Violence, Society and Communication: the Vikings and Pattern of
Violence in England and Ireland 793-860

Patrick J. Smith
...
2




from a revisionist tradition in secondary material in the Vikings, the same study could

perhaps be conducted with j...
3




                                         Introduction
                                A furore normannorum, libera n...
4




elaborated on either the heroic or depraved elements of the Viking migration. In the

case of the Icelandic sagas fo...
5




the past forty years and the spectrum of thought is far more balanced.9 We feel

however that it is time that histor...
6




condemned as an outrage in western sources when the perpetrator is a Scandinavian

but passes often without comment ...
7


societies attempted in various ways to establish the legitimacy, and also the

illegitimacy, of violent behaviour. As ...
8


nothing more than an ‘extension of normal Dark Age activity’13 may suffice in

relation to the size of Viking bands an...
9


                  The Pattern of Violence in the Medieval West

        In Western Europe established patterns of warf...
10




would produce similar conclusions. The fact that Codagh is a later source and

exaggerates the violent elements of ...
11


                                             England

         Four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms dominated the history of Bri...
12




figures of the age such as Bede or Gregory of Tours are there any references to

warfare that expand beyond the mon...
13


from Gildas, who called his military compatriots ‘bloody, proud and murderous men,

adulterers and enemies of God.’ T...
14


         This may as good an opportunity as any to, by way of a small diversion,

briefly discuss the reliability wri...
15


ASC written as a ‘history’ at all. The law of history, or of recording events in the early

middle ages, was God’s la...
16




king to Judas among the twelve, said he ‘violently seized the vill in which the minster

was sited…with all its app...
17


bishops are mentioned as having lost their lives as a result of Danish invaders.41

Nevertheless, the comparatively p...
18


twelfth-century writer Saxo Grammaticus and various Sagas in an attempt to prove

that the grizzly ritual was carried...
19


the entire Viking Age. Written as early as 1038, this poem was apparently copied and

reproduced in several sagas suc...
20




evidence that the violence of Scandinavians in England was qualitatively the same as

the violence that preceded it...
21




                                               Ireland
         ‘For in those days shall be such tribulations as we...
22




cannot have massed more than two or three ships at the most. We might suggest here

that the world the Vikings ente...
23




Vikings as allies, ‘Binchy’s quaint picture has no supporting evidence to sustain it

whatsoever’.57 The same schol...
24


outbursts of violence that occur amongst the Irish themselves. If the Annals are to be

trusted there is therefore ro...
25




century gained control of much of the northeast and expanded south-eastwards

towards the mid-Ulster plain in the n...
26


abbacy from around 750 to 845. One of these families supplied abbots to Louth,

Duleek and Kilbrew. Hereditary succes...
27


Three occasions are attributed to lightning, and it is of course possible that accidental

causes were behind the oth...
28


church in Ireland. Firstly, such immunity is fictional and secondly the impact of the

Vikings in the first forty yea...
29




ravaged as far as Sliéve Bloom’ from longphorts at Dublin.76 It is the reserved nature

of the Annals of Ulster tha...
30


that he had caused enough destruction for one day. Christianity was of course the

norm par excellence in Irish socie...
31


           Violence and Communication: a ‘grammar’ of warfare?
         Having discussed the nature of violence in Ir...
32




do not of course exist as concrete entities but as part of a society’s cumulative

‘memory bank’ of all previous ac...
33


confirmation of Sawyer’s claims that warring bands in the Middle Ages often

numbered no more than thirty-five men, t...
34




reciprocate. They understood exactly who their enemies were, why they were

attacking and where to find them. When ...
35




recorded having ‘come and taken tribute’ in 658.93 This seemed to be a legitimate

‘move’ to take in a conflict, pe...
36




apparently expected to take in some parts of the country, e.g. Fyrdstraet, this body of

evidence suggests that on ...
37


                           The Vikings as ‘mis-communicators’

           Alcuin’s panicked statement shortly after t...
38


and make sense of what is going on. When two cultures collide in warfare with a

differing set of norms and rules of ...
39




Vikings are often referred to as ‘infidels’ or in some way dishonest and there are

many instances of them ’brushin...
40


warring against each other. It must be said however, as Sawyer once pointed out, the

Saxons may have been fast mover...
41


           The Viking acts of violence against churches attracted the most vitriolic

commentary in the western sourc...
42




the Viking menace, the Chronicle’s entry of 794 being such an example. As Viking

bands spent more time in the west...
43


                                      Conclusion

       Having attempted to demonstrate that England and Ireland wer...
44


normal Dark Age activity’,102 because it is Alcuin’s definition of normality that we

must take as a starting point.
...
45


                                    LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS


Annales Regnum Francorum – ARF
Anglo-Saxon chronicle – AS...
46


          -   ‘Early Medieval Demography: Some Observations on the Methods of
              Hans Delbruke’ in Kagay, ...
47


      -     ‘English Feudalism and the structure of Anglo-Saxon Society’ in E. John
            (ed.), Orbis Britanni...
48


       -   Kings and Vikings (1981, London)

       -   ‘Causes of the Viking Age’ in T.Farrell (ed.), The Vikings (1...
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Violence, Society and Communication: the Vikings and Pattern of Violence in England and Ireland 793-860

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Violence, Society and Communication: the Vikings and Pattern of Violence in England and Ireland 793-860

