Why are the Anglo-Saxons not considered Vikings?

The history of England in the reign of Alfred the Great (871-899)

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. Sources:

3. The first Viking incursions

4. Alfred the Great

5. The history of England in the reign of Alfred the Great

6. Alfred's cultural achievements

7. Conclusion

8. Bibliography:

1 Introduction

The following paper deals with the history of England during the reign of Alfred the Great from 871 to 899. This subject is inevitably quickly connected to the person of Alfred the Great and his defensive struggles of his Anglo-Saxon Empire against the Viking invasions. This late period of the early Middle Ages was mainly shaped by the Viking raids on the English islands and mainland Europe. Without a doubt, King Alfred the Great is an outstanding personality who, through his vehement defensive wars against the Vikings and through his military, political and cultural reforms, was the first English king to have a lasting impact on the history of the island.

Alfred is said to have marked a turning point in Anglo-Saxon history in many respects: the turning point in the Danish invasion, the culmination of the centuries-old trend towards political unification, and the first stage in the development of the English royal government. Alfred is said to have once described himself humbly as a person who works in a large forest to collect wood that others can use to build later. He is said to have alluded to his efforts regarding the intellectual revival of Anglo-Saxon England. But this metaphor also fits his military, administrative and political achievements. As Waren Hollister put it, Alfred as an architect of the English monarchy collected the wood and also provided the design that his descendants could work with to construct an enduring political structure.[1]

In the late Middle Ages, posterity honored King Alfred with the nickname "the Great". The justification for this arises not only from the military successes of Alfred, in which he repeatedly managed, with great effort, to drive the Scandinavian conquerors from his immediate territory, But beyond these military capabilities, Alfred's personality is attributed a statesmanlike dimension that hardly any of his predecessors should have achieved König wanted to strengthen the Anglo-Saxon community consciousness as a prerequisite for an overall English state consciousness.This cultural reform included, for example, the systematic collection, processing and reissuing of the traditional Anglo-Saxon tribal rights in order to create the basis for such a reform s to create awareness. There were also various other activities on a cultural level. Mention should be made at this point of the famous translations of late antique and early Anglo-Saxon works that were carried out at his court. By appointing high-ranking scholars to his court and by founding schools and monasteries and the associated general promotion of language, education and science, King Alfred is said to have given the impetus to a new cultural bloom in England, which not only made him a statesman, but also as a great teacher of his people.[2]

In the following chapters, these key aspects that made up the history of England under the reign of Alfred will be discussed. In order to clarify the understanding, the beginnings and the course of the Viking raids on the English islands will be mentioned, which finally reached into the reign of Alfred and influenced it significantly. As already mentioned, the main part of the housework deals with the history of England during the Alfred's reign and will go into more detail on King Alfred's reforms, resistance struggles and cultural achievements that shape the current perception of his epoch and make up his historical personality.

2. Sources:

The most popular sources on the history of England during the reign of Alfred the Great are the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the biography of Alfred, written by the Welsh monk Asser.

Asser, a Welsh monk and close confidante of Alfred, is said to have had the original Latin title in the ninth century Vita Ælfredi regis Angul Saxonum, in German The life of Alfred, King of the Anglo-Saxons ”. [3] King Alfred and Asser are said to have first met in Dean, Sussex, in 885. According to this, Asser is said to have agreed to spend six months a year with King Alfred in Wessex. Asser received the two monasteries in Congresbury and Banwell in Somerset (now Avon) from Alfred in 886. A few years later he is said to have given him responsibility for Exeter and Cornwall. According to his own statements, he was very much involved in the learning processes of Alfred's Latin studies and is also said to have been intensively involved in Alfred's plan to revive the sciences in England. Furthermore, Asser is said to have helped the king Regula Pastoralis, Studies on text, ecclesiastical significance and reception in the Carolingian era, to be translated into English by Pope Gregory the Great.[4] William of Malmesbury is also said to have reported that he also helped Boethius ’ Consolatio Philosophiae to translate. [5] Between 892 and 900 Asser was ordained Bishop of Sherborne. He is said to have died in 908 or 909. He most likely wrote Aser's biography of King Alfred in 893. The narrative part of the work is based on the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, to which Asser added much of his own knowledge of the king's rise, personality, family, and rule.[6]

Aser's biography was written in Latin. The authenticity of the biography is said to have been questioned many times. Asser is said to have exaggerated greatly in his stories. Nevertheless, Asser had succeeded in capturing and reproducing the spirit of King Alfred and that of the ninth century in every aspect. The only manuscript of the biography that is said to have survived into modern times was written in 1000 AD in an unknown location - probably in southern England. In the later possession of Sir Robert Cotton, the manuscript with the signature "Otho A. xii" was then destroyed in the library fire of 1731. The text could be reconstructed from two pieces of the Cotton Manuscript from the sixteenth century and from an edition by Matthew Parker (1574) and Francis Wise (1722). The fact that the manuscript was not widely known before the conquest is said to be due to the relatively slow development of the cult of King Alfred. It could, however, also stem from the fact that the biography was not initially intended for reproductions.[7]

