Wednesday, 25 January 2017
Medieval Warfare VII-7, Feb-Mar 2017
We're kicking the year off with a look at everyone's favorite raiders and pillagers: the Vikings. From their most famous battles, to a look at tactics, weapons and even recent archaeology that's shedding new light on Viking culture, this issue is packed with articles for every Viking fan. Off-topic offerings include an investigation of the Siege of Edessa (1144), a visit to Korea in 1123 and a look at ghost armies (spooky!) during the Middle Ages.
Theme: Peter Konieczny, "Why did the Vikings attack?"
At the dawn of the ninth century, communities throughout western Europe faced “sudden and unforeseen attacks of the Northmen.” Pirates and plunderers came from the sea and struck the unprotected, killing or capturing all those they could get their hands on. What made the Vikings explode out of Denmark and Norway around the year 800?
Reconstruction of the female weapon grave from Nordre Kjølen, Hedmark, Norway. Illustration by Miroslaw Kuzma.
Theme: Leszek Gardela, "Between myth and reality: Amazons of the Viking world"
In his history of the Heroic Age of Denmark, the chronicler Saxo Grammaticus included a remarkable passage about women who preferred “conflicts instead of kisses, tasted blood not lips”, and “sought the clash of arms rather than the arm’s embrace”. This account has long been regarded as a product of its author’s vivid imagination and as having no reflection in early medieval reality. Over the last decade, however, new studies on Old Norse literature and mythology, as well as recent (re)interpretations of archaeological finds, have added new pieces to the puzzle of whether, and in what sense, such “warrior women” may have existed in the Viking Age.
Theme: William E. Welsh, "Laying waste to everything: Viking tactics in West Francia"
The Danes who plundered West Francia in the ninth century owed their success to sturdy longships that allowed them to reach deep into the heart of the Carolingian kingdom via its major rivers. They initially avoided battle with the Franks, but when necessary they fought in close formation behind overlapping shields. In the middle part of the century, the Danes began wintering on islands in the major rivers. Their year-round presence in the region, coupled with their desire for greater prizes, increased the likelihood of battle.
Theme: Ann Christys, "'Ship after ship of the Majus': A Viking raid on Seville in 844"
In 844, Vikings attacked the coasts and rivers of what is now Spain and Portugal. Most memorable of all to later chroniclers were the ferocity of their brief occupation of Seville and the deeds of those who eventually expelled them.
Theme: Danielle Turner, "Brilliant warfare or pragmatic decision: The Viking Sieges of Paris"
Ninth-century France proved very lucrative for the Vikings. It was a land marred by civil war and bad harvests, and the Norsemen took advantage of this through raiding and mercenary acts. France’s riverine system and innovations in the Viking longship allowed the Danes to penetrate deep into the continent and make a fortune in plunder from monasteries. Paris would be the ultimate target, and the Vikings besieged the city twice and received tribute payment in both cases. Why were the Vikings able to continuously successfully pillage France? Were the Frankish rulers inept, cowardly, or just practical in their handling of Norse incursions?
Theme: Danielle Trynoski, "Curl up and sharpen your seaxe: Viking Winter Camps"
Archaeologists are making use of new tools to find and explore the physical evidence that Vikings left behind when they raided the British Isles. We are learning more about the camps they created, and how they were used for military purposes. The research is also revealing some interesting differences between what the Vikings were doing in England and in Ir eland.
Theme: Kay Smith and Ruth R. Brown, "The Viking axe"
Few weapons were so feared or as evocative as the axe used by the Vikings in their feuds and in battle, as well as on their raids throughout Europe in the eighth and ninth centuries and beyond. With its long shaft, wielded in both hands, its iron head and sharp edge, it was formidable indeed – cleaving heads and bodies at a single blow. But what was it really like?
Special: Peter Konieczny, "'Bravery and valor flourish here': Reporting on Korea in 1123"
When looking back at a past civilization, sometimes the most interesting sources come from outsiders. Their observations can provide insights and details that are taken for granted by the local inhabitants. Such was the case when a Chinese official visited Korea nine hundred years ago. His report gives us some fascinating observations about that country, including its military.
The Horseman of Death leading his army in a scene from the Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 90v.
Special: Scott G. Bruce, "Medieval armies of the dead"
We have long had a fascination with the dead. Just as we do today, medieval people told tales of corpses rising from graves, or of spirits haunting the world of the living. They include stories of ghostly armies on the march – but were they forces of good or evil?
The Siege: Michael S. Fulton, "Mining as a medieval siege tactic: The Siege of Edessa"
Much like how the common foot soldier is often outshone by the mounted knight, so too are miners often overlooked in favour of more visually impressive siege engines. Mining, however, was the most effective means of breaching fortified masonry throughout the medieval period. Even the counterweight trebuchet and subsequent early bombards were no match for a team of skilled sappers. In the middle of the twelfth century, Imad al-Din Zengi, lord of Mosul and Aleppo, brought the resources of northern Syria and the Jazira to bear against the Crusader city of Edessa. Employing a range of contemporary siege tactics, it would once again prove to be the picks of his humble miners that would deliver the city to him, and unknowingly spark the Second Crusade.
Movie knights: Murray Dahm, "Hollywood's favourite Viking: Ragnar Lodbrok"
Vikings on film is a rich and diverse genre. In fact, there are probably more ‘Viking’ films than almost any other kind of medieval film, and their numbers keep growing. One of these Norsemen who gets a lot of screen time is the legendary Ragnar Lodbrok.