The Battle of Maldon

C.E. 991

Translated by Susan Oldrieve

Copyright © 2002

All rights reserved

 

                                                            . . . became broken

He ordered, then, one of the warriors to abandon his horse,

drive it far off,         and go forth,

to focus on his hands and on a strong mind.

 

When the kinsman of Offa first realized                                                                     5

that the earl would not suffer cowardice,

he freed, then, from himself, off his hands,

allowed the loved hawk to fly out to the woods and stepped to that battle.

By that, a person might know that the young warrior would not

weaken at that war when he came to weapons.                                                                       10

 

Also would Eadric support him, his leader,

his lord in the fight.  Eadric began then to bear forth

spear to war.    He had great loyalty

as long as he with hands might hold

shield and broadsword.  He fulfills the boast                                                              15

that he, to protect his lord,  would fight.

 

            Then there Byrhtnoth began to trim the battleline

He rode and instructed, taught the warriors

how they should stand and hold that place,

and bade that they their shield bosses should rightly hold                                           20

straight with their hands and fear nothing.

 

When he had that company fairly trimmed,

he alighted, then, amongst the people where he was most loved,

where he knew his hearth-band to be most loyal.

 

            Then stood on the bank, sternly calling,                                                          25

the messenger of the Vikings.  Constructing words,

he, boasting, spoke the errand of the seafarers

to that earl where he stood on the other shore.

 

"Bold seamen send me to you.

They order that I say to you that you must send quickly                                             30

neck and arm rings against defense. For you it is better

to buy off this spear-storm with ransom

than that we should engage in so hard a battle.

No need for us to spill each others' blood. You are prosperous in ransom.

We wish to establish peace for gold.                                                                           35

If you decide, you that here are the most powerful leader,

that you wish your people to ransom,

to give to the seamen, according to their own judgment,

money for friendship and take peace from us,

we will with that payment take us to our ships                                                                       40

fare away on the floodtide and hold you in peace."

 

            Byrtnoth spoke, lifted his shield

waved the slender ash,            melded words,

angry and resolute, gave him answer:

            "Hear you seafarer what this company says—                                                45

they will give you for tribute spears,

fatal points, and experienced swords—

equipment that will not be of much profit to you in battle.

Wave-men's messenger, turn back again,

recite to your folk this most hateful incantation:                                                         50

Here stands a not unknown earl with his troop,

a leader who wishes to defend this land,

Aethelred's ground, my lord's

people and flock.  Heathens are the ones who shall fall

at the battle. Too heinous I think it                                                                            55

that you with our coins            should go to ship

unfought, now that you so far hither

have come into our land.        

Nor shall you so easily gather treasure.

For us, point and edge             shall settle                                                                               60

the grim battle pledge first, before we give tribute."

 

            He ordered, then, the shields to be lifted, the men to advance

until they all stood on that eastern shore.

But the armies could not, because of the water, the troops, clash with each other.

There came flowing the flood-tide after the ebb-tide;                                                 65

Streams locked. Too long the warriors thought it before

they might bear spears against the other.

 

They stood there by the Panta stream,             drawn up in array—

the Eastsaxon point and the shipmen.

Nor might any of them harm the other                                                                        70

except he who through arrow's flight took death.

 

            The flood went out; those float-men stood ready,

many Vikings, eager warriors.

 

The protector of fighters then ordered one to hold the causeway.

A war-hardened warrior--he was called Wulfstan.                                                       75

Brave amongst his kin, it was Ceolan's son

who killed with his spear the first man

who most rashly stepped into the ford.

 

There stood with Wulfstan those unfearful warriors,

Aelfere and Maccus, brave twain                                                                                80

who would not at that ford work flight.

No, they fastly against that enemy protected their comrades

as long as they might hold weapons.

 

When the Vikings understood             and quickly perceived

that they there             found bitter bridge-wardens,                                                               85

they began, then, to use guile, the loathsome strangers.

They asked that they might possess the place of landing,

fare over the causeway, hateful troops.

 

            Then the earl began in his adrenaline rush

to give too much land to the abhorrent horde.                                                            90

He began, then, to call out over the cold water,

the son of Byrthelm (the fighters listened):

 

            "Now will the way be opened to you; come quickly to us,

warriors to battle. God alone determines

who might possess the place of slaughter."                                                                 95

 

Then, the sea-wolves advanced (they were not troubled by wading),

the troop of Vikings,  west over Panta.

Over sheer water they carried shields,

the sailors, to land, bearing spears.

 

There, against the hostile horde,  he stood prepared,                                                  100

Byrtnoth with his men;            he ordered them with shields

to work a battle-wall, and to hold that troop

fast against the enemy.                       

