Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Edward J. Christie

Second Advisor

Scott Lightsey

Third Advisor

Stephen Harris


“Hostages in Old English Literature” examines the various roles that hostages have played in Anglo-Saxon texts, specifically focusing on the characterization of Æscferth in The Battle of Maldon. Historical context is considered in order to contextualize behavioral expectations that a 10th century Anglo-Saxon audience might have held. Since the poem was composed during the reign of Æthelred the Unready, an examination of hostages and incidents recorded in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle during his rule helps ground a socio-cultural approach. Furthermore, since Æscferth is among only a handful of named hostages in Old English literature, these other hostages have been analyzed and compared with him in order to further contextualize the hostage character. These hostages have been identified based on a broadened concept of the term “hostage” to include the social expectations of a medieval stranger. Through a consideration of these other hostages, a continuum for changing hostage loyalty emerges and reflects the evolving warrior ethics at the end of the 10th century. Based on the presented evidence, this thesis concludes that Æscferth, as a hostage, best symbolizes The Battle of Maldon’s call for English unity at the end of the 10th century.