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Here, in order from oldest to most recent are the not-exactly-numerous posts that have appeared on the other site in the past two and a half...

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

"I don't recommend this novel"

This is the funniest review of Worlds of Arthur I have yet read.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Playing by whose rules? A further look at Viking atrocity in the ninth century

[This post originally appeared as  ‘Playing by whose rules? A further look at Viking atrocity in the ninth century.’ Medieval History vol.2, no.2 (1992), pp.3-12.

'I'm siiiiiiiiiiiinging in the rain...'
It was only about my third or fourth academic publication, written shortly after my 27th birthday, and I'd still see it as no more than juvenilia.  Nonetheless, the original has been cited in worthy places by serious historians and is very difficult to find.  The journal was pretty short-lived.  Indeed I've often been asked where it can be obtained  - including in the comments on this blog.  So here it is.  I've corrected a couple of grammatical errors but otherwise it is exactly as it was submitted to the journal and I've not bothered to do anything else with it.  at some point I may come back and indicate the page-breaks so that - if for some reason you are so inclined - you can cite it as published, although I can't be bothered to check whether this text is exactly as published...

Please note that the piece was not penned as a particularly serious piece of academic research, making its citation in learned articles a pleasant surprise.  I wrote it for my undergraduates, who often seemed to have difficulty getting a purchase on how historians who were 'pro-' or 'anti-Viking atrocity' all could write such convincing arguments with accurate and scholarly citation of written and other evidence.  This was offered as a way out of the impasse.

I don't guarantee that I still agree with it; I don't guarantee its empirical accuracy!  It's very old.]

      In the court-room of History, things look grim for the Vikings.   Long charged with being mindless, murderous marauders who brought nothing but doom and gloom to western civilisation, a flicker of hope was presented in the 1960s when certain historians, most notably Peter Sawyer,(1) came forward to defend the accused, claiming that they had been 'framed' by biased monkish chroniclers.   Sawyer's defence seemed, for a while, to have won the day, but in the later seventies and eighties historians began to attack aspects of Sawyer's argument and some, such as the small size of Viking armies, cannot now reasonably be maintained.(2)   Furthermore, in the reaction to Sawyer's thesis, the Vikings came to be seen as even more horrible than they had been before, as in the works of Alfred Smyth.(3)   Even if Smyth's ideas have not found universal support, in general the pendulum has decidedly - if perhaps not decisively - swung back in favour of the prosecution.(4)   Most of the debate has, however, been channelled into a rather facile discussion of whether the Vikings were 'A Good Thing' or 'A Bad Thing'.   I suggest we should rather be concerned with asking if, and, if so, why and to what extent, the Vikings were 'A Different Thing'.

      Let us begin with a consideration of certain key 'charges' brought against the Vikings; aspects of Viking activity which have generally been seen as marking the Vikings out from their contemporaries.   The Vikings are held to have used strategies and tactics which were in some way 'against the rules' of normal warfare.   Shock, terror and brutality were employed to the full.(5)

      The first aspect we must deal with concerns the allegations that the Vikings put their defeated enemies to death in particularly unpleasant ways, such as in the elaborate ritual of the 'Blood Eagle', where, depending upon whose interpretation is followed, either the victim, perhaps already dead, had an eagle traced on his back with a sword-point, or had his rib cage cut open and the lungs removed and spread across his shoulders, to resemble a bloody eagle.(6)   Here we have to state first of all that the existence of such an inhuman rite has been seriously questioned by Roberta Frank, who claims that it is an invention of later scalds and saga-writers, who wanted to exaggerate the ferocity of their pagan ancestors.   Frank's ideas have, not entirely convincingly, been challenged, but the debate is perhaps irrelevant in any case.(7)   Whether or not the 'Blood Eagle' existed, the Vikings were far from alone in putting defeated enemies to death in imaginative ways.  

      We can, for instance, cite the fate of the Austrasian royal family in 613.   The victorious Chlothar II had all the infant sons of Theuderic II, except one, put to death and had their great-grandmother, Brunechildis, mutilated and then torn to pieces by being tied to a wild horse.(8)   In Visigothic Spain in 673 the usurper Paul was, like Brunichildis, mutilated and paraded through the army's camp on a camel, before being executed.(9)   The pages of Gregory of Tours' Histories abound with descriptions of horrific tortures practiced at the whim of Merovingian kings.  Here, surely, is terror to rival that of Ivarr 'the Boneless'. 

      Pre-Viking kings and leaders could not often expect mercy if they fell into the hands of their enemies.   In the seventh century, Bede tells us the story of King Oswine of Deira.(10)  He was attacked by his cousin, King Oswy of Bernicia, but seems not to have had time to raise a large army.   When he saw the disparity between his forces and Oswy's he disbanded his army and surrendered, only to be put to death by the Bernician king.   There is little to choose between Bede's account of these events and Abbo of Fleury's of the death of Edmund of East Anglia.   The crucial differences are perhaps firstly that in Oswine's case the conqueror was a Christian and his men are said to have shown disgust at Oswy's actions,(11) and secondly that in this case we have no later hagiography or saga to provide (or embroider) the gory details of Oswine's execution.   To this example we can add the fate of the boy-rulers of Wight(12) and Eanfrith of Northumbria.(13)   Later in time, Offa is said to have captured AEthelberht of East Anglia by treachery and had him beheaded(14) and AEthelred of Northumbria dragged the sons of one of his predecessors, AElfwald, out of sanctuary and had them drowned in Lake Windermere.(15)   The same king later had his immediate predecessor, Osred II, executed after he had been taken prisoner, and in his first reign is said to have killed three of his ealdormen by treachery.(16)   The Northumbrian anarchy could probably provide yet more instances.   The murder or execution of rivals, whether captured in or after battle or taken through treachery, was in no way foreign to pre-Viking western Europe.

