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"The Battle of Maldon": Making Shields and Spears

One of the shorter poems I teach at NEXT High School is "The Battle of Maldon," a war poem describing a fight between the Vikings and East Saxons in 991.

To make the experience more visceral, I set up the scaffolding in this manner:

1. Two days making shields, spears, and learning basic spear fighting techniques

2. A day using theatre to explore the introduction of the poem (including shield walls) and beginning to look at setting the fight scene between Byrhtnoth and the Vikings.

3. A couple of days of work to finish shields/spears/choreography

4. Performances relying more on tableau than fluidity with a photographer taking a shot of each major scene (This part is to prep the students for reading the sword manuscripts in the Medieval era).

5. A reading of the entire poem with me as narrator and other teachers as trash-talking warriors.

Making the Shields


  1. 16" (or larger!) cake rounds or pizza rounds

  2. Styrofoam half-rounds (Shield boss)

  3. Tacky glue

  4. Acrylic paint

  5. Paintbrushes, paper towels, water cups, and paint tray/plates

  6. Cardboard pieces (for the handles) and duct tape


  1. Research Ango-Saxon shields and styles

  2. Sketch a design on paper

3. Glue on the shield boss in the center

4. Add paint

5. Once dry, cut out a piece of cardboard to fit your hand. Glue it on the back as a handle. Reinforce with duct tape.

Making the Spears


  1. 1/2" diameter 72" long wooden dowels (I found many at Lowe's)

  2. Cardboard or craft foam

  3. Duct tape or stapler


1. Choose your dowel (spear shaft). Make sure it is smooth. If not, you'll need to sand it down.

2. Look up Anglo-Saxon or Viking spearhead shapes. Use that as a template to cut out a spearhead from either cardboard or the craft foam.

3. Staple or tape together your spearhead.

The students who used the cardboard duct-taped the entire thing to the shaft.

The ones who use craft foam made the spearhead more like a removable glove.

Final look (Cardboard spearhead painted black and "weathered" to look real).

We'll be doing this and other pieces during my five day Beowulf Camp June 15-19 at The Spinning Jenny in Greer. Check out ALL the details and register HERE.

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