Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Viking women: raiders, traders and settlers

History Extra

A detail of the decorative carving on the side of the Oseberg cart depicting a woman with streaming hair apparently restraining a man's sword-arm as he strikes at a horseman accompanied by a dog. Below is a frieze of intertwined serpentine beasts. c850 AD. Viking Ship Museum, Bygdoy. (Werner Forman Archive/Bridgeman Images)

In the long history of Scandinavia, the period that saw the greatest transformation was the Viking Age (AD 750–1100). This great movement of peoples from Denmark, Norway and Sweden, heading both east and west, and the social, religious, political and cultural changes that resulted from it, affected the lives and roles of women as well as the male warriors and traders whom we more usually associate with ‘Viking’ activities.
Scandinavian society was hierarchical, with slaves at the bottom, a large class of the free in the middle, and a top level of wealthy local and regional leaders, some of whom eventually sowed the seeds of the medieval Scandinavian monarchies. The slaves and the free lived a predominantly rural and agricultural life, while the upper levels of the hierarchy derived their wealth from the control and export of natural resources. The desire to increase such wealth was a major motivating factor of the Viking Age expansion.
One way to acquire wealth was to raid the richer countries to the south and west. The Scandinavians burst on the scene in the eighth century as feared warriors attacking parts of the British Isles and the European continent. Such raiding parties were mainly composed of men, but there is contemporary evidence from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that some warbands were accompanied by women and, inevitably, children, particularly if they had been away from Scandinavia for some time. The sources do not reveal whether these women had come from Scandinavia with the men or joined them along the way, but both are likely.
Despite popular misconceptions, however, there is no convincing evidence that women participated directly in fighting and raiding – indeed, the Chronicle describes women and children being put in a place of safety. The Viking mind, a product of a militarised culture, could certainly imagine women warriors, as evidenced by their art and mythology, but this was not an option for real women.



In parts of Britain and Ireland and on the north-western coasts of the European continent, these raids were succeeded by settlement, as recorded in contemporary documents and shown by language, place-names and archaeology. An interesting question is whether these warriors-turned-settlers established families with Scandinavian wives or whether they integrated more quickly by taking local partners. There is strong evidence in many parts of Britain for whole communities speaking Scandinavian as the everyday language of the home, implying the presence of Scandinavian-speaking women.
Metal-detectorist finds show that Scandinavian-style jewellery was imported into England in considerable numbers on the clothing of the female settlers themselves. In the north and west of Scotland, Scandinavian speech and culture persisted well into the Middle Ages, and genetic evidence suggests that Scandinavian families and communities emigrated to places such as Orkney and Shetland en masse.
Not all of these settlers stayed in the British Isles, however. From both the Norwegian homeland and the British Isles, ambitious emigrants relocated to the previously uninhabited Faroe Islands and Iceland and, somewhat later, to Greenland and even North America. The Icelandic Book of Settlements, written in the 13th century, catalogues more than 400 Viking-Age settlers of Iceland. Thirteen of these were women, remembered as leading their households to a new life in a new land. One of them was Aud (also known as Unn), the deep-minded who, having lost her father, husband and son in the British Isles, took it on herself to have a ship built and move the rest of her household to Iceland, where the Book of the Icelanders lists her as one of the four most prominent Norwegian founders of Iceland. As a widow, Aud had complete control of the resources of her household and was wealthy enough to give both land and freedom to her slaves once they arrived in Iceland.