      Did the frequency of Viking raids, with their attendant plundering and burning, and the enslavement and sale abroad of captives, constitute a new kind of warfare?   The basic nature of Viking attacks, until around 860 at least, can not be argued as being significantly different from the character of pre-Viking European conflict.   Warfare, in particular based upon raiding, plundering and tribute-taking, was a way of life in fifth- to eighth-century Europe.   Scarcely a year went by in the Frankish kingdoms without some kind of military activity, either between the Frankish realms themselves, or against their neighbours.   Plundering raids across the border into neighbouring kingdoms were organised annually in Charlemagne's day.(17)   The Welsh laws of Hywel Dda, suggest similar annual raiding expeditions, as does the Irish evidence, and a closer look at the written sources of 'middle Saxon' England reveals that such endemic war was the norm there too.(18)   Few people lived in security from hostile plundering raids in the post-Roman West.

      We may suspect that the bulk of the Viking attacks on England recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle were not very serious - no different from the usual small-scale actions which were waged by the kings of the so-called Heptarchy and which were generally not recorded.   Can the shock felt at the Viking attacks have, then, been a result of their naval character?   We may, first of all, perhaps even doubt that the first raids really were the 'bolts from the blue' which contemporaries suggest they were.   Leaving aside the unverifiable suggestion that there were Scandinavian attacks on Ireland as early as the seventh century(19) we are forced to think that the northern seas had been calm, plied only by Frisian and other traders, for several hundred years.   The Saxons themselves had been fearsome sea-wolves in the fourth and fifth centuries (until we lose the kinds of evidence which might record their activities), and the attack by the Danish king Chlochilaich, or Hygelac, recorded in both Gregory of Tours' Histories and in Beowulf, is well known.(20)   Are we to assume that these scourges of the northern seas suddenly ceased their activities in the early sixth century?   This would seem unlikely, especially since John Haywood has recently given a very cogent demonstration of the continuity and importance of barbarian sea-power in this period.(21)   To take just one example, Ecgfrith's attack on the Irish in 684 was very obviously a sea-borne raid.(22)   Though the conventional interpretation is that he was referring to the Picts, I would suggest that Bede had pagan maritime raiders at least partly in mind when he warned Archbishop Ecgberht of the dangers of 'barbarian' attacks in the 730s.(23)  

      Why, if this was the case, should the Viking attacks of the 790s have been seen as so startling and unusual.   The answer here is probably to be sought, as Sawyer suggested, in developments in shipping technology.(24)   The shock felt at the sack of Lindisfarne was a result not of the mere fact of a sea-borne raid but of the fact that a ship could for the first time strike straight across the North Sea, rather than having to tack down the north German and Frisian coasts, make the short crossing to Essex or Suffolk, and then sail along the English coastline, with subsequent loss of surprise.   Hence Alcuin does not say that no one believed a naval attack was possible but 'nor was it thought that such an inroad from the sea could be made' (my italics).(25)   Raids now possessed greater elements of surprise, and greater ease of escape.   What cannot be denied, however, is that there was also a sudden and substantial increase in the level of such activity in the 790s, the reasons for which lie outside the scope of this paper.

      The sacking of churches and the killing of churchmen is the Scandinavian activity which seems to characterise best the image of the Vikings as ruthless breakers of the rules of war.   In England it is true that we have little enough evidence of the Christian English attacking religious establishments before the Viking sack of Lindisfarne in 793, but such events were not entirely without precedent.   Ecgfrith of Northumbria had attacked Irish churches in 684, 'sparing neither churches nor monasteries from the ravages of war.'(26)   According to the poetry, Cynddylan's Christian Welsh seem to have killed English clergy at Lichfield, whilst the Annales Cambriae record the burning of Saint David's in 645.(27)   It has long been pointed out that the Irish attacked churches before the coming of the 'Foreigners'; twenty-seven possible instances of such activity are recorded in the annals between 612 and 792.   O Corrain says that church-burning was 'an integral part of [Irish] warfare.'(28)   In Francia attacks on church property and ecclesiastical persons were far from uncommon.   In Gregory of Tours' Histories we find Bishop Praetextatus of Rouen being stabbed to death in his own cathedral in 586, allegedly on the orders of Queen Fredegund.(29)   The Austrasian Franks of Theuderic I ravaged the Auvergne some time between 525 and 532, destroying the churches of the region and killing priests in front of their altars.(30)   In the seventh century there are more examples.   In 607, Theuderic II had Desiderius of Vienne stoned to death.(31)   Ebroin, the Mayor of the Palace, had Bishop Leudegar killed in 675(32) and the murder of archbishop Aunemund of Lyon is recorded in 658.(33)   Desiderius of Cahors' elder brother and predecessor as bishop was killed by his citizens in a feud.   We must return to the question of attacks on churchmen and ecclesiastical property, but for now it seems reasonable to state that such activity was well-known in Europe before the appearance of the Vikings.(34)

