Weapons, warriors and warfare of Northern Britain, c. 1250 BC – 850 AD.
This thesis focuses upon the material culture associated with warfare, conflict and inter-personal violence in northern Britain during the Late Bronze Age, Iron Age and Early Historic Period. Its aims are to understand the evolving role of warfare in society, who were the individuals engaging in conflict, what weapons were being used, and how were they being used. Although previous studies have touched on some of these topics, the material of northern Britain is frequently overlooked in favour of southern British data, and none consider the development of the topic over several time periods. Contextual data was collected on all the extant swords, spears and shields within the parameters, while a significant proportion were fully examined to enable more complex analysis. Evident opportunities and weaknesses within the resulting database were addressed and exploited, applying experimental archaeology to the bronze spearheads to investigate use patterns, and typological theory to the iron spearheads to enable meaningful inclusion. A range of additional sources of information, including iconographic, textual and osteological, were synthesised to facilitate a discussion of the life-cycles of the extant weapons themselves, and to address occasions when a gap appears in the archaeological record – as occurs during the Early Historic Period, where weaponry is almost absent, but other forms of evidence regularly reference conflict. Two particular conclusions of this thesis challenge traditional perceptions of both weapons and warriors; spears are found to be complex, both in use and social symbolism, rather than simplistic and low-status, and their integration into general discussions of weapons and warfare is a matter of urgency if the topic is to progress. The typological groupings of iron spearheads presented here is intended as a first step towards greater inclusion. The identity of combatants is also shown to be occasionally at odds with the traditional perception of the warrior, wherein reality and idealised social constructions diverge. This is not necessarily problematic, with the projection of warrior identities shown to be a deliberate vi choice, rather than a reflection of reality, the constraints and motivations behind such choices a fascinating topic for further work. Finally, the development of armed social conflict in northern Britain over two millenia, and the changing relationships and dominance between religion, display, consumption, social hierarchy and warfare, are presented through the manufacture, use, deposition and associations of the weapons in the database.