anonymous asked:

How did the Danes & Saxons manage to integrate a two handed long weapon like Dane/English Longaxe with the shield wall formation ? Logically when two densely packed shieldwalls meet in battle, stabbing/thrusting/jabbing attacks & weapons like short swords or spears should predominate. A two handed long hafted weapon that requires a bit of swing space seems to be rather unfeasible in the jostling melee, not to mention it leaves the wielder unshielded & thus, open to aforementioned stabs/jabs.

Great question! 

The two-handed longaxe was the province of the housecarls, professional warriors who served in the household guard of thanes and kings alike. Thus, they weren’t the most common weapon on the battlefield, but rather the sign and tool of office of an elite even within the warrior caste::

In combat, the axe was continuously (and unpredictably) swung to create a deadly zone around the axeman, and when that axe hit, it could easily hit with enough force to split a shield open or knock a man onto his back or cut through a spear or knock a sword out of someone’s hand - which made the thrusting/jabbing combat you’re talking about an extremely dicey proposition if the axeman was fast enough to avoid getting stuck. 

Thus, the housecarls seemed to function in two ways: first, on the offensive, they would open up holes in the enemy shield-wall for other soldiers to exploit. Remember, the longaxe’s haft could be as long as six feet, making it a forerunner of the polearm, which gave the user a good deal of reach into the enemy line, and the axe’s blade was bearded, allowing the wielder to hook over the lip of shields and drag them down, opening up the shield wall:

On the defensive, the housecarl was there to disrupt the enemy shield-wall, either by opening up holes in their defense or by creating zones that soldiers naturally shied away from. 

In either case, the housecarls seemed to function as skirmishers, stepping in front of the shield-wall to contest the area in between. When we look at the Bayeux Tapestry, for example, we see images of housecarls wielding only the longaxe standing between a Saxon shield-wall and the oncoming Normans (which shows you how insanely brave these guys were):

An Old English word for library was “bōchord”, which literally means “book hoard”, and honestly I really think we should go back to saying that because not only does it sound really fucking cool, but it also sort of implies that librarians are dragons.


Thanks to Linguist Twitter for finding this example of how some things just don’t change!

Modern historians tend to characterize the time where English borrowed a lot of words from Norman French as a period of richness and innovation, but sure enough, writers at the time were grumbling about how kids these days were speaking absolutely terrible Anglo Saxon. 

Full quote, from Bokenham in 1440 (notice how he’s ironically using lots of Latinate words in his complaint, like “corruption” and “familiar” and “augmentation”):

And þis corrupcioun of Englysshe men yn þer modre-tounge, begunne as I seyde with famylyar commixtion of Danys firste and of Normannys aftir, toke grete augmentacioun and encrees aftir þe commying of William conquerour by two thyngis. The firste was: by decre and ordynaunce of þe seide William conqueror children in gramer-scolis ageyns þe consuetude and þe custom of all oþer nacyons, here owne modre-tonge lafte and forsakyn, lernyd here Donet on Frenssh and to construyn yn Frenssh and to maken here Latyns on þe same wyse. The secounde cause was þat by the same decre lordis sonys and all nobyll and worthy mennys children were fyrste set to lyrnyn and speken Frensshe, or þan þey cowde spekyn Ynglyssh and þat all wrytyngis and endentyngis and all maner plees and contravercyes in courtis of þe lawe, and all maner reknygnis and countis yn howsoolde schulle be doon yn the same. And þis seeyinge, þe rurales, þat þey myghte semyn þe more worschipfull and honorable and þe redliere comyn to þe famyliarite of þe worthy and þe grete, leftyn hure modre tounge and labouryd to kunne spekyn Frenssh: and thus by processe of tyme barbariʒid thei in bothyn and spokyn neythyr good Frenssh nor good Englyssh.

Here’s a translated version if you don’t feel like puzzling through the Middle English:

And this corruption of Englishmen in their mother tongue, begun, as I have said, in the every-day admixture of first Danish and then Norman, was greatly augmented and increased after the arrival of William the Conqueror by two things. The first was by the decree and ordinance of the aforesaid William the Conqueror that children in the grammar schools should leave off and forsake their own mother tongue and learn their Donatus in French and construe it in French and do their Latin in the same way, which is something which goes against the habit and custom of all other nations. The second cause was that in the same decree the sons of the lords and the children of all the nobles and worthy men were first set to learn and speak French, before they could speak English and that all writings and indentureships and all manner of pleas and controversies in courts of law and all manner of calculations and accounts in households should be done in the same (language). And seeing this, the rural people [saw] that they might seem to be the more esteemed and honorable and the more easily open to the acquaintance of the worthy and the great, abandoned their mother tongue and labored to be able to speak French: and thus in the course of time mutilated them both and spoke neither good French nor good English.