Other women were, however, taken to Iceland as slaves. Studies of the genetic make-up of the modern Icelandic population have been taken to suggest that up to two-thirds of its female founding population had their origins in the British Isles, while only one third came from Norway (the situation is, however, the reverse for the male founding population).
The Norwegian women were the wives of leading Norwegian chieftains who established large estates in Iceland, while the British women may have been taken there as slaves to work on these estates.  But the situation was complex and it is likely that some of the British women were wives legally married to Scandinavian men who had spent a generation or two in Scotland or Ireland before moving on to Iceland. The written sources also show that some of the British slaves taken to Iceland were male, as in the case of Aud, discussed above.
These pioneer women, both chieftains’ wives and slaves, endured the hardships of travel across the North Atlantic in an open boat along with their children and all their worldly goods, including their cows, sheep, horses and other animals. Women of all classes were essential to the setting up of new households in unknown and uninhabited territories, not only in Iceland but also in Greenland, where the Norse settlement lasted for around 500 years.
Both the Icelandic sagas and archaeology show that women participated in the voyages from Greenland to some parts of North America (known to them as Vinland). An Icelandic woman named Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir is particularly remembered for having been to Vinland (where she gave birth to a son), but also for having in later life gone on pilgrimage to Rome and become a nun.

A page from the 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' in Anglo-Saxon or Old English, telling of King Aethelred I of Wessex and his brother, the future King Alfred the Great, and their battles with the Viking invaders at Reading and Ashdown in AD 871 (c1950). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Mistress of the house

These new settlements in the west were, like those of the homelands, rural and agricultural, and the roles of women were the traditional ones of running the household. Although free women did not by convention participate in public life, it is clear that the mistress of the household had absolute authority in the most important matters of daily life within its four walls, and also in many aspects of farm work.
Runic inscriptions show that women were highly valued for this. On a commemorative stone from Hassmyra, in Sweden, the deceased Odindisa is praised in runic verse by her husband for her role as mistress of that farm. The rune stones of the Isle of Man include a particularly high proportion commemorating women.
Those women who remained in Scandinavia also felt the effects of the Viking Age. The evidence of burials shows that women, at least those of the wealthier classes, were valued and respected. Much precious metalwork from the British Isles found its way into the graves of Norwegian women, usually presumed to be gifts from men who went west, but some were surely acquired abroad by the women themselves.
At the top level of society, women’s graves were as rich as those of men – the grave goods of a wealthy woman buried with her servant at Oseberg in Norway included a large and beautiful ship, several horses and many other valuable objects. Such a woman clearly had power and influence to be remembered in this way. With the establishment of the monarchies of Denmark, Norway and Sweden towards the end of the Viking Age, it is clear that queens could have significant influence, such as Astrid, the widow of St Olaf, who ensured the succession of her stepson Magnus to the Norwegian throne in the year 1035.

Urbanisation and Christianity

Another of the major changes affecting Viking Age Scandinavia was that of urbanisation. While trade had long been an important aspect of Scandinavian wealth creation, the development of emporia – town-like centres – such as Hedeby in Denmark, Kaupang in Norway, Birka in Sweden, or trading centres at York and Dublin, provided a new way of life for many.
The town-like centres plugged into wide-ranging international networks stretching both east and west. Towns brought many new opportunities for women as well as men in both craft and trade. The fairly standard layouts of the buildings in these towns show that the wealth-creating activities practised there were family affairs, involving the whole household, just as farming was in rural areas. In Russia, finds of scales and balances in Scandinavian female graves indicate that women took part in trading activities there.
Along with urbanisation, another major change was the adoption of Christianity. The rune stones of Scandinavia date largely from the period of Christianisation and show that women adopted the new religion with enthusiasm. As family memorials, the inscriptions are still dominated by men, but with Christianity, more and more of them were dedicated to women. Those associated with women were also more likely to be overtly Christian, such as a stone in memory of a certain Ingirun who went from central Sweden on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
The Viking Age, then, was not just a masculine affair. Women played a full part in the voyages of raiding, trading and settlement, and the new settlements in the North Atlantic would not have survived very long had it not been for their contribution. This mobile and expansive age provided women with new opportunities, and sagas, rune stones and archaeology show that many of them were honoured and remembered accordingly.
Judith Jesch is professor of Viking studies at the University of Nottingham. Her publications include The Viking Diaspora (Routledge, 2015). You can follow her on Twitter @JudithJesch

History Trivia - Big Ben rings for first time

May 31

1859 Big Ben, located atop St. Stephen's tower, went into operation in London, ringing out over the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London for the first time.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Historians Draw Closer to the Tomb of the Legendary King Arthur

Ancient Origins

For many decades, researchers have tried to confirm the existence of King Arthur of Camelot, the legendary ruler that was said to have led the defense of Britain against the Saxons in the 5th century AD, and to find his final resting place. After years of speculations, the British researcher and writer Graham Philips believes he is closer than ever before.

