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Age of Heroes - 1: When the War-Band Marches, Arming and Feeding the Warriors

Updated on December 19, 2017

When the Beowulf Saga was first told by skalds we still wrote in runes...

These particular runes can be seen on Orkney, although the character is the same as those brought by the Aengle, Jutes and Saxons in the 5th Century AD
These particular runes can be seen on Orkney, although the character is the same as those brought by the Aengle, Jutes and Saxons in the 5th Century AD | Source
Sutton Hoo burial helm - was it King Raedwald who was buried here?
Sutton Hoo burial helm - was it King Raedwald who was buried here? | Source
'Raedwald's realm, Northfolc and Suthfolc (Norfolk, Suffolk). Together they were known as the kingdom of the East Aengle, East Anglia
'Raedwald's realm, Northfolc and Suthfolc (Norfolk, Suffolk). Together they were known as the kingdom of the East Aengle, East Anglia
The Romans left early in the 5th Century. Incomers from the  mainland settled first in coastal regions, the Angles either side of the Humber and the Wash in the east, the Saxons along the Thames and South Coast, Jutes in Kent, Wight and Itchen valley
The Romans left early in the 5th Century. Incomers from the mainland settled first in coastal regions, the Angles either side of the Humber and the Wash in the east, the Saxons along the Thames and South Coast, Jutes in Kent, Wight and Itchen valley

A wedge was hammered between the Angles of western Mercia and Bernicia (north of the Tees)

The kingdoms in AD878 after the initial treaty of Wedmore between Aelfred and Guthrum
The kingdoms in AD878 after the initial treaty of Wedmore between Aelfred and Guthrum

Supply and demand in the Dark Ages

The task of supplying armies with weapons and food differed greatly from the early days of the Viking Age, between when Ragnar Lothbrok set out from the Frankish coast for Northumbria and when Magnus 'Barelegs' set out from western Scandinavia in his empire-building heyday.

In earlier days warbands were limited in numbers and scope. They could easily be outnumbered when raiding in well-defended far-off kingdoms. Larger forces needed the agreement of regional chieftains if an army were to be stood to whilst on, or had to make its way through their lands. They might also be asked for men they could ill afford to lose if the harvest season were close, to supplement an army's numbers depleted by earlier conflict or make up numbers to equal the opposition. A sizeable force camped on their land might damage growing cereal crops by grazing horses and trampling men - as with their Anglian and Saxon counterparts. Later laws, the Hirdskra, for the defence of Norway on a regional basis come down from this era.

Each clan would contribute toward an expedition beyond home turf, and hope to gain greater rewards in the form of booty. Ragnar Lothbrok's sons over-ran the eastern and northern kingdoms to avenge the killing of their father by Aella of Bernicia - northern Northumbria. Their force, mentioned in the Chronicle as the 'micel here' (pron. mickel herre) - great army - was assembled on the basis of mutual loyalties. Smaller units of the army were able to peel off from the main force to tackle minor obstacles, i.e., recalcitrant local lords. One of the brothers, Ubbi, was killed raiding on the shore of northern Devon (Defna scir) in AD878, possibly trying to take land for settlement. Earlier, in AD876, Halfdan had shared out Northumbria amongst his followers, and the attack by Ubbi could have also been to secure supplies and some gain in negotiables - Church artefacts to exchange for silver and gold.

Two forms of acquisition or gains could be seen in operation here. Opportunities presented themselves in land and crop seizures - pretty much in the same way as Duke William's landing force in October, 1066 - in the leaderless Anglian kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria, where either half of the kingdom was unwilling to come to the aid of the other on 'ethnic' grounds. The two halves of Northumbria had been at times rival kingdoms, as they were when Ragnar's sons sailed across the North Sea from Denmark, and the eastern Mercians were not exactly cosy with their West Midlands neighbours (Penda had enlarged his kingdom eastward from Tamworth in the 7th Century). The Norse kings of York may have had troubled reigns, but they held on effectively until Aelfred's grandson Aethelstan over-ran Northumbria after the Battle of Brunanburh in the 10th Century.

Under the Danes armies were raised and supplied from the Kingdom of York (Deira, south of the Tees to north of the Humber-Trent frontier with Mercia) within the 'Thrijungar' (Thirdings, or Ridings) system, as in the Danelaw provinces of Lincolnshire: Lindsey, Kesteven and Stamford. The Thrijungar system was further divided into the 'Vapnatak' (wapentake) areas, equivalent to the Saxon 'Hundred' system of local government.

Once-over Ubbi's attack might well have taken the Devon Saxons by surprise, but by this time fore-warned was fore-armed and although Aelfred was elsewhere, the local ealdorman took on and killed the Danes' leader. By this time Wessex's defences had been strengthened, unlike the remoter and much weakened Anglian kingdom of Northumbria after Aella and Osbryht (Osberht) were defeated at York in AD867.

