The very word sent chills through the blood of any Anglo-Saxon, but in the Battle of Edington 878, it became a word of utmost horror with the Vikings intent on taking over the British Isles.

(Photo: Wikicommons)

They had systematically moved throughout the chief island, causing kingdom after kingdom to fall.

East Anglia, Northern Mercia, and Northumbria were all gone, and it looked as if the entire island would soon come under the sway of men who knew no mercy.

Only one man was left to stop them…Alfred the Great.

England, 886, after Alfred & Guthrum's Peace
England, 886, after Alfred & Guthrum’s Peace (Photo: Wikicommons)

The King of Wessex, Alfred knew the only way to stop the Viking scourge was to fight them. Payoffs, pleas, truces – they all meant nothing to the Vikings, who were well-known for their practice of “blood eagling” their opponents, where the back of the rib cage was cut open, and the lungs were pulled through the holes to create “wings.”

If Alfred didn’t stop these men, such a fate could very well await him as well. He fought a few well-fought battles against the Vikings, but in Christmas 877, the unthinkable happened.

Portrait of Alfred the Great by Samuel Woodforde (1763-1817)
Portrait of Alfred the Great by Samuel Woodforde (Photo: Wikicommons)

The Vikings, led by Guthrum, attacked in wintertime.

Alfred was in his winter fortress Chippenham then, and the slaughter was so extensive that only he and a handful of followers could escape into the nearby Somerset marshes.

All seemed lost

Yet Alfred did not despair. Instead, he sent out couriers throughout the region, gradually building himself an army.

The men he gathered knew what would happen if they failed. They had heard the stories and seen the bodies. Yet they also knew that to do nothing was only waiting for the same fate to reach them in their homes.

Alfred the Great at the Battle of Ashdown.
Alfred the Great at the Battle of Ashdown (Photo: Wikicommons)

It took courage to fight a Viking, and so it was not only men that Alfred was gathering…it was hearts.

When his numbers were sufficient, Alfred marched back to occupied Chippenham to wage war. It was time to stop the scourge.

The problem was that the Vikings were clearly superior fighters. Had they not been so, they never would have been able to gain so much ground.

Alfred pretending to be a wandering musician to gain intelligence from the Vikings
Alfred pretending to be a wandering musician to gain intelligence from the Vikings (Photo: Wikicommons)

Alfred was to fight with farmers and tradesmen against men whose only pastime was slaughter and theft. Sure, his men had courage, but it wouldn’t be enough unless they had tactics on their side as well.

But what if the Vikings could not find a target for their blades?

Battle of Edington
(Photo: BBC)

To accomplish this, Alfred had his men form an impenetrable shield wall somewhat akin to how the ancient Roman legionnaires would have used it.

From behind this safeguard, they would fight hand-to-hand against these seasoned warriors. The Vikings’ axes fell upon them, but the Anglo-Saxon sword cleaved the arms that wielded them.

Alfred and his warriors seized the field. The Vikings were driven back, and the south and western portions of modern-day England were safe from Guthrum and the men of his ilk.

Alfred the Great's statue at Winchester. Hamo Thornycroft's bronze statue erected in 1899.
Alfred the Great’s statue at Winchester. Hamo Thornycroft’s bronze statue erected in 1899. (Photo: Odejea via Wikicommons)

This is a new style of article for Pew Pew Tactical, if you liked it — let us know in the comments! If you didn’t enjoy it…well phooey. To catch up on previous Pictures from History, click on our Ammunition Category.

Tags: Battle of Edington 878, British Isles,Historical battles,Alfred the Great,Anglo-Saxons,Viking invasion

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