The heroic and futile battle of the Saxons of Essex against Viking invaders in 991.
The Battle of Maldon
BY DAVID ROSS, EDITOR
Saxons led by Earl Byrhtnoth vs. Vikings under Olaf Tryggvasson
Viking raiders had made frequent raids in search of plunder on the coast of Britain since the 5th century or earlier. In the late 10th century these raids became more cohesive - and more difficult to oppose. In mid August of 991 a force under the leadership of Olaf Tryggvasson descended upon the coast of Essex. Olaf's men appear to have been far more organized than the usual motley collection of raiders, and the entire force may have numbered as many as 3,000 men. In charge of the native defenses was the ealdorman Byrhtnoth, the leading representative of King Aethelred in that region.
As the water receded the Vikings advanced, but three of Byrhtnoth's men were able to hold the narrow causeway against them. The Vikings withdrew, and asked to be allowed to pass unhindered to dry ground so that they could continue the fight on a fair basis. Though Byrhtnoth was in a virtually unassailable position, he agreed to let the Vikings access the mainland. Though chivalrous, Byrhtnoth's move was foolhardy in the extreme.
Photo of Byrhtnoth, hero of Maldon, is © Trevor Harris, republished under the Creative Commons license
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