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Discovery of Two Boat Burials Changes Viking Timeline


According to accepted accounts, the Viking Age began in 793 AD off the coast of northern England when the first raid of Scandinavian warriors is recorded to have taken place. The Vikings emerged suddenly and expanded rapidly across Europe, Asia and the Americas. Although the Vikings are known to have originated in Scandinavia, there is little known about how and why they suddenly built ships and took off in search of new lands. Was it climate change, overpopulation, desire for wealth or simply a thirst for adventure? Whatever it was, the Vikings made a lasting impact on the world. But is all we know about them correct?

The Beginning of the Viking Storm

A discovery on a Baltic Island nearly a decade ago, shed new light on how the Viking storm first began. “Two ships filled with slain warriors uncovered on the Estonian island of Saaremaa may help archaeologists and historians understand how the Vikings’ warships evolved from short-range, rowed craft to sailing ships; where the first warriors came from; and how their battle tactics developed,” reported Archaeology Magazine. “Between them, the two boats contain the remains of dozens of men. Seven lay haphazardly in the smaller of the two boats, which was found first. Nearby, in the larger vessel, 33 men were buried in a neat pile, stacked like wood, together with their weapons and animals. The site seems to be a hastily arranged mass grave, the final resting place for Scandinavian warriors killed in an ill-fated raid on Saaremaa, or perhaps waylaid on a remote beach by rivals”.

The remains of 33 men buried in the ship that brought them from Scandinavia to an Estonian island Credit: Liina Maldre, University of Tallinn

Does the Discovery Change Accepted Timelines?

The men are believed to have died in battle up to a century before the Viking Age officially started, an era that wasn’t previously known for long voyages. The ruins of the two boats display a high level of technological advancement, a transformation which had been taking place in the 8 th century Baltic. They were clearly capable of open-sea travel.

The first boat, which had no sail and would have been rowed from Scandinavia, is believed to have been constructed around 650 AD. Evidence suggests it had been repaired and patched decades before its final voyage. The second boat was far more sophisticated. Although it had largely deteriorated, the discovery of a keel – a feature essential for keeping a sailing boat upright – suggests the Scandinavians were sailing in the Baltic at least a century before accepted timelines say they were.

One of the skeletons found aboard the smaller ship. Credit: Marge Konsa, University of Tartu

Evidence of Boat Burial Suggests More Gradual Emergence of the Vikings

Experts believe the two boats are the remains of a boat burial, a ritual strongly associated with the Vikings. The finding suggests that this tradition had gradually evolved over centuries and did not just emerge suddenly in the Viking Age.

The finding of the two boats is significant as it supports a new perspective of the Vikings, suggesting that the start of the Viking Age wasn’t as sudden as previously believed, but was a more gradual process. It now seems that the Scandinavian warriors developed and enhanced their ship-building skills over several centuries, eventually reaching a level that allowed them to take off in the open ocean, reaching faraway lands and leaving their traces across four continents.


    The Viking Timeline: What Happened & When?

    The Viking Age lasted a few hundred years. But what happened, and when? We take a detailed look at the Viking timeline.

    The Viking era is the period following the Germanic Iron Age. From around the year 793 to 1066, Norsemen used rivers and oceans to explore Europe for trading, raiding and conquest.

    Of course, history from so long ago is far from exact. Much of what we know about the era is based on Icelandic sagas, stories that were written hundreds of years after the events took place. If they ever took place at all. This is one of the biggest criticism of Viking stories.

    What historical records there are tend to have been left by the people that the Norsemen conquered. So while those accounts will likely paint a one-sided picture, they do at least help us begin to pull a Viking timeline together.

    Bear in mind when reading these dates and facts that many historians disagree on the details! In some cases the dates aren’t clear, in others there’s some doubt whether the events even happened at all.


    Photos: A man, a horse and a dog found in Viking boat burial

    Archeologists recently excavated two Viking boat burials in a plot of land outside of Uppsala, Sweden. One of the boats revealed the remains of a man, a horse and a dog, along with other objects such as a sword, a spear, a shield and a comb. Such Viking boat burials have previously been discovered in various Scandinavian countries, but they are quite rare and were likely only used to bury the elite. [Read more about the newly uncovered viking boat burials]


    'The icing'

    Dozens of pieces of iron yet to be identified were also found at the site.

    The finds were made as part of the Ardnamurchan Transition Project (ATP) which has been examining social change in the area from the first farmers 6,000 years ago to the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries.