According to the legend, King Arthur, after the battle with his enemy Mordred, was transported to the Isle of Avalon. Now, new research suggests that location may lie in a field in Shropshire, England.
Graham Phillips has been researching the life of King Arthur for many years. According to the Daily Mail, Phillips believes he has discovered evidence confirming that the medieval ruler was buried outside the village of Baschurch in Shropshire. In his latest book The Lost Tomb of King Arthur, he suggests that the most probable location of the tomb is outside the village in the old fort, dubbed ''The Berth'' or at the site of the former chapel.
The deceased King Arthur before being taken to the Isle of Avalon
The deceased King Arthur before being taken to the Isle of Avalon (public domain)
Phillips is calling on English Heritage for permission to start archeological works at The Berth, and in the former chapel nearby the Baschurch village. Phillips has already located a pit containing a large piece of metal, which Phillips believes may be remnants of King Arthur’s shield.
Phillips told the Daily Mail:
''In the Oxford University Library there is a poem from the Dark Ages which refers to the kings from Wroxeter who were buried at the Churches of Bassa - and when you think about anywhere in Shropshire that sounds similar, you think of Baschurch. There is a place that matches the description just outside the village, an earthworks known as The Berth, which were two islands in a lake, though obviously the lake has now gone.''
Does the final resting place of King Arthur lie here at “The Berth” in Shropshire?
Does the final resting place of King Arthur lie here at “The Berth” in Shropshire? (BBC)
According to Phillip’s previous book, King Arthur lived in the Roman fortress at Wroxeter, a small village in Shropshire. Historical texts state that Arthur was born at Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, and later became a famous character of many legends, related to for example his sword – the Excalibur. However, Phillips believes that a lot of the legends about Arthur are wrong, including his place of birth, which Phillips says was Shropshire, and not South West England.
Apart from the sites nearby the Baschurch, Phillips claims that King Arthur could also be buried in a country lane in Birch Grove village. In the 1930s, archeologists discovered part of a gravestone there with the inscription in Latin ''Here Lies…''.
At the same time as Phillips is searching for the grave of Arthur, archeologist Dr Richard Brunning, from South West Heritage, started excavations at Beckery Chapel, near Glastonbury in Somerset. The aim of the work is to accurately date an early Christian chapel. It is hoped that the investigations may shed new light on King Arthur, who is said to have visited this place, and according to the legend had a vision of Mary Magdalene and the baby Jesus there. It is the first time since 1968 that archeologists have investigated the site. Moreover, the place is also famous as a part of the stories related to the Irish saint Bridget, who visited the site in 488 AD. Previous works suggested that before the chapel, a Saxon mastery had been present on the site. The most recent works will allow the precise dating of the monastic cemetery.
Sketch of Beckery Chapel, Somerset
Sketch of Beckery Chapel, Somerset (geomancy.org)
The history of King Arthur is also connected with Glastonbury Abbey, which has been believed to be a place of burial of King Arthur and his wife Guinevere since the 12th century.  According to an article by Jason Urbanus and archeologist Roberta Gilchrist, who head up the Glastonbury Archaeological Archive Project, the site may indeed date back to the 5th century, the time of King Arthur, but they say there is no evidence of any connection with the king. Moreover, Urbanus explained in Archaeology magazine that the burial actually belongs to 12th century monks. It seems that the legend about the burial of Arthur being at Glastonbury Abbey was created by monks of the Abbey who needed an attraction to raise money.
Top image: Illustration from page 16 of ‘The Boy's King Arthur’ (public domain)
By Natalia Klimzcak