Next: 2 The Hierarchy

Anglian mastery of the North was hard-won. Northumbria was at loggerheads with Mercia from the time Penda was crowned until Offa lay on his deathbed

Northumbria's expansion northward encroached into Pictish and British tribal lands as far as the Firth of Forth - excluding Strathclyde British territory in the north-west (now Cumbria - linked with Cymru)
Northumbria's expansion northward encroached into Pictish and British tribal lands as far as the Firth of Forth - excluding Strathclyde British territory in the north-west (now Cumbria - linked with Cymru)
Fighting the Britons in the north to expand Beornica (Bernicia) - Northumbria consisted at times of two disparate kingdoms, which led to its eventual downfall when the Danes came on the scene
Fighting the Britons in the north to expand Beornica (Bernicia) - Northumbria consisted at times of two disparate kingdoms, which led to its eventual downfall when the Danes came on the scene | Source
Offa, king of Mercia directs work on the long north-south ditch at the western edge of his kingdom, known to us as Offa's Dyke
Offa, king of Mercia directs work on the long north-south ditch at the western edge of his kingdom, known to us as Offa's Dyke | Source
West Saxon warriors, thegns to the fore, stand in their shieldwall, the Wessex dragon flies on its staff at the rear (the idea was borrowed from the Romans)
West Saxon warriors, thegns to the fore, stand in their shieldwall, the Wessex dragon flies on its staff at the rear (the idea was borrowed from the Romans) | Source

Treasures from Sutton Hoo

See the Sutton Hoo treasures at the British Museum

to fully appreciate the craftsmanship. See the exhibits on the first floor of the main building in Room 41 (first floor, turn right at the top of the stairs), adjacent to the other Mediaeval exhibits like early clocks and court artefacts. A reconstructed helm shows the fine detail, as do several other reconstituted items such as the shield and sword. The burial is thought to have been that of the East Anglian king Raedwald, an early convert to Christianity who lived at the time of Penda. The ship he was buried in was 'eaten' by the acidic soil, although the impression it left behind was kept in the area of southern Suffolk ('suth folc' or the 'South Folk, as Norfolk ('north folc' was the 'North Folk', the second group of Eastern Angles that made up the population of East Anglia - the middle Angles being Mercia and the northern Angles Northumbria, sub-divided into Deira south of the Tees, Bernicia to the north).

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From when the Aengle first came to this isle they vied to achieve the upper hand. There were three distinct groups when they made landfall, those that came into the Humber went their own way north and south. Those that landed in the east between the Wash and the Thames estuary banded together under one leader, the Northfolc and the Suthfolc as the East Aengle. The Middil Aengle divided the North Aengle from the East Aengle as they spread south and west. In the north the Aengle split into two kingdoms, Deira south of the Tees to the Humber, Bernicia to the north of the Tees had the Kingdom of the Strathclyde Britons (related to the Welsh and the Picts) to its west and the Gododdin (another tribe of Picts) to the north of the Tweed. [See the NORTHUMBRIA series]. The Mercians, as the Middil Aengle became known eventually occupied all the land between the North Sea in the east and the Welsh border as it is now, south west to Hwicce as far as the West Saxons' lands, and south east as far as the Middil and East Saxons would let them.

For their part the Saxons pushed the Britons west to the Tamar, and pushed the Jutes off the mainland around the mouth of the Itchen (where Southampton is now), before over-running them on the Isle of Wight itself. Eventually West Seaxe (Wessex) under the warlord-turned king Cerdic would over-run the eastern Saxon and Jutish kingdoms of the South, Middle and East Saxons as well as the Jutes in Kent. Wessex, after Cerdic's time, also eventually over-ran the small kingdom of Suthrige (pron. 'Suthriye' or Surrey), populated both by Jutes and South Saxons with its coronation stone near the Thames at Cyningestan (Kingston-upon-Thames). .

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Life in the Home Camp, and Catering for an English army at Battle Abbey, October 14th-15th, 2017

"Grub's up", the camp kitchen company await their comrades after giving them a hearty send-off
"Grub's up", the camp kitchen company await their comrades after giving them a hearty send-off | Source
The 'Hildsvin' group's canvas stall with spare shield and spears ready for when there's a lull in the fighting. There was a break in fighting, called for by William and agreed by Harold, to see to the wounded, feed and water the horses and men
The 'Hildsvin' group's canvas stall with spare shield and spears ready for when there's a lull in the fighting. There was a break in fighting, called for by William and agreed by Harold, to see to the wounded, feed and water the horses and men | Source
Another part of the 'Hildsvin' group's camp at the head of the field, with wicker fences overlaid by pelts.
Another part of the 'Hildsvin' group's camp at the head of the field, with wicker fences overlaid by pelts. | Source
One of the womenfolk engages in homecraft as she awaits the return of her man/men. She'd hope to see them back but a long day's fighting lay ahead from mid-morning to evening light
One of the womenfolk engages in homecraft as she awaits the return of her man/men. She'd hope to see them back but a long day's fighting lay ahead from mid-morning to evening light | Source
In the mean time the fighting men patiently muster for their turn to take their places in the shieldwall. Confidence was high, although it was over-confidence that might have cost Harold the battle after his win near York
In the mean time the fighting men patiently muster for their turn to take their places in the shieldwall. Confidence was high, although it was over-confidence that might have cost Harold the battle after his win near York | Source