    Viking specialist Dr Colleen Batey, from the University of Glasgow, has said the boat was likely to be from the 10th Century AD.

    Dr Oliver Harris, project co-director from the University of Leicester's School of Archaeology and Ancient History, reinforced the importance of the burial site.

    He said: "In previous seasons our work has examined evidence of changing beliefs and life styles in the area through a study of burial practices in the Neolithic and Bronze age periods 6,000-4,500 years ago and 4,500 to 2,800 years ago respectively.

    "It has also yielded evidence for what will be one of the best-dated Neolithic chambered cairns in Scotland when all of our post-excavation work is complete.

    "But the find we reveal today has got to be the icing on the cake."


    Grave as a mark of nobility

    Mr Rodsrud told the BBC that "the ship clearly relates to the older graves and especially the large Jell Mound - it is clear that the Vikings wanted to relate to the past".

    The ship burial could have been for a king, queen or jarl, he said. Jarls were noble warriors - the Anglo-Saxon equivalent was an earl.

    Unlike this prestigious landmark, much smaller boat burials were common among the Vikings.

    So far the team have found bones from a large animal - probably a horse or bull - in the ship grave, but no human bones.

    There are signs that well-organised robbers removed grave artefacts, pointing to a political act intended to "affirm dynastic power", a research paper about the site says.

    Read more on related topics:

    At that time the coast was closer - about 500m away. There was a sheltered bay, making the site easily accessible by sea. Norwegian research shows that sea levels were then as much as 6.5m higher than today in the region.

    "I'm sure this society had contacts far away, and the person buried in the ship might have travelled long distances," said Mr Rodsrud, Associate Professor at Norway's Museum of Cultural History. The Vikings traded far and wide - famously with Byzantium, now Istanbul.


    New Viking DNA research yields unexpected information about who they were

    Mark Collard, professor, Archaeology and Biological Anthropology.

    Expertise: species identification in the hominin fossil record, modern human origins.

    Shradhha Sharma University Communications and Marketing, 604.202.2504, [email protected]

    In the popular imagination, Vikings were fearsome blonde-haired warriors from Scandinavia who used longboats to carry out raids across Europe in a brief but bloody reign of terror. But the reality is more complex, says SFU Archaeology Prof. Mark Collard.

    Collard is a member of an international team of researchers that has just published the results of the world’s largest DNA sequencing of Viking skeletons, in this week’s edition of Nature.

    Led by Prof. Eske Willerslev of the Universities of Cambridge and Copenhagen, the research team extracted and analysed DNA from the remains of 442 men, women and children.

    The remains were recovered from archaeological sites in Scandinavia, the U.K., Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, Estonia, Ukraine, Poland and Russia, and mostly date to the Viking Age (ca. 750-1050 AD).

    The team’s analyses yielded a number of findings. One of the most noteworthy is that contrary to what has often been assumed, Viking identity was not limited to people of Scandinavian ancestry—the team discovered that two skeletons from a Viking burial site in the Orkney Islands were of Scottish ancestry.

    They also found evidence that there was significant gene flow into Scandinavia from the British Isles, Southern Europe, and Asia before and during the Viking Age, which further undermines the image of the Vikings as ‘pure’ Scandinavians.

    Another discovery that runs counter to the standard image of the Vikings is that many had brown hair, not blonde hair.

    The analyses’ results also shed light on the Vikings’ activities. For example, consistent with patterns documented by historians and archaeologists, the team found that Vikings who travelled to England generally had Danish ancestry, while the majority of Vikings who travelled to Scotland, Ireland, Iceland and Greenland had Norwegian ancestry. In contrast, Vikings who headed east were mostly from Sweden.

    Interestingly, says Collard, data revealed a number of close kin among the 442 individuals. Four members of a Viking raiding party interred in a boat burial in Estonia were found to be brothers, while two individuals buried 300 to 400 kilometers apart in Sweden were found to be cousins. Perhaps even more strikingly, the team identified a pair of second-degree male relatives (i.e. half-brothers, nephew-uncle, or grandson-grandfather) from two sites, one in Denmark and one in England.

    “We have this image of well-connected Vikings mixing with each other, trading and going on raiding parties to fight Kings across Europe because this is what we see on television and read in books – but genetically we have shown for the first time that it wasn’t that kind of world. This study changes the perception of who a Viking actually was,” says Willerslev. “No one could have predicted these significant gene flows into Scandinavia from Southern Europe and Asia happened before and during the Viking Age.”

