From the Vikings to WWII, the Danevirke Wall Has Seen it All

From the Vikings to WWII, the Danevirke Wall Has Seen it All

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All through classical history, imposing and long walls, ramparts, and fortifications played a significant role in securing the borders of nations and kingdoms from all sorts of incursions and attacks. Some of the best examples are left to us by the ancient Romans, with their majestic limes fortifications of Europe, and the Antonine and Hadrian’s Wall in Scotland. Then there is the famous inspiring Great Wall of China , the likes of which were never replicated again.

But no matter where they were, these fortified walls and ramparts were always a great achievement. They required a lot of manpower, took a long time to erect, and were costly. But all of that was worth it - for such a wall could help guard a great area of land, making for an effective and immovable border. One such system of walled fortifications is known as the Danevirke, a lesser known, but equally important historical system of earth wall ramparts built by the Danes on the southern end of the Jutland Peninsula. Join us as we explore the complex history behind this important border!

The Earliest Traces of Danevirke in the Nordic Iron Age

The Danevirke, in Old Norse known as Danavirki, and in German as Danewerk, is today located not in Denmark, but in Germany, in the state of Schleswig-Holstein. It is believed that the earliest forms of a linear walled fortification across the neck of the Jutland Peninsula began sometime prior to 500 AD, in the Nordic Iron Age.

Afterwards it was gradually expanded and built upon, most actively during the Danish Viking Age, around 800 AD and onwards. These walls stretch across the peninsula and measure around 30 kilometers (19 mi). Important to note is that they are mostly in sections, and that the inhospitable terrain of the Jutland Peninsula provides the additional safety against incursions.

Shot of the Danevirke in the modern day. (Image: Willi Kramer / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE )

During the early 1970s, extensive archaeological research, centered on the methods of dendrochronology, which based the age of the wall on tree rings - came to a conclusion that the Danevirke was for the most part, built in three separate stages, from 747 to 968 AD. Furthermore, complex radiocarbon dating concluded that the earliest layers of the ramparts predate 500 AD, suggesting a much earlier origin.

One interesting theory that concerns Danevirke is its original purpose. Some scientists agree that the early role of this wall was not military, but rather economical. It is speculated that the wall was initially a system of dykes and canals, a shipping shortcut between the North Sea and the Baltic. As such, it consisted of a canal with two raised embankments on each side, which would make it naturally easy to transform into a series of raised ramparts. A big clue to this aspect is its original name, coming from the Middle Danish language - Danaewirchi - “The Dyke of the Danes”.

As mentioned, the total length of the Danevirke system is 30 kilometers (19 mi). It consists of two major defense lines, the Danevirke and the Kovirke. The Danevirke is centered around its main, central portion, and the rest resulted from successive building and improvement. These ramparts defended the passable lowland portion of Jutland between the Firth of Schlei on its east side, and the River Treene on its west side.

The Danevirke (shown in red) on the 16th-century Carta Marina by Olaus Magnus, published in 1539.

The Kovirke on the other hand, was created as a single straight line across a flat plain. Its ramparts are 8 meters wide (26 ft) and 2 meters high (7 ft), with a frontal triangular ditch. It is believed that this was built by Harald Bluetooth .

The main, older system of ramparts, the Danevirke, is comprised of about 6 distinct portions. These are often classified simply as Danevirke 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, but each one has its own historical, regional names. The main Danevirke mentioned above consists of Holdvolden, Nordvolden, and Østervolden, i.e. the Main, North, and East Ramparts.

In its basic role, all of these walls combined served as a defense against incursions into Denmark from the Jutland Peninsula, and stretched from the Viking trading city of Hedeby on the Baltic, all the way to the untraversable marshlands on the west side. But who was on the other side of the Danevirke, and who was it that they wanted to keep out?

Shot of Danevirke 6 – ‘The Valdemar-wall’. (Szilas / CC0)

Keeping the Slavs and Saxons at Bay

To answer this question we need to take a good look at the history of this area of South Jutland, also known as Holstein. While Hedeby was indeed an important and large Viking trading center, it was also the southernmost of the Danish settlements, and south of it were the Saxons and the Slavs.

For centuries, the Slavic tribes inhabited the entire expanse of Central Europe, from the Baltic coasts, to the Elbe valleys, and all the way up to the lower Jutland Peninsula. Directly next opposite to them were the boundaries of the Saxons, with whom the Danes had a lasting conflict.

Depiction of Viking army in battle. (Peter Nicolai Arbo / )

To stop the incursions of the Saxons and the expanse of the many Slavic tribes, the Danes had to find an effective means of securing their borders, and they accomplished this with the use of this ingenious system of ramparts. And even though Hedeby was destroyed in 1066 by the Slavic tribes, and abandoned, the Danevirke wall fortifications remained as a guard of the borders and stayed in use well after it. And that shows us just how important a wall fortification can be in war time.

During the mid 1800s, Europe saw the emergence of national states, and this meant that the lower Jutland region, known as Schleswig (Schleswig-Holstein), became a center of attention for both the German and Danish peoples. The area was long contested between the two nations, with both appropriating it as part of their own sense of identity, with the Slavic tribes being expelled long ago and assimilated from their hearths.

Culturally and linguistically, the Danevirke still acted as a boundary between the two nations, in a way. Just south of it are Kiel and Lübeck, which were two important German towns of the Hanseatic League. But for the Danish people, lower Jutland was still a part of their own nation.

Danish soldiers return home to Copenhagen after the First Schleswig War. (Otto Bache / )

This rising tension escalated with two conflicts between Germany and Denmark, known as the First Schleswig War (1848-1851), and the Second Schleswig War (1864). This was the last military use of the Danevirke. And even then, it once again became an important site for the Danish nation, symbolizing their age-old boundary against Germany, and a unique symbol of their identity.

The Second Schleswig War and the Revival of the Ancient Wall

The Second Schleswig War of 1864 played a crucial role in the future of the Danevirke. During that decade from the onset of the First Schleswig war in 1848, the eyes of the entire Danish nation were focused on Danevirke. Besides being a strong national symbol, it was also the expected focal point of the war. The Danish military expected the brunt of the German attack to descend on the ramparts, and the chief battle to take place along it.

Danish soldiers in battle during the Second Schleswig War. (Vilhelm Rosenstand / )

After centuries of disuse, the Danevirke was somewhat “out of shape”, and required some additional work. The military of Denmark restored the weak parts, reinforced the ramparts and strengthened the key points. They also installed artillery positions on it – all in preparation of the coming attack. But when the Second Schleswig War started, the initial skirmishes were led south of the wall. What happened next took the Danish public by surprise, and the potentials of Danevirke were lost.

It was a full retreat, ordered by the Sephardic Supreme Commander of the Danish army, Christian Julius de Meza. Suspecting a major threat of a flanking maneuver by the Germans, De Meza ordered a retreat behind the Danevirke wall and to the north, abandoning the fortifications and the artillery in the process. This abandonment of such an effective defensive position, which was at the time relied upon by the entire Danish nation, came as a great shock to the public and the government. Julius de Meza was immediately relieved of his duties, and after this, the Danevirke was never again in Danish territory, and to this day remains in Germany. Still today, historians fiercely debate the decisions of de Meza.

Sephardic Supreme Commander of the Danish army Second Schleswig War, Christian Julius de Meza. (August Schiøtt / )

Even though 1864 saw the last actual military use of the Danevirke wall, there was another chance of it seeing conflict and showing its military worth – and that was the Second World War. Even though the north of Germany and Denmark were somewhat exempt to the ravages of war, the German High Command still suspected an allied assault from the north, through Denmark. Thus they came up with an idea to utilize the ancient Danevirke walls as a means to hinder such an invasion, by reinforcing it and converting it into an anti-tank barrier. This was to be done by the Wehrmacht, and such an undertaking would surely destroy the Danevirke, or irreversibly change it from the original, ancient form.