History Trivia - Siege of Jerusalem

May 30

70 Siege of Jerusalem: Titus and his Roman legions breached the Second Wall of Jerusalem. The Jewish wars financed the construction of the Flavian Amphitheater,  which took ten years to build.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Vikings: A land without kings

History Extra

A view of Þingvellir National Park in western Iceland. It was here, in AD 930, that Viking settlers established the first pan-Icelandic assembly – possibly the oldest parliamentary body in the world. © Dreamstime

About 50 years after their raids first spread terror along the coastlines of north-western Europe, the Vikings struck westward. This time some of them sailed not in search of treasure or slaves but as land-hungry warriors seeking safe havens in which to found colonies away from increasingly powerful Scandinavian kings.
Using the Faroe Islands as a stepping stone, the Vikings could reduce the risks of long voyages across the open waters of the Atlantic. By the 830s a territory in the North Atlantic had been discovered by pioneers including Flóki Vilgerðarson, who dubbed it Ísland (Iceland), in memory of the chilly winter he spent there.
However, these were strictly exploratory voyages. The first successful colonising expedition arrived later, in AD 874, led by the Norwegian Ingólf Arnarson. The following decades saw streams of settlers from Norway and the Viking colonies in the British Isles arrive in a great landnám (‘taking of the land’), and within 60 years almost all of the available territory had been claimed.
Free from the direct control of the distant Norwegian monarchs, who were much too preoccupied with their own struggles against rival magnates to interfere with the new colony, the Icelandic Vikings were able to dispense with the authority of kings. Left to their own devices for three centuries, they created a unique form of society that came to be known as the ‘Icelandic Commonwealth’.
Much about Iceland was familiar to the settlers: it was indented with fjords, at the heads of which they could establish farms. Yet it was not as fertile as the Scandinavian lands they had left behind. Much of the interior was uninhabitable, studded with volcanoes and covered with great glaciers such as the Vatnajökull, and too cold for much of each year to support agriculture.
Though there were swathes of woodland, mostly native birch, these were soon felled for firewood and building, resulting in erosion that reduced the soil’s fertility still further. The minimal agriculture possible was, therefore, pastoral, mainly cattle herding, supplemented by fishing and seal hunting.
These settlers lived at the edge of subsistence, and a cold or wet summer could lead to famine. Population density was low: Iceland’s first census, taken in 1106, counted 4,560 free farmers, which probably equates to a total population of around 10 times that number. Settlements comprised farms clustered around the longhouses of local chieftains. Farms were constructed largely with turf, and within them families cooked, ate and slept in a single long room.

A statue of Ingólf Arnarson, the Norwegian explorer who led the first successful colonising expedition to Iceland, in AD 874. © Alamy
This way of life bred a fierce independence. The Icelandic sagas tell that the original colonisers of Iceland fled the tyranny of the Norwegian king Harald Finehair. Though several of his successors planned to force the colony's obedience to the crown, the difficulties of launching such a venture to a far-flung island meant that nothing came of the idea for almost 300 years.
With no threat of invasion, there was little need to establish a central tax-raising authority to fund defence, and no Icelandic king arose to challenge his Norwegian counterpart.
Instead, power devolved to the level of local chieftains called gooar. There were 39 of these, spread across the four quarters (or várthing) into which Iceland came to be divided. But the gooar did not rule territorial domains in the manner of European feudal aristocrats; rather, their authority rested on the allegiance of retainers (or thingmenn) whose lands often intermingled with those owing loyalty to other gooar. If a thingmann found himself at odds with his chieftain, he could transfer his loyalty to another by declaring himself ‘out of thing’ with the first.

