Abstract: Warfare and Masculinity in Early Medieval Ireland


Current knowledge of gender in early medieval Ireland (c. AD 400-1200) derives primarily from the historical texts.  Written by an elite group of educated males, these documents depict an idealized world in which women and men fulfill the economic and social roles considered appropriate for their gender.  Examination of the archaeological and human skeletal data, however, reveals that this perception did not always translate into the actual performance of gender identities.  In the case of men, the sagas glorify the exploits of the male warrior, while the annals record actual occurrences of armed combat and the law tracts define the military obligations of free men.  In contrast, the archaeological record and human remains yield little evidence of war.  Excavations have uncovered only occasional weapons and dubious settlement defenses, and skeletal analyses have produced few cases of trauma caused by interpersonal violence.  This lecture explores the relationship between warfare and masculinity in early medieval Ireland.  Rather than arguing that one line of evidence is more accurate than the others, I integrate them to produce a more nuanced understanding of masculine identity – as both perceived and performed – in early Irish society.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

Charles-Edwards, T. M. 1996 Irish warfare before 1100. In Thomas Bartlett and Keith Jeffery (eds) A Military History of Ireland, pp. 26-51. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Finney, Jon 1998 Warfare in late pagan and early Christian Ireland c. 500 AD to c. 750. Medieval Life 9:3-10.

Fitzpatrick, Elizabeth 1993 Raiding and warring in monastic Ireland. History Ireland 1(3):13-18.

Kinsella, Thomas (trans) 1969 The Tain. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

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