The Winter Camp of the Viking Great Army, AD 872-3, Torksey, Lincolnshire
By Dawn M. Hadley, Julian D. Richards, and others
The Antiquaries Journal, Volume 96, 2016
Introduction: From AD 865 to 879 a Viking army wreaked havoc on the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, leading to political conquest, settlement on a substantial scale and extensive Scandinavian cultural and linguistic inﬂuence in eastern and northern England. This critical period for English history was followed by revolutionary changes in land ownership, society and economy, including the growth of towns and industry, while transformations in power politics would ultimately see the rise of Wessex as the pre-eminent kingdom of Anglo-Saxon England.
Yet despite the pivotal role of the so-called Great Army (micel here) in these events, little is known of it; documentary sources provide few insights into its activities and intentions, and archaeological evidence has largely remained elusive. The size of the army and the scale of subsequent settlement have been disputed, but the debate about the impact of Scandinavian raiders and settlers is typically informed by evidence that has widely differing levels of chronological resolution and relates to diverse social, economic and political contexts; scholars have long struggled to integrate this evidence effectively.
This paper provides a fresh perspective on the Viking Great Army and its impact on Anglo-Saxon England, based on new tightly dated and contextualised evidence from Torksey. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us that in late AD 872 ‘the army went into Northumbria, and it took up winter quarters at Torksey, in Lindsey; and then the Mercians made peace with the army’. While it has long been assumed that this occurred in the vicinity of the present-day village of Torksey, on the River Trent c 14 km north west of Lincoln, only now has the site of the Viking winter camp been precisely located and its extent established.
Torksey offers a unique research opportunity as both the camp and the adjacent urban settlement that developed in the wake of the overwintering are unencumbered by later development. Hence from 2011 to 2015 we undertook an archaeological evaluation at Torksey as part of a wider research agenda to examine the impact of ninth-century Viking armies, to illuminate their scale, complexity and intentions, and to provide new insights into the relationship between raiding, political conquest and settlement.