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Viking Invasions: Battle of Maldon

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Battle of Maldon - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Maldon was fought on August 10, 991, during the Viking invasions of Britain.

Commanders

Saxon

  • Ealdorman Brihtnoth

    Vikings

  • Olaf Tryggvason or Svein Forkbeard
  • Battle of Maldon - Background:

    In the summer of 991, during the reign of Aethelred the Unready, Viking forces descended on the southeastern coast of England. Led by either King Svein Forkbeard of Denmark or the Norwegian Olaf Tryggvason, the Viking fleet consisted of 93 longboats and first struck at Folkestone before moving north to Sandwich. Landing, the Vikings sought to extort treasure and plunder from the local population. If refused, they burned and laid waste to the area. Ravaging the coast of Kent, they departed and sailed north to strike at Ipswich in Suffolk.

    Battle of Maldon - The Saxons Respond:

    Having looted Ipswich, the Vikings began moving south along the coast into Essex. Entering the River Blackwater (then known as the Pante), they turned their attention to raiding the town of Maldon. Alerted to the raiders approach, Ealdorman Brihtnoth, the king's leader in the region, began organizing the area's defenses. Calling out the fyrd (militia), Brihtnoth joined with his retainers and moved to block the Viking advance. It is believed the Vikings landed on Northey Island just to the east of Maldon. The island was connected to the mainland at low tide by a land bridge.

    Battle of Maldon - Seeking Battle:

    Arriving across from Northey Island at high tide, Brihtnoth entered into a shouted conversation with the Vikings in which he refused their demands for treasure. As the tide fell, his men moved to block the land bridge. Advancing, the Vikings tested the Saxon lines but were unable to break through. Deadlocked, the Viking leaders asked to be able to cross so that battle could be joined in full. Though he possessed a smaller force, Brihtnoth granted this request understanding that he needed a victory to protect the region from further raiding and that the Vikings would depart and strike elsewhere if he refused.

    Battle of Maldon - A Desperate Defense:

    Backing away from the causeway to the island, the Saxon army formed for battle and deployed behind a shield wall. As the Vikings advanced behind their own shield wall, the two sides exchanged arrows and spears. Coming into contact, the battle became hand-to-hand as the Vikings and Saxons attacked each other with swords and spears. After a protracted period of fighting, the Vikings began to focus their assault on Brihtnoth. This attack proved successful and the Saxon leader was struck down. With his death, the Saxon resolve began to waver and much of the fyrd began to flee into the nearby woods.

    Though bulk of the army had melted away, Brihtnoth's retainers continued the fight. Standing fast, they were slowly overwhelmed by the superior Viking numbers. Cut down, they succeeded in inflicting heavy losses on the enemy. Though having won a victory, Viking losses were such that they returned to their ships rather than press their advantage with an assault on Maldon.

    Battle of Maldon - Aftermath:

    Though the Battle of Maldon is better documented, through the poem The Battle of Maldon and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, than many of the engagements of this period, exact numbers for those engaged or lost are not known. The sources do indicate that both sides took substantial losses and that the Vikings found it difficult to man their ships after the battle. With England's defenses weak, Aethelred was advised by Archbishop Sigeric of Canterbury pay tribute the Vikings rather than continue an armed struggle. Agreeing, he made an offering of 10,000 pounds of silver which became the first in a series of Danegeld payments.

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