The news of this came to the Danish archaeologist, Mr. Søren Telling, who simply couldn’t bear to see this ancient monument ruined. So, since all archaeological excavations in wartime Germany were under the direct jurisdiction of the SS, Mr. Telling decided to telephone the head of the archaeological department of the SS – known as “ Amt für Ahnenerbe ” ("Office for Ancestral Heritage"), and then even Heinrich Himmler himself.

The Danish archaeologist presented strong points, and pleaded against the creation of the barriers, telling Himmler that in the process an important heritage of the Aryan Civilization would be lost. Heinrich Himmler understood the situation and accepted to cancel the constructions, and leave Danevirke in peace. Since his command ruled over that of Wehrmacht, he ordered the immediate canceling of all operations related to Danevirke. Mr. Telling remained a custodian of this historic site well after the war and until his death in 1968.

The Land of Walls

Danevirke is not the only fortified wall of its kind in Europe. Throughout history, many nations found walls and high ramparts as the only effective means of withstanding a large attack, especially during the Iron Age . The Slavs of Central Europe and Polabia – today’s Germany – were well known for erecting massive ramparts and earth work walls, some of which took many men to raise. Many such walls and circular enclosures dot the German countryside today, still resisting the passage of time.

An important example akin to Danevirke are the Silesian Walls (Wały Śląskie), which can be found in Southern Poland, in area known as Lower Silesia. These parallel walls and ramparts were erected in the 15 th century or before, and run for 30 kilometers (19 mi), between the important towns of Szprotawa and Kożuchów. They are 2.5 meters (8.2 ft) tall and 47 meters (154 ft) at the widest point. They are believed to have been an important border of the historic Duchy of Głogów.

Another very important ancient earthen wall is the well-known Offa’s Dyke ( Clawdd Offa in Welsh), that follows roughly the modern border between England and Wales. At the time of its construction and later, it signified the border between the Anglian Mercia, and Welsh Kingdom of Powys. It is widely believed that the original construction was ordered by the Anglo-Saxon King Offa, who ruled as King of Mercia from 757 to 796 AD.

Part of Offa’s Dyke near to the English-Welsh border. (ultraBobban / CC BY-NC 2.0 )

This immensely important historical earth wall is one of the great achievements of early medieval Europe, and its length is an astonishing accomplishment – it runs for roughly 240 kilometers (150 miles)! And it also shows us that earth work walls and defensive ramparts such as the Danevirke, were certainly a popular and effective means of defending borders, and were favored by many European rulers.

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The Watchers on the Wall
The Danevirke walls remain a crucial insight into the intriguing history of the Jutland Peninsula and Schleswig-Holstein, being a telltale sign of its varied history and many nations that came to call it home. And though it is considered a part of Danish heritage and identity, a lasting remnant of their proud Viking history, today the Danevirke is sadly in German territory. What remains to be seen is how these earthen walls and ramparts will face the test of time, and how archaeologists can further piece together the puzzle of its origins, creation, and original purpose. Time will tell!

Danish Viking fortresses were designed to fend off other Vikings

Four years ago, my colleague Nanna Holm from the Museum Southeast Denmark and I, announced our new discovery: A Viking fortress, known as Borgring, in Lellinge, not far from the Danish capital, Copenhagen.

The news travelled around the world, and since then our excavations have continued to cast new light on the Viking Age.

Thousands of visitors have flocked to the site, which has been open each summer as a living museum. But if you want to visit then you will need to be quick, as this summer will probably be the last year of excavations at Borgring.

Here are some of the most important and surprising discoveries made during the excavations. These finds not only tell us about the history of the fortress, but also about the purpose of these unique, ring fortresses.

A &ldquonew&rdquo ring fortress?

Borgring is one of five, large ring fortresses from the Viking Age in Denmark. Each of the large fortresses were constructed in a perfect circle and are some of the best known monuments left by the Vikings.

The other fortresses include Trelleborg, Fyrkat, Nonnebakken, and Aggersborg, as well as Borgeby in Southern Sweden. All were built by King Harold Bluetooth who reigned between circa 958 and 987 CE and is best known in Denmark for erecting the Jelling Stone&mdasha large stone with the first written reference to the name &ldquoDenmark,&rdquo often referred to as Denmark&rsquos birth certificate.

It had been 60 years since archaeologists had discovered such a ring fortress in Denmark when we finally found Borgring. Many doubted that it was indeed a Viking fortress, while others claimed that the fortress had been known about for some time.

Locals remember an officer from the Danish Air force spotting the outline of the fortress in 1970, in aerial photos. He contacted the National Museum of Denmark who investigated the site and concluded that there were no Viking remains. People thus knew about the old earthworks in a field north of Lellinge, but archaeologists did not connect it to Harold Bluetooth&rsquos fortresses.

Discoveries started to turn up

But the critics came around, as the results of the excavations started coming in.

Among the most important results, which ScienceNordic has previously written about, are.

  1. Carbon-14 dating, which placed the fortress in the early 900s.
  2. Later discoveries of a Viking toolbox, buildings, ceramics, and beads and jewellery, indicating activities in the fortress.

In May 2018, Aarhus University together with the Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces, held a conference on the Danish Viking Age ring fortresses, which are to be nominated as UNESCO world heritage sites. It was clear that even the researchers who had been sceptical, were no longer in any doubt that Borgring was one of Harold Bluetooth&rsquos fortresses.

A network of fortresses

Since 2016, scientists from Museum Southeast Denmark, the National Museum of Denmark, and Aarhus University, Denmark, have excavated the site, with funding from the A.P. Møller Foundation and Køge Municipality.

We&rsquove learnt a lot about the fortress&rsquos history, but also about the Viking fortresses in general.

The fortresses are impressive enough on their own. But the most unique aspect is that they were constructed as a coordinated project&mdasha network of fortresses across the country.

Many have tried to explain what purpose the network of fortifications served. Here, it&rsquos important to ask the right questions, as the challenge is to find an explanation that best accounts for everything that we know about these fortresses.

Big fortifications, short lifespan

The ring fortresses only existed for a short part of the Viking Age.

Two of the best dated fortresses, Fyrkat and Trelleborg, look to have been established between 974 and 981, and finds from the other fortresses suggest a similar date.

No other large fortifications existed in Denmark in the rest of the Viking Age, from the end of the 700s up to 1000s, except for city walls in Hedeby (in modern day Germany), Ribe, and Aarhus.

Chieftains and kings built large halls and farms, but not fortresses.

Four hypotheses for the Viking fortresses

Why did Harold Bluetooth build five fortresses in the 970s?

This is the central question that has bothered Viking researchers since the fortresses were first discovered. So far, four main hypotheses have been floated:

  1. Training camps for the Viking army that conquered England around the time of Sweyn Forkbeard. This hypothesis was shelved in the 80s, when tree-ring dating revealed that Trelleborg and Fyrkat fortresses were built and used decades before the large attack on England.
  2. Fortified centres of royal control built by Harold Bluetooth to subdue the population in the newly united Denmark: This was the dominant hypothesis for many years, but the dates again did not fit. Why would Bluetooth build the fortresses in the later part of his reign, long after he became king around 958 CE, and long after he declared Denmark a Christian country in 963 CE?
  3. Military bases during the fight between Bluetooth and his son, Sweyn Forkbeard: Bluetooth&rsquos son rebelled against his father, but if the fortresses were built around 975, this rebellion must have lasted more than a decade across the entire country. Again, it didn&rsquot fit.
  4. A result of an extraordinary foreign policy situation: Early in Bluetooth&rsquos reign, a new power was growing from central Europe under King Otto I, who was crowned emperor in 962. Otto&rsquos growing power was probably a crucial factor in Harold Bluetooth&rsquos conversion to Christianity, to avoid becoming Otto&rsquos next target. Many researchers have come to the conclusion, that it was the unique set of challenges posed by this situation that led Harold Bluetooth to construct the fortresses. Let me explain why.
A network to defend against Viking attacks

Otto I died in 973 and was succeeded by his son, Otto II who attacked Danevirke (in what is modern day Germany), upping the threat to Harold Bluetooth&rsquos Denmark, which remained a target for war until Otto II&rsquos death in 983.