The translation is via these course notes (pdf), which also make interesting reading about the history of English in general (see also these pdf exercises for other quotes). 

You would think eventually we’d learn to just chill out about how people are talking. 

I fucking love Gothic architecture so much. Gross demons and judgy saints hunching everywhere. Pointed arches and carved foliage. Fucking gargoyles and shit. Setting up the guttering so that the devil can vomit water on you. High cross-rib vaulting. This weird blend of the organic and the demonic in stone. All those oppressive geometrical patterns, the spikes and thorns, the monotony of it all, the way it’s such a precise miracle of engineering meant to raise you up to the glory of God but it’s so heavy and earthy that it drags you to hell simultaneously. It’s the perfect blend of the beautiful and the ghastly, the heavenly and the demonic, glorifying God with its high spires and condemning man with its enclosed vaults and I can never get enough of it.
20 Brilliant Anglo-Saxon Words
Old English had a rich array of inventive and intriguing words, many of which have either long since dropped out of use or were replaced.

Although we call the language spoken by the Anglo-Saxons Old English, English speakers today won’t find much in common between it and the language we have now. More than 1000 years ago, English was still being written using long-abandoned letters like þ (known as “thorn”), ƿ (“wynn”) and ð (eth or thæt). It had a different phonology and a much more complex grammatical structure than we have today that relied on a complicated series of word endings and inflections to convey meaning rather than a predictable syntactic word order.

Old English also had a rich array of inventive and intriguing words, many of which have either long since dropped out of use or were replaced by their continental equivalents after the Norman Conquest of England, and so would be all but unrecognisable to modern English speakers—which is a shame, given just how imaginative the Old English vocabulary could be. Here are the origins and meanings of 20 fantastic, long-forgotten Anglo-Saxonisms.


First recorded in a medical textbook dating from the 11th century, attercoppe was the Old English word for a spider; it literally means “poison head.” The word remained in use in English right through to the 1600s, but only survives today as attercop or attercap in a handful of British English dialects.


Breóst-hord literally means “breast-treasure,” and was used in Old English literature to refer to what we might call the heart, the mind, or the soul today—namely, a person’s inner workings and feelings.


Old English had the word candelstæf for what we’d call a candlestick today, but it also had the word candeltreow—literally a “candle-tree”—for a candelabra, or a candlestick with more than one branch.


Cuma (a “comer”) meant a houseguest, a visitor, or a stranger in Old English, while feorm referred to food or supplies and provisions for a journey. Cumfeorm, ultimately, is “stranger-supplies”—another word for hospitality, or for entertaining strangers.


Ealdor or aldor is related to the modern English word elder and was used in Old English to mean either an ancestor or superior, or a life or lifespan in general. A bana meanwhile was a killer or a destroyer, or a weapon that had been used to cause a death—so an ealdor-bana, literally a “life-destroyer,” was a murderer or something with fatal or murderous consequences.


No, not another name for a ear bandage. Earsling actually brings together the Old English equivalent of “arse,” ears or ærs, and the suffix –ling, which is related to the –long of words likelivelong, headlong and endlong. It ultimately means “in the direction of your arse”—or, in other words, backwards. Just like attercop, happily arseling also still survives in a handful of English dialects.


Eaxle was the Old English word for your shoulder or armpit (which is still sometimes called youroxter), or for the humerus bone of the upper arm. An eaxl-gestealle is literally a “shoulder-friend”—in other words, your closest and dearest friend or companion.


Cucumbers were “earth-apples”—eorþæppla—in Old English.



As far as words that should have never left the language go, frumbyrdling is right up there at the top of the list: it’s an 11th century word for a young boy growing in his first beard.


Gesibsumnes (the ge– is roughly pronounced like “yeah”) literally means something along the lines of “collective peacefulness.” It referred to the general feeling of friendship, companionship, or closeness between siblings or members of the same family.


Dreám meant “joy” or “pleasure” in Old English (so not “dream,” which was swefen). Gléo-dreámliterally means “glee-joy,” but it specifically referred to the feeling of pleasure that comes from listening to music. The sound of a musical instrument, incidentally, was sometimes called orgel-dreám (literally “pride-pleasure”), while the art of ability to play an instrument was dreámcræft.


