Between the winter camps: Logistics of the Viking Great Army

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Our understanding of the winter camps used by the Viking Great Army in England between CE 865 and 878 has benefitted greatly from the discovery and excavation of the camps they used at Torksey (872–3), Repton (873–4), and possibly Aldwark (875–6). These excavations have greatly fleshed out the scanty written sources on winter camps and provided an insight into such things as positioning and defences, activities carried out in the camps, the size of the camps and, crucially for this paper, the number of likely inhabitants. The area covered by the camp at Torksey, fifty-five hectares, suggests that it could have accommodated between 1,500 and 5,000 inhabitants (Hadley & Richards 2016: 26, 59), which is clearly at odds with the notion that Viking armies numbered in the hundreds rather than thousands (Sawyer 1971: 125–129). An interesting aspect of the Torksey excavations was the range of activities taking place at the camp in the winter of 872–3. These include metal-working, woodworking and textile working, trading, and possible currency production. Crucially, there is some evidence for local Anglo-Saxon metal-workers, as well as women (Hadley & Richards 2016: 54–55, 57–58). This suggests that the number of people present in the winter camps does not necessarily represent the number of people in the Great Army, as once the army was established in a winter camp for a number of months they could have been joined by traders, crafts-people, and family members. Regardless of the total number of occupants that inhabited the camp, the Torksey winter camp suggests that the army numbered at least 1,000 warriors, meaning that a large number of warriors was traversing England when they were not in a winter camp. This raises a number of logistical questions about the Great Army: what mode of transport did they use? Which routes did they take? How far could they travel each day? Where did they stay when they were not in a winter camp? How much food was required during a journey and how did they acquire it? This paper intends on making a start on answering these questions.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication Viking Camps
Subtitle of host publicationCase Studies and Comparisons
EditorsCharlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, Irene Garcia Losquino
Place of PublicationAbingdon
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781003347682
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jul 2023

Publication series

NameRoutledge Archaeologies of the Viking World


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