These events coincide precisely with activity at the fortresses, and can explain the need for such unusual fortifications.

But a mystery remains: If the threat was from Germany, why were they built so far from the Danish-German border, on the island of Fyn and Zealand, and Skåne in southern Sweden?

In 2014 I put forward another version of this &ldquoinvasion theory,&rdquo together with my colleague Else Roesdahl. We suggested that the acute danger probably came from Otto II, which explained the timing of the fortress construction.

But another factor can explain the distribution of fortresses around the country: The threat from the south left Harold Bluetooth exposed to other threats from elsewhere, specifically from Norway and Sweden, who might try to exploit the king&rsquos weak position.

And so fortresses were established right across the kingdom. They was a coastal defence: Rather than being Viking fortresses, they were actually &ldquoanti-Viking&rdquo fortresses.

A new theory

It was this hypothesis that led us to discover Borgring.

It suggested that Harold Bluetooth must also have had a fortress to protect the east coast of the country, which turned out to be the case.

What we couldn&rsquot explain was, how exactly the fortresses were used as a defence. And this is where the discoveries made at Borgring can shed some new light.

With this in mind, we can propose a new explanation for the fortresses, and a more direct connection between Harold Bluetooth&rsquos fight on the southern borders and his need for coastal defences in the rest of the country.

Built in a hurry

The excavations at Borgring have revealed a fortress built to the same design as Trelleborg and the other ring fortresses. We also see that the fortifications were well planned and completed swiftly.

The landscape was levelled, and the walls were built in a precise circle, with gently sloping sides inside the fortress. The interior is divided into even sections, with four wooden gates placed at exactly 90 degrees to each other.

There&rsquos no sign of repairs or extensions to the walls, there are only feeble traces of wooden constructions, which could have supported a high wall, and unlike Trelleborg, Fyrkat, and Aggersborg, there are no signs of construction in the interior of the fortress.

But there are traces of a damaging fire in numerous places around the fortress, and deep wheel tracks that suggest long-term use by traffic coming in and out.

A fortress for refugees

How can we explain these features? It is possible that the construction was interrupted prematurely, but in this case we might have expected to see more clear traces of the building process, and we wouldn&rsquot expect to see any later activity.

The wheel tracks suggest that Borgring was sufficiently ready for use, even without the construction of actual buildings or dwellings inside.

Looking at the excavation drawings from Trelleborg made in the 1930s, we see that the fortress walls were built up numerous times, with the oldest phase most similar to the walls at Borgring.

And Borgring is not alone: One of the other fortresses, Nonnebakken, does not appear to have any interior buildings either. This suggests, that the primary function of the fortresses was not to house a permanent settlement, but to allow people to flee there for short periods of time.

This function as a place for refugees to seek shelter, points to a new and stronger connection between the fortresses and Harold Bluetooth&rsquos was against Otto II.

Fortresses sent warriors to the southern border

The war with the south meant that Harold needed to call up reinforcements from all of the supporting chieftains to gather warriors along the southern border.

Such an operation was described in the Skaldic poem Vellakla, written as a praise poem to the Norwegian Earl Hakon, a contemporary of Harald Bluetooth. According to the poem, Hakon was summoned to assist Harald&rsquos fighting at the Danevirke.

This left over parts of the country without the warriors who would usually defend them and entirely unprotected. In order to win the war with the south, Bluetooth had to offer some other form of protection to these areas, hence the fortresses.

Placed on top of a fortified wall, it was possible for a poorly armed and untrained person, man or woman, to fight off a well-trained warrior.

If enough people sought refuge in the fortress, then the attackers were unlikely to take it. They could initiate a siege, but time would be against them.

A successful strategy

The fortresses offered protection to locals, in the absence of the warriors who had be called up to protect the south. This allowed locals to withstand Viking attacks, and provided Harold Bluetooth with a mobile army that he could deploy to the German border.

The fortresses were intended to deter potential attackers, by allowing the local population to seek shelter and defend themselves.

Seen this way, the fortresses are no longer a mystery. In fact, they successfully fulfilled their mission.

Harold Bluetooth strengthened his power base

Constructing the ring fortresses, allowed Harold to consolidate his power throughout the kingdom in a way that no other king of Denmark had done before.

The large buildings of Trelleborg suggest that some of the fortresses came in due time to take on a more active role as settlements or perhaps winter camps for warriors. But first and foremost, this network of fortresses allowed the king to exploit his chief military assets, warriors, more effectively.

These warriors did not man the fortresses, which were, on the contrary, a means of protecting the portion of the population who were not warriors. This was a decisive countermeasure that allowed Harold to defend and win the war in another part of the kingdom.

Excavations at Borgring have revealed new pieces of the puzzle to understand all of Harold Bluetooth&rsquos fortresses.

You can still catch a glimpse of the excavations of the walls and west gate, before this little piece of Viking Age Denmark will be covered by soil and grass once more.

Trelleborg, Sweden

30 years ago, archaeologists in the southern Swedish town of Trelleborg discovered the traces of a massive Viking castle: 125 metres in diameter, crossed by four roads and surrounded by high palisade walls. The circular fortress was built for the Viking king Sweyn Forkbeard, son of Harald Bluetooth.

On the trail of the Vikings in Europe

Charlemagne, also known as Charles the Great or Charles I was the great king of the Frankish empire. He is thought to be born in the 740’s, most probably in 747 AD. Historians suggest that he was born in either Aachen (in modern day Germany) or in Liege (in present day Belgium). He is known for uniting most of Western Europe and laying the foundations for modern Germany and France. He became the king of the Franks in 768 AD and of Italy in 774 AD. Charlemagne was the first recognized Roman Emperor in Western Europe after almost 300 years from the fall and collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Charlemagne spent his life, expanding his kingdom in all directions. He fought and conquered Italy defeating the Lombard’s, he fought against the Saxons, the Vikings (Saxons and Vikings are difficult to differentiate), the Hungarian Avers, the Baltic Slavs, the Hispanic Moors and almost every European race he had knowledge of.

Massacre of Verden by Army of Charlemagne

Odoacer and the Fall of Rome

Odoacer was a Germanic soldier in the Roman army who deposed emperor Augustulus and became the first King of Italy, marking the end of the Western Roman Empire, the fall of ancient Rome, and the beginning of the Middle Ages in Western Europe.

Learning Objectives

Describe Odoacer’s rise to power

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Odoacer was a Germanic soldier in the Roman army who in 476 became the first King of Italy.
  • At the time, Rome used many mercenary armies from other nations, called foederati, who with the rise of Emperor Augustulus became frustrated by their treatment and status. These armies, led by Odoacer, revolted against Emperor Augustulus and deposed him in 476, and granted Odoacer kingship.
  • Odoacer cooperated with the existing Roman Senate and elevated them to prestige, thereby stabilizing his power in Italy.
  • As Odoacer’s position improved, Zeno, the Eastern Emperor, increasingly saw him as a rival, and in response pitted the Ostrogoth Theoderic the Great against him Theoderic proved victor against Odoacer repeatedly and eventually killed him in 493.