      So far it has been suggested that Viking military activity was not generally any different from that of other early medieval peoples.   Here we are returning to Sawyer's currently unfashionable thesis, that Viking activity was 'an extension of normal Dark Age activity, made possible and profitable by special circumstances.'(35)   At this point we must address the question upon which any defence of the Sawyer thesis, or the line of reasoning proposed above, surely turns; why, if Viking attacks were generally the same as those waged by other early medieval rulers, did they receive such different treatment in contemporary sources?   Here we must not be fooled into believing that, because our best-known sources are primarily ecclesiastical in origin, this dread of the Vikings was restricted to churchmen.   There is every reason to suppose that the fear of the Northmen expressed in these documents was widespread throughout society.

      Any answers to this question have to conceive of the Viking attacks as a clash of cultures.   What means of communication, and here I am not simply referring to questions of language, existed between the Vikings and their Christian victims?   Communication, or discourse, between two groups of people, must be founded on mutually accepted norms of behaviour and conduct.   To use a fundamental linguistic example, for two people to engage in conversation requires that they both accept the meanings of the words, and the rules of grammar, that they are using.   If not, they would not be able to understand each other; although both are involved in the basic act of speaking, neither knows what the other is saying.   The same is true of human actions.   Most areas of human activity, even those concerned with conflict, are governed by codes of behaviour.   To make sense of, and 'reply' to, these actions requires some shared knowledge of the norms upon which they are based.   But what happens when, as when the people of Christendom were confronted by the Vikings, the two parties involved do not share the same norms; the same rules of conduct?   The result is a lack of comprehension and fear.   And the fear of that which we do not understand (and thus cannot control) is the greatest terror of all.

      Let us look at the question of warfare first of all.   It has been argued that there existed certain 'rules of war' which existed to govern most of the endemic warfare within the 'Heptarchy'.(36)   The Vikings, though they may have had similar codes themselves, were not aware of these.   The Anglo-Saxons may have had clearly prescribed routes which armies followed, as indicated by geographical names such as Fyrd straet ('militia street') and Hereford ('raiders' ford').   Striking directly over the sea, the Vikings followed none of these.   In land warfare, kingdoms were generally only attacked by their immediate neighbours (wars where one side crossed intervening kingdoms to attack an enemy had not been common since the seventh century, and had hardly been usual even then), meaning that the number of times a region was likely to be attacked was fairly limited.   Furthermore, in such land warfare, the raided kingdom would take revenge upon the attackers by launching a reprisal raid over the border.   This endemic border warfare operated according to much the same mechanisms as feud; A raids B, B raids A as revenge, A raids B in revenge for B's raid, and so on.   The potentially never-ending nature of such warfare (which nevertheless served a number of useful purposes for the English kingdoms) meant there had to be rules governing its conduct and limiting its effects.   Not only were the Vikings not generally aware of these rules, they did not consider themselves to be bound by them in any case, because they did not share the cultural norms upon which they were based.  

      Sea-borne attacks could, what is more, be launched by any number of Scandinavian territories upon the same English coastal region, port or monastery.   This not only increased the number of times that an area was likely to be attacked but, crucially, it meant that the English could not, according to their system, launch reprisal attacks since they were unaware of which community was to blame for the raiding.   They did not know against which group of people revenge attacks were justified.   This situation can only have baffled and terrified the English, and can only have been made worse when the perpetrators of the attacks were not static land-based communities but quasi-permanent, peripatetic and nebulous pirate fleets, as seem to have existed from around 850.   Faced with this enemy who would not play by the rules, it is hardly surprising that the Anglo-Saxons regarded this new menace as particularly horrible.   It has been argued that the sporadic outbursts of major warfare in middle Saxon England demonstrated their difference from the usual endemic raiding by deliberate rule-breaking.   If so, it must have seemed to the English, as to the Irish, Welsh and Franks, who had their own rules of behaviour, that, whatever they were doing, the Northmen were always waging 'no-holds-barred' all-out warfare.   No wonder they seemed ruthless and barbaric.   The Vikings were, however, not deliberately breaking any rules; they were playing to a different rule-book.  

      All this is especially true when we turn to consider the crucial question of attacks on churches, recently and usefully addressed in this journal by Sarah Foot.(37)   For all its local variations, Christianity was of course the cultural norm par excellence upon which rules of conduct in all spheres of pre-Viking European life were based.   The Vikings were not Christians.   Though, as mentioned, the Irish attacked churchmen, church-property and monastic enclosures before the coming of the Vikings, these attacks were 'qualitatively' different in that the actual church itself was often spared; Feidlimid of Cashel in 833 'burned [the monastery of Clonmacnoise's] ... area of inviolable sanctuary up to the door of the church.'(38)   Clearly, as Foot says, there was 'some recognition of the holiness of the church building itself.'   Violence by Christians against churches and churchmen could, however, be alleviated, limited and punished, and reparations enforced, by threats of divine retribution, eternal damnation and hellfire, and by the operation of religious sanctions, excommunication, penance and so on.  

