Journal of the Australian Early Medieval Association, Volume 3 (2007)
With the question of the probable size of ninth-century Viking armies remaining unresolved, this paper examines one of the primary impediments to fielding a large army: the availability of food. Perhaps the best documented Viking army of the century, the great army during its campaign in England, is the focus of this investigation. It is argued that historians have often ignored probable sources of food for the army, particularly the likelihood that food was regularly provided as part of peace treaties, and have consequently overstated the difficulty of maintaining a large army in hostile territory. Furthermore, the role that the kingdoms conquered by the great army and subsequently held on its behalf by puppet administrations may have played has also not been considered.
Despite some contemporary claims to the contrary, it has been argued that the Viking armies that operated in western Europe during the ninth century could not have numbered more than 1000 men. The greatest obstacle to keeping an army numbering more than a few hundred men in the field was feeding it, and it is this logistical problem that forms the basis of the small army theory. Peter Sawyer first made this observation almost half a century ago, and the theory has since been most fully developed by Carroll Gillmor, examining Viking activities in Francia. With the question over the size of the micel here (great army) that landed in East Anglia in late 865 unresolved, this paper will examine the opportunities that the leaders of the great army had of provisioning their troops.