Key Terms

  • Western Roman Empire: The western provinces of the Roman Empire at any one time during which they were administered by a separate independent imperial court, coequal with (or only nominally subordinate to) that administering the eastern provinces.
  • foederati: Any one of several outlying nations to which ancient Rome provided benefits in exchange for military assistance. The term was also used, especially under the Roman Empire, for groups of “barbarian” mercenaries of various sizes, who were typically allowed to settle within the Empire.
  • Romulus Augustulus: An emperor of the Western Roman Empire from 475–476 AD his deposition by Odoacer traditionally marks the end of the Western Roman Empire, the fall of ancient Rome, and the beginning of the Middle Ages in Western Europe.
  • Arian Christian: A Christian sect that asserts that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who was created by God the Father at a point in time, is distinct from the Father, and is therefore subordinate to the Father.


Flavius Odoacer (433–493) was a soldier, probably of Scirian descent, who in 476 became the first King of Italy (476–493). His reign is commonly seen as marking the end of the Western Roman Empire. Though the real power in Italy was in his hands, he represented himself as the client of Julius Nepos and, after Nepos’s death in 480, of the Emperor in Constantinople. Odoacer generally used the Roman honorific patrician, granted by the Emperor Zeno, but is referred to as a king (Latin rex) in many documents. He used the term “rex” himself at least once, and on another occasion it was used by the consul Basilius. Odoacer introduced few important changes into the administrative system of Italy. He had the support of the Roman Senate and was able to distribute land to his followers without much opposition. Unrest among his warriors led to violence in 477–478, but no such disturbances occurred during the later period of his reign. Although Odoacer was an Arian Christian, he rarely intervened in the affairs of the orthodox and trinitarian state church of the Roman Empire.

Coin of Odoacer: Coin of Odoacer, Ravenna, 477, with Odoacer in profile, depicted with a “barbarian” moustache.

Rise to Power

Odoacer was a military leader in Italy who led the revolt of Herulian, Rugian, and Scirian soldiers that deposed Romulus Augustulus on September 4, 476. Augustulus had been declared Western Roman Emperor by his father, the rebellious general of the army in Italy, less than a year before, but had been unable to gain allegiance or recognition beyond central Italy.

In 475 a Roman general named Orestes was appointed Magister militum and patrician by the Western Roman Emperor Julius Nepos and became head of the Germanic foederati (barbarian mercenary armies for Rome). However, Orestes proved to be ambitious, and before the end of that year drove Nepos from Italy. Orestes then proclaimed his young son Romulus the new emperor, Romulus Augustulus. However, Nepos reorganized his court in Salona, Dalmatia, and received homage and affirmation from the remaining fragments of the Western Empire beyond Italy and, most importantly, from Constantinople, which refused to accept Augustulus and branded him and his father traitors and usurpers.

At around this time, the foederati, who had been quartered on the Italians all of these years, had grown weary of this arrangement. In the words of J. B. Bury, “They desired to have roof-trees and lands of their own, and they petitioned Orestes to reward them for their services, by granting them lands and settling them permanently in Italy.” Orestes refused their petition, and they turned to Odoacer to lead a revolt against Orestes. Orestes was killed at Placentia, and his brother Paulus killed outside Ravenna. The Germanic foederati, the Scirians, and the Heruli, as well as a large segment of the Italic Roman army, then proclaimed Odoacer rex Italiae (“king of Italy”). In 476 Odoacer advanced to Ravenna and captured the city, compelling the young emperor Romulus to abdicate on September 4. According to the Anonymus Valesianus, Odoacer was moved by Romulus’s youth and beauty to not only spare his life, but also to give him a pension of 6,000 solidii and send him to Campania to live with his relatives.

Romulus Augustulus and Odoacer: Romulus Augustulus resigns the crown (from a 19th-century illustration)

King of Italy

In 476, Odoacer became the first barbarian King of Italy, initiating a new era. With the backing of the Roman Senate, Odoacer thenceforth ruled Italy autonomously, paying lip service to the authority of Julius Nepos, the last Western emperor, and Zeno, the emperor of the East. Upon Nepos’s murder in 480, Odoacer invaded Dalmatia to punish the murderers. He did so, executing the conspirators, but within two years also conquered the region and incorporated it into his domain.

As J.B. Bury points out, “It is highly important to observe that Odovacar established his political power with the co-operation of the Roman Senate, and this body seems to have given him their loyal support throughout his reign, so far as our meagre sources permit us to draw inferences.” He regularly nominated members of the Senate to the Consulate and other prestigious offices: “Basilius, Decius, Venantius, and Manlius Boethius held the consulship and were either Prefects of Rome or Praetorian Prefects Symmachus and Sividius were consuls and Prefects of Rome another senator of old family, Cassiodorus, was appointed a minister of finance.” A. H. M. Jones also notes that under Odoacer the Senate acquired “enhanced prestige and influence” in order to counter any desires for restoration of Imperial rule. As the most tangible example of this renewed prestige, for the first time since the mid-3rd century copper coins were issued with the legend S(enatus) C(onsulto).

Fall and Death

As Odoacer’s position improved, Zeno, the Eastern Emperor, increasingly saw him as a rival. When Illus, master of soldiers of the Eastern Empire, asked for Odoacer’s help in 484 in his struggle to depose Zeno, Odoacer invaded Zeno’s westernmost provinces. Zeno responded first by inciting the Rugi of present-day Austria to attack Italy. During the winter of 487–488 Odoacer crossed the Danube and defeated the Rugi in their own territory. In his quest to destroy Odoacer, Zeno promised Theoderic the Great and his Ostrogoths the Italian peninsula if they were to defeat and remove Odoacer from power. In 489, Theoderic led the Ostrogoths across the Julian Alps and into Italy. On August 28, Odoacer met him at the Isonzo, only to be defeated. He withdrew to Verona, reaching its outskirts on September 27, where he immediately set up a fortified camp. Theoderic followed him and three days later defeated him again. While Odoacer took refuge in Ravenna, Theoderic continued across Italy to Mediolanum, where the majority of Odoacer’s army, including his chief general, Tufa, surrendered to the Ostrogothic king.

The following summer, the Visigothic king Alaric II demonstrated what Wolfram calls “one of the rare displays of Gothic solidarity” and sent military aid to help his kinsman, forcing Odoacer to raise his siege. On August 11, 490, the armies of the two kings clashed on the Adda River. Odoacer was again defeated and forced back into Ravenna, where Theoderic besieged him. Ravenna proved to be invulnerable, surrounded by marshes and estuaries and easily supplied by small boats from its hinterlands, as Procopius later pointed out in his History.

By this time, Odoacer had to have lost all hope of victory. A large-scale sortie out of Ravenna on the night of the 9/10 of July, 491, ended in failure with the death of his commander-in-chief, Livilia, along with the best of his Herulian soldiers. On August 29, 492, the Goths were about to assemble enough ships at Rimini to set up an effective blockade of Ravenna. Despite these decisive losses, the war dragged on until February 25, 493, when John, bishop of Ravenna, was able to negotiate a treaty between Theoderic and Odoacer that provided for them to occupy Ravenna together and rule jointly. After a three-year siege, Theoderic entered the city on March 5. Odoacer was dead ten days later, slain by Theoderic while they shared a meal. Theoderic had plotted to have a group of his followers kill Odoacer while the two kings were feasting together in the imperial palace of Honorius “Ad Laurentum” (“At the Laurel Grove”) when this plan went astray, Theoderic drew his sword and struck Odoacer on the collarbone. In response to Odoacer’s dying question, “Where is God?” Theoderic cried, “This is what you did to my friends.” Theoderic was said to have stood over the body of his dead rival and exclaim, “There certainly wasn’t a bone in this wretched fellow.”

From the Vikings to WWII, the Danevirke Wall Has Seen it All - History

Perhaps the most popular aspect of the Viking Age is the military one. Whether it be the battle of Maldon, or the Viking raids on England, the Siege of Paris or the military camps in Denmark, there is always interest in the violent side of Viking life. The seafaring warriors did not always choose to fight at sea but sometimes they had no choice.

