«BENJAMIN PAUL RAFFIELD A thesis submitted to The University of Birmingham for the degree of MPHIL(B) IN ARCHAEOLOGICAL PRACTICE Institute of ...»
"Inside that fortress sat a few
peasant men, and it was half-made".
A Study of 'Viking' Fortifications in
the British Isles AD793-1066.
BENJAMIN PAUL RAFFIELD
A thesis submitted to
The University of Birmingham
for the degree of
MPHIL(B) IN ARCHAEOLOGICAL PRACTICE
Institute of Archaeology & Antiquity
College of Arts and Law
The University of Birmingham
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Abstract The study of Viking fortifications is a neglected subject which could reveal much to archaeologists about the Viking way of life. The popular representation of these Scandinavian seafarers is often as drunken, bloodthirsty heathens who rampaged across Britain leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Excavations at Coppergate, York and Dublin however, show that the Vikings developed craft and industry wherever they settled, bringing Britain back into trade routes lost since the collapse of the Roman Empire. These glimpses of domestic life show a very different picture of the Vikings to that portrayed in popular culture. Fortifications provide a compromise to these views, as they are relatively safe, militarised locations where an army in hostile territory can undertake both military and ‘domestic’ activities.
This study investigates the historiography of the Vikings and suspected fortification sites in Britain, aiming to understand the processes behind which archaeological sites have been designated as ‘Viking’ in the past. The thesis will also consider the study of Viking fortifications in an international context and attempt to identify future avenues of research that might be taken in an effort to better understand this archaeologically elusive people.
This work is dedicated to Laura, for continuing to put up with my over enthusiasm when it comes to all things Viking.
Acknowledgements There are many people that I wish to thank for their assistance whilst undertaking this project. First and foremost, thanks go to Dr. John Carman of the Institute of Archaeology & Antiquity and Dr. Chris Callow of the School of History and Cultures at the University of Birmingham. Only their direct supervision, patience and willingness to help allowed me to produce the work seen here. Thanks also go to my advisor, Professor John Hunter of the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity, who provided guidance on my work. Thanks are further due to Dr. Amanda Forster and Ellie Ramsay of Birmingham Archaeology who gave up their free time to ‘talk Vikings’ and provide assistance with the use of GIS respectively. In this latter respect I also am very grateful to Sarah Mounce for her help in the use of GIS.
There are also many from outside the university who gave up their own time to answer questions and provide advice and materials for this study. In no particular order thanks go once again to Ed O’Donovan for his continued assistance in researching Viking longphuirt in Ireland, to Ian Russell for providing a huge quantity of information on the excavations at Woodstown, to Michael Gibbons for providing information on the Irish longphuirt phenomenon and to Matt Edgeworth for providing HER references for the suspected Viking fortification at Tempsford. Dr. Andrew Reynolds and Dr. Julian Richards very kindly gave up their free time to discuss my research in relation to the Beyond the Burghal Hidage project at UCL and to provide information on the Viking site at Torksey respectively and to them I am also grateful.
Many thanks to Alex Godden for providing his thoughts on the relationship between the Vikings and folklore and to Paul Cavill for advice on Anglo-Saxon place names.
Dr. Lena Holmquist Olausson and Dr. Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson were extremely kind to provide me with their unpublished article on Viking Age fortifications in Scandinavia and to them I owe a great deal of gratitude.
This project would not have been able to go ahead without the help of the staff from the various Historic Environment Records across England, Wales and Scotland.
Though too many to name individually, I am very grateful to all of them for their help, though I must specifically thank Stephen Coleman, Isobel Thompson, Andrew Mayfield and Victoria Brown for providing an extremely efficient service in the light of multiple requests for information. I must also thank Annica Burridge, an old family friend who by a happy coincidence was able to put me in contact with Henrik and Veronica Ljungqvist, who gave up their time to take photographs of the Viking fortress at Birka for someone that they have never met and to whom I am very thankful. It was the kindness of all the individuals above that made this project possible and I am eternally grateful to them all.
5.1 The hypothesised Viking sites in Bedfordshire 40 obtained from the search of British HERs.
5.2 The Tempsford site shown on a 1945 aerial 48 photograph. Photo courtesy of: The Historic Environment Record For Central Bedfordshire Council.
5.3 1945 aerial photograph of the Tempsford site 49 with theoretical boundaries applied.
Photo adapted from: The Historic Environment Record For Central Bedfordshire Council.
5.4 Table of possible Viking fortification sites 50 – 51 in Bedfordshire.
5.5 The hypothesised Viking sites in Essex obtained 57 from the search of British HERs.
5.6 Table of possible Viking fortified sites in Essex. 61 – 62
6.1 Table summarising the shape and position of 70 possible fortification sites in Great Britain.
7.1 The location of the Irish sites discussed in this 76 study. Image adapted from Google Earth.
7.3 The locations of Viking fortified sites in Scandinavia. 84 Image adapted from Google Earth.
7.4 View from inside the hillfort showing the ramparts 87 and the ‘King’s Gate’. Photo courtesy of Henrik & Veronica Ljungqvist.
