ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Education and Science»
  • History & Archaeology

AGE OF HEROES - 4: BANNERS AND STANDARDS - Links To The Supernatural Through Imagery

Updated on December 18, 2017

Style speaks loudest at the head of a host of warriors

 Viking banner in Mammen style with intertwined serpent motif
Viking banner in Mammen style with intertwined serpent motif | Source
Dragon drinking horn from the animated 'Beowulf starring a physically enhanced Ray Winstone as Beowulf and Angelina Jolie as Grendel's mother
Dragon drinking horn from the animated 'Beowulf starring a physically enhanced Ray Winstone as Beowulf and Angelina Jolie as Grendel's mother | Source

As they did into the Napoleonic Wars, early armies went into battle following a standard bearer, and heaven help you if you lost the king's 'colours'!.

Early war banners showed fanged, winged monsters. Even the Christian Olaf Tryggvason had a traditional Norse serpent banner. The widest use of animal motifs was that of the raven. Another Christian king, Knut 'the Great' had a raven-bedecked white silk banner which was borne ahead of the Danes at Ashingdon in AD 1016.

In the Saxon Chronicles there is a mention of a 'Reafan' standard (O.E., O.N. was Hrafn) in AD 878. In the Annals of St. Neots in Huntingdonshire if the Reafan was held aloft it indicated a Danish victory. If the banner drooped the Danes had lost.

Supernatural characteristics were attributed to the Raven Banner of Earl Sigurd of Orkney, made for him by his mother who was thought to be a witch or sorceress. The motif was ingeniously stitched in the manner of a flapping raven which 'should bring victory to the man who follows it'. (No mention of what would happen to the bearer). It appeared to flap its wings when the wind filled it, but in the first fight it was borne into Earl Sigurd's standard bearer was killed almost as soon as the fighting began. The earl told another of his followers to take up the standard but the next bearer was also dead before long. Three standard bearers were cut down by the time Sigurd won the battle.

Years later the same banner was borne ahead of Earl Sigurd at Clontarf. In Njal's Saga we are told of how Kerthjalfad - a foster son of Brian Boru - burst through the Orkneymen's ranks and slew the standard bearer, repeating his action each time the banner was taken up again. When Earl Sigurd told Thorstein Hallason to carry the raven banner Amundi 'the White' told him not to take it, as each bearer had fallen. Sigurd then told Hrafn 'the Red' to take his raven banner.

'You take it!' Hrafn answered tersely. 'Carry your own devil - a beggar should carry his own bundle!' So saying he ripped the banner from its staff and tucked it under his shirt. Amundi was slain a little later, and the earl himself was speared through.

As Sigurd's raven banner was woven by his mother, the 'Reafan' standard taken by the West Saxons in AD 878 is said to have been created for Ubbi Ragnarsson by his sisters, thought to have been 'supernaturally gifted'. Their charms may have been more physical than metaphysical, as the standard fell into the hands of his foes after his downfall in North Devon.

Notwithstanding the raven was thought to have had powers of its own, giving victory to those who bore or followed it. As the bird of Odin - god of kings, nobles and warriors - it was associated with the field of war all around the Germanic world. Even in Christian times, when the kings themselves followed the new faith the raven banner or standard was borne into battle, as with Harald Sigurdsson's 'Land-Oda' (Land-Waster or Land-Ravager). Again although the banner brought him victory over Earl Morkere's Northumbrians at Gate Fulford near York, it seems to have let him down at Stamford Bridge, further east. Harald was struck down by an arrow through his windpipe.

William, Duke of Normandy - surprisingly? - had his own raven banner when fighting King Harold on Caldbec Hill near Hastings. He was blessed with a victory, and fulfilled its quota of the dead around the kingdom from AD 1066. In AD 1075 King Maelcolm 'Canmore' of Scotland was brought to the negotiating table at Abernethy, However, the banner failed him at London Bridge, when he and five hundred knights were repulsed from Southwark by the Middlesex fyrd led by Eadgar 'the aetheling' and Ansgar 'the Staller'. As the inheritor of Norse blood ties, William lived up to his legacy and his raven banner flew - almost - wherever disaster struck at those unlucky enough to fall prey to a new kind of warfare.