    Of all the team’s discoveries, Collard is most intrigued by the identification of close kin.

    “While the ‘big picture’ discoveries are great, I was blown away by the fact that the analyses revealed the presence of four brothers in the Estonian boat burial, and a possible nephew and uncle on either side of the North Sea.”

    “These findings have important implications for social life in the Viking world, but we would’ve remained ignorant of them without ancient DNA. They really underscore the power of the approach for understanding history.”

    About Simon Fraser University:

    As Canada’s engaged university, SFU works with communities, organizations and partners to create, share and embrace knowledge that improves life and generates real change. We deliver a world-class education with lifelong value that shapes change-makers, visionaries and problem-solvers. We connect research and innovation to entrepreneurship and industry to deliver sustainable, relevant solutions to today’s problems. With campuses in British Columbia’s three largest cities – Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey – SFU has eight faculties that deliver 193 undergraduate degree programs and 127 graduate degree programs to more than 35,000 students. The university now boasts more than 160,000 alumni residing in 143 countries.


    A dying tradition

    In an attempt to understand how and why the practice died out, archaeologist Emma Brownlee, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Girton College who specializes in early medieval burial practices, dug into archaeological records that document more than 33,000 early medieval graves. Her analysis, recently published in the journal Antiquity, covered 237 cemeteries in northwestern Europe, the majority of them in England.

    Using descriptions and drawings of tens of thousands of graves excavated over the past 60 years, Brownlee painstakingly calculated the average number of objects per grave, down to the last bead. She also gathered other important information, such as how long the cemeteries were in use, and what the most reliable dating techniques suggested about their age.

    Then the number crunching began. Her map shows England abandoning grave goods as early as the mid-sixth century. By the time the Anglo-Saxon warrior was interred around 625, furnished burials were well on their way to abandonment.

    “After the seventh century, nobody is being buried with things in their graves,” says Brownlee.

    Since her data skews toward England, Brownlee cautions that English people didn’t necessarily lead the way. Nonetheless, her data shows that England finished its turn toward simpler burials by the 720s, while the rest of northwestern Europe took another half-century to follow suit.


    Unusual Viking Grave Includes Nested Boats Buried 100 Years Apart

    Last month, archaeologists excavating the Skeiet Viking farm in Vinjeøra, Norway, unearthed an unexpected burial: namely, a boat containing the remains of a woman nested inside of a second boat occupied by the body of a man laid to rest some 100 years earlier.

    As researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) reported in a recent announcement detailing the find, the Viking woman died during the latter half of the 9th century A.D. Her remains were buried in a 23- to 26-foot-long boat filled with grave goods including the head of a cow, two pairs of scissors, weaving tools and a pearl necklace. Two large shell-shaped brooches and a crucifix-shaped brooch made from a decorative Irish harness fitting were pinned on the woman’s dress.

    The wood used to build the boats has rotted away, but archaeologists were able to gauge the vessels’ one-time positioning based on a small piece of keel from the smaller boat and rivets from both. Evidence found at the site suggests the grave’s original inhabitant—a Viking male buried alongside a spear, a shield and a single-edged sword dating to the 8th century Merovingian period—was carefully excavated before the small boat was placed inside.

    Artist's illustration of the 8th-century Viking man's burial (Arkikon)

    “We know of several double burials in boat graves,” Raymond Sauvage, an archaeologist at the NTNU University Museum who oversaw the work, tells Newsweek’s Aristos Georgiou. “However, in those cases we are dealing with two—or more—persons buried in the same boat. We also know of burial mounds containing several, parallel boat graves.”

    The newly discovered arrangement “is essentially an unknown phenomenon,” according to Sauvage.

    An obvious question raised by the find is why the two individuals were buried together. Unfortunately, the researchers say it will be difficult to determine if the man and woman were related. The soil present at the dig site is poorly suited for preserving bone, so the only remains recovered were small fragments of the woman’s skull. The team plans on extracting DNA from the bones, as well as conducting isotope analysis to discover where the woman was born and what her diet was like.

    Sauvage posits that the man and woman were somehow related, as the nested burial was intentional and must have required planning.

    “Family was very important in Viking Age society, both to mark status and power and to consolidate property rights,” he says in a statement. “The first legislation on allodial rights in the Middle Ages said you had to prove that your family had owned the land for five generations. If there was any doubt about the property rights, you had to be able to trace your family to … burial mounds and paganism.”

