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Evidence of Violence from Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries

Deborah J. Shepherd

What Violence? The Honorable and the Ghastly. Analyzing violence in Anglo-Saxoncemeteries brings up two conceptual categories for discussion: the weapons of violenceconjuring up images of warfare and that inscrutable, unsettling violence related to unnatural,perhaps ritualized, death. The presence of decapitated bodies and bodies seemingly buried alivein Anglo-Saxon cemeteries has been argued for decades, and compared to these images, themany so-called “warrior” burials seem quite natural and normal, almost comfortingly familiar, given our traditionally preferred views of Anglo-Saxon life and values. The warrior here representsthe backbone of a minimally stratified and straightforward society, one with strong views about honorable behavior and a man‟s ethical responsibility toward family, kin, and comrades of thewarband. In this mental picture of the male social order, it is easy to forget the complementarycooperative, nurturing, and reproductive roles of the feminine social order quietly coexisting in thehousehold and out in the fields and pastures. Let us first consider warriors before discussing warrior graves.