 

Then was the fight near,

glory at battle. The time was come

that there doomed men should fall.                                                                             105

 

Shouts were raised; ravens came;

the eagles were eager for food.            An uproar was on the earth.

 

They let fly, then, from their hands, the hard-falling spears.

They flung grim, sharpened lances.

Arms were busy; shield took point.                                                                             110

 

Bitter was that battlerush. Men fell

on either hand. Warriors lay dead.

 

Wounded was Wulfmaer, chosen for battle-rest,

Byrhtnoth's kinsman.   He became with swords,

Byrhtnoth's sister-son, grievously hewed.                                                                    115

 

But there was requital given to the Vikings.

I heard that Eadward alone slew

exceedingly with his sword, withheld not blows,

that at his foot fell fated fighters

so that to him his leader said thanks                                                                           120

to that noble, when he had the chance.

 

Thus, firmly stood the resolute-minded

warriors at battle, thinking eagerly

how each with point soonest might

win the life of doomed men,                                                                                        125

warriors with weapons.            Slaughter fell on earth.

 

They stood steadfast. Byrtnoth commanded them,

bade that each warrior should be thinking on the battle,

he who would fight doom against the Danes.

 

The horde of Vikings then advanced, held up weapons,                                             130

shields for defense, and stepped against that company.

 

The earl then went resolutely against the churlish leader,

either planning evil for the other.

The sea-leader sent then a supernal spear

so that wounded was the lord of warriors.                                                                   135

He sheared it with his shield so that the shaft burst

and that spear sprang, so that it sprang back again.

 

Enraged was the war-leader; he with lance stung

the proud Viking that had given him the wound.

Experienced was the fyrd's[1] leader:  he let his spear advance                                      140

through the neck of the warrior, his hand guiding the shaft

so that he reached to the life of the sudden attacker.

Then he stabbed another,

so that his corslet burst; he was wounded on the breast

by the sharp point; he earl was the more joyful.                                                          145

 

Laughed then the strong-minded man said thanks to the Creator

for this day's work that to him the Lord gave.

 

            But then a certain youth let fly a spear from his hand,

let it fly from his fist so that it departed forth

through that noble thane of Aethelred.                                                                                   150

 

Next to the earl stood an un-grown warrior,

a man young in battle who full boldly

pulled from his lord the bloody spear.

The son of Wulfstan, Wulfmaer the young,

let it fly full strongly back again,                                                                                 155

the point going forth so that he on earth lay

who his lord before had violently  wounded.

 

            An armored Viking then went to the earl.

He would take Byrtnoth's neck rings,

armor and bracelets and ornamented sword.                                                               160

But Byrtnoth pulled sword from sheath

broad and brown-edged, and struck him on the corslet.

Too quickly, though, a certain seaman hindered his blow

when he wounded that earl's arm.

Fell then to earth the gold-hilted sword.                                                                     165

Nor might he hold hard mace,

Wield weapons.

                       

                        Then yet this word spoke

The hoary war-leader:  with boldness his comitatus

He bade to go forth, good companions.

Nor might he then on foot long stand fast.                                                                  170

 

He spoke to heaven:

"I thank you, Creator of peoples,

for all those pleasures that I enjoyed in the world.

Now I have, mild Ruler,  most need

That you grant to my ghost                                                                                          175

That my soul to you might travel

Into your territory,  lord of angels,

Fare on its way with peace. I desire of you

That it by hell-demons might not be injured."

 

            Then hewed him the heathen warriors                                                            180

And both those men that by him stood,

Aelfnoth and Wulmaer; both lay dead.

They gave up life alongside their lord.

 

They budged from the battle, then, those who wished not to be there.

There turned first in flight the child of Offa,                                                               185

Godric, ran from battle and gave up that goodness

that he often had sealed with many words.

He leapt then onto the horse that was his lord's,

onto those decorated trappings, which was so not right.

And his brother with him, both of them galloped                                                        190

Godwin and Godwig;  they cared not for battle,

but turned from that fight and sought the woods,

flew into that fastness and saved their lives.

And so did many more than it were at all fit,

if they had remembered with full gratitude                                                                  200

what he before had given them for their benefit.

 

            Then was the people's leader fallen,

Aethelred's earl; all the hearth-warriors

saw that their lord lay dead.

 

Then went forth the bold thegns.                                                                                205

Undaunted men hastened with eagerness

They desired then one of two things—

To send forth life or to avenge their lord.

 

The child of Aelfric encouraged them onward;

the warrior young in winters chose words;                                                                  210

Aelfwine spoke, he in courage gave speech:

            "Remember those words that we oft at mead spoke,

when we on bench raised the boast,

warriors in the hall, concerning hard battle.

Now may one know who is truly brave.                                                                      215

I will show all my family

That I was, indeed, in Mercia of great kin.

My elder father was called Ealhelm,

A wise alderman, world-blessed.