  1. 1. Violence, Society and Communication: the Vikings and Pattern of Violence in England and Ireland 793-860 Patrick J. Smith Preface This paper is about Vikings and violence. It is an attempt to transform the violence of the Viking raids, and of early medieval Europe in a wider sense, into something that amounts to more than a terse and uninformative annalistic account. Ever since first being taught about cruel, violence Vikings at primary school and how they raped their way across unsuspecting Britain and Ireland, I have been fascinated by the way the Northmen have been depicted. After reading on the subject as an undergraduate, the subject only became more interesting. This is perhaps an attempt to put some of my own doubts to rest. It would be impossible in the space allowed to give a full and exhaustive analysis of both the actions of Viking invaders and native English and Irish warriors, a brief look at many issues is necessary for my argument. I have not included a narrative or even an overview of the Viking Age, simply because such information is readily available in many forms and is written by scholars far more qualified in the field. There was originally going to be an entire section on the Vikings in Francia, for which there is perhaps the best and most reliable evidence – and a discussion of the impact of post-Viking Age sagas on modern interpretations of Vikings, but there simply was not enough room. It must also be said that the impact of neighbouring fields of inquiry such as archaeology and numismatics that have offered so much to the historian are unfortunately largely absent from the discussion here simply due to a lack of space. Although this piece concentrates mostly on written sources, and unashamedly draws
  2. 2. 2 from a revisionist tradition in secondary material in the Vikings, the same study could perhaps be conducted with just these disciplines in mind. Gratitude is extended to Professor Ian Moxon, who though not a medievalist was kind enough to provide me with his excellent and very useful translation of the The Life of Anskar, which hopefully one day will see the light of day as a published piece for the benefit of other students without a good grasp of Latin. Thanks also to those who read all or some of it during the making, especially Professor Ian Wood, Freddie, Peter and Tamsyn who pointed out the worst of the mistakes. I can only accept responsibility myself for the remainder of them.
  3. 3. 3 Introduction A furore normannorum, libera nos, domine. (From the violence of the Northmen deliver us.)1 Much has been and continues to be written about the Vikings. The actions of these famous Scandinavians have come to represent one of the most enduring and vivid images of the middle ages. We might well ask, as Kelly De Vries has, whether there ‘is anything more representative of medieval society than the knight in shining armour, lance coached under his arm, bearing down his tournament opponent, or the Viking warrior, horns on helmet, slicing through defenceless peasants and monks…?’2 It is this image that shall be examined in this paper. How violent were the Vikings in Western Europe? Were they more violent than their Western European victims or are the monastic sources that suggest this a fair representation? The western sources portray them as a monstrosity, something horrific and alien. Sometimes they even are barely even human, ‘swarming communities like stinging hornets and spread on all sides like fearful wolves’ across unsuspecting Northumbria.3 This kind of reaction is perhaps hardly surprising given the unexpected and undoubtedly destructive nature of the raids. There is, however, more to the West’s reaction than simple outrage. There is confusion and a misunderstanding; a sense of bewilderment of how could such a thing could happen. Like most things in Middle Age Christian Europe it was seen by many to be a judgment of God, retribution for straying from His path. It is important to remember that the Viking menace grew with the telling.4 Successive generations after the end of the Viking Age proper seem to have 1 Quoted in F. Donald Logan, The Vikings in History (1983, London) p.15 2 Kelly DeVries, Medieval Military Technology (1992, Broadview) p.3 3 Simeon of Durham, EHD p.247 4 Peter Sawyer, The Age of the Vikings (1971, London) p. 95
  4. 4. 4 elaborated on either the heroic or depraved elements of the Viking migration. In the case of the Icelandic sagas for instance, this was done quite ingeniously. As works of literature, and indeed as propaganda, the sagas are wonderful examples of their genre and make quite enjoyable reading. They unfortunately do not figure as historical documents. Accepting this, what concerns us primarily, in the words of Peter Sawyer, is the way in which the hostility of the sources, and the biases and exaggerations therein have ‘so thoroughly infected historical writing about the period as a whole’ and portrayed Vikings in such a negative light. 5 Consider and compare for example the view of one of a leading churchman writing in at the end of the ninth century with the view of a leading historian of his time, which we feel are worth quoting at length: Wild beasts…(go) by horse and foot through hills and fields, forests, open plains and villages, killing babies, children, young men, old men, fathers, sons and mothers…They overthrow, they despoil, they destroy, they burn, they ravage, sinister cohort, fatal phalanx, cruel host…6 …As buccaneers, thieves and murderers, the Northmen horrified all western Christendom, startled even the Greek Empire, and more than once shocked the Muslim people of the Caliphate…history knows them as bloodthirsty and abominable barbarians, enemies of society capable of infamous, indefensible outrages of arson and slaughter…7 For writers to be worked up into such a frothy rage in their commentaries on Viking raids is not rare. The work of Patrick Wormald and Alfred Smyth, once described as an unusual reactionary pairing of English and Irish scholars,8 in particular contains quite similar condemnations of Viking activity in England. There has of course been a sizeable body of work written in defence of Vikings in Europe in 5 Sawyer, Age of the Vikings (1971, London) p.9 6 Abbo, ‘Le Siége du Paris par les Normands’, in Henri Waquet (ed.) Les Classiques de l’Histoire du France au Moyen Age (1942, Paris) p.28-30, at lines 177-95; quoted in Sawyer, Age of the Vikings p.120. Abbo, though a notable Frank, also wrote the Passio Sancti Edmundi, in which he describes in great detail the brutal death of the East Anglian King at the hands of the Danes. 7 T.D. Kendrick, A History of the Vikings (1930, London) p.12 8 Christopher D. Morris, ‘Raiders, Traders and settlers: the Early Viking Age in Scotland’ in Clark Ó Floinn and Ní Mhaonaigh (eds.) Ireland and Scandinavia in the Early Viking Age (1998, Dublin) p73
  5. 5. 5 the past forty years and the spectrum of thought is far more balanced.9 We feel however that it is time that historians stopped debating whether Vikings were ‘good’ or ’bad’ and what destructive processes they may or not have instigated, and started to study the actions of the Vikings in a wider context of Western European communication and violence. In light of recent research on the nature of violence and warfare in the medieval West, taking into consideration the influence of many influences on the projected image of Vikings, this is what we shall attempt to do now The intentions of this paper then are threefold. In the first section we will attempt to give a brief overview of violence and conflict in the pre-Viking Age in the medieval west, focussing mainly on England and Ireland, the Viking’s main victims in the first thirty years of the Viking Age. We will attempt to show that early medieval communities and kingdoms were almost constantly beset by war and conflict. Violence was indeed a way of life: the occupation of thousands of men and the platform for kings to establish, consolidate and retain power. The common misconception that the Vikings attacked peaceful communities, an idea so very ingrained into popular culture as well as academic thought, is one in need of drastic reappraisal.10 Vikings aside, it is well worth commenting on the nature of early medieval violence and its relationship to society, in light of new work on the subject. Raiding, though understandably associated with Vikings, was something that kings, monasteries and communities frequently undertook against each other. It is 9 For the defence of Vikings see Sawyer, Age of the Vikings (1971, London), which instigated the debate over the treatment of Scandinavians in the sources and is perhaps still the most important work on the subject; Peter Sawyer, Kings and Vikings (1981, London) which offers a general overview of the period and Peter Sawyer, ‘The Causes of the Viking Age’ in T. Farrell (ed.) The Vikings (1982, London). For a more recent contribution, Sarah Foot ‘Violence against Christians? The Vikings and the Church in ninth-century England in MH 1991 p.3-16 and Guy Halsall ‘Playing by whose rules? A Further look at Viking Atrocity in the ninth century’ in MH 1992 p.2-10. 10 This view was famously aired in Binchy, D.A, ‘Passing of the Old Order’ in Brian Ó Cuív (ed.) The Impact of the Scandinavian invasions on the Celtic-speaking peoples c.800-1100 A.D. : introductory papers read at plenary sessions of the International Congress of Celtic Studies 1959 (1975, Dublin)
  6. 6. 6 condemned as an outrage in western sources when the perpetrator is a Scandinavian but passes often without comment when the culprit is Christian, though we often see the regional or monarchical bias of the sources when they refer to raids and wars. The more traditionally debased elements of Viking activity such as the taking hostages or slaves, brutal and elaborate sacrificial methods and even the iconic act of burning churches occurred in pre-Viking Western Europe. We shall by way of comparison examine Viking behaviour in the first phase of the Viking Age and argue that the raids were not qualitatively very different at all from the kind of violence common in the medieval West. In the second section, Violence and Communication, it shall be argued that within the pattern of violence in the west there were, just as in modern warfare, rules, conventions and norms of warfare that can generically be termed a ‘grammar’ of warfare. Guy Halsall, who has been an eloquent voice in favour of this theory for more than a decade, writes in a recent book ‘there were normative rules, or codes of conduct, which governed the practice of warfare at various times and places in the post-Roman West…Warfare is, after all, a form of communication.’11 As in other modes of communication, medieval violence involved statements and replies, in the form of disputes, raids, conflicts and wars. In England and Ireland for example, rival kingdoms followed certain unwritten rules in their wars with each other: an attack on a neighbouring kingdom would doubtless result in a reciprocating attack the following summer, or whenever a suitable force could be mustered. Also, within the ‘laws’ or grammar of this discourse, there is a sense of legitimacy of violence. Early medieval 11 Guy Halsall, Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West, 450-900 (2003, Routledge) p.9. See also Halsall: ‘Playing by Whose Rules?’, and ‘Anthropology and the Study of Pre-Conquest Warfare and Society: the Ritual War in Anglo-Saxon England’ in S. Chadwick-Hawkes, Weapons and warfare in Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford, 1989) p.155-77
  7. 7. 7 societies attempted in various ways to establish the legitimacy, and also the illegitimacy, of violent behaviour. As we shall see there are two dimensions within this: horizontal and vertical, representing respectively the attempts of communities and rulers to establish their version of legitimate violence. In our third section, Vikings as Miscommunicators, it will be argued that what really distinguished the violent acts of Vikings from that by English and Irish kings, monks and laymen is not the Northmens’ ferocity or their ‘debased cruelty’ as some historians would have it,12 but their willingness to flaunt these traditionally respected ‘rules’ of warfare. The recent work of Guy Halsall, whose ideas form the basis of this paper, suggests that the harsh treatment of Vikings in contemporary western sources was not due to Viking acts of ‘cruelty’, manifested in some sources as grizzly human sacrifices and a pronounced disregard for sacred buildings, but from a ‘clash of cultures with different mentalities and different attitudes to warfare and its practices’. We will attempt to place the Vikings into the picture set out in sections one and two. The West’s reaction in monastic sources and later commentaries can be seen as the reactions of communities that could not understand a people who continually showed no respect or knowledge of the normal ‘rules’ of combat and warfare. Also, aside from breaking the rules of warfare, the Vikings were a pagan, alien force. Christian kings throughout the ninth century tried endlessly to get Viking leaders to convert to Christianity, so to enter them into a world they can understand. Herein lie the seeds of contempt, fear and misunderstanding that the Vikings have been treated with ever since. Peter Sawyer’s famous claim made in 1962 that the Viking migration was 12 Alfred Smyth, Scandinavian Kings in Britain (1977, Oxford)
