Prudentius' Psychomachia
'Conflict Of The Soul'

British Library, MS Cotton Cleopatra C VIII, c.1000
Indulgence making her way to war
folio 18 verso, upper register


An extract from pp.2-3, G. F. Laking (1875-1919), A Record Of European Armour And Arms Through Seven Centuries, Vol. I (1920)

Cott. MS. Cleop. C. 8
British Museum
In a few words one may make the picture of the Anglo-Saxon warrior of the fyrd, the man who came light-armed from the greenwood and the plough-gang to the mustering. He was unarmoured, save for his byrnie or battle-sark, which doubtless was composed of strips of leather sewn tile-wise to a foundation of coarse linen, as leather of thickness for defensive purposes, unless so arranged, would be too stiff a casing for the body.

A cap of the Phrygian fashion, plain leather, or reinforced with copper, occasionally with iron bands, kept his head. His legs, from the knee downward, were protected by thongs of leather, wound puttee-wise and meeting a hide shoe cut after the manner of the Highland brogue of the XVIIth century. A round buckler, either fashioned flat like the Scottish targe with strengthening bands and boss of iron, as seen (Fig. 1), or very deeply hollowed, as we see represented (Fig. 2) (both from Cott. MS. Cleop. C. 8), was his last defensive piece. Of such shields, or as the Anglo-Saxons called them, bord or board, our English museums can only show the iron bosses and the fragments of iron rims recovered from graves ; but one, apparently of oak, a fairly complete specimen found in Blair Drummond Moss, is now preserved in the National Museum of Antiquities at Edinburgh. Of this we give an illustration (Fig. 3). We are, however, fairly familiar with the variations of their form from the MSS. that exist. In their manufacture the foundation was usually of linden or lime-tree wood ; in the poem of Beowulf, Wiglaf seizes his shield of "the yellow linden." They were for the most part circular; the boss forming the centre. In the illustrations they are generally shown concave, so as to cover the breast and shoulder well. The convex surface turned towards the enemy, to turn the blow of a sword or the thrust of a spear. The wooden foundation was so made as to leave an aperture for the hand in the centre, and over this came the boss guarding the hand. Indeed, their method of grip was exactly the same as the circular bucklers of the early years of the XVIth century. Stretched over the wood and under the boss and rim and bands was the hide of bear, wolf or deer, fur outwards ; by the law of Ethelstan, and doubtless by the more ancient laws of tribal lore, it was forbidden to use the skin of the mild sheep for covering a war-shield.

Referenced in WAR - 005 - M.Harrison, G.Embleton - Anglo-Saxon Thegn AD 449-1066
The puzzle of the short mail shirt, part one. The dress of the two sword armed warriors in this 11th-century manuscript presents something of a mystery. They seem to be wearing short-sleeved, waist length body armour which has been interpreted as mail, but could perhaps be some form of leather armour. The female on the left represents 'Luxury' and is ordering a horn-player to sound the signal for attack. (British Library, Ms. Cotton Cleopatra C VIII)

The puzzle of the short mail shirt, part two. The four figures here represent (from left to right) Emotion, Fear, Labour and Vigour. 'Fear' is a warrior equipped with spear, shield and some form of body armour. This 'armour', which has been interpreted as a short mail shirt, may however be a ragged jerkin of wild animal skin such as bear or wolf, stressing the aspect of ferocity. Note also the leg-bindings (winingas), Phrygian cap, rumpled sleeves and cape held near the neck - all features characteristic of 10-11th-century dress. (British Library, Ms. Cotton Cleopatra C VIII)

Prudentius (born in 348 in northern Spain, died after 405) spent most of his life following worldly pursuits, but later turned to writing, in which he aimed to glorify God and atone for his earlier sins. One of his most popular works is a poem called Psychomachia (Conflict of the Soul), which describes the battles between female personifications of human virtues and vices. Instead of being a dry theological treatise, the poem has the qualities of an exciting narrative filled with high drama, with lots of bloodshed and violence. The descriptions of the women, including their clothes, armour, and details of their conflicts, lend themselves to illustration.
This copy was apparently written by a scribe of Christ Church, Canterbury.

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