When the Norsemen were at sea and a battle materialized, despite their hatred for sea battles, then they would try to make the battle as much like a land battle as possible. First of all, they would try to find a sheltered bay with the point being to maneuver into a favorable position, and to take the wind away from the enemy and encircle their forces. They would rope together their ships and keep them abreast, this way they would meet their enemy head on. As the two lines got closer projectiles were exchanged, consisting of stones, spears and arrows. But once the two forces were joined, hand to hand combat ensued with it being focused around the prows and forward parts of the ships, while this was going on the men in the back of the boats shot bows and arrows, trying to eliminate as many as possible.

Victory usually came when resistance on a ship subsided and it was impossible to board the boats, due to the piles of dead bodies. This mode of maritime fighting meant that the fleet gave away its maneuverability, the only way a ship could retire or pursue was by cutting themselves free.

On the land was where the Vikings would rather stage a pitched land battle and here the general practice was to have the force split into three groups, consisting of the center and the wings or flanks. A chief or leader would usually have a shield fort around him, a close group of men whose job was defense not offense, it was considered a great honor to be chosen for this duty and failure to protect the leader was a great dishonor. Close to the leader was the standard bearer, usually a man of great strength and courage for the enemy ' s attack were centered on him.

When it came time for the battle to commence, trumpets and horns as well as fires were used for signaling in warfare. This was also the time when the emergence of heraldic signs on shields was necessary 'in order to distinguish between the warriors. Before the battle began the leader would give his men a rousing speech to carry them into battle. There was also the use of war cries to raise the confidence level and the wide spread use of slogans. Each side would hurl slurs and different projectiles at each other, then they would start to scream out battlecries that would motivate the allies and scare the enemies. Once the lines clashed the battle became a series of individual fights, with it being very difficult to see progress until the death of the leaders or a retreat. Men who asked for quarter were usually given it, with the church offering a place of sanctuary, which was not always respected. When the fighting finished the slain and wounded were collected and the burying and tending took place. Then the booty was collected and split up.

According to tradition, when a Viking leader wanted peace he would raise up his sword high in the air. But their is one occasion

.. . when the Vikings were besieged in a fortress in Elsloo (by the river Maas, on the present day border of Holland and Belgium), they tricked the enemy by doing this But when it was for real the sources imply that peace was' sworn on weapons, on oaths and on lives and possession of hostages and gifts. But, if the battle took place abroad then the army would collect tribute and supplies for the army.

Although horsemen were not used much by the Vikings there is mention of a battalion of horsemen amongst the Swedes. Calvary officially developed in Denmark in the twelfth century as apart of the upper class. The cavalry that did appear there were not cavalry in the true ,sense of the word, because these early horse soldiers relied basically on their horses for transportation and reconnaissance but not to act as a battle weapon. The strategy of' these horse soldiers was to ride to where ever they were needed the most, then dismounting and acting as a quick reserve unit.

There were various strategies and formations that the

Vikings employed and executed in battle. They consisted of feigned flights, ambushes', encirclements, and 'tricking the enemy into believing that there were more men then there actually were. The Viking armies as very inventive and mobile, excelling in sudden attacks and in the quick erection of fortified camps and field fortifications of wood and earth. In the Battle of Dyle in 891 the Frankish Army had to descend from their horses and fight on foot because of these field fortifications.

There was a strategy that is known through the Scandinavian phrase at hamalt fylkja, which means to form a wedge shaped battle formation, which is also known as svinfylking or swine order. It was this strategy that had a devastating effect on the enemy line. While another Viking strategy was to attack with the sun to their back. But basically the Vikings held a distinctive advantage to a great number of their enemies and that was the mere fact that the majority of their enemies were very unorganized and could be defeated through the use of very rudimentary military tactics.

But, the most fearsome strategy that was employed was the ability to blunt sword blades, and javelins, which was believed to exist in the fighters called beserkir or bear shirts, it is believed that they looked at the bear as a totem animal. These men worked themselves or fell into a frenzy which gave a wild increase to their strength and made them indifferent to blows.

They howled savagely as they went into battle. This form of running amuck probably has its roots in a state of paranoia, related to lycanthropy. This effect can be induced by alcohol and drugs and in some individual cases it may have been linked to epilepsy. These such men were prized warriors and were regarded as having some sort of magnificent supernatural powers.

The Vikings also had a national military organization in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden was based on the leidang. The leidang was the levy of ships, men, provisions, and armaments called out by the king or, supreme military leader and supplied by the population. The military needs behind the levy were responsible for the division the people from the provinces into small units that provided one man per group and the collect,' ion of these units provided one ship. By the twelfth century the levy had shifted 'from men and ships to cash taxation.

If an attack was made in a district, every man was under obligation to turn out to fight off the invaders. It was an accepted custom that a full. levy could be called out if it was for defense, while if it was offensive only half of the levy could be called. Once the levy was established for defensive purposes, all they could do was assemble and wait for news of the enemies arrival. This sort of levying people for provincial protection and the existence of the military fortification of this time shows some sort of clear evidence of political organization. It would also be very possible to transmit warnings through the use of beacons situated on discernible spots. There can also be no doubt that the King was the leader and the supreme military ruler who could summon his people to arms if necessary. There would also have to be a major central figure in order for the monumental efforts that encompassed the construction of the ramparts and fortresses.

One of the most impressive looks at military organization on rune stones. Fundamental seems to have been the lip (company of warriors) whose members were felagi (companions). They had a drottinn (leader) to whom the others, his hempaegar (home companions) owed loyalty. Both the king and other great men could be a drottinn and have a band of retainers. The pegn and dreng probably had a relationship of dependence on or sworn loyalty to the king, and some were doubtless members of his lip. A pegn was probably often older and of greater importance than a dreng. Viking armies that operated independently abroad seem to have been organized on a lip system, an army consisting of a number of such bands, each of which was led by a drottin but under the overall command of a person offered to as king.

These runes give a very basic make up of the viking military unit, but a very crude view of the make up. In this military unit the, personal weapons of a man were as important as his clothing and the laws lay down what weapons a man should own. These weapons were called the folk weapons, folk meaning war-band, and these were inspected annually by the local royal official. In Sweden the basic requirements were shield, sword, spear, and iron hat for each man, with a mail coat and a bow with three dozen arrows for each rowing bench. Elsewhere a axe might be used instead of a sword and each man might be expected to, own armor and bow and arrows. While in Norway, sword or axe, shield and spear were required with a bow and arrows to a bench. The Danish ordinary man needed a sword, iron hat, shield, spear while the straesman, local military leader, had to provide a horse, coat of mail and a crossbow.

After repeated raids for, over two hundred years the people of Western Europe started to build new fortifications to protect the ever growing trading centers. In particular at Hedeby, Birka, Ribe, and Arhus which had defensive ramparts and fortifications that were semi-circular and faced inland. These ramparts were built out of soil and rock, while it was topped off with turf and wood. There was usually a wooden palisade with guard towers on top of the entrance ways. At Hedeby and possibly Birka, the harbor was also protected by a series of stakes, that were submerged to conceal their location.

At Hedeby, which for it's time a very well established town, there was protection on three sides by the rampart. This rampart, the semicircular Wall, was connected to the Danevirke through the connecting Wall. On the fourth side it was protected by Haddeby Noor. This rampart which had begun as a meter high wall with stockade and ditch, had kept on growing until in the mid tenth century it was over 30 feet high, with a deep moat and strong timber revetments. It had three gateways, one to the north and south for the movements of people and livestock and the western opening for the small stream that ran to the fjord. These entrances or tunnels were six feet wide, wedge shaped and lined with planks,. The entire area inside the walls at Hedeby was 60 acres, with only small areas not built up. In Haddeby Noor there was a 480 foot arc that ran north to south­east, this acted as protection for the shore from floods and also provided a place to dock the vessels. In Hedeby there were numerous dwellings, workshops, storehouses, barns, stables, shipbuilders, and the two main roads which were paved with timbers and off these main roads there developed a small road system. This road system which consisted of roads that ran either at right angle to the main roads or parallel to them, creating a grid ,system which was lined with small rectangular houses. These houses were usually fenced and contained a well and outhouse. The town continued to grow with it reaching its peak during the tenth century.

