The Age of the Vikings: circa 800 to 1100
….never before has such a terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race, nor was it thought that such an inroad from the sea could be made….
the monk Alcuin, writing in 793 on the Viking attack on Lindisfarne, monastery of St Cuthbert
The etymology is uncertain, but “Viking” possibly is derived from the Old Norse vik, or creek. A Viking then, was a creek-man – a tribute to the sleek shallow-draught boats that could penetrate far up-river, to wreak so much havoc on unsuspecting settlements. Late in the Viking Age, the word became synonymous with sea-robber, and was even used as an adverb: “to go a-viking”. But earlier, in the 9th century where The Circle of Ceridwen is set, the term “Viking” was unknown. Ceridwen calls them simply Danes (for these early raiders were almost exclusively from that country), while clergy consistently referred to them as pagans, heathens, black gentiles, or “murderous hordes”.
Unsurpassed seamen, fearless explorers and settlers, canny traders and brutal raiders, the Vikings left their mark upon every land their elegant ships reached. No peoples they affected were more stunned than the early English by the swiftness and violence of the Viking assault, and their complete disregard for the lives and property of holy men and women.
Most Anglo-Saxons had a hard time raising the mirror to their own faces. These raiding Vikings were in fact still in their own Heroic Age, at a time when the Christianised Anglo-Saxons were beginning to forget their own violent conquest of Britain.
….Then, within our grandsire’s memory, a new people began to visit our shores. They were seamen unlike any we had ever seen, and raiders so skilled they took whatever they wanted and fled before our warriors could catch them.
These were the Danes.
Ceridwen’s preface from The Circle of Ceridwen
Early raids on Britain were typically brief, Summer-time forays, taking advantage of the relative calmness of the North Sea. Travel time was short: sailing from West Denmark to Tynemouth took only 36 hours. Booty was seized quickly and sail set for home again almost at once. After 865 a new pattern emerged with the arrival of the Great Army, a large well-organized fighting force, probably numbering between 2,000 and 3,000 warriors. Danes began seeking permanent settlement, first conquering a kingdom, then farming it. As the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle relates for the year 879:
In this year the host went from Cirencester into East Anglia, and occupied that land, and shared it out.
The attack on Lindisfarne which so grieved the good Alcuin was the first of many Viking strikes. The last was the double invasion of 1066 – first Norwegian King Harald Hardraade as claimant to the English throne, defeated by the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinsson at the Battle of Stamford Bridge – and on his heels, William “the Conqueror”. Normans means Northmen. William was descended from the Viking chief Hrolf (latinised as Rollo), who had settled in northern France and was made first Duke of Normandy in 991.