The Viking had come of age. Learning new warfaring skills from their Frankish overlords the Normans adopted cavalry warfare - the mediaeval equivalent of 'Blitzkrieg'. Notwithstanding his Christian piety, Duke William still had a raven banner and it was borne before him into battle on Caldbec Hill on that fateful day, 14th October, AD 1066. When he had his castle built by the Thames, King William had ravens installed to 'protect' his kingdom (the story goes, that should the ravens forsake the tower the kingdom will fall. The ravens' flight feathers are cut to keep them there, and as they mate 'on the wing' the raven master has to see to new birds being acquired periodically)..

Next - 4: The Way of the Warrior

Bird, Boar and Serpent symbols

Hrafnsmerki, Harald Sigurdsson's raven banner was taken after his death to the Western Isles and ended up on Skye at the MacLeod's Dunvegan castle as 'the fairy flag' that warned of danger from a Morrison attack
Hrafnsmerki, Harald Sigurdsson's raven banner was taken after his death to the Western Isles and ended up on Skye at the MacLeod's Dunvegan castle as 'the fairy flag' that warned of danger from a Morrison attack | Source
Jormungand, the world Serpent was another symbol that threatened war
Jormungand, the world Serpent was another symbol that threatened war | Source
Angles, Saxons and Norsemen all held the boar as a heroic symbol of tenacity in adversity. This is the Wessex version...
Angles, Saxons and Norsemen all held the boar as a heroic symbol of tenacity in adversity. This is the Wessex version... | Source
This is another version, seen in the English camp at Battle Abbey over the 1066 re-enactment weekend
This is another version, seen in the English camp at Battle Abbey over the 1066 re-enactment weekend | Source

The uncanny plays a great part in Norse mythology, not in the way it did in Christian societies. Norse mythology taught men to be wary of witchcraft and witches, but not afraid. Shape-shifting is as much a part of Norse belief - there is a great deal of this in respect of berserkers and other elements that operated outside of society at large - and no-one could be sure the gods did not walk amongst men. Respect of strangers rested on this outlook, and when a warrior was killed in battle he would be amongst the gods with his comrades, forever fighting by day, carousing by night with the Valkyries. It's a grand life as long as you don't weaken!

The Cerne Abbas giant, the design copied by Harold for his personal banner, the figure outlined in precious stones
The Cerne Abbas giant, the design copied by Harold for his personal banner, the figure outlined in precious stones | Source
The Roman 'draco' banner,(same idea as a Norse serpent), a windsock that emitted an eerie wail when borne on horseback at a canter, filled with the wind.
The Roman 'draco' banner,(same idea as a Norse serpent), a windsock that emitted an eerie wail when borne on horseback at a canter, filled with the wind. | Source

When Harold stood his men to at the crest of Caldbec Hill...

When Harold stood his men to on Caldbec Hill, inland of Hastings on the London road, Harold's own banners flapped close behind him. On one side was his personal banner, 'the Fighting Man', the man's figure lined out in precious stones. William had this banner sent to the Pontiff Alexander in Rome in thanks for his support. The banner is still in the Vatican, perhaps on show. By rights it should be here in England, as William had no right to send it. The banner should have been given to Gytha, or Eadgytha 'Swan-neck' as his common-law in wife.

The other banner was more a 'wind sock', in the style of the dragons carried by Roman cavalrymen that emitted an eerie noise when filled by the wind.

Next: 5: Call to Arms

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • alancaster149 profile image
      Author

      Alan R Lancaster 5 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Many of these Norsemen were superstitious - as were and are fighting men since - the greatest attribute a warrior could have was, and is still, luck. Even Sir Arthur Wellesley (later Duke of Wellington) during the Peninsular War in Spain, when asked of a commander, retorted something like, "I don't care if he is efficient or well-connected, is he lucky?"

      The supernatural entered the equation often enough. Harald Sigurdsson's banner, Hrafnsmerki seemed to have a life of its own after its owner's demise in East Yorkshire, as you've read above.

    • jmartin1344 profile image

      jmartin1344 5 years ago from Royal Oak, Michigan

      Finally back and reading again, thought I should get back on with the Age of Heroes! Interesting read, you always see in the films and documentaries the front runners carrying the "flag" or "banner" so it's interesting to see a little detail into the origins of one such banner!

    • alancaster149 profile image
      Author

      Alan R Lancaster 6 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Thanks valleyforge84. Wasn't Valley Forge a staging post in the War of Independence before Yorktown?

      Plenty more of the mediaeval in store here yet, watch this space... I've just finished another one about the rebellion against William in 1069. (Isn't it about time we declared UDI from Normandy? Bit late for that since 1944, I suppose)

    • valleyforge84 profile image

      valleyforge84 6 years ago

      interesting.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)