  8. 8. 8 nothing more than an ‘extension of normal Dark Age activity’13 may suffice in relation to the size of Viking bands and their activity in a general sense, but now more than forty years after the publishing of The Age of The Vikings (and almost fifty since Sawyer first revealed the conclusions made therein) it is surely due some revision. Firstly, as David Wilson has said, the raids were too sustained and commonplace for Viking activity to be deemed ‘normal’ within the context of the ninth century, even though the actual violence itself was similar in practice and method. Patrick Wormald, who is more ready to accept the ninth-century sources as accurate accounts than many, adds that there must have at least been something exceptional about Viking violence compared to violence by Christians to justify the attention the sources give to it.14 We may in part accept this, but remain conscious of the propagandist nature of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the writers of which have had more than good reason over the centuries it was written and revised to omit Christian violence and amplify the effects of pagan destruction. The sources were not meant to be unbiased historical accounts: what they record is the collective experience of a community. The laws of history these writers adhered to were the laws of God and Christian morality.15 13 Sawyer, Age of the Vikings, p.202-3. For the purposes of this paper we will accept Sawyer’s estimate that Viking bands in general numbered no more than ‘a few hundred men’, though the numbers were undeniably much higher on occasion. We must accept, following the work of Nicholas Brooks, that there are occasions when number correlate in the English sources and Irish sources, which must suggest overall that Sawyer’s initial rule of a ‘few hundred men’ is no longer maintainable. It still remains, however, a sensible guide for the period. 14 Wilson, D, ‘Viking studies: whence and whither? In Farrell, R.T, (ed.) The Vikings (1982, Phillimore) p.129
  9. 9. 9 The Pattern of Violence in the Medieval West In Western Europe established patterns of warfare had emerged by the recorded beginning of Viking raids in 793. Even a cursory glance at the annals shows that these were very violent times. Violence and warfare were intrinsically important to the fabric of medieval society. For Lesnick the medieval world was one of ‘thick skins, short fuses and physical violence’.16 Eric John’s statement that ‘Anglo-Saxon society was so violent that a central fact of its politics, its way of life…was fighting and making war’ may fit just as well with both Ireland and Francia.17 John paints a world in which weapons are regarded as the ultimate status symbols, they are bestowed onto noble boys upon coming of age and, judging by various excavations across Britain, came to represent rank and authority. Halsall adds that these swords given to Frankish nobles on their thirteenth birthday were not symbolic instruments as swords are in modern-day ceremonies; these swords or axes should be viewed as something designed to be used extensively in combat, indeed the medieval equivalent of a machine gun. The spear came to represent all free males, and more elaborate weapon armouries, like those found at Sutton Hoo in East Anglia, the higher social classes. Indeed, there is little doubting the existence of a ‘warrior cult’ in England and Ireland the seventh and eighth centuries. Poetic works of the period feature warriors, warring kings and, in the words of Halsall ‘stylised battle accounts…and religious models…adapted to fit in with the stereotyped battle description’.18 Halsall may have been referring specifically to Old English poetry, but even a basic reading of the great Irish poem Codagh Gaedhel re Gallaibh (‘The wars of the Irish with the Foreigners’) 16 Lesnick, D.R, Insults and threats in medieval Todi; Journal of Medieval History (17,1991) pp.71-89 17 John, E, English feudalism and the structure of Anglo-Saxon society in John, E. (ed); Orbis Britanniae and other studies (1966, Leicester) pp.128-53 18 Halsall, ‘Anthropology of Pre-Conquest War and Society’ p.171
  10. 10. 10 would produce similar conclusions. The fact that Codagh is a later source and exaggerates the violent elements of both the Vikings and the Irish perhaps illustrates the extent to which the Irish saw themselves, and attempted to portray themselves, in successive generations. Michael Wallace-Hadrill, who seemed to feel that the Vikings deserved their supposed reputation as medieval Europe’s most feared pirates, at least agrees that ‘war was a natural state for the Anglo-Saxons, as for the Lombards, Franks and Goths; so natural that it should be prepared for anticipated by warriors trained and equipped in its service.’19 As with most issues relating to the Vikings in general, though particularly with regard to the sources’ exaggeration of their exploits, we feel drawn to the work of Peter Sawyer, who wrote in The Age of the Vikings: ‘Neither Scandinavians nor the peoples of western Europe were strangers to war and bloodshed. The chronicles of the Christian world, long before the Vikings interrupted into it, are full of wars and campaigns. Fighting, whether among families or between kingdoms, must have been a common experience…’20 19 J. Michael Wallace-Hadrill, ‘War and Peace in the Middle Ages’ in Trans, 5th series, vol.25 1975 20 Sawyer, Age of the Vikings p.202
  11. 11. 11 England Four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms dominated the history of Britain in the seventh and eighth centuries: Mercia, Wessex, Northumbria and East Anglia. The history of these kingdoms in the seventh and eighth centuries is essentially the history of the wars between them and insubordinate neighbouring peoples who retained their regional and ethnic identities. By the end of the Ninth century however, only Wessex survived intact. It has been argued that the West Saxons did not achieve their supremacy through beating off their rivals but that the other kingdoms were effectively killed off the by the Vikings.21 Whether this is true or not, there should be no doubting the violent nature of the society the Vikings entered. Between 650 and 850 the sources record fourteen wars between Mercia and Wessex and eleven between Mercia and the Welsh. We should not think that this list, which also includes eighteen more conflicts against other opponents, is in any way complete: these wars are simply the most noteworthy or particularly destructive of the period; our list of forty-two is unfortunately far from exhaustive.22 It is unlikely that the Chronicle’s compilers knew very much about military campaigns outside their native Wessex, particularly after 700 and the end of Bede’s history. Even some West Saxon action went unrecorded and historians have been left to rely on the Annales Cambriae, various derivatives of the Chronicle such as Simeon of Durham, saints’ lives and the Annals of Ulster. This point underlines the inadequacy of source material relating to warfare and conflict in the middle ages. On occasion even when a series of conflicts are mentioned in the Chronicle, such as the entry for 755 (757 in some versions) which relates that Cynewulf of Wessex slew an alderman and ‘fought many hard battle with the Welsh’, not one specific battle is given mention’.23 Only in the work of the great intellectual 21 See for example Nicholas Brooks ‘England in the ninth century: the crucible of defeat’ in Trans, 1978 p.?? and Smyth, Scandinavian Kings in England 22 Halsall, Warfare and Society p.3
  12. 12. 12 figures of the age such as Bede or Gregory of Tours are there any references to warfare that expand beyond the monastic ‘king x fought king y at town z’ model. Nevertheless, there is still a lot to be learned from the Annals. They show us principally, that military strength, and the frequent display of it, was the basis of royal power throughout our period. Bede, in his Historia Ecclesia, shows powerful kings in England to be successful military overlords who used their might to intimidate lesser rulers into paying tribute and submission.24 Indeed, kings were apparently expected to display their military prowess quite soon after their accession. The evidence for Mercia shows that the only instance of a king taking more than six years to undertake his first military campaign is Æthelbald who acceded in 715 and attacked Somerton in 733.25 These kings then often found themselves in a vicious circle of military activity: they needed their armies to continue fighting in order to remain in power. Halsall adds that the Chronicle reports in 716 of the death of Osred of Northumbria in battle ‘south of the border’, which was in Æthelbald’s reign.26 The heroic image of Anglo-Saxon warriors holding their leaders in the utmost respect and viewing reputation above all else apparent in texts like Beowulf seems to be somewhat dubious when we consider Bede’s comment that Anglo-Saxon soldiers allowed their loyalties to stray, often switched sides and joined a rival kingdom’s forces when booty from raids was not so forthcoming. We may perhaps see learn 23 ASC s.a. 757 24 Barbara Yorke, The Anglo-Saxons (1999, Sutton) 25 Halsall, ‘Anthropology and Pre-Conquest Warfare’ p170. Halsall adds that the ASC reports in 716 of the death of Osred of Northumbria in battle ‘south of the border’, which was in Æthelbald’s reign. If true, it would be an attack within one year of his accession and therefore prove the rule; if not it would remain something of an unlikely anomaly. 26 From Boniface’s letter to Æthelbald, EHD no.177
  13. 13. 13 from Gildas, who called his military compatriots ‘bloody, proud and murderous men, adulterers and enemies of God.’ Though in some ways misleading, what we do learn from the poetic and hagiographical sources is the centrality of violence to Anglo- Saxon communities, which cannot be overstated. This an interesting point to remember when considering the Chronicle’s later condemnation of Viking bands as disloyal infidels. Works like The Fortunes of Men or its companion works The Gifts of Men and Maxims I and II, which are seen by many to be a good indicator of what contemporaries saw as the proper ‘order of things’, treat violence as intrinsically linked to the Anglo-Saxon way of life.27 They assert that ‘Good comrades must encourage a young nobleman to war-making’ and that ‘Majesty must go with pride, the daring with the brave; both must wage war with alacrity …In the man, martial warlike arts must burgeon’.28 As Halsall points out, the ideal Anglo-Saxon image of a Christian king was one of a ‘just king, his people’s defence in war’. An interesting text, Felix’s Life of Guthlac, describes how the young nobleman upon reaching the age of fifteen gathered a band of warriors and spent the following nine years burning, ravaging and looting. Halsall suggests that as there is no comment from the author on this behaviour, and there seems to be no literary or hagiographical model to follow, he saw it as perfectly normal and acceptable behaviour.29 It is worth making a parallel between the Life of Gunthlac and the Annals of Saint-Bertin, in which the entry for 841 states that in the civil war that followed the death of Louis the Pious, one of his sons Lothar went from Sens to Le Mans and ravaged ‘everything with such acts of devastation, burning, rape, sacrilege and blasphemy that he could not even restrain his men from damaging those he was meant to be visiting’.30 27 Halsall, Anthropology and Pre-Conquest Warfare p.160 28 Maxims II and Maxims I, respectively. Quoted in Ibid p160 29 Ibid p.160 30 ASB s.a. 841