      The recognition of a church's sanctity - of its status as sanctuary - and the ability to use excommunication as a weapon rely of course on the acceptance, by the aggressors, of Christian norms and rules of conduct.   Pagan Vikings did not accept these any more than Charlemagne's Franks had accepted the sanctity of the pagan Saxon Irminsul in 772.(39)    This is not to argue that the Northmen had no notion of what Christianity was, though this could well have been true of Vikings from the more remote parts of Norway and Sweden.   After years of contact with the Carolingian Franks, the Danish aristocracy at least must have been well aware of certain aspects of Christianity.   But even if the Vikings could distinguish a church or monastery from any other repository of large quantities of movable wealth (and, if ninth-century opinions of the church's decadence were founded on more than rhetoric, this might have been easier said than done!), the fact that they did not accept the basis of its religious character would mean that they would see no reason to spare it from their depradations, or to distinguish the clergy from any other element of the opposing population.

      The Church could not restrict or control the attacks of the Vikings.   This explains why Viking attacks upon Christian clergymen were described as, and perhaps were, more horrific than attacks by Christians on churchmen.   It in no way, however, implies any deliberate rule-breaking by the Vikings, and, as Foot argues,(40) nor does it show that they were waging a deliberate, religious - let alone proselytising - war against Christian establishments and officials.  

      Again, the fact of the 'difference' of the Vikings is to be explained in terms of a clash of cultures, by the lack of shared norms between them and their Christian enemies, and not by some kind of innate Viking ferocity.   The treatment of Christian clergy, sanctuaries and liturgical objects by the Vikings was, in any case, much more restrained than that meeted out to 'pagan' religious officials, cultic sites and objects by Christian armies and missionaries.   This is not to suggest that the Vikings were necessarily more tolerant or moderate in their religious beliefs than their Christian counterparts.   It was probably motivated by hard-headed economic motives; why stamp out a monastery completely when leaving it to recover means you can come back and raid it again?   It cannot be disputed that, as Foot argues, the ninth-century Viking attacks had serious detrimental effects upon the Church, and were rightly regarded by ecclesiastics as an important threat.   What we must not do is take the Vikings' awareness of the existence of Christianity as another people's religion, and take them to task for their subsequent refusal to respect the persons and property of the Christian church.   Historians often treat this refusal as indicative of - in our terms - a real "Machiavellian" (for want of a better word) brutality and ruthlessness.  This, however, is to castigate the Vikings for not showing a degree of cross-cultural toleration and understanding which would be unusual in the twentieth,(41) let alone the ninth, century.

      Another aspect of Viking behaviour often held up as indicating their double-dealing and cunning, is their alleged 'oath-breaking'.   Vikings are often described as faithless breakers of oaths.   Faithlessness - infidelitas - is part of the standard vocabulary of political insult in early medieval Europe.   The distinction between the use of the word to refer to someone not sharing the writer's religious beliefs, and to refer to someone who had broken faith or trust - between, so to speak, Faithlessness and faithlessness - was rather more blurred than is sometimes believed.(42)   The Franks regarded the Basques and Bretons, and even southerners in general, as 'faithless oathbreakers.'   This has been plausibly interpreted as a result of cultural differences, rather than of any real "Machiavellianism" on the part of Basques, Bretons or Acquitanians.(43)   The same is doubtless true of the Vikings' alleged 'faithlessness'.   Why should a Viking leader have considered himself bound by oaths sworn on things which he did not recognise as holy?  

      As an example of this, let us take the events which occurred outside Wareham in late 875, where the West Saxons under King Alfred had cornered the Danish Great Army.(44)   Perhaps in recognition of their paganism, the West Saxons forced the Danish leaders to swear on a 'Holy Ring', possibly a non-Christian object.   Asser, however, says they swore 'on all the relics in which the king [Alfred] placed the greatest trust, after God Himself'.(45)   Perhaps Alfred swore on the Christian relics whilst the Danes swore on the holy ring.   If not, or if the ring was one of Alfred's Christian relics, this would explain why the Danes broke the oath in Spring 876.   The West Saxons' failure to establish some mutually accepted basis upon which oaths could be sworn, and truces and treaties validated, sums up in microcosm the nature of the problem which the Christians had in coping with their Viking enemies.

      Seeing the Vikings as culturally different from their contemporaries in England, France and Ireland permits us to sidestep ultimately fruitless questions of the relative ferocity of the Vikings.   It does, however, allow us to see more clearly why their contemporaries saw them in such a bad light.   The implication of this argument is not merely to show that the reasons for the Vikings' 'difference' go beyond a simple, abstracted, difference in religious credo; it is rather to show the huge and widespread practical implications which the absence of a shared faith had when ninth-century cultures came into conflict.   I have, for this reason, restricted my discussion, to the period before the late ninth and early tenth centuries which saw the beginning of significant Scandinavian settlement in Christian Europe, and the subsequent conversion of the newcomers.   An investigation of exactly how attitudes to the Vikings changed when physical proximity of settlements and the beginnings of a shared religion created common understandings would be valuable indeed.