Wessex, from King Aelfred to Eadward 'the Elder'

these were the days of Danish incursions first into eastern England and then reaching to Wessex. The Saxons sought to fortify the towns within their remit, i.e., beyond Wessex itself into Sussex, Surrey and Kent, each individual kingdoms until the late 8th/early 9th Century. It was Aelfred 'the Great' who set the 'goalposts' for a fledgling Aengla Land (England), his dream and his grandson Aethelstan's reality, fortifying the 'burhs' against attack. Some succumbed, many survived into the later England. Even the Danelaw's 'Five Boroughs' (Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham, Stamford in Lincolnshire) were brought into the Wessex 'fold', although they reverted to Danish control from the time of Svein 'Forkbeard' and Knut. England became a reality then, under Knut, with little change until Harold II's reign. Under William I only the political leadership changed, aside from the disappearance of Wessex (with its links to Harold and his clan).

Next - 2: If Looks Could Kill


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    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      As I mentioned to J Martin above, there's a lot of choice Tolovaj.

      I daresay you could add some input to this subject from your point of view in mainland S E Europe (you've got a lot to choose from, with the Turks invading the Balkans, the 30 Years War, the Byzantine Empire 'next door').

    • Tolovaj profile image

      Tolovaj 

      3 years ago

      This is great stuff. I don't know much about that part of the history and it will be interesting to read next chapters. Well, I can only take it in small doses ... Thumbs up!

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      5 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      When you've finished working through 'AGE OF HEROES' you might tackle the 'DANELAW' and 'VIKING' series (in that order). I'm still working on the latest of the 'DANELAW' series, the 'SAGA OF HROLF KRAKI', which is within the earlier era scope of the 'AGE OF HEROES' - so far up to part 3. There is also the 'SAGA OF HUNDING HROTHULFSSON' which begins in Denmark (using the Danish name references of the age), working to Jorvik, on to Holmgard (Novgorod) and Miklagard (Constantinople) and back again to England at the time of Aethelred II 'Unraed', his son Eadmund 'Ironsides' and Knut (Canute). Enjoy the read!

    • jmartin1344 profile image

      jmartin1344 

      5 years ago from Royal Oak, Michigan

      Very interesting hub alancaster. You have such a vast number of detailed hubs, I wasn't sure which section to start on but I saw this was the first of a group so I decided to dig into this one.

      I must admit the history is much more than my current knowledge and I had to do some googling to get up to speed on some of the names (it all adds to the learning!), but this is all very interesting and I have always enjoyed British and World history since my school days. I look forward to reading more of these "Age of Heroes"!

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      6 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      We have to watch our backs, Wes. There is such a thing as the Profit Motive, after all, you hit on it in your hub about the Rothschilds.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      It's a complicated issue. Of course there is no possible way that I could produce the kinds of hubpages things that I like to do with my own photos.

      I'd have to spent huge amounts of time, money, etc in order to have my own.

      I don't ever check to see if the pictures that I'm using are copyright protected or not - but I do always provide the link to where I got the picture.

      Gosh, anyone who got upset about a picture that I'm using could just ask that I not use it, and I'd find another one.

      It would be sad should anyone feel that they should get a cut of what I make for the use of a photo....and they'd be extremely disappointed!!!

      I make just enough to not quit doing this, but not enough for it to be considered anything but a hobby.

      Hubpages did a good thing by forbidding the use of watermarked photos. I was too dumb to know it before then....but watermarks basically exist to say, "hey, this is MINE, and you shouldn't use this."

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      6 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      As I see it, if you owned the copyright for pictures used in your hubs you could use them in a kindle book because you would be making money on it, i.e., 'all my own work'. While you're not profiting directly from using the images on the hubpages I suppose using someone else's pictures would be ok. On hubpages you're making money on the number of times people click on them (in other words you're making money on the ads). I think that's it, otherwise the powers-that-be wouldn't let you use these images to illustrate your hubs.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Yes - I'm sure the pictures would be a concern that way.

      I know several people who've published kindle books, and I'm not sure that any of their work is "better" than yours, and I believe that you've got MORE in the way of material than any of the persons that I know of who've published those.

      I don't know how to do it, but I'm considering it at some point. I think my hubs about animals that are native to Texas could possibly make for a decent book after I've got more such hubs published.

      I think I might have to take the hubs down, but I'm not even sure about that.

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      6 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      You were quick off the mark there! I'd barely for it done when you jumped in. Doing this as a kindle book is a nice idea, but I'd need to clear any issues with picture copyright.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Sir, I think this whole thing you've got going is wonderful and extremely interesting.

      I would like to see it packaged as a kindle book for sale and download in it's complete form.

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