The Viking Age Ended Because A Dude Got Stabbed In The Junk
The Vikings drank and pillaged for centuries. But all things come to an end, and when we must mark the end of the Viking Age, historians point to 1066, which is a convenient milestone thanks to some other famous events. The Vikings that year were having yet another go at invading the British Isles, and this attempt ended horribly.
We call this clash the Battle of Stamford Bridge. We could also call it the Battle of the Harolds. On one side was the English king Harold Godwinson, and on the other was the Viking king Harald Hardrada. "I am 2.5 times the Harold you are!" said Hardrada, we assume. Ridiculous Viking names are going to be a running theme during this entire week of Viking coverage. However, let's also not forget ridiculous British names: The Vikings were assisted by Harold Godwinson's brother, Tostig Godwinson, and they therefore stood no chance of winning.
The battle gives us two different stories that rise to the level of legend. In the first, Harold Godwinson rode up to Tostig and asked that he give up Hardrada. Tostig asked what Harold would give as part of this deal. "Six feet of ground," said Harold, "or as much more as he needs, as he is taller than most men." The line's a little confusing (we bury bodies six feet deep, and tall men don't need extra depth, unless you bury them vertically), but we think you get what he was saying. Hardrada, right next to the two during this conversation, didn't recognize Harold so didn't know who he was till he asked Tostig later on.
The second bit happened once combat began. As the name of this battle suggests, it centered on a bridge. The English tried to cross it, while a single massive Viking, whose name is lost to history, stood on it and defended it. The English could only cross the bridge more or less in single file, and the Viking simply killed each man as he approached, using his massive axe.
This continued, with the giant slaying one foe after another. Then one Englishman placed a barrel in the River Derwent, got inside, and used it to position himself right below the bridge. Then he drove his spear up between the bridge's planks and skewered the Viking, right through the balls. So ended the life of the nameless Viking, and once the English crossed the bridge, the remaining Vikings died soon after.
So says the story, anyway. We admit: We did not have many independent journalists on the scene that day, so we have no good way of verifying any of this. Plus, even if the Vikings won this battle, we don't imagine Norway would have won England. Just days later, William the Conqueror's army showed up. They killed King Harold, and King Harald wouldn't have fared any better.
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For more battle stories, check out:
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Top image: Peter Nicolai Arbo