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I’ve read through this book now. Sadly, it does not answer the question I posed. Still, it was interesting. The main point I picked up was that analysing battlefield injuries from the archaeological record is complicated, and that many researchers have been over-imaginative in their interpretation of what the injuries mean in terms of the progress of the fight. A secondary point, which I have always thought but is nice to have some evidence for now, is that the majority of injuries are to the head and limbs. Armour protects the body, and one does not simply drive a sword through a coat of mail, despite Hollywood depictions to the contrary. This gives greater weight to the argument that descriptions of armpit and groin wounds in the Icelandic sagas represent a very real fear of being struck in these vulnerable areas.
In terms of swirling melees, there was nothing in there about infantry fights that suggests they broke up in the way that they do on Vikings or The Last Kingdom. However, one of the articles did reference late medieval descriptions of a cavalry charge that broke up into a lot of individual fights. So there’s that.
A third thing I took away from this book was how well people survived grievous injuries. So many really bad wounds had healed or partially healed. Many more than I would have thought possible. Oh, and honey. Honey seems to work as an antiseptic and was used to treat wounds. I never knew that.
Finally, I am particularly intrigued by the various comments about how facial scars might reduce one’s social status rather than being seen as heroic. I need to do more reading on that.