7.5 The hillfort at Birka. Photo courtesy of Henrik & 88 Veronica Ljungqvist.
7.6 Stone lined terraces and the ‘hall’ or ‘assembly 89 building’ in the ‘garrison’ area. Photo courtesy of Henrik & Veronica Ljungqvist.
7.7 The ‘garrison’ area at Birka. Photo Courtesy of Henrik 90 & Veronica Ljungqvist.
Towards the end of the 8th century AD, Britain and Ireland became subject to attack from Scandinavian seafarers. When, in 793, “the raiding of heathen men miserably devastated God’s church in Lindisfarne island by looting and slaughter” (Swanton 2000:57), the period known as the Viking Age begins. This continued in England until 1066, when Harald Hardrada and Earl Tostig were defeated by Harald Godwinson at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, whilst parts of Ireland and Scotland were to remain under direct Norse control or influence for some centuries after. The British Isles and Ireland were a focus of Viking activity throughout this time, with raiding taking place throughout much of the late 8th Century and the first half of the 9th Century. During this period raiding was seasonal, with the Vikings returning to Scandinavia before the onset of colder months.
However, with the first longphuirt (sing. longphort) – literally meaning ‘shipbases’ (Hall 2007:86) – being constructed in Ireland in the 830’s by those described in the Irish annals as ‘Norsemen’, ‘heathens’ or ‘foreigners’ (CELT 2008) and the first wintering in England by Vikings on Thanet in 851, a period of ‘invasion’ or ‘colonisation’ began. At this time the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle begins to mention ‘raiding-armies’ (Swanton 2000:64) moving through the English countryside and the battles fought against the Anglo-Saxons.
Viking forces wintering in hostile territory needed a defensible location in which to camp and use as a base for further operations. “At first they appear to have made use of natural islands, such as… Sheppey and Thanet” (Richards 2004:38). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, however, records that they also constructed purpose-built fortifications. Whilst the locations of these fortifications are often mentioned to some degree of accuracy (a locality as opposed to a region), there has been little attempt by archaeologists to identify and study them. In a past dissertation on Viking Conflict Archaeology, the author identified a number of issues surrounding Viking fortifications as far as the limits of the study allowed (Raffield 2008:50). This study will attempt to build on the brief observations that were made and will focus on fortifications as a specific entity.
The ‘Viking Age’ is an important period of British and Irish history, with the Viking attacks leading to a unified England under King Alfred of Wessex and the first foundations of towns and industry in Ireland. The Vikings were also responsible for bringing both countries into a large scale trading network - the presence of Islamic Dirham fragments in hoards such as the Croydon hoard and at the possible productive site at Torksey, Lincolnshire, are physical evidence that long range trading networks were established (Blackburn 2002:92-93). They were also partly responsible for the defeat of the English at the Battle of Hastings by William the Conqueror, with a Viking invasion force having to be defeated at the Battle of Stamford Bridge only days before the 14th of October, 1066.
The Vikings, therefore, had a huge influence on the future of Britain and Ireland considering that their armies probably numbered “hundreds rather than thousands” (Clarke 1999:40). They were present at the outposts of European culture both in the East and West, with Logan (2005:188) coining the phrase “from Vinland to the Volga” to express the distances that groups of Vikings travelled. Though they did raid, pillage and plunder, they also settled peacefully, established trade and were often assimilated into local society. The modern day stereotype of the warlike Viking could distort the archaeological view of the Viking Age.
With the archaeology of the Viking Age being elusive in comparison to that of the Romans and Anglo-Saxons in Britain, the study of Viking conflict thus far has not been sufficient considering the warlike stereotype that Vikings have in popular culture. By locating and investigating Viking fortifications an insight into the ‘military’ lifestyle of Vikings in comparison with the domestic sphere presented so well by excavations at Jorvik and Dublin could be provided. Warfare is endemic in the human psyche – “it is something of which all human beings seem to be capable, and at the same time an attribute of humanity we would chose to deny” (Carman 1997:2). By ignoring this fact we are in danger of creating a ‘pacified past’ and the acceptance that people in the Viking Age lived side by side with military threat allows us to transcend from a one dimensional view of life presented by excavations of domestic settlements. This is useful not only for Viking studies but also conflict archaeology in general, as it provides comparative material for other periods whilst bringing the Viking Age into the conflict archaeology sphere. With the Viking Age being so often interpreted by historical and literary sources, a synthesized study that combines the disciplines of Archaeology and History is needed to strengthen our knowledge of this period.
In a previous dissertation on Viking conflict archaeology, the author utilised a case study for a possible Viking fortification and battlefield at Blunham, Bedfordshire. This site is considered by Edgeworth (2006, 2008) to be the site of a siege and battle recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as occurring in the year 917, during which the Danish king of East Anglia and a number of jarls were killed.
Magnetometry survey and trial excavation at the site in 2007 did not provide conclusive results as to the Viking occupation at the site, with Edgeworth’s claim relying on comparative evidence with other suspected and known Viking sites in Britain and Ireland. It was this work that inspired this thesis, as much of our current knowledge is not based upon excavated sites but often speculative statements, the origins of which may lie in the antiquarian past.