Hedeby came under sporadic attack in the beginning of the eleventh century and constant attack by Harold Hardrada in 1050, with the Slavs conquering the city in 1066 and it was during this part of the eleventh century that the city was virtually destroyed by the occupying armies. Added to this was the decline in the water level, caused by what is now known as the Little Ice Age, made the very shallow Haddeby Noor unusable to deep sea vessels.

For battling the Vikings the people of Scandinavia had to protect mainly against sea invasions. The people would employ wooden stakes, rocks and sunken ships hidden, below the water to impede the progress of the' invading pirates. At that place a bright of the sea which is called the Baltic or Barbarian Sea by extending northward forms a desirable, but to the unwary those unacquainted with places of this kind, a very dangerous port for the barbarous tribes that lie spread about this sea. For the people of Bjorko, very often assailed by the inroads of pirates, who, are numerous there, have set about deceiving by cunning artifices the enemies whom they could not resist by force of arms. They have that light of the restless sea for a hundred or more stadia (about 200 meters) by masses of hidden rocks, making it's passage as perilous for themselves as for the pirates.

It is this description of Birka by Adam of Bremen that shows the extent of the underwater, obstacles that were constructed without regard even for the safety of the local people.

Despite the description of Birka it is the defenses at Hominde that are the most famous. At Hominde a broad strip of spikes that numbered ten to twenty per meter in some places, with horizontal logs on the inside. This barrier according to C14 dating suggests that it was made in the late Viking Age. Here at Hominde, unlike the Helnaes barrier which uses a considerable smaller amount of strategically placed logs, the strength lay in the number of logs and spikes. At Helnaes the barrier consisted of two parallel rows of piles with horizontal sticks at the base to prevent them from going in too deep. This barrier was several hundred meters long and like the barrier at Hominde it is dated in the Late Viking Age. The true mystery that surrounds these barrier's is whether the king, local lords or the community was responsible for their building and maintenance.

At this time in western Europe there was wide spread use of linear defensive earthworks. There is only one such earthwork in Scandinavia, it is called the Danevirke, which was used as Denmark's southern border. This position is made up of several different ramparts that were constructed at different periods of time. Part of it was built by the Danish King Gorfred, as a defense against the armies of Charlemagne in 808, and it continued to change and expand until the thirteenth century. It was enlarged by the Prussians in 1864 before their invasion of the area and the German army constructed anti tank defenses there during the Second World War.

This defensive position covers a combined distance of 30 kilometers, from the Schlei fjord across Jutland to the river Treene. Although this rampart does not run continuously between these two points, it links impassable natural barriers and thus funnels all traffic down the main north south route, the Ox Road, which itself runs through the Danevirke at Hedeby. This road provided a link between most of Denmark and connected all the towns in the area together.

The Danevirke in 737 originally consisted of merely a bank faced with timbers about 7 kilometers long, 10 meters wide and 2 meters high with a u-shaped ditch about 2 meters from it about 1.5 meters deep and 5 meters wide. At this point it was simply the area north of Hedeby known as the North Wall, it is also believed that the eastern wall was under construction as well. This wall which had special foundations to be used when they had to cross marshy lands, which allowed access across the defensive side. And on firm ground the wall was preceded by a ditch and topped with a palisade.

The East Wall which was used to protect the Svansen peninsula was about 3.4 kilometers in length. Through certain similar features it can be assumed that the East Wall and the North Wall are from the same time period, even though there is no concrete scientific evidence. The reason for the construction is unknown but around this time the king of Denmark Ongedus had refused to convert to Christianity when summoned to do so by Charles Martel, this led Martel to lead a campaign against the Saxons in 738. Then with Charlemagne a conquest of Saxony in 770's there arose a bitter rivalry on this border. This invoked King Godfred to land a large force at Hedeby and in 808 he decided to build a border wall across the peninsula, decided that he wished to fortify his kingdom towards Saxony by means of a rampart so that a defensive wall should stretch from the eastern sea which the Danes call Ostersalt (the Baltic) to the North Sea and along the entire northern bank of the Elder, the wall to be broken by only one gate through which wagons and horsemen could go out and return home again

This action provoked Charlemagne and the Slav, Abrodites, to build fortresses for their own protection along the borderlands with Denmark.

The second part of the Danevirke which is the Korvirke, is a straight section that is to the south of Hedeby, it runs between Selk Nor and the marshes of the river Rheide. This section is over six kilometers long and it was the part of the rampart that contained the only gate and was built during a single building phase. This section of the wall was simply an earthen wall faced with timber and fronted by a v-shaped ditch. The third part, The Great Wall, was fourteen kilometers long and in a giant zig-zag that incorporated the first two sections of the Danevirke, the Semicircular Wall and the Fore Wall. To the west, the Crooked Wall, as it became to be known, greatly extended the earlier defensive perimeter. This third part or Connecting Wall has been dated, through the use of dendrochronology, to the year 968. It appears, according to historical record, that King Harald Bluetooth was becoming adversarial toward to the Germanic tribes which led to open warfare between the two in 974. This warfare led to the collapse of the Danevirke and its eventual occupation by Germanic troops. But by 983, the Danevirke was in Danish hands again. The Danevirke remained to be utilized and in the mid twelfth century King Valdemar the Great enlarged and improved the line of fortifications which continued to be the southern border of Denmark.

Purely military fortifications was rare in Scandinavia during the Viking Age, although towns were often protected by a series of ditches with a bank and palisade. These palisades often were found with interval fortified towers. As can be seen at Birka where the site was dominated by a fortified outcrop, the strongpoint of the town. The town is protected by a large stone and earth bank and on the seaward side formidable cliffs. This earthen bank had three cuts in it for gates and was capped by wooden walkways with evidence of at least six towers. This fortress eventually necessitated the need for a regular garrison, which was rare at this time.

Although it was rare in Scandinavia to have military fortresses, in times of an emergency the local populations needed a sanctuary, sometimes this was possible in the local woods but in other places the terrain did not offer hiding places. This established the need for fortresses, the largest fortress in Scandinavia was at Totsburg, which is on the east coast of Gotland, which is an island off the coast of Sweden. It is on rocky highground with fortified stone walls, but it shows no evidence of permanent occupation. This particular fortress was constructed during the Roman period, but had been maintained ever since. This bastion was capable of holding the entire population of Gotland, and with its central location this seems very possible.

One of the most magnificent fortresses in Scandinavia is the fortress of Elketrop, which is located on the Baltic island of Oland, to the south-west of Gotland. This fortress also dates back to the Roman period with the construction ending around 400 and was the continuously inhabited for the following three hundred years. For approximately three hundred years it was uninhabited until approximately 1000, when it was once again in use. During the third phase of the fortresses history it's primary use was a military garrison, this was needed due to the ever growing militaristic attitudes of the surrounding peoples.

It is rare to encounter such defensive positions in smaller towns, but the one at Eketrop, which is also on the island of Oland, has evidence of a ring of stone which may have been six meters tall. This rampart was circular in fashion approximately eighty meters in diameter and enclosed by an outer palisade of timber. This inner wall was lined with densely packed buildings for people and animal's that came off into the interior courtyard. The main entrance to this town was located to the south and was capped with a wooden tower. About 1200 Eketrop was besieged and sacked by the Wends and remained uninhabited, except in emergencies.

There is another large fortress on Gotland at Bulverket, which is located in the middle of the largest lake on the island, Tingstade Trask. This fortress is made of lumber and was made during the Viking Age. Through archaeological record of the objects found at the fort it seems to indicate that this fortress was inhabited by foreigners, who possibly came from the eastern side of the Baltic. Another indication that the builders of this fortress were foreigners is the uniqueness of this stronghold to Scandinavia.

