In "Beowulf", what was the importance of the mail shirt in Anglo Saxon culture?
The Anglo-Saxons were known for being seafarers. This being said, during their long voyages across the sea, their main reason for traveling was to claim other lands for themselves. During the 5th and 6th centuries, the Anglos raided England.
The mail shirt provided the Anglo Saxons with the protection they needed from the hand-to-hand combat which took place when they were raiding and pillaging in order to take over foreign lands.
In Beowulf, given both tribes (the Geats and the Danes) were part of the Anglo Saxon culture, they were seafarers and warriors. Therefore, when facing battles at home, or abroad, they would wear the mail shirts as part of their protection against others in battle.
The mail shirts were an important part of their culture provided it offered both protection against foes and could be looked at as a symbol of their warrior spirit.
Mail shirts were the main type of body armor used by Anglo-Saxons. The shirt was made from iron strips or wires which were woven and welded together to form the fabric for the shirt. The mail shirt prevented cuts from weapons such as swords.
In Beowulf, Hrothgar presents Beowulf with prizes that include a coat of mail after he defeats Grendel. Grendel’s mother takes the son’s arm and makes away with Esher, Hrothgar’s friend and adviser. Beowulf pursues Grendel’s mother to her home in a lake. During this time he wears his mail shirt for protection. The mail shirt protects Beowulf during the vicious fight he has with Grendel’s mother, who only dies after being cut by a magical sword forged by giants. Beowulf emerges victorious and brings the monster’s head to Hrothgar. The mail shirt in this case, is seen as protective clothing and a fitting gift for a warrior.