Nor shall thanes of that people reproach me                                                               220

saying that I this fyrd would leave,

see home, now that my lord lies

headless on the battlefield.  To me is done the greatest harm—

he was both my kinsman and my lord."

            Then he went forth, feud-minded                                                                    225

so that he with point struck one,

a float-man of that horde, so that he on earth lay.

 

            Offa spoke, shaking his ashspear:

"What!  You Aelfwine             have reminded all

thegns of our duty, now that our lord lies dead,                                                          230

his ear to earth.   For us it is imperative

that each one of us encourage the other,

warriors into battle, while we may weapons

have and hold, hard mace,

spear and good sword. Us Godric has,                                                             235

the cowardly son of Odda, all betrayed.

Very many men thought, when he rode that horse,

in its proud trappings away from that battle,  that it was our lord.

Therefore on the field, the fyrd divided,

the shield-wall was broken.   He failed in his calling,                                                  240

he that caused so many men to flee!"

 

            Leofsunu spoke and held up his spear,

shield to the defense.  He said to that man,

"I promise that I will not from here

fly one foot's step, but will further go,                                                                         245

avenge in battle my lord and friend.

Nor need any warrior   around steadfast Sturmere

reproach me with words that now that my lord is perished

I, lordless,  travel home

wander from battle.     But I shall take to me my weapon,                                          250

point and iron." He full angrily advanced,

fought fastly. Flight he un-thought.

 

Dunnere then spoke, shook spear.

A simple churl,            he called over all

that each man should avenge Byrtnoth:                                                                      255

"Nor may anyone flinch who thinks to avenge him,

lord of the people, nor mourn for life!"

 

            Then they went forth;  life they rued not.

The retainers began then to fight hardily,

grim spearmen, and bade God                                                                                     260

that he must avenge their beloved lord

and on their enemies work death.

 

            Then the hostage began eagerly to help.

He was of Northumbria, of hardy kin.

child of Ecglaf; his name was Aeschferth.                                                                   265

He never wavered at that war-play,

but he sent forth arrows very frequently.

Sometimes he thrust on shield;  sometimes tore a man;

always at that time he gave some wounds

while he could wield weapons.                                                                                                270

 

            Then yet at the point stood Edward the long,

Eager and greedy, he spoke promise-words

that he would not flee a footstep of land,

budge backwards, when his better lay dead.

He broke that shield-wall and fought against the Vikings                                           275

until his treasure-giver on those seamen

he had worthily avenged before he lay in the slaughter.

 

            So did Aetheric, noble companion

Eager and greedy in going forth; earnestly he fought,

Sibrhyte's brother. And very many others                                                                    280

cleft the wood shield, defended themselves bravely,

burst shield's rim, and the corslets sang

some terrible song. Then at battle, Offa

slew that seaman so that he fell on earth,

and there Gad's kinsman sought ground.                                                                     285

Quickly was Offa hard-hewn at the battle.

He had accomplished there what he promised his lord,

as he boasted before his ring-giver,

that they should both ride into town

healthy come home, or in the army,                                                                            290

at the slaughter-place together die in their wounds.

He lay thegn-like near his leader.

 

            Then were the shields broken. Seamen advanced,

berserk in battle. Spear often pierced

the fated life-house.    

 

                                    Forth then went Wistan,                                                          300

son of Thurstan, fought against those warriors.

He was in the crush the slayer of three of them.

Before him Wigeline's child lay in the slaughter.

There was a hard encounter;   they stood fast

warriors in battle. Fighting men perished,                                                                   305

wearied by wounds. Slaughter fell on earth.

 

Oswold and Eadwold  all the while,

both the brothers drew up the men,

bade their wine-kin with words

that they there             in their necessity should endure,                                                         310

bravely make use of weapons.

 

            Brytwold spoke heaving shield

(He was an old warrior): shaking ash,

he full bravely lectured the men:

            "Spirit shall be stronger, heart the keener;                                                       315

 Resolve shall renew as our strength grows less.

Here lies our lord all hard-hewn

A great man in the dirt.  Always may one mourn

who now from this battle-play thinks to escape.

I am old in life;            from here I will not go,                                                                       320

but I by the side of my lord,

by so loved a man, think to lie."

 

            So, too, the child of Aethegar encouraged them all,

Godric, to fight the battle. Often he sent spear,

a slaughter-spear sent into those Vikings.                                                       325

So he amongst that horde before all

Hewed and laid low,  until he on the battlefield died.

That was not the Godric that from the battle bore himself away.



[1] Fyrd is the Anglo-Saxon term for a levied army—men were drafted to fight for 3-6 months, then sent home to tend to their crops while other men replaced them.  In that way, the Anglo-Saxons could fight throughout the year without jeopardizing their harvest.