The defensive fortifications at Bulverket, which is known as the bulwark, with the complicated wooden foundations of this lake dwelling could only have been used during times of trouble. This defensive position was a square platform, which each side measuring seventy meters. The southern side enclosed a harbor for protection of the ships. On the platform there was room for the construction of light houses. It is estimated that it required over 10,000 tree trunks to build this fort, which shows the great communal effort that went into building this place.

It was the military camps that provided the most impressive fortifications of these times. By far the Danish military camps at Trelleborg on Sjaelland, Nonnebakken in Odense, and Aggersborg and Frykat Molle in Jutland are the best example of Viking fortresses. These encampments were permanent and of the same basic design. They consisted of a barracks building surrounded by a bank and ditch which made a circle. The bank was made of turf laced with timbers up to seven meters tall. It also had a timbered face which extended upward to form a breastwork. There were four gateways which were covered with a tower, which were situated to mark the four points of the compass. The four gate's were connected in the interior of the camps by two roads paved with wooden planks. There were further ditches and in combination with the imposing surroundings it created a formidable position. The fortresses varied in size from 120 to 240 meters in diameter, the widths of the ramparts were approximately fifteen meters wide, the width of the berm being eight meters, and the width of the ditch being between eighteen and four meters. They all had bow shaped buildings divided into three rooms, these buildings were arranged in a square and in each of the quarters courtyards were a smaller building. These fortresses were all built in the late tenth Century and were soon abandoned, this and the similarities in layout, dating and, design, prove that these fortresses were all built at the command of a central authority.

The largest of these camps, Aggersborg, had forty-eight houses split into four quadrants with each having twelve. Nonnebakken, Trelleborg and Frykat each had sixteen houses, all of the houses were laid out in groups of four surrounding a courtyard, but at Trelleborg there was a group of fifteen houses which were separate from the main group providing a first line of protection.

Aggersborg with its location on Limford explains why it was so large, Limford is the most important waterway between the Baltic and the North Sea, and the fortress at Aggersborg would control north and south travel and would be paid duties and tolls for passage. Also at this point there was extensive trade going on with Norway, where Harald Bluetooth was in power, and with Norway being a days sail away it was always possible to go and interfere in Norwegian affairs if it deemed necessary.

The appearance and the construction of the buildings and ramparts was different at Trelleborg than anywhere else, these buildings were about thirty meters long and had curved walls and straight gables, with two gable rooms at each end. In the middle of each of the oak houses there was a hearth with surrounding benches. The entire building was surrounded by support beams from the roof. In these buildings it is believed that 80 men could have fit. In some of these houses, especially at Frykat, women, children and craftsmen resided. It was along the east-west road that the non military dwellings were situated, the west gate was the main gate. There is also evidence in the cemeteries where there has been excavations of both female's and children's graves.

These forts, through analysis of architecture and archaeological finds, were closely associated with the upper class of the region. There is also evidence of this being a place where the king collected taxes and stored revenues and possessions to be protected. These fortresses could also have provided law and order and for providing a military command center to organize further offenses. There were also a great many craftsmen who produced royal jewelry, armor and weapons. These fortresses each controlling a certain area was new to Denmark but it was common in Slav held areas.

These camps seems to be dated to the late tenth early eleventh century. Through the analysis of the post molds it can ascertained that these camps were not around very long. But by being situated on the main communication routes they might have served as gathering points for troops. These bases were once believed to have' be' en the launching point for Svein Forkbeard and Knut the Great when they were invading and trying to conquer England, but they are signs of an organized society capable of garrisoning strategic places for the purpose of defense and toll-collecting. 'This organized society bred the army that went with Svein and ',Cnut and their military commanders conquer England. And, when considering the geographic locations of all the fortresses except Aggersborg, all were located on major roadways and were in excellent strategic position to control the surrounding areas. Frykat which located on the river Onsild was about 3 km from its mouth the fjord Manager. It is unknown whether the river was navigable to Frykat and the river is very narrow at its mouth and with strong currents it made a very unlikely spot for a naval base. Trelleborg was unattainable from the water, and Nonnebakken was also located on a winding river at the head of a narrow fjord. The placement of the fortresses made it impractical for gathering. naval forces, for training camps and to control the waterways. They appear to have been built towns in control the interior of the kingdom and the major roadways.

It is known that these fortresses were built near the end of Harald Bluetooth's reign, being killed between 985 and 987. King Harald is responsible for these fortresses, Jelling monuments, Roskilde Cathedral:, the bridge at Ravning Enge, the ramparts at Hedeby and Arhus 'and the Danevirkes Great Wall. It is probably true that Harald used these fortresses to keep the areas under control, and to further exert his own control. It is possible that troops positioned at Trelleborg were used in the recapture of Hedeby, and the burning and plundering of no,rthern Germany, with Aggers'borg to be used in his future recapture of Norway. These forts could have been Harald's last gallant attempt to hold together his ever crumbling kingdom that was riddled by internal 'conflict. At Trelleborg there is evidence of a battle, this battle could have been between Harald and Svein in 986, and it could have been that these fortressess were the symbol of Harald, so Svein, upon conquering his father, chose to let his father forts go uninhabited.

The' Vikings that emerged in the late eight century, were they men driven by an ever increasing population or maybe they were just moving to expand their authority over mainland Europe. But by the time these men were done they would have helped spread their people into three large empires, and along with these empires came a wealth of enemies who wanted to destroy these kingdoms. So it was inevitable that the Norsemen would have to fight cities conquer a grinding fortresses to look at

building fortifications to protect all that they for. These people needed to protect their towns from the next wave of men who would try to come and conquer their cities. By the 1066, the Vikings overseas dominance came to halt, leaving behind these great examples of their and defensive positions for the future generations and wonder.

Cohat, Yves. The Vikings: Lords of the Seas. New York: Harry

N. Abrams, 1987. Minor amounts of material

Foote, Peter, and Wilson, David M.. The Viking Achievement.

London: Book Club Associates, 1970. Lots of material on military organization, the Danevirke, small amount about fortresses and military camps

Logan, F. Donald. The Vikings in History. London: Routledge, 1983. Lots of information on the Danevirke, Military

camps/fortresses, fortifications of Hedeby

Magnusson, Magnus, and Palsson, Hermann. Laxdaela Saga. London:

Penguin Books, 1969.' Intd the personal account of the weapons and warfare

Magnusson, Magnus, and Paisson, Hermann. Nial's Saga. London:

Penguin Books, 1960.' Personal accounts about the weapons and warfare

Oxenstierna, Eric. The Norsemen. Greenwich, Conn.. New York Graphic Society publishers, Ltd,, 1965. Minor material

Roesdahl, Else. Th'e Vikings. tondon: Penguin Books, 1992. Great amount of good d6tails

Roesdahl, Else, and Wi'lson, David M.. From Viking to Crusader. New York: Rizzoli, 19S2.

Roesdahl, Else. Viking Age Der

mark. London: British Museum Publications'Limited, 1982. Great information on the fortresses, the Danevirke', and the fortifications at Hedeby

Ragnar, King Horik, and the other Northmen approach the monastery of Winchester, which according to Athelstan holds a big treasury.

Meanwhile, King Ecbert gives his son Aethelwulf the assignment of building an army and scouting the Northmen to seek out their numbers and intentions.

Lagertha, now married to Earl Sigvard of Hedeby, is displeased with her new husband for insulting her son Bjorn. Sigvard says he loves her son, but Lagertha replies he doesn't know how to love anyone, and he hits her.