  14. 14. 14 This may as good an opportunity as any to, by way of a small diversion, briefly discuss the reliability written sources in England. Sarah Foot wrote an article in 1991 entitled ‘Violence Against Christians? The Vikings and the Church in Ninth- Century England’ which examined the Viking’s treatment of the church in England. Foot argued that the most detailed accounts referring to the destruction of individual churches is of a late origin and describe events in a far more emotive way than those who witnessed things first-hand.31 The Chronicle is a victim of this as much as anything. The entry for 870 in most versions simply states that the Danes wintered in Thanet, only a twelfth-century addition to the Peterborough ‘E’ manuscript adds: At the same time they came to the minster at Medehamstede, burnt and destroyed it, killed and abbot and monks and all they found there, and brought it to pass that it became nought that had once been very mighty.32 Additions such as this are of historical value, if not for the history of the ninth century, but for the opinions of twelfth-century writers: it would seem that the Vikings had enough of an impact to strike into the English fear long after the Viking Age – or that these writers found it impossible to contextualised the actions of a people they still could not understand. Foot argues that the language used in ninth- century texts is often indicative of the contempt for which the Vikings were held: the Danes are constantly referred to between 851 and 866 as the ‘heathen army’.33 Though the Chronicle is undoubtedly West Saxon biased, Foot’s assertion that chronicler(s) attempted to make an ‘explicit contrast between Viking heathenism and Christianity and piety of (the Anglo-Saxons)’, may not always be so accurate. The laws of history in modernity, being principally accuracy, a commitment to primary sources and a balance of facts, were not present in the ninth century – nor was the 31 Sarah Foot, ‘Violence Against Christians? The Vikings and the Church in ninth-century England’ in MH, 1991 p.3-17, at p.3 32 ASC s.a.870 33 Such language is used quite consistently throughout the raids in both English and Irish sources, e.g. ASC s.a. 835: ‘in this year heathen men ravaged Sheppey’.
  15. 15. 15 ASC written as a ‘history’ at all. The law of history, or of recording events in the early middle ages, was God’s law. Though we agree that the ASC is part of a Christian propaganda that in the words of the eminent archaeologist Thomas Myhre had a common interest in a presentation of the Scandinavians as frightening barbarians, we may do well to keep in mind the possibility that many monastic annals were simply written the lexicon of the day: the Vikings were pagan; to Anglo-Saxon priests they were heathen. It is absurd to see the Annals from anywhere as wholly accurate, objective descriptions of events. We are however not as ready, as Myhre is, to accept that each and every reference in Frankish or English Christian sources can be seen as ‘arguments in a political and ideological conflict’.34 But what is to be made of the Viking’s relationship with the church in England? Peter Sawyer argued forty years ago that while the church remained the Viking’s chief target for plunder and they were for the best part of two hundred years ‘a scourge to the Christian’, Christian kings were also guilty of demeaning the church.35 One such example given by Foot is a dispute in 781 between king Offa and the church of Worcester over the ownership of church lands, particularly the minster at Bath and territory in Worcestershire.36 Alfred the Great was accused in the same period of wronging the church of Canterbury.37 Alfred was also accused of misusing church lands to suit his own needs by an abbey of Abingdon who, after comparing the 34 Bjorn Myhre ‘The Beginning of the Viking Age – Some Archaeological Problems’ in A. Faulkes and R. Perkins (eds.) Viking Re-evaluations – Viking Centenery Symposium (1993, London) p182-216. At p.197. Foot cites ASC s.a. 855 in which ‘the heathen men for the first time stayed in Sheppey over the winter’ whilst ‘Æthelwulf conveyed by charter the tenth part of his land throughout his all his kingdom to the praise of God and his own eternal salvation’. I suggest that though it is possible entries like this are attempts at showing a difference in both culture and morality, there are instances of Christian kings giving tithes when they are no Vikings around, and of Vikings outstaying their welcome when the Anglo-Saxons were not feeling particularly generous. The two being linked in this incidence, as with others, may only be coincidental. Myhre was referring primarily to the writings of Alcuin, for which the Christian propaganda argument is much more easily made. 35 Sawyer, Age of the Vikings p.202-5. The quote is at p.205 36 EHD, no.77 37 EHD, no. 222. Quoted in Foot, ‘Violence Against Christians’ p.5
  16. 16. 16 king to Judas among the twelve, said he ‘violently seized the vill in which the minster was sited…with all its appurtenances’.38 But that is not to say the Vikings themselves did not had something of a catastrophic effect on the church. According to Patrick Wormald, their effect was enough to destroy completely the Episcopal sees of Hexham, Leicester and Dunwich, which were all active in the eighth century. Many others were disrupted for many years, and as in Ireland several were moved to safer inland locations such as the monastery of St. Colomba on Lindesfarne that was relocated with its relics to Chester-le-Street in Northumbria.39 One of the few things we know about the church in East Anglia during the mid ninth century is the supposedly brutal murder of King Ædmund by Ívarr inn beinluasi in 869. It is difficult to prove that churches were as actively involved in the pattern and fabric of warfare in the pre-Viking period as in early medieval Ireland, and only seem to have been brought into the arena of war with the arrival of Norwegian raiders in the last decade of the eighth century, or, as Peter Sawyer and Thomas Myhre have suggested, slightly before then. Though there is no actual evidence of clergy bearing arms and killing anyone, we know from the Chronicle and from Frankish sources that there were bishops present in ninth-century Anglo-Saxon armies. The work of Janet Nelson has shown that the clergy may have had a much larger role in warfare than scholars have been ready to admit; we know for example that Anglo-Saxon bishops Herefrith and Wigthegn died, possibly in battle, in 836 and Bishop Heahmund was dealt the same fate in 871.40 It also worth mentioning that no specific clerics or 38 J. Stevenson (ed.) Chronicon Monasterii de Abingdon, ch.44, 2 vols (London, 1858); trans. A.Thacker, ‘Æthelwold and Abingdon’ in Bishop Æthelwold 39 Patrick Wormald, ‘Viking studies: whence and whither’ in R.T. Farrell (ed.) The Vikings (1982, Chichester) p.128-142 40 Janet Nelson, ‘The Church’s military service in the ninth century: a contemporary view’, in Studies in Church History, xx (1983), 15-30
  17. 17. 17 bishops are mentioned as having lost their lives as a result of Danish invaders.41 Nevertheless, the comparatively peaceful nature of the church in pre-Viking Age England takes nothing away from out argument that English society was equally as violent as the one that Vikings came from, or the one they imported as raiders, and later as colonists. Foot is right to suggest that there is a clear sense in the contemporary sources, and importantly in those written long afterwards, that the Vikings presented a very different and immediate threat to ecclesiastical property, which they undoubtedly did. We feel that though there are instances of Anglo-Saxon abuses of the church, they are exception that proves the rule that in the main, despite how violent a place it was, there was an abiding respect for the church. As we shall discuss in our last section, this was a respect the pagans did not share. More interesting perhaps for our purposes is the evidence attesting to sacrificial slayings in England, which despite being slightly outside of our dating, deserves discussion. The blood-eagle, or in some sources the ‘Aquiline’, method of execution has a long and chequered historiographical past. For some it remains the worst feature of Viking violence, evidence of pagan hatred for Christianity – a rite so gruesome it was retained for kings and only performed with a sense of occasion and history in the making. For others, it is merely a fiction: a ‘telescoping’ of various references in heroic Icelandic sagas, elusive scaldic verse and coincidental monastic sources. Wallace-Hadrill, James Graham-Campbell, Patrick Wormald, Gwyn Jones and Eric John are all advocates of the idea, though Alfred Smyth must be its most enthusiastic, asserting that the blood-eagle rite was a very real custom, linked to sacrificial slayings to the Norse God Odinn in Scandinavia. He used the work of the 41 Foot does mention the death of Archbishop Ælfleah in 1011 at the hand of Danes, though this is far beyond our scope and period and does not require discussion, ‘Violence against Christians’ p.12 and ASC s.a. 1011
  18. 18. 18 twelfth-century writer Saxo Grammaticus and various Sagas in an attempt to prove that the grizzly ritual was carried out on Ælla of York in 867 and Ædmund in 869. The standard version of the blood-eagle sacrifice is, in the case of Ælla at least, that the king had the shape of an eagle literally carved in his back, had salt poured over the wound, and was then beheaded, although the amount of differing deviations of this story is almost farcical. For example, Sharon Turner writing in 1799 argued, as have many others, that the lungs were pulled out of the victim’s assumedly to represent the actual wings of an eagle, however only after this has happened is the salt poured on the wound.42 Benjamin Thorpe writing slightly later in 1834 followed similar lines but asserts that the salt was only inserted after the ribs hid been cut open but before the lungs were pulled out. The story of Ædmund’s death differs in that according to Abbo he was shot with arrows so that he resembled a hedgehog, and then beheaded, although the reliability of this source is clearly undermined by its obvious reliance on the Life of Sebastian. Sparing the reader the vast details of this debate, the best way of demonstrating the tenants of it would be quote a stanza from Knútsdrápa, a poem in praise of Knútr, the Danish king of England in the eleventh century, written by the scaldic poet Sighvatr: And Ívarr, Ok Ellu bak Who dwelt at York, at lét hinns sat Carved the eagle Ívarr ara On Ælla’s back. Jórvík skorit.43 These twelve words represent the best evidence for the occurrence of the ‘blood-eagling’ ritual in England, and when we take stock of the Irish evidence, which is not much better, it is the only possible real evidence for sacrificial slaying in 42 Sharon Turner, The History of the Anglo-Saxons (1799-85, London) 43 EHD p.310
  19. 19. 19 the entire Viking Age. Written as early as 1038, this poem was apparently copied and reproduced in several sagas such as Ragnar’s Saga, in which it appears in only one manuscript, and the Hauksbók reduction of the notoriously untrustworthy Páttr af Ragnar sonum. This is how the myth became widely known across Scandinavia by the time of the twelfth century. It seems a large factor in the promotion of the myth is that the great saga writer Snorri Sturluson misunderstood Sighvatr’s verse in his saga of Harald Finehair, retelling the rite in all its gory detail.44 Roberta Frank pointed out the inaccuracies and absurdities of the blood-eagle myth in 1984 and argued that the procedure becomes ‘more lurid, more pagan and time-consuming with each passing century’.45 She demonstrated that when translated directly, Sighvatr’s stanza which she describes as ‘cryptic, knotty and elusive’, does not imply a sacrificial slaying at all: ‘And Ella’s back, at had the one who dwelt, Ívarr, with eagle, York, cut’.46 Though Frank’s methodology has been heavily criticised,47 she makes a valid point regarding the treatment of sources after the Viking Age: each successive translation and interpretation of the Knutsdrápa makes it easier for us to read the blood-eagle rite into it, whereas a contemporary of Sighvatr may have seen the eagle as metaphorical and nothing more than a common convention of scaldic verse. This is a prime example of how the attempts of twelfth and thirteenth writers to emphasise their brutal pagan heritage, which was again resurrected in the nineteenth century, in order to install themselves with a sense of national pride. The sources advocates of the blood-eagle use are not historical; therefore we can safely relegate the blood-eagle to the realm of fiction – further 44 Sawyer, Kings and Vikings, p. 95 45 Roberta Frank, ‘Viking atrocity and Skaldic verse: the Rite of the Blood-Eagle’ in HER, (1984) p.332-343 46 Ibid. p.336 47 See above all Bjarni Einarsson, ‘De Normanorum Atrocitate, or on the execution by the Aquiline method’ in Saga-Book of the Viking Society for Northern Research vol.22, pt.1 (1986) p.79-82
  20. 20. 20 evidence that the violence of Scandinavians in England was qualitatively the same as the violence that preceded it. In any case, the Vikings were not the only people of the early Middle Ages who have been linked to imaginative executions. Bede describes the death of King Oswine of Deira in quite gory terms, not dissimilar to Abbo of Fluery’s description of the apparently brutal death of Ædmund in the ninth century.48 Halsall reminds us of the tales of Æthelberht of East Anglia, who was captured by Offa by treachery and beheaded and of Æthelred of Northumbria who dragged the sons of his predecessor Ælfwald out of their sanctuary and drowned them in Lake Windermere.49 In any case, the capture and execution of rival kings was not restricted to Viking Age Britain. 48 Bede, Ecclesiastical History III.14 49 Halsall, ‘Playing by whose rules?’ p.3-4
