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 over a winter period. It would have been a low island in the marshes of the River Trent, exposed to northerly and easterly winds. Not at all a place that would attract modern Glampers.
26ha is about 0.25 sq.km The current population density of Rio de Janeiro is 6,200/sq.km, which may not be a bad comparator, assuming that the food at Torksey would not have been domestically produced. So the population might have been about 1,500. For the calculation of army size, one would, of course, need to know the proportion of the population constituting servants, slaves, women and children, and where the horses were stored. However, the curves in the river may well have provided sandy shallows where a large number of ships could be safely stored, and a surprise attack from Mercian or Northumbrian armies would be impossible. Furthermore, trade with the
Mercians of Lincoln would have been easy using the Roman road now named Till Bridge Lane, and with Repton to the south west using the Trent. Following the disastrous attempt to defeat Wessex in 871, it was at all a bad place to regroup.
In the following year, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that the Danes moved to Repton, which is about half way into the centre of Mercia and the seat of its king at Tamworth. If you go to the website of Repton Church and click on Viking Repton you will find an excellent introduction to the findings of the Biddles. The Swedish Radio interview of Prof. Martin Biddle on the archaeological work they undertook is well worth listening to here. In summary, Repton was one of the main the religious centres of Mercia and the burial place of some of its kings. By taking it over, the Danes were clearly dominating the occupants of Tamworth.
But all this reinforces the idea that, to the Danes in 866, Wessex may not have been the main target of their adventures. Seen from their perspective, perhaps they were only initially interested in the lowlands of Lyndsey, East Anglia and Eastern Mercia – which was easily accessible for their ships. Venturing into the uplands of Wessex would take them beyond a landscape with which they were familiar. The drawing below illustrates.