Archaeologists in England have found evidence of a massacre recorded 1,000 years ago when an Anglo-Saxon king ordered all Danish Vikings in his realm to be killed and it now seems the chronicles have been proven right.
The BBC reports archaeologists in Oxford have discovered the skeletons of at least 35 individuals ranging from 16 to 25 years old and have now completed an analysis on the bones which shows they had been victims of violence. Ceri Falys of Thames Valley Archaeological Services has been studying the bones since they were discovered. She said:
"Usually when people have been involved in hand to hand combat or are attacked you get evidence of this on the bones. You get cut marks on the forearms as they raise their arms to defend themselves, but we have minimal evidence of this on these skeletons, it seems that whoever was attacking them, it is likely that they were just trying to run away."'
In the year 1002, King Aethelred Unred (known as “Aethelred the Unready”) whose name meant “Ill-advised”, ordered all the Danish Vikings in his kingdom to be killed. Wikipedia quotes his decree:
“For it is fully agreed that to all dwelling in this country it will be well known that, since a decree was sent out by me with the counsel of my leading men and magnates, to the effect that all the Danes who had sprung up in this island, sprouting like cockle amongst the wheat, were to be destroyed by a most just extermination, and thus this decree was to be put into effect even as far as death, those Danes who dwelt in the afore-mentioned town, striving to escape death, entered this sanctuary of Christ, having broken by force the doors and bolts, and resolved to make refuge and defence for themselves therein against the people of the town and the suburbs; but when all the people in pursuit strove, forced by necessity, to drive them out, and could not, they set fire to the planks and burnt, as it seems, this church with its ornaments and its books. Afterwards, with God's aid, it was renewed by me.”
The killing came to be known as the St Brice’s Day Massacre after the feast of Saint Brice, on November 13. Now it appears some of the victims have been identified.
The Smithsonian magazine says archaeologists unearthed a pit they thought would contain medieval rubbish. Instead it contained the remains of more than 30 young men of military age.
Aethelred’s entire reign (978-1016) was characterised by struggles against the Vikings, one group of which had settled in what would later become England. A medieval source says Aethelred heard he was to be assassinated and this caused him to decide on the massacre. As in his decree, the physical evidence indicates those killed were also burned. The murdered men, according to the analysis, ate lots of seafood; part of the Viking diet but not common among inland Anglo-Saxons.
The action could indeed have been “Unraed”, that is, “Ill-Advised.” One of those killed might have been related to the Danish king, Svein I. Possibly inspired by revenge, or merely the spoils of war, Svein invaded England the following year (1003) and after much fighting, forced Aethelred into exile in Normandy.
Eventually, the Anglo-Saxons would defeat the Vikings, but were then conquered by the Normans of William the Conqueror in 1066. Out of these two peoples came a new nation, the English, speaking a tongue which is a mixture of Norman and Anglo-Saxon, but which contains many words of Viking origin, including place names, such as “Ingleby”, which means “English Town.”