Women at War

How did women experience warfare in early medieval Britain?

Ira attacking Patientia, from Prudentius’ Psychomachia, English, 11th century © Bridgeman Images.

There has been a recent upsurge of interest in early medieval ‘warrior women’. Television programmes such as Vikings depict fearsome women fighting beside men among the Viking hordes and, in 2017, an article claiming that the warrior grave at Birka, Sweden, belonged to a biological female caused quite a stir. In Britain, a small number of ‘warrior graves’ have similarly been found to contain female skeletons. But does that mean that ‘shield-maidens’ existed in Britain? Even if a small number of women did fight, it was as non-combatants that they overwhelmingly encountered war. Importantly, one did not need to be a shield-maiden to experience the ravages of warfare in early medieval society.

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