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Viking History in England
Viking History in England

Viking History in England

In “Digging Up the Rich Viking History of Britain: A massive 1,100-year-old graveyard leads to a surprising new view of the Nordic legacy in Britain” (Smithsonian Magazine, April 2022), Joshua Levine writes:

“The story of the Vikings in England is generally held to start on June 8, 793, when a raiding party landed on the tidal island of Lindisfarne in Northumbria. As the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a survey of English history written in the late ninth century, records: ‘The harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the Church of God on Holy Island, by plunder and slaughter.’ Lindisfarne established a pattern of Viking hit-and-run raids in the summer months, but by the 850s, some of these raiders were choosing to overwinter in England.

“And then everything changed—decidedly for the worse if you were an Anglo-Saxon. In 865 the Great Heathen Army—translated from micel haephen here in Old English—landed in East Anglia, the small Anglo-Saxon kingdom on England’s eastern coast. No one knows precisely how great it was or what kind of ‘army’ was meant by the Old English word here. Those questions still puzzle archaeologists. But whatever its precise dimensions, this army was a new and terrifying force.

“The Great Army spent the next ten years causing havoc up and down the four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of East Anglia, Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria. Its aim was conquest, not plunder. They entered treaties, deposed kings and installed puppets, and in general made life miserable for the people of what was to become England.

“At Torksey, Julian Richards and Dawn Hadley arrived at the same inconvenient truth by a different path. Torksey, which was then part of Mercia, is where the Viking Great Army overwintered in 872 to 873 before moving down to Repton the next year. We know this from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. What Richards and Hadley found there convinced them that the Great Army was indeed great, possibly numbering as many as 5,000 people.

“British screenwriter and producer Michael Hirst, who wrote the successful ‘Vikings’ TV series, also spent time digging with Jarman in the Repton vicarage garden. ‘The whole subject of Vikings is one of those things you know something about and you realize you know absolutely nothing!’ Hirst told me. ‘One of the things the series is doing is trying to overcome centuries of prejudice and ignorance about Vikings and their culture. Little Englanders and nationalists are my bête noires—I hate that! We are still Vikings, they’re embedded in our culture. It’s about time people woke up to that.’ ”

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