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Support our channel today by downloading the game on iOS, Android or Windows devices via the link in the description. The Viking Age was relatively short, but it left a distinctive mark on history. The warriors, raiders, pirates, seafarers and traders from Scandinavia influenced the fate of more regions than any other culture before the Age of Discovery and no other land more so than the British Isles. In this series, we will talk about the Viking invasions of Britain and we are going to start with the invasion of the Great Heathen Army. The Romans had pulled out of Britain by the 5th century and left in their wake a patchwork of Brittonic and Romano-Brittonic kingdoms. It didn’t take long for warlike peoples on the peripheries to move in and take advantage of this. The Picts attacked from beyond Hadrian’s Wall. Irish warriors moved in from the west but most importantly Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians moved from mainland Europe on to the east of the island. These incoming warrior cultures had replaced the Romano-Britons and Britons on the eastern portion of the island by the end of the 7th century and formed seven distinct kingdoms: Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria, East Anglia, Kent, Sussex and Essex. Eventually these kingdoms all converted to Christianity, yet became no less warlike continuing to fight amongst themselves and with their native neighbors. Meanwhile, another warlike culture had been developing over the centuries across the North Sea in Scandinavia. It was there in the frosted fiordlands of Norway and the islands and archipelagos of Denmark that peoples related to the Anglo-Saxons had lived since the last Ice Age. They were still pagan and above all else, they placed importance on military power and seafaring prowess. A combination of popular pressure, Frankish aggression from the south and a revolution in shipbuilding techniques gradually forced these people to look outwards from Scandinavia towards the end of the 8th century. Soon, the dragon heads of their longships were first sighted off the shore of Britain. These opportunistic Scandinavians would eventually become known as Vikings, a word which described their profession as pirates, not their ethnicity. To the horror of the Christian writers of the time who were almost exclusively monks the Vikings focused on attacking Christian holy sites which tended to yield the best monetary rewards. All over the north of Britain and Ireland great riches were plundered and carried off. However, their tactics began to change. The most ambitious began to overwinter within Britain and settlers from Norway began to either replace or subjugate the existing populations on the Faroe Islands, Orkney, Shetland and in areas of Ireland. Mercia gradually lost its dominance during the early 9th century and was replaced by Wessex under its king Egbert, a shrewd leader who had been educated across the Channel in Frankia. Egbert was all too familiar with the Vikings and fought a number of battles against them during his reign, most notably at Carhampton in 836. He conquered the minor kingdoms of Essex, Sussex and Kent during his reign, firmly establishing his kingdom as the most powerful. In 865, Æthelred became the king of Wessex. It was during that year that a vast armada of longships appeared off the coast of East Anglia to make landfall near Thetford. This was unlike any Scandinavian raiding force seen previously. It was made up of hundreds of ships carrying an international army of Danes, Norsemen and Swedes. To the horror of the Christian writers of the time who dubbed it the “Great Heathen Army,” they had come together from Ireland, Frisia, Frankia, Scandinavia and Pictland to launch a full-scale invasion of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Initially, the army seems to have been led by three war leaders. According to the Norse sagas, these were the sons of the legendary Viking Ragnar Lodbrok: Ivar, Halfdan and Ubba. They had come to England to avenge the death of their father, killed by the Northumbrian king Ælla. It is just as likely, however, that the invasion was the natural culmination of decades of raids by ambitious warriors who now sought a way to carve kingdoms out for themselves. After landing in East Anglia, they forced the local king Edmund to give them horses and supplies before they marched north to capture the capital of Northumbria, York. After this battle, Northumbria would become a bastion of Scandinavian culture for the next two centuries. After ravaging Northumbria, the army again went on the move likely gathering more and more warriors to their banners from all over the Scandinavian world as word spread of their victories. They marched south into Mercia and captured the town of Nottingham. Mercian king Burgred called for support and Wessex answered the call, yet no fighting took place as Ivar and his men remained inside the walls of Nottingham. Eventually, Burgred paid them to leave and the Mercian and West Saxon armies, mostly made up of farmers, disbanded to plow their fields. Happy to take Mercian coin for now, the Vikings moved back to York for the winter considerably richer. The sons of Lodbrok kept their word to Burgred heading back to East Anglia in the New Year, where they stamped out the kingdom entirely and turned its king Edmund into a martyr. East Anglia would suffer the same fate as Northumbria, becoming a foothold for the Danes for the next two centuries. In 870, the army split with some remaining in their new lands in Northumbria and East Anglia and others like Ivar going elsewhere in Britain to conquer other lands in this case the Kingdom of Alt Clut in southern Scotland. It was Halfdan who took center stage at this point as he led part of the army south bypassing Mercia entirely to rage deep into Wessex. Halfdan along with another warlord Bagsecg made straight for the town of Reading, where they fortified themselves to wait for the inevitable West Saxon counter-attack. King Æthelred and his brother Alfred gathered up their levies and made for Reading. Together they attacked Halfdan’s men at Reading on the 4th of January, but suffered a minor defeat. The West Saxons regrouped over the next few days and again took to the field on the 8th at a place called Ashdown, somewhere in Berkshire. It was there in the mist and gloom of a mid-winter’s morning that the most decisive battle yet of the war was fought. Æthelred divided his army into two positioning the halves on either side of a ridgeway with himself in command of one side and his younger brother Alfred commanding the other. As the Danes approached, they also split their army with Halfdan commanding one side and Bagsecg the other. Alfred and his contingent watched on from behind their shield wall as the Danes drew closer. Meanwhile, Æthelred had apparently decided that he had to pray before the battle and refused to advance until his prayer service was complete. Seeing that the Danish movement would cost him the advantage of the higher ground Alfred decided to charge up the hill without the support of the second contingent and headed straight into the heart of the Danish lines. Apparently not realizing that Alfred’s men only represented half of the West Saxon army, the second force of the Danes also moved against them. The battle turned into an hours-long brutal hand-to-hand slog of shield wall on shield wall. After heavy fighting and significant losses on both sides Æthelred’s force, whose approach was obscured in mist, finally engaged surprising the Danes and turning the battle in favor of the West Saxons. Bagsecg was killed in the fighting and Halfdan called for his remaining men to fall back leaving the West Saxons victorious. After six long years of defeats, an Anglo-Saxon army had finally emerged victorious against the Great Heathen Army. Ashdown was by no means a decisive victory and it was certainly a costly one, though the hard fighting may have made Halfdan more cautious about his future plans for Wessex. To the fortune of Halfdan and his remaining warriors who had fallen back to Reading reinforcements arrived to join them. This Great Summer Army of fresh warriors led by a sea king named Guthrum would become integral over the next seven long years of war. Æthelred and Alfred, now known as the Boar of Ashdown, continued to fight the Danes over the coming months. By April however, Æthelred was dead possibly as a result of wounds suffered in battle and Alfred replaced him as king. Halfdan had had enough of Wessex by this point and accepted a large sum of money from Alfred as payment to leave. He would head north to become the king in Northumbria whereas Guthrum went east to take control of the Vikings of East Anglia. Alfred had saved his kingdom for now, but he and all of his subjects knew the Vikings would return. Thank you for watching the first video in our series on early British history and the Viking invasions. More episodes are on the way, and we’re working on many other exciting projects. We would like to express our gratitude to our Patreon supporters who make the creation of our videos possible. Now you can also support us directly via YouTube by pressing the sponsorship button directly below the video. This is the Kings and Generals Channel, and we will catch you on the next one.