The great Viking terror: how Norse warriors conquered the Anglo-Saxons

Until AD 865, Viking raiders' modus operandi in the British Isles was simple – they came, they saw, they plundered, and then they sped away back over the sea. But that year something changed. Small bands of looters evolved into a massive armed force and, worse still for their terrified victims, they had every intention of staying put. Julian D Richards and Dawn Hadley describe what happened when the 'Viking Great Army' arrived on English shores

Detail of a Viking helmet from grave one at Vendel, Uppland, Sweden. In the 860s and 870s, the Vikings would bring war to England’s four kingdoms on a massive scale. (Photo by CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images)

During the winter of AD 873–74, a Viking warrior met a gruesome death, probably in an attack on a Mercian royal shrine at Repton. He was a big man, almost 6 feet tall, and at least 35–45 years old. But in the shieldwall his head was vulnerable. He suffered a massive blow to the skull and, as he reeled from that, the point of a sword found the weak spot in his helmet – the eye slit in the visor, gouging out his eye, and penetrating the back of the eye socket, into his brain. While he lay on the ground, a second sword blow sliced into his upper thigh, between his legs, cutting into his femur and probably slicing away his genitals.

After the battle, the slain Viking warrior’s comrades buried him next to the Mercian shrine in what is now the parish church of St Wystan, where he lay for over a thousand years – until excavated by archaeologists.

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