Paul Hill,
The Anglo-Saxons at War 800-1066
(Pen & Sword Military, 2012)

One might pick up this book expecting tales of epic battles full of swords clashing, bows twanging, Viking ships slamming prow-first into the sand as the brave English king shouts commands to his noble soldiers.

Technically, the book does contain scenes like this, but the reader should be aware that this is no Hollywood blockbuster story. What Paul Hill does is present a thorough academic look at Anglo-Saxon history. So if reading textbooks isn't your thing -- then this book will probably not interest you.

Now that we have weeded out those wanting a Robin Hood story, we history nerds can continue....

There is not an enormous amount of information from this war-like society, and they remain somewhat mysterious. Hill does an excellent job compiling and summarizing historical documents about this time period. He does his best to stick to the facts, but (rightfully) does not dismiss tales and poems as sources of information. What the reader gets is an easy-to-follow interpretation of how and why the Anglo-Saxons fought their enemies ... and each other.

The book is fairly concise (200 pages), and it is organized by topic, rather than chronologically. This makes it fairly easy to read in whatever order you choose. It also includes a handy index so you jump to whatever section interests you at that moment. From the weapons and tactics they used, to specific battles like Ashdown and Hastings, to the reasons why the culture was so war-like and unstable, the book explores sources like the Bayeux Tapestry and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to provide a clear picture of what went on during this brutal period.

The book works well as an introduction to those who are interested but have not put a lot of study into the topic. It also works well as a high-level discussion of sources and what can be inferred and theorized from them. Either way, you will come away from this book with a greater understanding of the Anglo-Saxons and their culture of war.

book review by
Patrick Derksen

25 August 2012

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