      This argument, in a sense, both agrees and disagrees with Sawyer.   As we see it from a distant, late twentieth-century viewpoint, Viking activity looks indeed pretty much like any other warfare of the period.   We cannot reasonably make any claims that the Vikings were any more ferocious than anyone else.   In important respects, however, Viking raids were not like 'normal Dark Age' warfare, for they introduced an aspect of cultural conflict which was absent from most fifth- to eighth-century north-west European warfare.   The unusual absence of, and inability to create, common understandings between the protagonists meant that there were no norms in this kind of war.   From a Christian point of view, therefore, these attacks were most definitely not normal.

      To argue that Viking activity was or was not 'normal Dark Age activity' is, then, to view the question from only one side.   We can only agree with Sawyer if we accept that we are imposing an abstracted modern viewpoint on the nature of eighth and ninth-century warfare, and ignoring contemporary viewpoints.   By the same token, we can only agree with Sarah Foot's statement that 'Alcuin's laments after the sack of Lindisfarne could not apply to any 'normal Dark Age activity''(46) if we recognise from the start that the norms upon which our definition of 'normal' is founded are, like Alcuin's, those of eighth-century Christian Europe.


  1.  See, above all, Sawyer, The Age of the Vikings. and Sawyer, Kings and Vikings.  Full references are given in the bibliography at the end of the article.
  2.  For the rebuttal of Sawyer's arguments on this, see Brooks, 'England in the ninth century: the crucible of defeat.'
  3.  Above all, Smyth Scandinavian Kings in the British Isles, 850-880.
  4.  See, most notably, Wormald, 'Viking studies: whence and whither?'   In this journal, a useful summary of the debate, and of the 'prosecution's' position, is given by Foot, 'Violence against Christians? The Vikings and the Church in ninth-century England.'
  5.  For a very clear statement of the idea that the Danes deliberately used such 'terror tactics' to bring about the collapse and conquest of English kingdoms, see Smyth, 'The Vikings in Britain.' pp. 107-9.
  6.  Smyth, Scandinavian Kings in the British Isles, chs.14, 16 and 17 discusses the rite, and alleged instances of its use, in full gory detail.
  7.  Frank, 'Viking Atrocity and Skaldic verse: The rite of the Blood Eagle.';  Einarsson, 'De normannorum atrocitate: Or on the execution of royalty by the Aquiline method.' is the counter-argument.
  8.  Fredegar, Chronicle IV.41.   Throughout the foot-notes to this article, for ease of reference, only English translations are cited.
  9.  See Collins, 'Julian of Toledo and the royal succession in late seventh-century Spain.' p.43.
  10.  Bede Ecclesiastical History [hereafter H.E.] III.14.
  11.  Compare, however, the reasons given for the murder of Sigibert of East Anglia in H.E. III.22: he forgave his enemies too readily.
  12.  Bede, H.E. IV.16.
  13.  Bede, H.E. III.1.
  14.  Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (hereafter A.S.C.) sub anno 792 (recte 794); Whitelock, English Historical Documents (hereafter EHD), doc.1.
  15.  Simeon of Durham History of the Kings, sub anno 791. EHD doc.3.a.
  16.  The execution of Osred is recorded in Simeon of Durham History of the Kings sub anno 790; the killing of the three ealdormen is mentioned by Simeon, sub anno 778.
  17.  See the Royal Frankish Annals; Scholz (trans.) Carolingian Chronicles.
  18.  Halsall, 'Anthropology and the study of pre-conquest warfare and society; the ritual war in Anglo-Saxon England.'   This is an overstatement in places, and is rather carelessly argued, but the gist of the argument is, I think, on the right lines. [Nowadays I'd say it was an embarrassing piece of juvenile nonsense, all copies of which ought to be destroyed!]
  19.  See O Corrain Ireland Before the Normans. p.81.
  20.  Gregory of Tours Histories III.3; Beowulf line 2354 ff., Bradley (trans.) Anglo-Saxon Poetry.
  21.  Haywood, Barbarian Naval Power.
  22.  Bede, H.E. IV.26.
  23.  Translated in Sherley Price (trans.) (rev. Farmer) Bede. A History of the English Church and People.  and in EHD, doc.170.
  24.  See, eg., P.H. Sawyer, 'The causes of the Viking Age.'
  25.  Alcuin's letter to AEthelred, King of Northumbria. EHD doc.193.
  26.  Above, n.22.
  27.  Cynddylan's attack is discussed in Brooks, 'The formation of the Mercian kingdom', p.169.   The Annales Cambriae are translated in Morris, Nennius. The British History and the Welsh Annals.
  28.  D. O Corrain, Ireland Before the Normans, p.85.
  29.  Gregory, Histories, VIII.31.
  30.  Gregory, Histories, III.12-13. Gregory of Tours Life of the Fathers IV.2.
  31.  Fredegar, Chronicle IV.32.
  32.  Fredegar, Chronicle, Continuations, 2.
  33.  Eddius Stephanus, Life of Wilfrid, ch.6, where Aunemund is confused with his brother, Dalfinus.   Webb &  Farmer (trans.) The Age of Bede.
  34.  Foot, 'Violence against Christians?' pp.5-6 gives more examples of English, Irish, Frankish and Breton attacks upon churches.
  35.  Sawyer, The Age of the Vikings. pp.202-3.
  36.  Halsall, 'Anthropology and the study of pre-conquest warfare and society.'
  37.  Foot, 'Violence against Christians?'
  38.  K. Hughes, Early Christian Ireland: Introduction to the Sources. p.155; Foot, 'Violence against Christians?' p.6.
  39.  Royal Frankish Annals sub anno 772.
  40.  Foot 'Violence against Christians?' p.10.   But does early Germanic Christian art 'depend entirely upon Christian symbols' (my italics)?   What exactly is an exclusively Christian or pagan symbol in such art?   In sixth- and seventh-century metalwork, how, for example, does one distinguish Daniel in the lions' den, from Man threatened by evil spirits?   Early medieval art was usually deliberately ambiguous in this respect.
  41.  As manifested in the present strife between Croats and Serbs.
  42.  G. Halsall, 'Bandits, brigands and outlaws in the early medieval West: A study in the definition of legitimate and illegitimate violence between c.450 and c.820.'
  43.  James, The Origins of France. p.143.
  44.  A.S.C. sub anno 876; EHD p.194, n.7.
  45.  Asser, Life of King Alfred ch.49; trans. in Keynes & Lapidge Alfred the Great, pp.65-110.
  46.  Foot, 'Violence against Christians?' p.16.