Notable deeds

This early period of ‘taking of the land’ is described in the Landnámabók, a 13th-century compilation of earlier sources, which details the names, ancestry and notable deeds of the first settlers in each district.
Once this initial phase of settlement was over, territorial disputes inevitably erupted. The danger of uncontrollable feuds prompted the settlers to formalise what had, until then, been a somewhat haphazard political system – and so, in AD 930, they established the Althing: the first pan-Icelandic assembly.
The Althing has a good claim to being the world’s oldest parliament. It was modelled on smaller meetings held in Scandinavia, where all free men had a right of hearing.
The settlers chose a suitably spectacular setting for this assembly – a site on the Öxará river in the south-west of the island, fringed by a volcanic cleft. The location was as accessible as it was spectacular, and gooar and their thingmenn journeyed there from across the island when the assembly convened in mid-June each year.

A Viking amulet in the shape of a cross, now in the National Museum of Iceland. © Bridgeman Art Library

Local courts

At the Althing, the chieftains gathered with their retinues, serving as lawmakers – reviewing existing laws and making new ones – and as judges, presiding over cases that could not be decided in local courts.
The gathering was overseen by the lögrétta, the legislative council led by a lögsögumaor or lawspeaker who recited one-third of the Commonwealth’s laws from a great rock at the centre of the assembly site each year. It was a very public form of parliament and judiciary.
The requirement for all the gooar to attend meant that, though feuds – often bloody – did arise, the Althing acted as a safety valve, a neutral arena where settlements could be negotiated before conflict got out of hand.
By the 12th century, Icelandic society had begun to change, swayed by external nfluences – most notably Christianity. Missionaries had earlier attempted to preach in Iceland, though with little success until a concerted effort by the Norwegian king Olaf Tryggvason led Thorgeir Thorkelsson, the lawspeaker of the Althing, to declare in AD 1000 that Iceland should be Christian.
As money and land was bequeathed to the church, much of it came under the control of local landowners, and the go␣ar grew in wealth, consolidating their power. A number of chieftaincies fell into the hands of just a few families or even single individuals so, by about 1220, political power had become the exclusive preserve of just six families.
The remaining gooar ruled over what were effectively mini-kingdoms and, as the rewards of power grew, so did the violence the gooar employed to preserve and enlarge their territories. From the late 12th century, Iceland was riven by civil wars, characterised by large- scale pitched battles quite unlike earlier feuds.
Loose alliances coalesced around two powerful families, the Oddi and the Sturlungar. The latter had close ties with the royal family of Norway, whose authority had grown far stronger in the previous three centuries and now had the resources to meddle in the Icelandic civil wars.
The long reign of King Hákon Hákonarson (1217–63) saw the Norwegians gradually increase their influence in Iceland as the Sturlungar and Oddi tore the Commonwealth apart. Among the casualties of the conflict was the great Icelandic poet and historian Snorri Sturluson, murdered in 1241 on the orders of King Hákon, reputedly for his part in a conspiracy to depose him.
Battle-weary, despairing and seeing in continued independence only continued bloodshed, the Icelandic chieftains pledged their allegiance to the Norwegian king at the Althing in 1262. It was an ignominious end to the Icelandic Commonwealth, and brought to a close the experiment of rule without kings.
So it happened that, four centuries after their ancestors had fled Norway to escape the oppression of Harald Finehair, the Icelanders found themselves firmly under the thumb of his royal descendants.

The sagas of Iceland

What can epic tales of war and exploration tell us about Viking Iceland?
Among the key sources for Viking history are the sagas, tales of heroism, feuding and exploration that probably began in oral form before being written down, mainly in Iceland, around the 13th century.
Some of the sagas have a historical core, such as the Orkneyinga Saga that tells the history of the earls of Orkney, or the Vinland Sagas recounting Viking voyages of exploration in North America. Even these are distorted by the demands of storytelling and the interest of the authors in glorifying one family or group’s deeds over that of another. So, for example, it is almost impossible to determine from the evidence in the sagas exactly which parts of the Americas were visited by the Vikings.