    An Irish brooch pinned to the woman's dress was likely seized during a Viking raid. (Raymond Sauvage, NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet)

    The archaeologist adds, “Against this backdrop, it’s reasonable to think that the two were buried together to mark the family’s ownership to the farm, in a society that for the most part didn’t write things down.”

    Sauvage tells Georgiou that the archaeologists can infer information on the deceased’s lives from the contents of their graves. Because the man was buried with a full array of weapons, he was likely a free man who owned his land. The rich jewelry buried with the woman, meanwhile, indicates she was married, played an important role in her community and even managed the household based at the farm. The Irish brooch found on her dress indicates her family was well-connected enough to participate in and benefit from Viking raids.

    The team found the nested boats at the edge of the biggest mound in a larger burial ground. Previously, archaeologists excavating the site discovered a piece of a woman’s brooch dating to the early Merovingian age.

    “The burial mound must naturally be older than the oldest boat grave, meaning early Merovingian age,” says Sauvage in the statement. “This is a fascinating era in Scandinavian history, from which there are few archaeological findings.”

    About Jason Daley

    Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.


    Were they related?

    The man buried in the original large boat was accompanied with spears, shields and swords. Weapon styles changed over the years, so archaeologists are confident in their dating of the grave to the 8th century. But what was the connection between the two people?

    The obvious answer is that they were related. Vikings who lived at Vinjeøra likely knew who was buried in which mound. This is because in the society of the time, family was important to mark status but also to consolidate property rights. If there was any doubt around these, rights could be traced back via burial mounds.

    “With the backdrop, one can imagine that the two were buried together to mark the relative's ownership of the farm,” said Sauvage.

    About David Nikel

    Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.


    The discovery at Sutton Hoo: when the Dark Ages were lit up

    The year 1939 saw a rare ray of light shine into the Dark Ages, and made people realise that the Anglo-Saxon period did not deserve that gloomy moniker. In 1938, Edith Pretty, owner of Sutton Hoo House in Suffolk, had commissioned a local archaeologist, Basil Brown, to investigate the huge tumulus on her land. Brown did not do as he was asked. On examining it he saw that a trench had been dug into its centre, assumed it to have been robbed and moved on to the smaller surrounding tumuli. Having found next to nothing, in the following year he returned his attention to his original subject. He quickly unearthed rivets in rows, and as the outline of a boat slowly emerged it became apparent that the earlier grave robbers had ceased their digging just inches short of a burial hoard of unexampled beauty.

    While the wood of the ship and the flesh of the man had dissolved in the acidic Suffolk soil, the gold, silver and iron of his wealth remained. For the first time, indeed for the only time, historians had a chance to see the sort of objects that a great man of the seventh century had in his hall. From a range of ornate war gear – a sword, an axe-hammer, a huge circular shield decorated with wild animals, a coat of mail, a collection of spears – to auspicious displays of wealth – a silver dish three-quarters of a metre in diameter, a complex buckle wrought from pure gold, fine shoulder clasps – to feasting equipment – a cauldron, drinking horns, a lyre – the man had all he needed to live in eternity as he had on earth. His boat was pointing west and in his purse were 40 gold pieces, one for each of the ghostly oarsmen who would row him to the other place.

    The real story of The Dig

    Sutton Hoo’s seventh-century treasures have fired up the imaginations of history lovers for decades, most recently inspiring new Netflix film The Dig. Professor Martin Carver talks to David Musgrove about the real history of the remarkable 1939 excavation…

    What can we learn from the discovery at Sutton Hoo?

    The burial shows us that this corner of Suffolk was extraordinarily well connected to the world around it. Much of the craftsmanship, particularly the helmet and buckle, was clearly influenced or accomplished by Scandinavian work. The silver dish was made in Byzantium c500. The gold coins, which allow us to date the burial to the 620s or soon after, are Frankish. One of the bowls appears to be from Egypt. After looking at Sutton Hoo it is impossible to think of early Anglo-Saxon society as being cut off from the rest of the world, impossible to think of their leaders as little Englanders, but rather we are forced to consider them as self-consciously part of a wider European society stretching from the Mediterranean to the North Sea.

    Seeing the funerary magnificence of Sutton Hoo not only revealed to historians the exotic tastes of early medieval bigwigs, it also served as a reminder of how they should observe the period. To assume that seventh-century Anglo-Saxons were ‘primitive’ is to assume that an absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

    Thinking in these terms raises great questions about the grave. The assumption has long been that the inhabitant of the mound was a king of East Anglia, probably Redwald, who converted to Christianity before lapsing into paganism. Who else but a king would be buried with such finery?

