I will answer all your questions about this awesome 10th-century Old English poem!
The poem was written about a battle that took place in 991AD when a group of Viking raiders arrived at Maldon, England, with the intention of plundering and pillaging. They were met by Byrhtnoth, an Anglo-Saxon ealdorman, and his troops, but were prevented from attacking immediately because they were on the wrong side of a tidal river that could only be crossed by a narrow land-bridge. The Anglo-Saxons were picking them off one by one as they tried to cross, so the Vikings said, "Hey! let us cross the river so we can have a real fight!" Byrhtnoth agreed; the Vikings crossed the river; Byrhtnoth was killed; Godric the coward stole Byrhtnoth's horse and led many others to believe that Byrhtnoth was running away, so a lot of the soldiers ran after him; Byrhtnoth's hearth-troops were brave and stayed to fight until the end, but the Anglo-Saxons lost anyway.
This is all recorded in the poem, but it has often been taken as fact because it is the only detailed account of the battle that we have besides hagiographical writing and the histories of a couple abbeys (which are not reliable). In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle all that is mentioned is that Vikings attacked, Byrhtnoth was killed, and the Anglo-Saxons began paying tribute to the Vikings instead of fighting them. Earlier scholars especially seem to have forgotten that a poem is not a historical or journalistic account of an event, but an artistic representation.
My thesis project involves exploring how history and heroism are portrayed in the poem, and how I can translate what's going on in the poem into a short screenplay (which I plan on expanding to full-length once I'm finished with all the academic stuff).
This is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as I don't expect that anyone is really interested in this (and it's very specific!) but this is what I've been studying for the past three years. I will also try to answer any more general questions you have about Old English literature. :)