By Clare Downham
Mediaeval Scandinavia, Vol. 19 (2009)
Introduction: Two papers have recently been published, with reference to Irish sources from the Viking-Age, challenging the identification of Dubgaill (‘Dark Foreigners’) with ‘Danes’ and Finngaill (‘Fair Foreigners’) with ‘Norwegians’. In this paper I seek to broaden the debate by suggesting that the categorisation of Insular-viking politics as a struggle between opposing Danish and Norwegian factions is similarly unhelpful. For example, the use of the term Dene in ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ can be regarded as similar to the use of the terms Dani and Nordmanni in Frankish chronicles: that is, as a general name for those of Scandinavian cultural identity rather than a label referring to people of one particular Scandinavian ethnicity.
I argue that the supposed animosity between ‘Hiberno-Norwegian’ and ‘Anglo- Danish’ factions in English politics before 954 is largely a historiographic invention and not a Viking-Age reality. The stereotypes applied to each of these so-called groups (the ‘Hiberno-Norwegians’ being generally seen as more violent, more heathen, and more chaotic than the ‘Anglo-Danes’) can also be called into question. If this argument holds true, then references to ‘Hiberno-Norwegians’ and ‘Anglo-Danes’ in modern narratives about Viking-Age England may merit some reconsideration.