    But as Professor James Campbell of Oxford has argued, to assume we have a royal burial is to ignore the fact that the tomb is almost entirely without context. It is something of a minor miracle that the spoils of Sutton Hoo remained undisturbed until the 1930s. The largest burial mounds must always have been the most alluring for entrepreneurial grave robbers and, consequently, we should expect that these obvious, unguarded burials were interfered with at some point in the intervening centuries. The Anglo-Saxons themselves were not innocent of the crime – in Beowulf, the dragon who kills the eponymous hero is disturbed from his tumulus by a thief. This is to say that we cannot know exactly how prevalent burials like Sutton Hoo once were. It may be that there was a time when they were not that unusual.

    We do not know, and have no way of knowing, how much treasure there was in seventh-century England. There may have been a great many men who had become rich from conquest and protection racketeering. There may even have been many who had access to examples of such craftsmanship (whoever made the exquisite shoulder-clasps and belt was evidently not doing it for the first time). And so Sutton Hoo also acts as a reminder of how much we do not know about Anglo-Saxon history, about how we must think before we make even the shallowest assumptive leap.

    If the grave’s precise status is in doubt, its uniqueness is not, and the treasure is a much needed feast for the eyes in a period starved of visual aids. While the Anglo-Saxons have left us some manuscripts, some coins, the occasional church that survived the great Norman renovations, a post-Conquest tapestry, and the clutter of archaeology, compared to all subsequent eras, there is not much to see. Consequently, the splendour of Sutton Hoo was immediately destined for iconic status and publishers have been consistently keen (as we have here) to use the helmet as a cover illustration.

    This one relic from Anglo-Saxon England has, in some ways, come to define the whole period. As a reminder of the centrality of militarism to the age this is fitting but it has, perhaps, also done something to harden in the public imagination the idea that the Anglo-Saxons were nothing more than noble warriors. This is unfortunate because we now understand a great deal about the complexities and sophistication of late Anglo-Saxon government and know that, by the eighth century at the very latest, they were much more than barbarian champions of military households. We know this largely because of the work of archaeologists. Over the past 50 years our understanding of the Anglo-Saxon economy has accelerated beyond all expectation and, as it has, we have become vastly more aware of the government machinery which exploited and regulated it. Huge numbers of coins have been exhumed by metal detectorists showing how standardised royal coinage was circulating in Britain by the late eighth century, and how, by the mid-tenth century, there was a currency of perhaps several million coins, regularly recalled and recoined – presumably to tax, and assure quality.

    This was very much a national system. During the reign of King Edgar (ruled 959 to 975) it seems few parts of England were further than 15 miles from a royal mint. Such clues show us how capable these kings were of centralised government, how good they were at imposing uniform standards over wide areas, and why we might describe their kingdom as a ‘state’. Thus archaeologists have unearthed a society’s progression from a world of plunder and tribute, to one of toll and tax.

    But despite such rich academic discoveries, popular appreciation of the Anglo-Saxons since the Second World War has, if anything, been on the wane. The Victorians were fascinated by the origins of England and its government and so had a fondness and fascination for the state-building of Alfred the Great and his heirs. But there has been little room for the Anglo-Saxons in the modern British mindset. Whereas 19th century scholars revelled in their Teutonic past, by the mid-20th century, England’s German heritage evinced little pride, and the very concept of volk had been sullied by history’s most monstrous crimes. This intellectual backdrop meant that as Britain became a modern nation of many peoples, so Anglo-Saxon history came to be seen as insular, primitive, misogynistic and irrelevant to the point where the word ‘medieval’ has become a term of abuse deployed by those who know nothing of the medieval world.

    Indeed, in recent times, our pre-Conquest predecessors have been co-opted by the far right (along with the cross of St George), and turned into symbols of a ‘pure England’. This manipulation is wrong, for the Anglo-Saxons were no more ‘ethnically pure’ than the English of today. Recognising this reveals just how dangerous and unhelpful the rejection of parts of our history can be: dangerous because, discarded, they can be poached by the ignorant and unhelpful because the internationalism of their time actually mirrors ours.

    Because Anglo-Saxon culture lurks behind our laws and rights, behind our system of government, behind our towns and behind the words that one in five people on Earth can understand, it is neither nationalistic nor insular to say that we should take an interest in it.