  21. 21. 21 Ireland ‘For in those days shall be such tribulations as were not from the beginning of creation which God created until now; neither shall be. And unless the Lord had shortened the days, no flesh shall be saved; but, for the sake of the elect which he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days’50 This excerpt, from the book of Armagh, is typical of the annalistic references to Vikings in the Irish sources. It may be misleading however, and belies a tendency in Irish sources to be far less sensationalist and morally judgemental than the English sources. There are no fiery dragons or whirlwinds heralding a new age of terror in Ireland as in the English sources.51 Perhaps reacting to worry among the ecclesiastical community in England after the attack on Lindesfarne, the Annals of Ulster report in 794 of ‘the devastation of all the islands of Britain by heathens’. Like the English, though, the Irish sources clearly portray the attacks as a bolt from the blue.52 It is perhaps beyond the scope of this paper, but it is possible to show through archaeology, though perhaps not wholly conclusively, that the Viking migration was part of wider economic and social processes underway at the end of the eighth century.53 A rise in trading activities no doubt played a crucial role in attracting Northmen to Western Europe; their attacks on Northumbria were almost certainly borne from settling in Northern Scottish islands, and most scholars are of the opinion that the Irish raids began in similar fashion.54 As with England, a clear pattern of ‘hit and run’ raiding on coastal targets quickly emerged and remained between 795 and roughly 836, no target being attacked more than twenty miles inland.55 The first raids 50 AUL. s.a. 795. The entry refers to the attacks on the great island monastery of St. Colomba on Iona in 795, 802 when it was burned, and 806 when the Vikings returned and killed sixty-eight of its community. 51 ASC s.a 793 52 AUL s.a 794 53 See esp. Myhre, ‘The beginning of the Viking Age’. Unfortunately perhaps for historians, Myhre raised some serious questions about the dating of the Viking Age, which according to some insular metalwork finds in England could have started well before 793 in the eighth century. Thankfully this is out of the scope of this paper. 54 Donncha Ó Corráin, Ireland Before the Normans (1972, Dublin) p.80 and Sawyer, ‘The Viking Age and Before’ in OIHV p.3-8
  22. 22. 22 cannot have massed more than two or three ships at the most. We might suggest here that the world the Vikings entered into when they raided the isle of Rechrú in 795 surprised them almost as much as their arrival surprised the Irish. We shall now attempt to show that pre-Viking Age Ireland was anything but peaceful. Irish life in the early Middle Ages was one based upon violence, both ritual and secular. It was instigated by kings and against kings, by monasteries against kings, and vice versa. Just as in England and Francia, the violence of the Viking age has been held responsible for many of the developments in Irish life throughout the eighth and ninth centuries. It has for example been claimed that the Viking raids brought an end to the immunity of the church from secular violence, that the Northmen plundered rich monasteries with no regard for sacred buildings or artefacts as if the local population had always upheld this respect. As previously mentioned, in 1962 at the first International Congress of Celtic Studies D.A. Binchy argued this and also claimed that Viking attacks put an end to certain curiosities of Irish warfare such as not annexing an opponents after victory and refusing to carry on fighting after one side’s king had died. Moreover, the picture Binchy paints of pre-Viking Age Ireland is one considerably more peaceful than the period the immediately succeeds it: In pre-Norse times all wars (in Ireland) followed a curiously ritual pattern…one did not continue to fight after one’s king had been slain; one did not annex the enemy’s territory…one refrained from attacking a number of ‘neutral zones’ on enemy soil – the monastic settlements, and so on.56 These claims have since then been put under considerable scrutiny by some scholars, one finding that except his observation that Irish kings frequently employed 55 Ó Corráin, Ireland Before the Normans p.82. The exception to this rule is the attack on Roscommon as mentioned in the Annals of Ulster for year 807, though the accuracy of this claim must be doubted since, as Ó Corráin points out, no other attacks on targets so far inland are recorded for the next forty years. 56 D.A. Binchy ‘The Passing of the Old Order’ in B. Ó Cuív (ed.) The Impact of the Scandinavians on the Celtic speaking peoples c.800-1100, proceedings of the (first) International Congress of Celtic Studies (1962, Dublin) p.119-32
  23. 23. 23 Vikings as allies, ‘Binchy’s quaint picture has no supporting evidence to sustain it whatsoever’.57 The same scholar, extending this savage attack, emphasises the internal violence in Ireland. Though he accepts that the Viking raids must have had a traumatic effect on Irish life, but argues that raiding was not so prolonged nor the Vikings’ activities so widespread throughout the country, that they could have brought about the collapse of an entire social system.58 Historians like Eoin Mac Neill and Donncha Ó Corráin have shown, conversely, that violence was integral to Irish life and attacks on monasteries by kings was not at all rare, nor was violence by monastic settlements, although this is harder to prove. Ó Corráin for one is convinced the initial impact of violence in the Viking Age in Ireland has been overstated. He made a convincing argument in 1972 that the sources demonstrate that Irish secular violence easily equalled the importance and impact of that of the Vikings and recently defended his position.59 He argued that the annals show very clearly that before during and after the Viking period more churches were burned and plundered and clerics killed by the Irish than by the Norse. This is not to say that the Vikings had no hand in the burning, defiling and destruction of churches of the murder of clergy – monasteries remained their principle targets and sources of wealth consistently in the ninth century. It is a redressing of the balance that is needed: the Viking violence as with other areas needs to contextualised in the complex picture of ninth-century violence. In the first quarter century of Viking raids Ó Corráin argued that the sources show only twenty-six instances of plundering by Vikings in Ireland whereas in the same period the Annals record eighty-seven 57 Dáibhí Ó Cronín, Early Medieval Ireland (1995, Dublin) pp. 261 58 Ibid p.263 59 See Ó Corráin, Ireland before the Normans and ‘Ireland, Wales, Man and the Hebrides’ in OIHV p.83-109
  24. 24. 24 outbursts of violence that occur amongst the Irish themselves. If the Annals are to be trusted there is therefore roughly only one raid per year in the first phase of the Viking Age in Ireland. In a similar vein to Ó Cronin’s work, Ó Corráin suggests, maybe taking his normally eloquent argument slightly too far in this instance, that the Viking raids ‘can have caused no widespread disorder or great distress even if we multiply them by a factor of five’.60 Power was organised in Ireland between provincial kings, regional sub-kings and local lords, but there was also a hierarchy of kings such as in the kingdom of Tara in the eighth century. There was no central governmental power, rather many kings battling for domination against rival kings. The Uí Néill was the most prominent of these dynasties in the eighth century prior to the Vikings’ arrival. By that time they had conquered much territory and even constructed their own origin myth that portrayed the Irish as a distinguishable gens in the vein of the Frankish or Gothic sixth-century origin myths.61 The Uí Néill were to take the brunt of the Viking attacks, holding the Louth-Wicklow gap: the southwest is the entry-point to the fertile eastern lowlands. Here lay the over-kingdom of the Southern Uí Néill ruled by the Clann Chlomáin dynasty that took the important kingdom of Tara in 734 and then excluded the rival Bréga dynasty from the area. After this, the Bréga dynasty itself into two rival factions, the Knowth and Lagore. In the same year the annals report a battle in the territory of Muirtheimne between the Uí Néill and Ulaid in which Aed Rón, king of the Ulaid, died.62 In the northeast the Uí Néill also held sway but was divided within itself into two rival factions, the Cenél Congaill and the Cenél nÉogain. The more dominant was Cenél nÉogain who in the second half of the eighth 60 Ó Corráin, Ireland Before the Normans, p.83 61 Ó Corráin, ‘Afterthoughts’ in C. Ó Floinn and N. Mhaonaigh (eds.) Ireland and Scandinavia in the Early Viking Age (1998, Dublin) p.426 62 AU s.a. 734
  25. 25. 25 century gained control of much of the northeast and expanded south-eastwards towards the mid-Ulster plain in the ninth century, including the important monastery of Armagh. We feel this narrative is important because these territorial and dynastic splits ‘are the essential backdrop to the Viking raids’.63 Property rights were well guarded and rivalry was keen. We know this for the writing of Tierchán, writing at the end of the seventh century who deplored the territorial greed of Clonmacnoise. It is important to remember that, just as in England, Irish kings were expected to wage war soon after acceding to the throne. Their role was one of war-leader.64 The importance of the church in all this cannot be overstated. The overlapping influence and blurred lines between kings, dynasties and the church is a marked feature of early medieval Ireland. As Kathleen Hughes has pointed out, by the eighth century the church in Ireland had become respectable, powerful and wealthy. Some monastic federations, such as Kildare, held property all over the country in the eighth century and property made up a great deal of many saints’ Lives from the period.65Cork claimed control of many churches within its territory. Hughes also reminds us of the overlapping aristocratic influence on the church: the hereditary principle that so dominated lay politics and property had become by far the most important factor in determining ecclesiastical office.66 At the monastery of Lusk for example, the Annals show that the abbacy and offices were in the possession of one ecclesiastical family from 725 to 805, with a member of the same family holding office at Duleek. In Slane, a major ecclesiastical centre, two families shared the 63 Ó Corráin, ‘Afterthoughts’ p.427 64 Halsall, ‘Anthropology and Pre-Conquest Warfare’ p.171 65 Ibid. p.429, see also Ó Corráin, ‘Irish Vernacular Law and the Old Testament’ in P. Ní Cathain and M. Richer (eds.) Ireland and Christendom: the Bible and Missions (1987, Stuttgart) p284-310, at 297-9 66 Hughes, K, The Church in Early Medieval Ireland (London, 1996) pp.157, quoted in Ó Corráin (1972) pp. 84
  26. 26. 26 abbacy from around 750 to 845. One of these families supplied abbots to Louth, Duleek and Kilbrew. Hereditary succession had become commonplace at monasteries such as Monasterboice, Achad Bó, Trevet, Lann Léire and Armagh. These church families, drawn from less successful parts of Ireland’s ruling houses, were ‘professional hereditary clergy, whose family and private property became inextricably bound up with church property and church office’67. When dynasties took over the monasteries, like the Clann Sínnach and Uí Gormáin did at Armagh and Clonmacnoise respectively, ecclesiastic actions became intrinsically linked to dynastic action. Fights often broke out between monasteries, the first ecclesiastical war perhaps occurring in 664 at Birr68. In 760 Birr battled with Clonmacnoise to settle long-held disputes between them; Clonmacnoise did battle with Durrow in 764 in which, so the annals claim, 200 people of the monastic community at Durrow lost their lives. Fights could even break out within monasteries, something all too common in the many houses of kingships like Uí Neill. For example in 783 the abbot and bursar of Ferns seems to have settled a dispute through violent means.69 The leaders of the Irish church in many ways differ from that of their European neighbours: they were aristocrats with close ties to dominant dynasties, and were very used to violent power struggles. The Vikings fell on ‘no simple monkdom but a confident church organisation able to defend itself’.70 An act commonly thought to be the preserve of fierce Scandinavians, the burning of churches, appears to be almost customary in Irish warfare: between 612 and 792 the Annals record the burning of monasteries on no less than thirty occasions. 67 Ó Corráin, Ireland Before the Normans pp. 84 68 Ann.Inis s.a. 664 69 Ibid. s.a. 783 70 Ó Corráin, ‘Afterthoughts’ p.431
