Plundering the Territories in the Manner of the Heathens: Identifying Viking Age Battlefields in Britain
By Benjamin Raffield
Rosetta: Papers of the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity, Issue 7 (2009)
Introduction: ‘Battle’ is a word often associated with the Viking Age in England and there are numerous references in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles to the conflict that took place as the Anglo-Saxons fought to keep Viking incursions at bay. There is no doubt that hostile encounters between the two sides were violent and bloody, with the Anglo-Saxons fighting to hold on to territories that were now not only under threat from other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, but also from ‘heathens’ and foreign enemies who were set on conquering England for their own. These battles were to take place for over two and a half centuries from the first recorded raid at Lindisfarne, Northumbria, in 793 until the famous Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066.
Archaeology as a discipline knows relatively little of how these people fought each other for possession of English soil and wealth. There are numerous contemporary references to battles in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but these state little more than there being a ‘great slaughter’ at a certain location, with the victor occasionally being named. We are not sure of the size of the battles both in terms of area and the number of combatants, nor are we sure of the tactics used.
This article will attempt to construct a theoretical model for Viking Age battlefields, utilising a synthesised approach of literary and historical evidence alongside archaeology from a number of different time periods, including prehistory. The study of the Early Medieval period and the Viking Age cannot be undertaken simply from a historical, literary or archaeological viewpoint, but a combined approach has the potential to allow a much more comprehensive view of warfare in the period.