British Gods: The Viking Invasion Part 2

4 April 2019

By Joe

This article is a continuation from the attack on Lindisfarne, the first place the Viking’s landed in Britain. However, over the next 300 years many other places were attacked by the heathens of Scandinavia. This period of history was one of turmoil for the English, and had lasting effects on British culture, geography and language.

What about Christmas?

Firstly, lets talk about Christmas. It’s commonly stated that Jesus’ birthday was moved to December in order to dissolve pagan solstice ceremonies. However, many other parts of the Christmas holiday were taken from pagans as well, and the Vikings were no exception. Christmas stockings came from part of the Viking ‘Yul’ ceremony (Adapted to ‘Yuletide’), where children would leave boots at the bottom of their beds for Odin to fill with fruits and nuts. (‘Yul’ also include the sacrifice of nine human lives, which is where we get the idea to argue about politics over Christmas dinner.)

From York to Rugby

Town and cities across Britain were named after the Vikings. If you live in a place with the suffix ‘-by’ (e.g. Rugby, Tenby), you live in an old Viking village. Also, ‘-thorpe’ and ‘-thwaith’ stem from Nordic place names. There are some which are less easy to spot though, like Swansea (meaning ‘Sweyn’s Sea’) and York (stemming from the old Norse ‘Eoforwic’, or ‘boar settlement’).

An image of York facing the York Minster from bridge

The reason York is called ‘Boar Settlement’ has origins in the legend of Ivar the Boneless. After the execution of his father, Ragnar, by Aelle of Northumbria, Ivar and his brothers sought revenge, amassing ‘The Great Heathen Army’, the largest invading force the Vikings ever assembled. Aelle, obviously stressed about the whole situation, sought for peace in exchange for anything the invaders wanted. Ivar accepted, only asking for enough land that can be covered by a boar’s hide. Aelle accepted this measly request and Ivar picked the boar. He then proceeded to cut the hide into fine strips, thin enough to surround York. He used the city as his stronghold and kept on attacking Aelle’s army.

Was Northumbria part of Denmark?

Northumbria became the first English Kingdom to fall under ‘the Danelaw’, a state of Denmark. Next to fall was East Anglia, after the execution on Edmund the Martyr by Ivar the Boneless. Ivar became the most feared man in Britain, even with his disability. Many historians say he had brittle bone disease and couldn’t walk, hence the moniker ‘Boneless’. This never hindered his reputation, which lasted until the Norman Conquest.

Ivar was said to have the power of prophecy, as his mother, Aslaug, was a seer. In his dying breath, Ivar said that if he was buried at the coast no one would be able to successfully invade England, and the settlements he spent his life building would be protected. This held true until 1066, when William the Conqueror dug up Ivar’s body, still intact after 200 years, and burned it. William was successful in his conquest, and the defeat of Harald Hardrada at Stamford Bridge marked the end of the Viking age.

However, Britain was forever marked. Words like ‘Knife’, ‘cake’, and ‘sky’ came from Old Norse, as well as four of days of the week (Tuesday-Friday). The effect of the Vikings was profound and permanent, which can be witnessed anywhere.

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