This “laughter-smith” is someone who makes you laugh.


Hleów-feðer means “shelter-feather,” but is used figuratively in some Old English literature to refer to a protecting arm put around someone.


It’s not entirely clear what the Old English insticce, or “inside-stitch,” actually referred to, but if not meant to describe a painful “stitch” caused by physical exertion, it probably meant a general prickling or tingling sensation—what we’d now call pins and needles.


Lárþéow—which later became lorthew before it disappeared from the language in the mid-13th century—was an Old English word for a schoolteacher. It literally means “teaching-slave.”


Meolcliðe, meaning “milk-soft,” was used to describe anything or anyone exceptionally gentle or mild-tempered.


On-cýðig literally means “un-known,” but that’s not to say that it meant the same as “unknown.” Although its exact meaning is debatable, it’s thought on-cýðig referred to the despondent feeling caused by missing something that is no longer close at hand—in other words, the feeling of “knowing” about something or someone, and then either having to leave it behind, or having it taken from you.


The “sea-flood” was the incoming tide in Old English.


A “self-eater” was a cannibal—or, by extension, an animal that preyed on other animals of the same species.


And when the weather gets bad, it’s no longer “weather” but “un-weather”—an Old English word for a storm.

How to Tell if You are in an Old English Poem

By Samantha Finley, originally posted on The Toast

You are a man: a worthy warrior, a hard-hearted hero, a mighty mail-warrior, a sturdy spear-bearer, a resolute retainer, an eager earl, a fierce-minded fighter, a stalwart soldier…

You deliver both insults and speeches exclusively in tight alliterative verse.

You are a pagan, and this is very sad.

You are a Christian, but in a suitably Germanic way.

You are the last survivor of your people.

No one understands your suffering.

You bury gold with your dear ones. You cover your people with earth. You conceal treasure under the ground.

Your favorite sport is ill-advised wrestling.

You drink mead from a mead-cup while sitting on a mead-bench in a mead-hall at a mead-party.

It is unclear whether you are in need of a lord or the Lord.

The case system is collapsing around your ears. Grammatical gender is disintegrating. The dual number is only for special occasions.

Most of your problems have probably been caused by prideful boasting or Vikings.

Indeed, Vikings are your most hateful enemy, but you reserve your real ire for Jewish people. Also, you have never met a Jewish person.

The grey wolf, greedy for gore, and the dark, dewy-feathered crow are waiting for the battle to end.

You are a Biblical figure, but your version of the Bible story is much cooler than the canonical one.

Your entire economy is based on gold rings, precious gifts, from your lord, the giver of treasures.

You have an encyclopedic knowledge of the local seabirds because they are your only companions.

You have a dream vision. There is absolutely no symbolism involved. The central figure of the vision tells you directly what the theological takeaway is.

Suitable prizes to claim from a battle include your enemy’s rings and other treasures. In the absence of treasure, you take an arm instead.

Your sword is either beautifully decorated or stained with blood.

You are tricked by the Vikings, which is to say they ask politely for a more advantageous position on the battlefield and you give it to them.

Your fate is inexorable.

You are geographically separated from your spouse, so you may as well sit in a hole until you can be together again.

Your name alliterates with your father’s, your brothers’, and all your immediate male relatives’.

You are the subject of a riddle. You are either genitalia or some innocuous household object. This is hilarious.

Roman ruins are the most existentially distressing things in the world to you.

Your corpse-pole is ash. Your battle-bill is iron. Your war-board is linden.

You die for your lord. This may or may not be anachronistic.

You brought your sword and chainmail shirt to a swimming contest. They came in handy.

You are doomed. Your people are doomed. Your world is doomed.

Your weapon breaks in battle. This proves to be less of a problem than it might at first seem.

Your heart, mind, and spirit only grow stronger as your comrades fall in battle. You still lose.

Whether you go to Heaven or Hell, it is ultimately due to the faults or virtues of your body, the life-house.

You use incredibly artful metaphors in your speech, but have never even heard of an analogy.

You have never run out of synonyms. If you ever run low on synonyms, you can create a new metaphor.

When you behead a man, your greatest concern is how to transport the head home. Fortunately, you planned ahead and brought a bag and a handmaiden for the purpose.

The apocalypse is coming. The apocalypse is coming. The apocalypse is coming.