Ragnar and his raiding party moves towards Winchester. They are spotted and the townspeople hide inside the church, while defending soldiers take their stand against the Northmen. They are easily defeated by the Vikings. Inside the church, the Northmen find no treasure, but Athelstan reveals that they are hidden underneath a table on the altar. Besides treasure, they find parts of the skeleton of a saint. The Vikings continue seeking other buildings for treasure and killing any civilians they come across. Athelstan enters a room where holy papers are kept. When he is about to write on one with a feather and ink, he is confronted by a monk which Athelstan kills in fright, much to his shock. The bishop of Winchester, Bishop Swithun, enters and Athelstan tells him to hide before the Northmen discover him. The bishop recognizes him as one of their own and says he will be punished for his betrayal of Christianity. Floki enters and takes the bishop with him. The Northmen under King Horik's command take off his clothes and torture him by shooting arrows at him, to Athelstan's disgust.

Ragnar and the other Vikings are searching another building when he discovers a boy hiding. He conceals him with a blanket before the others see him to spare his life.

When the Northmen are about to finish off Bishop Swithun, Athelstan intervenes by standing in front of him before killing the bishop himself out of mercy, while Ragnar looks ashamed about the behavior of King Horik and his men.

In Hedeby, Bjorn tells his mother that he will kill Sigvard if he beats her again. She assures him it will not happen again. He says he misses his father, and she tells him it is logical to be proud of being his son. Bjorn replies she should be proud of being Ragnar's wife.

In Kattegat, Aslaug has given birth to her son Sigurd, with the image of a serpent in his eye as his mother prophesized.

King Ecbert is informed about the raid on Winchester. One of his companions asks why nothing was done to protect the important site. Ecbert coldly replies that his kingdom is very large and he cannot defend all of it. He also says it was more important to know where the Northmen would strike first. Wessex's bishop, Bishop Edmund, asks if the bishop of Winchester was sacrificed in martyrdom, to which Ecbert replies he can have the same honor very soon.

In the camp the Northmen set up in Wessex, Floki gives Athelstan the Bible the monk he killed earlier was holding. Floki does not believe that the former priest has renounced his faith. He mockingly gives Athelstan the skeletal hand of the saint. Ragnar tells King Horik that if their people were to live in England, they would never be hungry as the earth is fertile enough for farming. King Horik expresses his doubts about the Saxons allowing them to live there.

In Götaland, Jarl Borg has been married to his new wife Torvi. At a feast, he tells his people they will attack Kattegat in revenge for Ragnar breaking their agreement of raiding together, as it is left undefended. He says that he will "pay Ragnar's treachery with the axe."

The camp of the Northmen in Wessex is visited by King Ecbert's bishop and a general of his army. The bishop asks Ragnar how long they intend to stay, to which he replies it depends on what King Ecbert is willing to offer them to leave or to stay. Ragnar says he wants to make peace with King Ecbert. King Horik notices the general is scouting out the number of the Northmen. Before they leave, Horik kills the general, to Floki's amusement and Ragnar's dismay.

Sigvard notices Bjorn is not happy. He asked what he can do to make the boy happy. Bjorn says he wants to live in a cabin in the mountains all by himself so he can test himself, learning what is essential and important to life. Sigvard declines, mocking Bjorn by saying he cannot allow his beloved stepson starve and die all alone.

In Kattegat, a fisher spots several longships approaching the village. Siggy wakes up Rollo, who deduces it must be Jarl Borg and rallies everyone who can fight to mount a defense. He instructs Siggy to take Aslaug and her children to safety in the mountains. The defending townspeople, including women and children, are forced to retreat to higher positions. An old man tells Rollo he should not be ashamed to flee, as his first duty is to bring Ragnar's family to safety. From a distance, Rollo and Aslaug witnesses Jarl Borg's forces seizing their village. Borg walks into Earl Ragnar's hall and revels in his victory, despite the fact that he did not have his revenge on Ragnar or Rollo.

4 The Battle of Stirling Bridge

You've actually seen this battle, halfway through Braveheart. But contrary to whatever you think Mel Gibson taught you, William Wallace was not five-foot-nine, the Scots did not fight in kilts and the Battle of Stirling Bridge was actually fought on a bridge.

The Battle of Stirling Bridge was fought on Sept. 11, 1297, we're guessing to the full knowledge of King Edward's equivalent to Dick Cheney. England expected Scotland to be such a pushover that they only bothered to outnumber them five to one -- 8,000 to 10,000 soldiers against 2,000 Scottish infantry, and 1,000 to 2,000 cavalry units against 300 Scotsmen on horses.

Please note that we said "Scotsmen on horses" as opposed to actual cavalry, since Scotland didn't have the expensive, quilted armor that made heavy cavalry the Sherman tanks of their time. All the worse for the Scots, they were up against English longbows, literally the most feared weapon in the world until the arrival of the goddamn repeating rifle 600 years later. All the Scots really had going into this battle was the that fact they were Scotsmen.

Oh, and William Wallace, who by the way is described in the chronicle Scotichronicon as "a tall man with the body of a giant." Wallace knew there was no way his men could face the English cavalry on even terms, but his solution was as crazy as it was brilliant: They stood in a square formation, the best for minimizing the impact of the feared longbows, and forced the English into a choke point -- the narrow Stirling Bridge.

The bridge was only wide enough for two mounted units to cross at one time, so the Scots effectively forced the English into the tactic that bad guys always use against Batman -- line up and attack one or two at a time.

Nearly half the English army was butchered, including the English treasurer to Scotland, Hugh de Cressingham. He got off easily via decapitation in Braveheart, but in reality was supposedly flayed, and "in token of hatred," they "made thongs of his skin."

Yes, you read that correctly: He was made into thongs.

Related: The 6 Most Badass Weapons Ever Improvised in Battle

‘The Golden Thread’ Review: The Warp and Woof of History

A couple of months ago I was turned away from a London club. “I’m sorry, madam, but jeans are not permitted in the dining room,” said the deeply embarrassed 20-something porter who, I am willing to bet, wears nothing but denim on his days off. This has now happened to me often enough that I keep a mental tally of the places where, despite my being a middle-aged woman in mom jeans, my entrance has been refused based not on my not being chic enough—which would certainly be true—but on my wearing a certain kind of ubiquitous blue cotton trousers.

As Kassia St. Clair underscores in “The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History,” fabric is an essential element in our lives. It warms us as blankets and little knitted caps at birth, and allows us to keep our dignity as it enshrouds us at death. It covers us when we’re awake and when we’re asleep, it cleans and dries us, it even stops our neighbors from prying through our windows. As fashion it helps signify class, whether it’s Robin Hood’s caste-bustingly sumptuous Lincoln-green suit, a 16th-century Dutch housewife’s carefully hoarded stock of linens demonstrating her prosperity or my own scandalous denim faux pas.

Fabric, too, is part of our language. When you and a friend “text”—from the Latin, texere, to weave—you are creating a connection through conversation. If you collapse mentally, you unravel stories are pieced together, or are heavily embroidered lives hang by a thread.

And yet, as Ms. St. Clair notes combatively, textile history is consistently overlooked. The impermanence of fabric has ensured that historic periods are named Iron and Bronze, not Pottery and Flax, even though weaving appears to have preceded clay- or metal-working and possibly agriculture and the domestication of animals. Fabric dates back some 32,000 years many of the surviving remnants show that as far back as 20,000 years ago they were already dyed all the colors of the rainbow, even pink. One prehistoric cave painting in France depicts a figure with a row of circles down the torso: presumably buttons.

The Egyptians are the earliest of the great fabric producers from whom we have much evidence. Yet when Howard Carter opened up Tutankhamun’s tomb, he reportedly said that it was “naturally disappointing” when a casket was found to be filled only with linens. Carter was not alone in his disdain for cloth. Frequently in the 19th and 20th centuries, when archaeologists uncovered mummies they damaged and discarded the materials that enshrouded them, considering the fabric of little importance, even though the Egyptians themselves, we are told, thought linens were “imbued with powerful, even magical meaning: linen was what made mummies sacred.”

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