The 14th-century manuscript Flateyjarbók shows the exploits of Olaf Tryggvason. © Bridgeman Art Library
The largest group of sagas are the Íslendingasögur, ‘Icelandic family sagas’ set mainly in the first century of the Viking colony in Iceland. They tell of conflicts between Iceland’s major families, and the often tragic outcome of feuds between larger-than-life personalities over seemingly trivial slights, with the events often unfolding over several generations.
Njál’s Saga tells how Njáll Thorgeirsson sucked into the feuds sparked by the murderous behaviour of his friend Gunnar Hámundarson. Njáll was burnt to death in his farmstead by a posse bent on revenge for the murder of one of Gunnar’s cousins by Njáll’s son.
The sagas provide a vital source of evidence about the organisation of Viking society, and offer us a unique window on those elements within it that are overlooked by more conventional history.
For example, Saga of the Greenlanders documents the story of Freydís, daughter of Erik the Red (discoverer of Greenland), who organised and led a voyage to North America; this gives us an insight into the powerful role some women played in trading missions. The role of Gunnar’s wife, Hallgero, in provoking the saga’s central feud also shows that Viking women did not play a purely passive role in the quarrels of their menfolk.
Philip Parker is a writer and historian specialising in late antiquity and early medieval Europe.

History Trivia - Charles II arrives in London

May 29

 1660 Charles II arrived in London from exile in the Netherlands to reclaim his throne. Charles II was also born on this day.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Why did the Vikings' violent raids begin?

History Extra

The ‘holy island’ of Lindisfarne, just off the coast of Northumberland. A savage raid on the island’s monastery in 793 heralded the start of England’s Viking era. (Steve Boote)

On a clear day, a Viking longship at sea could be seen some 18 nautical miles away. With a favourable wind, that distance could be covered in about an hour – which was perhaps all the time that the monks at Lindisfarne had to prepare themselves against attack on one fateful day in 793. This was the raid that signalled the start of the violence associated with the onset of the Viking age. 
“We and our fathers have now lived in this fair land for nearly 350 years, and never before has such an atrocity been seen in Britain as we have now suffered at the hands of a pagan people. Such a voyage was not thought possible. The church of Saint Cuthbert is spattered with the blood of the priests of God, stripped of all its furnishings, exposed to the plundering of pagans – a place more sacred than any in Britain.”
The extract is from a letter, written in the wake of the attack, to King Æthelred of Northumbria by Alcuin. Alcuin had been a monk in York before accepting an invitation in 781 to join Charlemagne at his court in Aachen, where he became the Frankish king’s leading spiritual advisor. 
Historians have been inclined to take Alcuin’s astonishment at the raid at face value, and supposed the Vikings to be 
a wholly unknown quantity. Yet in the 
same letter Alcuin rebuked Æthelred and 
his courtiers for aping the fashions of the heathens: “Consider the luxurious dress, hair and behaviour of leaders and people,” he urged the king. “See how you have wanted 
to copy the pagan way of cutting hair and beards. Are not these the people whose terror threatens us, yet you want to copy their hair?” 
The obvious conclusion is that, at the time of the raid, the Northumbrians were already familiar with their Norwegian visitors. What was new was the violence. 
Lindisfarne turned out to be the start of 
a wave of similar attacks on monasteries in northern Britain. Alcuin, with his local knowledge, warned the religious communities at nearby Wearmouth and Jarrow to be on their guard: “You live by the sea from whence this plague first came.” 

A picture stone depicting the Lindisfarne attack. (Getty)
In 794, Vikings “ravaged in Northumbria, and plundered Ecgfrith’s monastery at Donemuthan”. The 12th‑century historian Symeon of Durham identified this as the monastery at Jarrow, and reported that its protector, Saint Cuthbert, had not let the heathens go unpunished, “for their chief was killed by the English… And these things befell them rightly, for they had gravely injured those who had not injured them.”
Shetland and Orkney were probably overrun during this first wave of violence, and the indigenous population of Picts wiped out so swiftly that local place names and the names of natural phenomena such as rivers and mountains vanished, to be replaced by Scandinavian names.
Ireland and the Western Isles of Scotland suffered, too. The Annals of Ulster report the burning in 795 of the monastery at Rechru, and the Isle of Skye “overwhelmed and laid waste”. Iona was attacked for a first time in 795 and again in 802. In a third raid in 806 the monastery was torched and the community of 68 wiped out. Work started the following year on a safe refuge for the revived community at Kells in Ireland. 
In 799 the island monastery of Noirmoutier off the north-west coast of France was attacked for the first time. By 836 it had been raided so often that its monks also abandoned the site and sought refuge in a safer location. It soon become clear, however, that there was no such thing as a safe refuge.