A. Primary Sources in English Translation.
The Age of Bede. trans. J.F. Webb & D.H. Farmer (Harmondsworth [Penguin Classics], 1983).

Alfred the Great.  trans. S. Keynes & M. Lapidge (Harmondsworth [Penguin Classics], 1983).

Anglo-Saxon Poetry. trans. S.A.J. Bradley (London, 1982)

Bede. A History of the English Church and People. trans. L. Sherley Price (revised D.H. Farmer) (Harmondsworth [Penguin Classics] 1991).

The Fourth Book of the Chronicle of Fredegar and its Continuations. ed. & trans. J.M. Wallace-Hadrill (London, 1960).

Gregory of Tours. The History of the Franks. trans. L. Thorpe (Harmondsworth [Penguin Classics], 1974).

Gregory of Tours. Life of the Fathers. trans. E. James, 2nd edition (Liverpool, 1991).

Nennius. The British History and the Welsh Annals. trans. J. Morris, (Chichester, 1980).

B.W. Scholz (trans.) Carolingian Chronicles. (Ann Arbor, 1970).

D. Whitelock (trans.) English Historical Documents Volume 1, c.500-1042. 2nd edition (London, 1979)

B. Secondary Literature.
N.P. Brooks, 'England in the ninth century: the crucible of defeat.' Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th series, 29, 1979, pp.1-20.

N.P. Brooks, 'The formation of the Mercian kingdom' in S. Bassett (ed.) The Origins of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms. (London, 1989), pp.159-70,

R.J.C. Collins, 'Julian of Toledo and the royal succession in late seventh-century Spain.' in P.H. Sawyer and I.N. Wood (eds.) Early Medieval Kingship. Leeds 1977, pp.30-49,

B. Einarsson, 'De normannorum atrocitate: Or on the execution of royalty by the Aquiline method.' Saga-Book of the Viking Society for Northern Research vol.22, pt.1,1986, pp.79-82,

S. Foot, 'Violence against Christians? The Vikings and the Church in ninth-century England.' M.H. I.3, 1991, pp.3-16.

R. Frank, 'Viking Atrocity and Skaldic verse: The rite of the Blood Eagle.' English Historical Review 1984, pp.332-43.

G. Halsall, 'Anthropology and the study of pre-conquest warfare and society; the ritual war in Anglo-Saxon England.' in S. Chadwick-Hawkes, Weapons and Warfare in Anglo-Saxon England. (Oxford, 1989), pp.155-77.

G. Halsall, 'Bandits, brigands and outlaws in the early medieval West: A study in the definition of legitimate and illegitimate violence between c.450 and c.820.' Forthcoming. [This never did come forth.  In the end I incorporated the decent bits into the introduction to the collection of essays I edited on Violence and Society in the Early Medieval West.]

J. Haywood, Barbarian Naval Power. (London, 1991).

K. Hughes, Early Christian Ireland: Introduction to the Sources. (Cambridge, 1972).

D. O Corrain, Ireland Before the Normans. (Dublin, 1982).

E. James, The Origins of France. From Clovis to the Capetians, 500-1000. London 1982

P.H. Sawyer, The Age of the Vikings. 2nd edition (London, 1971 [1st edition 1962])

P.H. Sawyer, Kings and Vikings. (London, 1982).