  27. 27. 27 Three occasions are attributed to lightning, and it is of course possible that accidental causes were behind the other twenty-seven, although it does seem somewhat absurd to assume this when the annals record four examples of deliberate acts of burning by Irish kings.71 In 757 the monastery of Cell Mór Díthraib was burned by the people of Uí Chremthainn; in 789 Kilclonfert was burned to the ground by the Uí Failge and in 793 Armagh, though not quite burned to the ground, was certainly plundered by the Uí Chremthainn. Ó Corráin cites the entry of 780 in the Annals of Ulster as evidence that burning churches was ‘an integral part of Irish warfare’. 72 The entry reads: The flight of Ruadrí from Óchtar Ocha, and of Cairpre son of Laidcnén, with two septs of the Laigin. Donnchad pursued them with his adherents, and laid waste and burned their territory and churches. We may also note the entry in the Annals for 745 in which, amongst ‘kin- slaying at Les Mór and a ‘slaughter of the Southern Úi Briúin by Fergal’, reports of a ‘violation of sanctuary at Domnach Pátraic, six captives being hanged’. Here we have not only an example of Several attacks by Christian kings on monasteries could only be explained by subscribing to the view that monasteries, which should be seen as large working communities were an integral part of the complex socio-political power struggle of early medieval Ireland. Indeed, such an integral part that these monasteries would sometimes join with kings as allies in their campaigns. In 776 it seems the monastery at Durrow played an important role in the war between Uí Neill and Munster. Attacks on monasteries seem to increase in times of famine such as during the famine of 773. Similarly, the cattle plague of 777 was followed by attacks on Kildare, Clonmore and Kildalky. All in all, the annals record twenty-seven violent incidents involving monasteries in one way or another. Surely in the face of such evidence it is difficult to argue that the Vikings put an end to the immunity of the 71 Ó Corráin, Ireland before the Normans p. 85 72 AUL s.a. 783
  28. 28. 28 church in Ireland. Firstly, such immunity is fictional and secondly the impact of the Vikings in the first forty years of raiding has been greatly over exaggerated. In the first period of Viking Age violence in Ireland lay and ecclesiastical violence continued unabashed. It may even seem that rival kings, dynasties and monasteries, and any combination thereof, posed as much a threat to local communities, both local and ecclesiastical, or perhaps even greater, than that posed by invading Vikings. The annals claim ‘an innumerable slaughter of the ecclesiastical men and superiors of Cork’ occurred when the monasteries of Cork and Clonfert fought a pitched battle in 807.73 In 817 the religious community of Taghmon (Tech Munna) joined a local king and defeated the community of Ferns in which 400 people are said to have died. Ironically, when in 824 Kildare plundered Tallaght, Norwegian Vikings chose the same year to plunder Bangor.74 In the interest of balance it is important for the historian not forget that Vikings did have a violent impact in Ireland, however distorted and exaggerated. After burning the monastery on the isle of Rechru in 795, the Vikings found time to burn Inis Pátraic, rustle the cattle there and defile the shrine of Do-Chonna. In 833 the Vikings ravaged Lismore in Co.Waterford and South Munster generally, and in 835 they attacked the community of Mungret in Co. Limerick ‘and other churches of West Munster’.75 The great crescendo of Viking activity in the Annals comes in 836 where there is ‘a most cruel devastation of all the lands of Connaught by the heathens’. Later, in 837, a new phase of activity is heralded with the arrival of a new fleet, centred on the Liffey and Boyne rivers that ‘ravaged churches, fortresses and farms of the vale and the Bréga’. Similarly, in 841 ‘communities and churches were 73 AUL s.a. 807 74 Ó Corráin, ‘Afterthoughts’ p.430 75 AUL s.a. 835
  29. 29. 29 ravaged as far as Sliéve Bloom’ from longphorts at Dublin.76 It is the reserved nature of the Annals of Ulster that suggests that theses entries are valid: they are mentioned alongside other developments in Ireland and do not depart from the same undramatic mode throughout, using short entries which give only the briefest of accounts. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in contrast, reports of little else throughout the entire ninth century, and attempts to give as much detail as it can in often-lengthy passages, especially when recounting Alfred the Great’s campaigns against the Danes in the latter part of the century.77 Also, there is evidence to suggest that despite the church’s involvement in warfare, there was in Ireland as in England a tendency to spare ecclesiastical property if at all possible. An oft-quoted passage to this end in the Annals is the entry for 833 in which the cleric king of Munster Feidlimid Mac Crimthainn ‘burned (the monastery of Clonmacnoise’s)…area of inviolable sanctuary up to the door of the church’ (my italics).78 It is well worth pointing out that before doing this Feilimid is reported to have killed half the population of the monastery and ‘torched the monastic lands up to the door of the church (my italics)’. Further, is it not suggestive that Feidlimid had burned at least some amount of the ‘area of inviolable sanctuary’? To suggest that this was an act of mercy or a display of Christian faith is very misleading: when we consider that Feilimid slaughtered half an ecclesiastical community and destroyed the probably quite sizeable land on which it lived, it hardly seems like this Irish king respected the church. Both Foot and Halsall put his caution down to ‘some recognition of the holiness of the church building itself’,79 though it seems to me that either something stopped him in progressing further with his rapine or he simply felt 76 Ibid.s.a.. 837 and 841 77 See for example ASC s.a 871, s.a 877 and s.a 894 78 AUL s.a.833 79 Halsall, ‘Playing by whose rules?’ p.8
  30. 30. 30 that he had caused enough destruction for one day. Christianity was of course the norm par excellence in Irish society on which all others, including those of warfare and violence were based. It is therefore unsurprising that there are instances of Irish armed bands allowing their consciences govern their actions in this respect – it is interesting to note that historians often attest to the immunity of the church, and the Viking’s destruction of it, yet can only find one or two instances of restraint like the 833 entry in the Annals. Let us not forget that Feilimid, something of a career church- burner, gave the same treatment to the great monastery of Durrow the same year!80 There is therefore abundant evidence to show that violence by and against monasteries was intrinsically linked to secular politics and warring, perhaps feuding, dynastic families The beginnings of this system predate the Viking raids by at least a century and survive it by another two. This may be an adequate way of explaining why in the first quarter century of Viking raids in Ireland there are only twenty-six attacks recorded in the Irish Annals and eighty-seven violent acts between the Irish themselves. In the words of Dáihbí ó Cronín, when it came to murder and mayhem, the Irish needed no instruction from anyone.81 80 Dáibhí Ó Cronin, Early Medieval Ireland (1995, Dublin) p.236-7 81 Ibid p.262
  31. 31. 31 Violence and Communication: a ‘grammar’ of warfare? Having discussed the nature of violence in Ireland and England, we are now faced with answering our central question: if the medieval West was so violent, and Viking violence not much more than a simple ‘extension of normal Dark Age behaviour’, why then was Viking violence interpreted in such a different way to that by Christian westerners? The answer lies in the differing nature of the cultures that collided in the last decade of the eighth century, pagan and Christian, Northern and Western. English and Irish communities and kings were all too used to opportunistic cross-border raiding, so the outrage in contemporary and later sources must stem not just from what the Vikings were doing but also from what they were not doing, i.e. following the established laws, rules and codes of conflict. We now shall argue for a discernable ‘grammar’ of early medieval violence in Ireland and England. There was a broad spectrum of the different levels of violent conflict in the early Middle Ages. These ranged, according to Halsall whose study into Anglo-Saxon violence can be taken as a loose model for violent activity in Medieval Europe in general, from the endemic, secular ‘feud’82 between one or more localised communities, rules and laws for which are included in some rulers’. As well being able to determine different levels of violence, a crucial distinction can also be made between ‘legitimate’ and ’illegitimate’ violence, as decided by rulers, kings, priests, annalists and communities.83 The legitimacy of violent action is entirely relative to different peoples and areas and the rules are heavily ‘culturally specific’.84 The rules 82 The question of the existence of the blood feud in Middle Age Western Europe is beyond the scope of this paper but is discussed at length in Wallace-Hadrill, J.M, ‘The Bloodfeud of the Franks’, in The Long Haired Kings (1966, London) and Halsall ‘Anthropology and pre-conquest warfare and society’. We may at least assume that feuding was usually a standard ‘legitimate’ form of conflict given it followed the rules and laws set down by kings. 83 Halsall, G, ‘Warfare and society’ pp.159, Here Halsall points out that King Ædmund of Northumbria devoted an entire law-code to the regulation of feuds, therefore setting out in clear the terms the ‘rules’ his subjects had to follow regarding violence. Like the Lombard king Rothari he probably felt he could only limit the violence of feuds rather than stop them entirely.
  32. 32. 32 do not of course exist as concrete entities but as part of a society’s cumulative ‘memory bank’ of all previous actions. For Halsall this is part of what he calls the ‘complex relationship between structure and action’: there is a set structure that governs violent conflict, when someone breaks the rules the structure changes and the new action is added to the memory bank, altering what will be considered legitimate in the future. There is a further distinction in Halsall’s work - two ‘dimensions’ of defining violence: vertical, encompassing rulers’ attempts to ‘legitimise’ violence through law-codes, and horizontal, encompassing the ways in which communities’ reacted to and decided on the legitimacy of violence.85 We are principally concerned here with ‘vertical’ element though are conscious that the two are not ‘rigorously opposed’. On the simplest level, rulers attempted to distinguish between violence they approved of and violence they had not. A common intention of this legitimisation seems to be the ‘upholding of the royal peace within the kingdom’.86 Such laws also protected the church. Fighting was often not acceptable for example in a town where the king was residing. Such violence was condemned in Charlemagne’s Francia with words like seditio or praesumptio and punished with fines or even the death penalty. In an attempt to curb to Viking menace Louis the Pious outlawed all public meetings of the armed unfree. In seventh-century England Ine of Wessex made a similar attempt at establishing the legitimacy of armed gatherings. He wrote in his royal law- codes: ‘We call up to seven men thieves, between seven and thirty-five is a band, beyond that is an army’.87 Although sometimes taken wrongly by some to be 84 Halsall, Violence and Society in the Early Medieval West p.11 85 Ibid p.7 86 Ibid p.7 87 Ibid p.8
