Why did Alfred raise his army at Ethandune (Edington)? And why did Guthrum meet him there?
Most agree that Ethandune was Edington in Wiltshire. The church marks it at the foot of the Salisbury Plain escarpment.
In  his paper ‘Landscape and Warfare in Anglo-Saxon England …’, Wiley Press 2015, Thomas Williams describes how battlefields may well have been chosen for their intimidatory effects, rather than for purely the military advantage they might afford. He explains that, in the ninth century, a soldier might be comforted by the imagined presence of past heroic spirits on the site. And, on the other side of the argument, an aggressor would win extra points by the despoilation of a treasured mythical site, the action having particular significance for the wider population. Nevertheless, battles were often located at fording places on streams that were near to the significant mythical or prominent features.
Ethandune qualifies in all these respects. The Salisbury/Bath road descends from the Plain at this location, and the road crosses the streams at the foot of the escarpment. And the escarpment carries on its ridge, ancient earthworks. But there is another, very particular reason for its choice.
Guthrum and his Danes had seized Chippenham Palace five months earlier, and it is possible that Guthrum used it as a ‘command centre’. The tower of St.Andrews Church in Chippenham, twelve miles to the north, is roughly in the position that the palace stood, and its tower is about the height that a lookout tower would have been. From the tower the escarpment in the photograph can be easily seen – as could a beacon on it, or the glitter of a weaponed army. The ridge was a good place to offer a challenge to Guthrum, and the two armies could have met upon the lower ground. But here is the quandry: why should Guthrum, an experienced general with a highly mobile army, wish to take on the massive strength of Alfred’s militia in a staged battle – it only makes sense if the two kings were seeking a truce.

 

Saint Edmund of the East Angles

The validity of the legend concerning the fate of King Edmund of the East Angles is explored in The Royal Saints of Anglo-Saxon England – A Study of West Saxon and East Anglian Cults, a 1988 publication of the Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought. The book...

865 or 866

Very many academics and others have taken to dating the arrival of the so-called Great Army of Danes in East Anglia as 865. Yet the 'Parker', or Winchester copy of the Chronicle, states that they arrived in 866. For those who are confused by this contradiction, it is...

Sailmaking Viking Queen

Modern heavy weather sails are made of Kevlar – or something like it. Studies in Norway have indicated that the ninth century viking sailors used sails made mainly of wool – maybe with some hemp fibres. This makes absolute sense; arable land in the region would have...

Torksey, Repton and the Trent

The 26 ha Danish winter camp at Torksey has been a remarkable find of the last few years. Numismatic evidence date the occupation at 872/3 - which coincides with the record in the AS Chronicle. Speculation abounds on the population that such a large site could sustain...

The Knowledge Straightjacket

Few people outside the professions are challenging the prevailing attitudes among historians and archaeologists. Consequently we are becoming increasingly constrained by their knowledge straightjacket. In actual fact, the professions are very young (I discount the...

Viking Age Geometry

Capability It could not have been possible to build the longships - or make their sails - without an arithmetic and geometric capability. Even the most visually and spatially capable person must, at some stage, record an idea, or communicate with lesser mortals, or...

Domesday Data Implications

I have recently discovered Domesday England, edited by Professor Henry Clifford Darby, with contributions from  I.B. Terrett, Eila M.J. Campbell, I.S. Maxwell, R. Welldon Finn and G.R. Versey, first published by the Cambridge University Press in 1977. This was the...

What no women?

  The Ulster annals, together with the sagas and DNA studies imply that the previously deserted Iceland was populated from about the year 800 AD onwards by Scandinavians and people from the British Isles, the latter being thought to have been mainly female slaves...

Literacy and Christianity

A young Danish soldier, stepping from a ship onto the shore of East Anglia in 866 would probably never have seen a book. He would equally never have seen or touched a page of skin bearing ink markings of cursive script. He would have been familiar with runes, slashed...

Belief Rituals

Whilst the writings in the Eddas and Sagas present a jumble of romantic (and perhaps) metaphorical ideas, the material finds of archaeologists, and the recordings of monks and other contemporary writers provide evidence of a slightly more certain kind. In Chapter 18...

What no maps?

The map I have created here might have been in the head of an extremely widely travelled Dane in 890 – someone like Othere or Wulfstan (see: The Voyage of Othere and Wulfstan ) the merchant adventurers who King Alfred employed. The record of their verbal reports...

The ‘Viking’ invention

The word ‘Viking’ was first used in a publication entitled The History of the Anglo-Saxons by the imaginative antiquarian Sharon Turner ( a male person) who referred to Sea-kings and Vikingr and to the land of Vikia in Norway (which cannot be found on Google Maps)....

Roman influence

Mention has been made in another post on Rivers and Roads of the importance of the remnants of the Roman road system. An interesting paper I found on the internet by chance was An Archaeological Resource Assessment and Research Agenda for the Early and Middle...

The 9th Century Danish Empire

The map above is derived mainly from The Viking World, an invaluable tome edited by Stefan Brink, Professor of Scandinavian studies at the University of Aberdeen, and Neil Price, professor in the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala University. The...

Danish Viking Moralities

At a conference held by the University of Copenhagen in 1979, Niels Lund decried the absence of good evidence concerning Danish medieval society and implied that we were wrong to accredit too much to the writings of Saxo Grammaticus in his twelfth century Gesta...

Angle-Dane Relationship

According to Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the Angle People) which was written in 731, the British Isles had been invaded in the fifth century by: … Saxons, Angles, and Jutes. From the Jutes are descended the people of Kent,...

Life expectancy

King Alfred was 50 when he died in 899. He was therefore 22 when he fought and allegedly put the Danes to flight at Ashdown, and was 29 when, in 878, he made a peace treaty with Guthrum. But what can we deduce of the age of Guthrum - say when he led his ‘army’ to...

The Great Army size

Received wisdom upon this subject is currently taken as the work done by Prof. Nicholas Brooks in his 1979 paper to the Royal Historical Society entitled England in the Ninth Century: the Crucible of Defeat. In this he compares the sizes of Danish armies as...

Rivers and Roads

It's well established that travellers carry in their minds a perception of the world dependent upon the ease by which they may travel. These mental maps are coloured by the risks involved. Today, in the UK, the risks are usually of cost and time, few worrying about...

error: Alert: Content is protected !!