high shoes with triangular cut-outs at the ankle for ease in putting on and off.  The Codford St Peter figure wears slippers with triangular projections up the heels.  Similar shoes are worn by the figure on the Abingdon sword hilt."