  33. 33. 33 confirmation of Sawyer’s claims that warring bands in the Middle Ages often numbered no more than thirty-five men, this according to Halsall is a royal attempt to outlaw unofficial groupings of armed men by assigning appropriate levels of crime – and punishment – to gatherings of various sizes.88 Keynes has observed that the similarities between Ine’s laws and that of Wihtred of Kent (esp. Ine 20 and Wihtred 28) show that the law may have been part of a cross-kingdom attempt at making peace. Aside from law codes, there seem to have been some more simple and universal unwritten cultural laws governing warfare in the Christian West. Old English topography for example suggest that there was a set route armies were expected to take on their way to battle, hence the two occurrences of the place-name Hereford (meaning literally ‘Raiders Ford’) and the one instance of Fyrdstraet (‘Militia Street’). 89 We may ask as other historians have whether there is a link here to the evidence that armies entering a country or kingdom were met by a royal official who would ask them their business. In Beowulf Hrothgar’s thegn does just this and we know that Brihtric of Wessex had at least one reeve, Beaduheard at Dorchester, who did the same. The death of Beaduheard at the hand of visiting Norsemen is of course a very real example of how different cultural norms can be destructive, though it well worth mentioning that only later editors of the Chronicle, each one keen to do their bit for the enhancement of the Viking Myth, add that he thought his visitors were traders.90 One of the most basic and fundamental aspects of the arrangement of warring kings in the Christian West is that if attacked, as they often were, kings could 88 Ibid p.8 89 Halsall, ‘Anthropology and pre-conquest War and Society’ p.164 90 Ibid p.164
  34. 34. 34 reciprocate. They understood exactly who their enemies were, why they were attacking and where to find them. When in 796 the Mercians lead by their king Cynwulf attacked the people of Kent, captured their king Edbert Pryn, and, according to a particularly ‘eager’ Norman interpolator of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ‘suffered men to pick out his eyes and cut off his hands’,91 the people of Kent knew exactly who was to blame and where they could be found – and Mercia would surely have expected an attack and would already be preparing for it. The dynastic violence of Ireland and inter-kingdom fighting of the Anglo-Saxon ‘heptarchy’, which both demanded as we have said that kings should undertake a campaign immediately after acceding to the throne, receives no moral condemnation in either the Irish or English sources as do the Vikings raids – although the Chronicle tries its best to show Wessex as a more powerful entity than its rivals. The system was an accepted and essential way of life. We may also add that apart from the political necessity of inter-kingdom warfare, there must have also been an economic element to it. We know for example that Charlemagne’s plundering of the Avar ring in 795-6 led to such an influx of silver that it may have resurrected the flagging Frankish economy – English and Irish raiders were after similar wealth. There is Felix’s statement that Gunthlac returned a third of his plundered booty, assumedly to its rightful owners but there is of course the very real possibility that Felix included such attacks of conscience to simply exonerate his subject of some of his more devilish behaviour. Another ‘rule’ of warfare seems to be the paying of geld to one’s opponent – a custom that did not begin with the Danish invasions. In 655 Oswy only decided to go to war with Penda when he failed ‘to buy the old savage off’, 92 and Oswy is also 91 ASC s.a. 796 p56. Ingram here amusingly adds that such a wanton act of barbarity could only exist in the depraved mind of the Norman interpolator. He is of course right, however, as the act is only attested to in that version of the ASC.
  35. 35. 35 recorded having ‘come and taken tribute’ in 658.93 This seemed to be a legitimate ‘move’ to take in a conflict, perhaps undertaken in the face of defeat or to end a long- running series of conflicts. Two further rules in Anglo-Saxon warfare discussed briefly by Halsall are firstly the custom of the ‘hazelled field’, which the opposing army may not pass until the battle is won or lost though there is little evidence for this and only Egil’s Saga, a source far too late to be reliable, makes specific reference to it. Secondly, though not necessarily evidence of a law of warfare as such, the location of battles in England must also be examined, for there seems to be a discernable pattern. Of the 28 occurrences of battle in the English sources between 600 and 850, of those that can be reasonably established, the location was by a river crossing or ancient monuments.94 These monuments often include Roman cities, whose walls were mostly intact, such as Chester, Cirencester and York, all of which played host to battles in the seventh century. The reason for this is most probably a matter of custom, and not, as it may be seem, one of tactics. The ancient walls may appear to have given the Anglo-Saxons a defence against their enemies in the manner of a later fortification but if this is the case then we must then ask the question why is there no evidence for the construction or renovation of hill-forts or burhs until the time of Alfred the Great, deep within the Viking Age of the ninth century. The more likely explanation, as Halsall points out, is that at a time of impending war the abiding custom was to occupy an important regional landmark, one known to both sides, by way of provocation; a challenge to be answered.95 When added to the route that armies were 92 Ibid p.164. The phrase is Wallace-Hadrill’s. 93 Ann.Cam s.a. 658 94 Halsall, ‘Anthropology and Pre-conquest War and Society’ p.165. 95 Ibid p.165. Though the material evidence for this custom is scant, and we may not be as willing as Halsall to accept it, the Chronicle entry for 1006 describes how a Danish army encamped at the monument of Cwichelmslow at Ashdown in Berkshire for two weeks, only to march away again when no English army could muster the men, or the courage, to openly face them. This particular part of Halsall’s argument seems be a case of the historian searching for instances that support their theories, rather than the other way around. Whilst in some cases Halsall discards evidence as late as the eleventh
  36. 36. 36 apparently expected to take in some parts of the country, e.g. Fyrdstraet, this body of evidence suggests that on some level at least there was a common understanding between rival forces of the customary conditions of battle in terms of location. As we can see, from law-codes legislating for the armed meeting of men to the traditional cultural norms of ritual and endemic violence there was a strict culture governing violence in the medieval west. There were laws and rules relating to individual kingdoms, and commonly rules that were shared and understood more widely throughout England. Warfare though not by any means a permanent state for any medieval people; it was never more than a generation away. As we approach our final section, we shall argue that the Vikings are conspicuous in the sources because they fail to fit in to this picture of ordered conflict – they had their own ‘rulebook’. century as irrelevant, in others such as this he chooses to use it to support his ideas. Furthermore, Halsall bases his entire work upon the monastic annals, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and other more minor annals, yet is keen to remind the reader how at various junctures just how inaccurate the sources really are when in comes to wars and conflict.
  37. 37. 37 The Vikings as ‘mis-communicators’ Alcuin’s panicked statement shortly after the attack on Lindesfarne in 793, ‘never before has such a terror appeared in Britain’, has for many come to represent contemporary opinion and outrage. Although Alcuin, a Northumbrian himself, wrote his five letters to the monks of Lindesfarne at least five years after 793 and may not be regarded as a completely contemporary account, there is still much in them to be considered. The shock in the Northumbrian scholar’s words however stems not from the ferocity of the invaders but that ‘such an inroad from the sea might be made’ (my italics).96 Aside from the obvious shock of the attacks like the one on Lindesfarne, what really distinguished Viking violence in this period is a difference in cultural values and an ignorance of the rules and norms discussed above. If we see warfare itself is a form of communication; it is necessary that both sides understand the same language, or ‘grammar’, of violent of conduct to enter a meaningful discourse.97 Churches undoubtedly suffered in secular wars in England and were made the target of several attacks in Ireland – but to make ecclesiastical property the sole primary target of a military campaign would have seemed as alien an idea as any the Christians could have thought of. In a time when armies relied on ‘God’s will’ to get them through a conflict, it must have seemed that the Vikings were giving themselves an unfair advantage in war against paganism by attacking their source of spiritual power. When an army or polity cannot understand the meaning behind an attack against it, especially when the enemy is transient and in every sense alien, the reaction would naturally be to describe their torturers as far worse than they are, if only to try 96 EHD pp. 776 97 Halsall, Warfare and Society p.9
  38. 38. 38 and make sense of what is going on. When two cultures collide in warfare with a differing set of norms and rules of war the results are inevitably going to be dramatic. One will not be able to understand the other, ‘put them into perspective, or know how to respond’.98 This is a very useful model for understanding the reaction of the West to the Vikings. The diplomatic overtures and legislation that were associated with wars in the medieval West, for example it seems both in a conflict sides kept in touch with each other and made peace through agreements and treaties during disputes, were simply not possible with these foreign invaders speaking a strange language, worshipping strange Gods and following no single king. The Anglo-Saxons, though it must be said the Irish not to nearly the same degree, at least attempted at establishing a legitimacy of violence through law-codes. How would they go about dealing with a foreign warband? We cannot but resist invoking the image of Brihtric of Wessex’s reeve, Beaduheard, who went out to meet the visiting seaman at Dorchester, only to find in the most unfortunate way possible that the particular custom of meeting landing ships was not shared across Europe. Whereas this is for Alfred Smyth as example of the Vikings’ depravity and malice against the English, and we are obviously not prepared to deny the brutality of such an attack and many others, it seems odd to put the incident down to simple cruelty. There is no doubt that the Vikings came to the west for plunder and booty at the expense of the native peoples, but it is a reciprocal misunderstanding rather than premeditated hate that caused much of the violence. This may explain why Christian leaders tried as hard as they could, sometimes with success and to the clear joy of chroniclers, to get Viking leaders baptised in order to enter them into their own social and political world. In the Frankish Royal Annals 98 Halsall, Violence and Society p.12
  39. 39. 39 Vikings are often referred to as ‘infidels’ or in some way dishonest and there are many instances of them ’brushing off their oaths’ or ignoring agreements they had made – their treachery surely resulting from a difference in culture. Oaths were sworn in the ninth century ‘in the presence of God’ and ‘by his grace’. Why should a pagan warrior swear on a Christian God or keep the promise he has made in His name? Oaths may not have played such a part in Scandinavian society, but we should not doubt that on occasion Viking bands agreed to such a peace oath and broke it maliciously, often threatening violence unless a payment is made – nor should we doubt such duplicity was carried out by Anglo-Saxons either. In the very earliest raids by far the most important rule of western warfare the Vikings broke was that a kingdom or community could reciprocate following an attack. How would an English king or Irish overlord go about seeing revenge for a ‘hit and run’ raid on a lonely monastic island? The Vikings were experts in naval warfare and made their escape after raiding island monasteries, their initial targets, apparently just as quick as they had arrived. They arrived from their bases in the Hebrides and Orkneys and began their raids in areas that had probably not seen such violence, obviously being unaware of the Fyrdstraet. The English in 793 found themselves in much the same difficult situation as Charlemagne in his wars with the continental Saxon in the late eighth century: how does one subjugate a ferocious tribal enemy without an eminent king or leader or one established centre to attack? The problem was of course worsened by the fact that England was not the relatively stable empire Charles’ Francia was, and the Vikings encompassed two nationalities, Danes and Norwegians, travelling in many different war bands led by a mixture of legitimate and self-styled kings, and often forming alliances and particularly in Ireland sometimes
