Shane H. McLeod (University of Tasmania)
The Australian Early Medieval Association: Volume 9 (2013)
The portrayal of the ‘Vikings’ as an archetypal barbarian ‘other,’ wreaking death and destruction wherever they went, was already current in the medieval period, but in England the depictions became more extreme in the centuries after the attacks. This paper will focus on the texts and archaeology of ninth- and tenth-century England and argue that in many respects Scandinavians were not as ‘other’ as later medieval writers believed. Furthermore, once Scandinavian groups settled in England the notion of ‘otherness’ appears to have quickly disappeared. Particular attention will be paid to the burial record as a means of identifying probable Scandinavians, and for evidence of acculturation to Anglo-Saxon Christian burial customs.
Of all of the European ‘barbarian’ groups, it is perhaps the Vikings who have the largest place in public consciousness. Indeed, this popular response is one of the reasons that the term ‘Viking’ is problematic and ‘Scandinavian’ is preferred in this paper. Although the portrayal of Scandinavian invaders and settlers has changed over the centuries, medieval sources did present Scandinavian groups as different to those who were being raided; in particular, emphasis was often placed on their non-Christian status. Yet as R.I. Page’s analysis of the English material made clear, the vitriolic language, including “that filthy race,” “pagans,” and “barbarians,” was usually written by medieval historians commenting on much earlier events and their accounts are often at odds with the reports found in the main historical source, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (hereafter ASC ).