Texts: The Battle of Maldon


UK heritage site.

Introduction and text at UVa

The poem in Old English (Oxford)

Harris, Stephen. "Oaths in The Battle of Maldon." In Robin Waugh and James Weldon, eds. The Hero Recovered (2010).

The Battle of Maldon was written within fifty years of the battle itself, which took place in August of 991. The poem was copied into a single manuscript kept in the library of Sir Robert Cotton (Cotton Otho A. xii). In 1731, the manuscript caught fire and was completely destroyed. Thankfully, a librarian named David Casely had copied the poem out beforehand. The text survives thanks to Casely's interest (the first page is shown at left).

The Causeway at Maldon. Before Byrhtnoth is overcome by ofermod (pride), three heroes guard this bricg (bridge) and keep the Vikings at bay. Northey Island, where the Viking messenger stands to issue his demands, is in the distance.

The poem is a fragment, and was so when Casely copied it. No one knows how much is lost. Notice the symbolism of the animals at the outset (the hawk is released, and the horse driven away); the flight of the three Anglo-Danes, one on Byrhtnoth's horse; and the stirring speeches at the end of the poem about fulfilling one's duty and standing one's ground.



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