    There ought to be no room for nationalistic pride in the study and appreciation of history. We did not do these things we were not yet born. For many of us, these were not even the deeds of our ancestors. But they are, nonetheless, a large part of our cultural inheritance and, to a certain extent, that of the world. To ignore Anglo-Saxon culture is to needlessly rebury our treasure in the mound and leave it to the mercy of robbers.

    Alex Burghart is one of the authors of the Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England (www.pase.ac.uk), a database of known people from the period – and formerly a tutor and researcher at King’s College London. He was writing to commemorate 70 years since the discovery at Sutton Hoo.

    The Anglo-Saxons: a condensed history

    The first centuries of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain are so obscure that very little can be said about them with any certainty (not that this has prevented some tireless academics from saying much). After the withdrawal of the Roman army from Britain in AD 410, peoples from Germany and Scandinavia are known to have settled here. Marked by an almost complete lack of evidence, by 597 an area which under the Romans had been urbanised, monetarised, and Christianised, had become rustic, had no real currency and was largely pagan.

    In 596, inspired by some Anglian slaves he had seen in the marketplace in Rome, Pope Gregory despatched a group of missionaries to Britain to convert the Anglo-Saxons. Over the following 90 years gradually the different kingdoms accepted the new faith but not without occasional resistance – the huge pagan-style burial at Sutton Hoo appears to hail from a time when Christianity was in the land but not quite in everybody’s hearts.

    Politically, the general (though by no means consistent) pattern of the period 600–900 was that a large number of small polities gradually conquered or merged with each other. Some, like Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex, also continued to expand their interests at their ‘Celtic’ neighbours’ expense. This was not an easy task: the Northumbrians were pushed back by the Picts at Nechtansmere in 685, and the Mercians would resort to buildings Offa’s Dyke against the Welsh.

    By the death of Offa of Mercia (796), only five kingdoms remained: Wessex, Essex, Mercia, East Anglia and Northumbria. Offa had conquered Kent, Sussex and East Anglia, and his successors inherited these gains. But in the 820s Wessex invaded the southern domains and an insurrection in East

    Anglia drove the Mercians out. There the status quo remained until 865 when it was violently disturbed by Danish armies, commonly known as Vikings. Their forces swiftly conquered East Anglia, Northumbria, part of Mercia and very nearly Wessex until the organisational prowess (and good fortune) of Alfred the Great of Wessex (who ruled from 871 to 899) halted their advance.

    A much ignored moment in English history occurred in c879 when, after centuries of rivalry, Mercia accepted Alfred’s lordship and a ‘kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons’ was born. This union, forged in the face of threats from Danish armies, was then inherited, albeit shakily, by Alfred’s son, Edward (ruled 899 to 924). Edward set about the conquest of the Danelaw, extending his power into the Midlands and East Anglia.

    In turn Edward’s son, Athelstan (ruled 924 to 939) ‘completed’ the task begun in earnest by his father and, in 927, conquered Northumbria. With fewer proximal rivals, the unified kingdom of England flourished. During the mid- and late tenth century it developed a highly organised and centralised coinage, established royal patronage over episcopal and abbatial appointments and extended the West Saxon system of shires to the newly acquired parts of the kingdom.

    Such administrative and economic success once again attracted the envious eyes of neighbouring peoples. During the reign of Æthelred II, the Unready (ruled 978 to 1016), seaborne Danes frequently exacted heavy tribute as the price of their keeping the peace. In 1016 the nature of this hostility shifted. King Cnut of Denmark (ruled 1016–1035) defeated Æthelred’s son Edmund at the Battle of Assandun, receiving half of England for his victory and succeeding to the rest on Edmund’s death a few weeks later. Cnut’s North Sea Empire was inherited by his son, Harthacnut, who ruled until 1042, at which time the kingdom reverted to Æthelred’s son, Edward the Confessor (ruled 1042 to 1066).

    Along with 1966, 1066 is perhaps one of the most recognisable dates in English history. It is also one of the cleanest period breaks in the whole of world history. The future of the English language, the make-up of the English aristocracy, and the direction of English political culture were altered in a few hours at Hastings on 14 October 1066 when William of Normandy defeated and killed King Harold. William sealed his victory with a coronation in London on Christmas Day that same year (aping Charlemagne’s imperial crowning in Rome, 266 years before), thus beginning the age of the Anglo-Normans.


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