Monday, 25 January 2010

Speak like a Saxon #25: Yarrr, fighting?

It's easy to think that the Anglo-Saxons and the vikings didn't often see eye to eye. There were lots of nasty things said, involving damnation and probably mothers, but it wasn't always swords and blood and daggers at dawn...

In 867, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Parker and Laud Manuscripts, for those who are interested) has this to say:

In this year, the same host [That's the vikings] went into Mercia [the Midlands] to Nottingham, and there took winter quarters [i.e. they camped out]. And Burhred, king of Mercia and his councillors begged Athelred, king of Wessex, and his brother Alfred [the Great one, of cakes fame] to help them fight the host; and then in 868 they proceeded with the West Saxon armies into Mercia as far as Nottingham, and there came upon the host in the fortification, but there was no serious fighting, and the Mercians made peace with the host.*

How did they do it? Possibly bribery, possibly a bit of slanging insults around...Imagine the scene (you can reproduce this in your office for a bit of fun):

Alfred: 'If you're friendly I'll give you money' - Gif þu freonde sie, giefe þe gafol ["yif thoo frey-ond-uh see-uh, yee-eff-uh thee gaf-ol"]

Viking [this is actually Old Norse]: 'You are wretched in respect to your shield fortification!' - Vesall ertu þinna skjaldborgar ["Ves-all errr-too thin-na skjald-borr-garr"]**

Alfred: 'Yer mum..' -
þine modor... ["thee-nuh mow-door"]

Viking [in Old Norse]
: 'Whatever' - Vera má at svá sé ["Vair-ah maw at svaw say"] (Well, technically this means 'it may be that is so', but that's not so snappy)

...at which point Alfred, in a huff, turns on his heels and hands over some gold for good measure. The vikings, thinking this is a pretty good wheeze and keen on getting some more money, stay for a bit longer...



* The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ed. and transl. G. N. Garmonsway (1953)

**this Old Norse comes from a story called Hrolfs saga kraka


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