  40. 40. 40 warring against each other. It must be said however, as Sawyer once pointed out, the Saxons may have been fast movers over land and could strike into the heart of the regnum Francorum with ease, but news of the attack would travel fast and probably even precede the attack itself. This problem did not beset the Vikings, travelling sleekly along coastlines from their bases in the Hebrides and Orkneys, unseen to all until it was too late. The frustration of the English in this respect must in some way contribute to the negative representation of Vikings in Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. In the ‘heathen armies’’ second appearance in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 794 when they ‘spread devastation among the Northumbrians, and plundered the monastery of King Evereth at the mouth of the Wear’, they successfully ravaged the land but met disaster on their escape. Some of their leaders were killed, their ships destroyed by bad weather and the crew that were not killed by drowning were ‘soon dispatched at the mouth of the river’. So, here we have a Viking band, probably Danish and possibly the same warriors that caused such ‘lamentable havoc’ at Lindesfarne the previous year, that was strong enough to sack two large monasteries and spread enough devastation throughout a kingdom for the annalist not to list all the places attacked.99 Can we trust the annalist in this matter? Although it is possible that the annalist(s) were simply not informed of all the places attacked in 794 (the Chronicle was not contemporaneous at this point) and may simply be exaggerating the destruction, the idea that this writer was adding a victory in the English column for posterity is an attractive one when we consider how difficult it would have been to successfully pursue and destroy a people so talented in warfare and far advanced in marine technology. 99 ASC s.a. 794, p55
  41. 41. 41 The Viking acts of violence against churches attracted the most vitriolic commentary in the western sources. This is a result of the churches inability to restrict or control the Viking attacks. Though we have just argued that Christians also attacked church property, these do seem to come in times of war and are only really a factor in Ireland. The church and the king combined often had quite strong powers to stop ecclesiastical attacks. Violence by Christians against churches could be ‘alleviated limited and punished, and reparations enforced, by threats of divine retribution, eternal damnation and hellfire…’.100 Even in Ireland where the church was involved in secular politics and wars, it could threaten dissenters with religious sanctions – a benefit of a shared culture and religion. The church’s sanctity and its ability to use excommunication as a weapon against aggressors are for Halsall some of the most important norms and conducts of Anglo-Saxon society. This would therefore go some way to explaining why the monastic sources in both Ireland and England describe Viking attacks on ecclesiastical property as far worse than similar attacks by Christians. The Vikings probably knew what Christianity was through their trading activities both during and prior to the Viking Age, but they showed about as much respect for it as Charlemagne, the pious Christian king, did for the elusive Saxon Irminsul. It is important not to understate the achievements these Scandinavians made in the field of warfare. They might be for Wallace-Hadrill nought but ‘long-haired tourists who occasionally roughed up the locals’101, but there was skill and sophistication behind Norse and Danish violence. Quite simply, very often the English found themselves very soundly beaten by more experienced professional fighters. The sources invariably reflect an impotency of Christian kings to deal with 100 Halsall, ‘Playing by whose rules?’ p.8 101 J.M. Wallace-Hadrill, Medieval History (1975, Oxford) p.220
  42. 42. 42 the Viking menace, the Chronicle’s entry of 794 being such an example. As Viking bands spent more time in the west, and began in the 830s to stay over the winter, they inevitably became more experienced and skilled as fighters. The part-time villagers and nobles that made up Western armies cannot have been much of a match for the micel here who landed in England in 856 and was led by at least seven Scandinavian kings. Alfred Smyth has shown that it is more than likely that the Ivarr of the micel here in England is the same person as Inwaer in the Irish sources. If this is true, and the evidence more than suggests it is, then we have in Ivarr a king who successfully campaigned in both Ireland and England over the space of ten years. Because the Viking attacks came outside of the ritual system of reciprocal violence, the west was caught completely unawares. Communities and kings could prepare themselves for attacks they were expecting – for example if Mercia had attacked Wessex, it would know a reciprocal attack was forthcoming. Also, it seems the secular warfare in both England and Ireland hindered both peoples from putting up any organised resistance to the raids until well into the 830’s. Furthermore, the Vikings ignored, or were unaware of, the Anglo-Saxon custom of fighting at on a mutual site – a well-known landmark. They would strike into the heart of communities and monasteries. They also effectively used fortifications in battle, a tactic that neither the Irish nor English had begun to exploit.
  43. 43. 43 Conclusion Having attempted to demonstrate that England and Ireland were violent places before and after the arrival of the Vikings, that these were societies both based on secular and ecclesiastical violence, rules and cultural norms relating to violent conduct and that the Vikings did not fit into the established pattern of violent conduct, resulting in their unfair portrayal in the written sources, as a way of conclusion I might return to a theme from my introduction. In a sense, the Vikings presented a new kind of warfare. Though the physical manifestation and general nature of the Vikings’ actions were undistinguishable from that of the Christians, the Vikings’ presence in Western Europe for more than forty years was one of battle and conflict. They may see out the ninth century as conquering colonists in England, but they enter as raiders and nothing else. If war was not, as we have said, a permanent state for the Christian west, it very probably was for the Vikings in Western Europe. Seen from a twentieth- century viewpoint their actions seem more or less indistinguishable from that of other medieval peoples: warring band bands in a time of warring bands. But in a sense, as much as we are heavily indebted with his contributions to the bias of written sources, we must disagree with Peter Sawyer’s claim that the Viking’s represented nothing more than an extension of normal Dark Age behaviour, that was made profitable by special circumstances. The Vikings ushered in a new phase, a new era of warfare simply because the unsuspecting Christians saw it as anything but normal. They Vikings may have considered their own actions normal raiding behaviour, but they broke the commonly accepted rules of warfare. As Halsall, quoting Foot, points out, we must assume that the norms of the period are those set by those who create the status quo – ‘Alcuin’s laments after the sack of Lindesfarne could not apply to any
  44. 44. 44 normal Dark Age activity’,102 because it is Alcuin’s definition of normality that we must take as a starting point. In any case, the treatment of the Vikings in the written sources is well known. Less well considered is the work of those historians who have been prepared to view the Viking attacks as more than simple acts of brutality, or even as raiding for the gain of booty. They undoubtedly were both these things, nut they were also in the language of warfare the beginning of a new conversion for which the Christian west could not answer. 102 Foot, ‘Violence against Christians?’ p.16
  45. 45. 45 LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS Annales Regnum Francorum – ARF Anglo-Saxon chronicle – ASC Annales Cambriae – Ann-Cam Annals of Fulda – Ful Annals of Innisfallen – Ann.Inis Annals of Ulster – AU English Historical Documents – EHD Medieval History – MH Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings - OIHV Transaction of the Royal Historical Society – Trans Vita Anskarri – VA103 Select Bibliography Primary Sources Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, (trans.) James Ingram (1938, London) Anglo-Saxon Poetry (trans.) S.A.J Bradley Annales Cambriae (ed. and trans.) John Williams (1860, London) Annals of St. Bertin, (trans.) Janet Nelson (1992, Manchester) Annals of Fulda (ed. and trans.) Tim Reuter (1992, Manchester) Annals of Ulster (ed. and trans.) S. Mac Airt and G. Mac Niocaill (1983, Dublin) English Historical Documents Volume 1, c.500-1042. D. Whitelock (trans.) 2nd edition (1979, London) Ine’s Laws, EHD, doc.32 ‘Royal Frankish Annals’ (trans.) M. Schultz in Carolingian Chronicles; Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories (1970, Michigan) Vita Anskari (trans.) Prof. Ian Moxon (unpublished) Secondary Sources Bacharach, B.S 103 See bibliography for references
  46. 46. 46 - ‘Early Medieval Demography: Some Observations on the Methods of Hans Delbruke’ in Kagay, D.J. and Villalon, C.J.A (ed.s) The Circle of War in the Middle Ages (1999, London) Bradley, S.A.J - Anglo-Saxon Poetry (1982, London) Brooks, N - ‘England in the ninth century: The Crucible of Defeat’ in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 1978 p.1-20 DeVries, K - Medieval Military Technology (1992, London) - ‘God and Defeat in Medieval Warfare: some preliminary thoughts’ in Kagay, D.J. and Villalon, C.J.A (ed.s) The Circle of War in the Middle Ages (1999, London) Einarsson, B - ‘De Normanorum Atrocitate, or on the execution by the Aquiline method’ in Saga-Book of the Viking Society for Northern Research vol.22, pt.1 (1986) p.79-82 Foot, S - ‘Violence Against Christians? The Vikings and the Church in ninth- century England’ in MH, 1.3. 1991 p.3-17 Frank, R - ‘Viking Atrocity and Scaldic Verse: the rite of the Blood-eagle’ in English Historical Review, 1984 p.332-343 Halsall, G - ‘Playing By Whose Rules? A Further Look at Viking Atrocity in the in ninth century in MH 1991 p.3-16 - ‘Anthropology and the Study of Pre-Conquest Warfare and Society: the Ritual War in Anglo-Saxon England’ in S. Chadwick-Hawkes, Weapons and Warfare in Anglo-Saxon England (1989, Oxford) p.155-77 - Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West, 450-900 (2003, Woodbridge) John, E
  47. 47. 47 - ‘English Feudalism and the structure of Anglo-Saxon Society’ in E. John (ed.), Orbis Britanniae and other studies (1966, Leicester) pp.128-53 Logan, D.F - The Vikings in History (1983, London) Morris, D - ‘Raiders, Traders and settlers: the Early Viking Age in Scotland’ in Clark Ó Floinn and Ní Mhaonaigh (eds.) Ireland and Scandinavia in the Early Viking Age (1998, Dublin) Myhre, B - ‘The Beginning of the Viking Age – Some Archaeological Problems’ in A. Faulkes and R. Perkins (eds.) Viking Re-evaluations – Viking Centenery Symposium (1993, London) p182-216 - Nelson, J - The Church’s military service in the ninth century: a contemporary view’, in Studies in Church History, xx (1983), 15-30 Ó Corráin, D - Ireland Before the Normans (1972, Dublin) - ‘Irish Vernacular Law and the Old Testament’ in P. Ní Cathain and M. Richer (eds.) Ireland and Christendom: the Bible and Missions (1987, Stuttgart) p284-310 - ‘Afterthoughts’ in C. Ó Floinn and N. Mhaonaigh (eds.) Ireland and Scandinavia in the early Viking Age (1998, Dublin) p.426 - ‘Irish Vernacular Law and the Old Testament’ in P. Ní Cathain and M. Richer (eds.) Ireland and Christendom: the Bible and Missions (1987, Stuttgart) p284-310 - Ireland before the Normans and ‘Ireland, Wales, Man and the Hebrides’ in Oxford illustrated history of the Vikings (Oxford, 2001) p83-109 Ó Cronín, D, - Early Medieval Ireland (Longman, 1995) Sawyer, P - Age of the Vikings 2nd edition (1971, London, first printed 1962) - From Roman Britain to Norman England (1972, London)
  48. 48. 48 - Kings and Vikings (1981, London) - ‘Causes of the Viking Age’ in T.Farrell (ed.), The Vikings (1982, Chichester) - (ed.) Oxford Illustrated History of The Vikings (2001, Oxford) Smyth, A.P - Scandinavian Kings in the British Isles, 850-880 (1977, Oxford) - ‘The Vikings in Britain’ in L.M. Smith (ed.) The Making of England. The Dark Ages (1984, London) p.105-16 Turville-Petre, G - Origins of Icelandic Literature (Oxford, 1955) Wallace-Hadrill, J.M - The Long Haired Kings (1966, London) Wilson, D.M - ‘Viking studies: whence and whither? In Farrell, R.T, (ed.) The Vikings (1982, London) Wormald, C.P - ‘Viking studies; whence and whither?’ in Farrell (ed.) The Vikings (1982, Chichester). P.128-53 Yorke, B - The Anglo-Saxons (1999, Sutton)

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