P.H. Sawyer, 'The causes of the Viking Age.' in R.T. Farrell (ed.) The Vikings. (Chichester, 1982), pp.1-7.

A.P. Smyth, especially Scandinavian Kings in the British Isles, 850-880. Oxford 1977.

A.P. Smyth, 'The Vikings in Britain.' in L.M. Smith (ed.) The Making of England. The Dark Ages. (London, 1984), pp.105-16,

C.P. Wormald, 'Viking studies: whence and whither?' in Farrell (ed.) The Vikings. (Chichester, 1982), pp.128-53.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Royal Baby Names

Arthur isn't terrible ...

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Foching the Tories (more vague musing on how History might help us think about what to do in the present)

This was originally posted on 8 May 2012.  With the Simon Danczuk/Owen Jones row, followed up by Danczuk writing a piece in the Telegraph (yes - a Labour MP writing in the Telegraph) likening the Labour Left to the BNP, I thought I'd move this back to the top.  

[I mentioned recently a blogging crise de confiance.  Who cares what I think?  And what do I know?  Fair questions.  I often blog about things I'm no expert in, like philosophy and politics.  But then again I do care about these issues.  Then I read these blogs in national newspapers here and here and I thought that, whatever I think or write it's no crazier than these opinions (Cameron's government is socialist?  Hard right Tory policies will win Labour voters over by producing social mobility?  Hell, at least I haven't taken the quantities of Class As that would give me those ideas).  So, no I'm not a politician (and could never be) or political theorist but maybe these musings will spark or feed into some better ideas by someone who is.]

A year ago – and more – I penned a piece called ‘So that’s it: we lost?’ at the start of the Coalition’s assault on what is left of the Welfare State, the NHS and so on.  Certainly, the defenders of the State, the Public Sector, the NHS &c., did not give up without a fight.   And they still haven’t.   But we still lost in the end.  The NHS reforms – a charter to sell off what is left of the National Health Service to Cameron’s friends and backers – went through in the end. 

It’s worth, at this point, contrasting the sheer lack of real achievement, of any dismantling of the results of the Thatcherite attack on the State sector, or even the bulwarking of what remained, by a Labour party with a huge mandate for change – a mandate still reinforced in 2001, when people continued to vote tactically  (in a low turn-out, admittedly) to keep the Tories out – with the revolutionary (or, better, counter-revolutionary) excesses of the current Tory government with (let’s remember) no mandate at all: typically arrogant public school boys who have simply steamed full ahead regardless of pre-election promises, parroting their hollow ideological nonsense about The Market, secure in the knowledge that they are, by virtue of their education, social class and money, bound to be right, whatever anyone else might think.  It’s also worth noting just how small a role has really been played by the Labour Party in opposing Cameron and his millionaire cronies.  No attempt has been made by the Labour Party to challenge the narrative (no surprise there: no attempt was made when they were in power).  All the radical information about the Tory donors and their links with private health care providers etc., has been deployed by political bloggers, web-sites, ‘popular’ resistance movements like 38 Degrees and so on.  Meanwhile, the Labour Party continues to waffle about fiscal responsibility, Blue Labour and the rest.  No change there.
So, in the short term anyway, we have lost: there are no two ways about that.  In late 2010 I mused about how this might look to historians of centuries to come, wondering how it was that the achievements of the war generation, the post-’45 settlement etc could have been thrown away (I continued to ponder that scenario after last summer’s Riots).  But the importance of History – I increasingly think – is in showing that things don’t have to go in a particular way, or lead to a particular outcome.  This is, perhaps, a novel (or at least a minority) view of History.  History has tended to derive its shape from end-points.  In Žižek this is called ‘contingent necessity’: a series of contingent choices and events/results of choices is portrayed, teleologically, as necessary by the end-result.  This is a type of history we must reject.

Rejecting contingent necessity, it seems to me, suggests a way forward and an opportunity to build a socialist/radical Left alternative out of the wreckage of Cameron’s Britain.  What the ConDem wreckers have achieved is the final unpicking of the last of the key co-ordinates of the ’45 Settlement.  Now, this might look like a disaster – and in the short term at least it certainly is.  It will make life much worse for a lot of people while cementing the ‘haves’ in their position of dominance.  But, it seems to me, the sheer extent of Cameron’s success could hand those of us on the Left with a real opportunity – by which I don’t mean a cynical, passive Leninist ‘the worse, the better’ stance. 

It must be responded to in the right fashion, and while the iron is still at least fairly hot.  At the moment, as I see it, the fractured Left (or pseudo-Left) offers us a series of limited options:

