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The Legacy of the Danes: A Look at the Impacts of Viking Conquest on England in the Late Ninth Century
By Bryce Kaiser
Senior Honors Thesis, Carroll College, 2012
Abstract: The aim of any historical research project is to explore the links between different aspects of history, from crime and retribution to commerce and exploration. More importantly than this, the true purpose of exploring these links is to understand the men and women who came before us, who established kingdoms, empires, companies, families, and ideas. Understanding these men and women is itself the reward. Some argue that to study the past is to find a way to avoid those mistakes. While this is possibility that some pursue, I would argue that understanding the past is a way for mankind to understand itself. To know how a kingdom developed helps to understand why the descendents of those people behave and believe they way they do now. It is from this perspective that I write this thesis. I seek to explore the impacts of the Danish Vikings upon King Alfred the Great and the Anglo-Saxon people of the ninth century Ano Domini and to understand how this conflict established the foundation for a unified England.
Introduction: Barbarian. Heathen. Vandal. Ruffian. Rapist. Pillager. Uncivilized brute. These terms are simply a sampling of the pool of words from which descriptions of the Vikings have been made. There is a certain amount of truth in every one of these descriptors, but they are far from a complete list detailing the culture of the Vikings. The presence of these “uncivilized barbarians” has been documented from evidence found from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Bagdad, Iraq to the eastern shores of Canada. With settlements on Greenland and Iceland long before the Age of Exploration in Europe, and the excavated ruins of their infamous Longboats found miles up rivers, far away from the coastlines, the Vikings were the first long-distance European travelers and explorers. It was this spirit of adventure that led them to the shores of England, where they shared their culture and civilization with the inhabitants of that island through warfare and trade.
The Vikings were men from the north coming from Denmark and Norway. As they traveled, they took with them their ancient deities and legends of Thor, Odin, and Freya. However, in the late ninth century several had begun to turn to what they viewed as the new and powerful God of the Christians. Regardless of their religious alignment, the Vikings retained much of their traditional values and beliefs all across the world, past the boundaries of the “known” world.