The name of Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, is a term coherently found by modern scholars to denote a larger collection of annals which contain the basis of the greater part of our knowledge of Anglo-Saxon history. The original composition is believed to have been made at the court of King Alfred in the late ninth century. It is believed that the chroniclers' goal was to create a common view of history that might help bring peoples together to resist the Viking invasions in the early 890s. It goes without saying that the chroniclers were neither objective nor reliable in their reports. They always described the circumstances from their personal point of view in relation to the events.[8]

The fact that for the most part we only have an Anglo-Saxon view of the Viking Wars and the history of England during Alfred's reign is not entirely unproblematic. Even if it is not entirely certain whether the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was written under Alfred's sponsorship, it should, more than any other source, give us a more detailed look at him as king and his reign. Alfred is also said to have been the first English king whose will has survived. His legal text is said to be the first to survive in the original version. This reflects not only its administrative measures, but also its legislative ideals. Furthermore, there are still those works that are said to have been written or translated at Alfred's court.[9]

3. The first Viking incursions

Even if this was strongly influenced by this, the first Viking raids did not just begin at the time of Alfred's reign. As already mentioned in the introduction, the end of the early Middle Ages was very much shaped by the incursions and settlements of the peoples from the north. The Scandinavian impact on the British Isles did not begin with the first Viking invasions in the eighth century, nor should it have ended with the death of the last Danish king in 1042. Invaders and settlers from Denmark and Norway are said to have threatened the British Isles and mainland Europe as early as the fifth and sixth centuries. The threat of Danish invasions is said to have been present until 1085. Overall, the history of England is said to have been influenced by the Viking invasions for over ten generations. The raids by the Norwegian and Danish Normans, which are relevant for the period under consideration, began shortly before 800.[10]

The Viking migrations were not limited to the British Isles, but a pan-European phenomenon, which is said to have affected all coastal peoples from the North and Baltic Seas, across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. Under the term of the invading "Normans" the "men from the north" were generally understood. The term “Vikings” finds very different attempts at interpretation in research and it does not seem to be foreseeable that a common definition can be agreed in the near future. The interpretation of the meaning ranges from the term “Vikings” as Norwegian “people from Viken” to the explanation that the term, based on Old Norse language forms, is simply “fighter” (from vig = Fight, fighter).

There should be greater consensus about the origin of the Normans. They are assigned to the three Scandinavian countries Norway, Denmark and Sweden. The British archipelago was only visited by Norwegians and Danes, while the Swedish Vikings concentrated their activities on Eastern Europe, where it is known that they laid the foundation for the formation of the Russian Empire.

In research there are various explanations for the beginning of the Viking migration. From a modern point of view, the motive of economic hardship and scarcity of land is ruled out, since more recent archaeological investigations are said to have shown that in the 9th and 10th centuries, at the height of the Viking migrations, there was basically an abundance of accessible land in Scandinavia.[11] Even the assumption, which Warren Hollister advocates in his book, that the Norman incursions were a reaction to the Saxon Wars of Charlemagne, has meanwhile been rejected, as it has been proven that the first moves were made by Norwegians and not by the Danes actually affected. Overall, several attempts at explanation must be considered in a common overall context that led to the Viking campaigns. Thirst for adventure and the pursuit of prey is said to have most closely linked the men in their motifs.[12]

It is not supposed to be a coincidence that the peak of the Viking marches fell in the ninth and tenth centuries. For these far-traveling merchants did not seem to have hidden the relative weakness of Europe at that time, which was expressed in England in the struggle of the individual sub-empires against one another and on the continent in the disintegration of the Carolingian Empire.[13]


[1] C. W. Hollister, The Making of England - 55 B.C. to 1399, (University of California, Santa Barbara 1983), p. 57.

[2] K.-F. Warrior, History of England from its beginnings to the 15th century, (Munich, 2002) III, 65-66.

[3]Alfred the Great: Asser's "Life of King Alfred" and other contemporary sources, ed. S. Keynes, M. Lapidge, -transl. with an introd. and notes by S. Keynes, M. Lapidge (Harmondsworth, 1983)

[4]The regula pastoralis of Gregory the Great: Studies on the text, ecclesiastical significance and reception in the Carolingian era, S. Floryszczak (Tübingen 2005)

[5]Boethius Anicius Manlius Severinus: Boethius' consolation of philosophy, ed. E. B. Bax, transl. by G. Colville (London, 1907)

[6]"An Anglo-Saxon Chronicle from the British Museum, Cotton MS. Tiberius B iv.", eds. E. Classen ,. F.E. Harmer (Manchester, 1926)

[7] S. Keynes, The Blackwell Encyclopaedia, eds. M. Lapidge, J. Blair, S. Keynes, D. Scragg (Oxford, 1999), p. 48.

[8] S. Keynes, The Blackwell Encyclopaedia, eds. M. Lapidge, J. Blair, S. Keynes, D. Scragg (Oxford, 1999), pp. 35-36.

[9] J. Campbell, E. John, P. Wormald, The Anglo-Saxons, ed. James Campbell (1982) p. 134.

[10] P. E. Szarmach, M. T. Tavormina, J. T. Rosenthal, Medieval England - An Encyclopedia (New York & London 1998) p. 761.

[11] Warrior, History of England from its beginnings to the 15th century, P. 57.

[12] Hollister, The Making of England - 55 B.C. to 1399, P. 48.

[13] Warrior, History of England from its beginnings to the 15th century, P. 58.

End of the reading sample from 18 pages