1: Accommodation.  The classic New Labour option.  In this view, as always, the Labour Party dances to the Tory/Tory Media tune.  The usual gutless triangulation will lead to an acceptance of the Tory narrative of fiscal irresponsibility, austerity, and a vapid promise simply to manage the situation bequeathed to any future Labour government by Cameron and co, not to make matters any worse.  Mistakes will be admitted, in spite of the deficit lies, the continuing refusal to deal with the bankers, Osborne’s manifest incompetence, the corruption of the government, its dealings with Murdoch, Brooks and the rest, and so on and so forth.  You could say that there was never a better time, while the Murdocracy is in such low esteem with the public, to launch an attack without fear of the Sun’s front page.
2: Nostalgia.  This is classic melancholy in the focussing on something lost.  But that cannot radically challenge the Tory narrative, precisely because of ‘contingent necessity’.  The NHS failed and therefore ‘had to be’ changed’.  Thus anyone holding a simple ‘revivalist’ position will be able to be portrayed as arguing against the lessons of history, the weight of history, or the logic of history.  Variants of the nostalgic revivalist position will be found in old-style Unionism and in the Old Left: the Marxists, the SWP, Old Labour.  None of these will be able to mount an effective challenge.  They are too easily countered – indeed disposed of – by populist right-wing propaganda.  In this sense they are as locked within the Tory narrative as the accommodationists of Blue Labour.   The signifying system of the Tory narrative portray them highly effectively as far-left dinosaurs, the Loony Left, as adherents of systems that ‘history shows’ failed (contingent necessity again), as threatening ordinary, decent people.
3: Oh, and then there’s Occupy.  Not that Occupy sees itself as part of the Left, anyway.  Occupy has nothing to say to anyone about anything.  More to the point it doesn’t want to.  It likes to see itself as above such things: as ‘Punk Politics’, as one can see from Occupy commenters on blogs etc.  It presents itself simply as ‘the young people’ doing something new (regardless of the fact that simple occupation is about as old-style a form of protest as there is).  It has no programme (in the UK anyway).  In the UK it seems largely politically illiterate (for example, one Occupy commenter on a blog-post said Occupy ‘transcended Left and Right’ – how is that even possible?).  It’s not interested in thinking about the crucial terms of the debate.  It has, if anything, allowed itself to be demonised by the media, weakening support for whatever it is that it is trying to do.
What we need to do, counter-intuitively perhaps, is embrace the extent of Cameron’s mandate-less successes and excesses.  The very extent of dismantling the state can be a way of breaking free of the Tory narrative.  It cuts the Left free from the hulk of the ’45 Settlement and its attendant baggage.  It is, I suggest, possible to appropriate and thereby to subvert, the Tory master-narrative.  The post-45 Welfare State failed – but do you know why it failed?  A new narrative could be based on Tory Story, one which can put the neo-liberals on the back foot.  Let us negate the negation.  There are multiple new narratives that can be constructed around the failure of the Welfare State in the face of capitalist assault – which dwell, for example upon the way in which privatisation has not been a success, except in increasing the gap between the wealthy and the poor.  How it shows that private companies driven by the profit motive are not more efficient than state operations (indeed how most privatised areas are still propped up by government subsidy, whereas workers and consumers have lost out – how the old nationalised industries are still nationalised, except – farcically – that the nation that owns them isn’t theUK…). 

Foch 'em!
And there would be many others (here is a nice example).  The point is that the programmes should be to create something new; not simply (or overtly) to preserve or revive.  To quote Beckett (not Brecht: thanks 'James'): Try again; fail again; fail better.  The more the neo-liberals dismantle the post-45 settlement, the more they unpick the coordinates of their own ideology.  (More to the point, perhaps, to adopt an analogy from the historiography of the Carolingian Empire, the more they sell off to their chums, the less booty they have to distribute to their followers…)  We should embrace the space opened up by this in the creation of new radical left-wing ideas, to build a better version of the Welfare State, a more effective one, probably using a different name.  This is where my title comes in with its allusion to Maréchal Ferdinand Foch and his famous ‘toujours l’attaque’ quote: "Hard pressed on my right. My center is yielding. Impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent. I attack."

This might have unexpected results.  It might, if even partially successful, compel the neo-liberals to back-track.  After all they need their ‘other’ – their ‘bloated’, ‘failed’, ‘something for nothing’ post-45 welfare state.  This would be a partial success in itself but it should not be seen as sufficient.  Rather than accepting such a result, the project of a new and better Welfare State 2.0 ought to be pushed and pursued with the support of health and education workers, pushing the Right further into the position of defending what it itself claims to have failed, whilst still maintaining their policies of social division and inequality.  The ground of the debate that is opened up by Cameron’s success should be seized, and this is one way of doing so.  This is the opportunity offered by the debacle of Lansley’s health care Bill.  The question is whether the Left has the political will and imagination to take it.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Worlds of Arthur in Lichfield

If you are within reach of Lichfield tomorrow you can hear me talk about Worlds of Arthur: http://www.lichfieldfestival.org/blog/2013/04/guy-halsall/

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Surreal Tennis

A little post-Open Day procrastination, documenting Andy Murray's on-going and less-than-entirely-successful attempts to recreate Magritte's Son of Man.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Jackie D on the fear of writing

Here is one of my intellectual heroes talking about how, where and when fear came into his activity as a writer.  I love the point he makes about being more conscious when asleep than when writing; classic Derrida.  The regular reader of the blog will understand that this resonates greatly with me.

Academics and Activism

This article doesn't suggest an especially profound appreciation of the theory under discussion but it seems heart-felt, which is always a bonus in my book, and certainly worth a read, whether or not you agree.  Of course, whether or not the author acts upon his own strictures is the acid test.