Charlemagne is crowned by Pope Leo III in a 14th-century French manuscript. The emperors’s violent subjugation of heathens may have provoked the Viking raids. (Getty)

Best form of defence

Why was there such hatred in the attacks, and why did they start in 793, rather than 743, or 843? To look for a triggering event we need to examine the political situation in northern Europe at the time. 
At the commencement of the Viking age, the major political powers in the world were Byzantium in the east; the Muslims, whose expansion had taken them as far as Turkistan and Asia Minor to create an Islamic barrier between the northern and southern hemispheres; and the Franks, who had become the dominant tribe among the successor states after the fall of the Roman empire in the west. 
Charlemagne became sole ruler of the Franks in 771. He took seriously the missionary obligations imposed on him by his position as the most powerful ruler in western Christendom, and expended a huge amount of energy on the subjugation of the heathen Saxons on his north-east border. In 772, his forces crossed into Saxon territory and destroyed Irminsul, the sacred tree that was their most holy totem. In 779, Widukind, the Saxon leader, was defeated in battle at Bocholt and Saxony taken over and divided into missionary districts. Charlemagne himself presided over a number of mass baptisms. 
In 782, his armies forcibly baptised and then executed 4,500 Saxon captives at Verden, on the banks of the river Aller. Campaigns of enforced resettlement followed, but resistance continued until a final insurrection was put down in 804. By this time Charlemagne had already been rewarded for his missionary activities by Pope Leo III who in Rome in AD 800 crowned him imperator – emperor not of a geographical area nor even of a collection of peoples but of the abstract conception of Christendom as a single community. 
With their physical subjugation complete, the cultural subjugation of the Saxons followed. Death was the penalty for eating meat during Lent; death for cremating the dead in accordance with heathen rites; death for rejecting baptism. 
Several times, in the course of the campaign of resistance, Widukind sought refuge across the border with his brother-in-law Sigfrid, 
a Danish king. News of Charlemagne’s depredations, and in particular the Verden massacre, must have travelled like a shock wave through Danish territory and beyond.
How should the heathen Scandinavians react to the threat? For, whether they knew it or not, they were on Alcuin’s list of peoples to be converted. In 789 he wrote to a friend working among the Saxons: “Tell me, is there any hope of our converting the Danes?” 
The question for the Vikings was: should they simply wait for Charlemagne’s armies to arrive and set about the task? Or should they fight to defend their culture? 
A military campaign against the might of Frankish Christendom was out of the question. However, the Christian monasteries – such as Lindisfarne – dotted around the rim of northern Europe were symbolically important and, in the parlance of modern terrorist warfare, ‘soft targets’. So, with an indifference to the humanity of their victims as complete as that of Charlemagne’s towards the Saxons, these first Viking raiders were able to set off on a punishing series of attacks in the grip of a no-holds-barred rage directed at Christian ‘others’.
The Christian annalists who documented Viking violence insistently saw the conflict as a battle between religious cultures. A century after the first attack on Lindisfarne, Asser, in his biography of Alfred the Great, continued to refer to the much larger bands of Vikings who had by now established themselves along the eastern seaboard of England as “the pagans” (pagani), and to their victims as “Christians” (christiani).

A 10th-century vellum shows Viking warriors disembarking in England during the second wave of migration. (Bridgeman)

Clash of faiths

Attacks such as those mounted by Vikings were almost impossible to defend against, and long before Asser’s time the raiders had discovered how easy it was to plunder what was probably the richest country in western Europe. In 851 a fleet of 350 ships sailed 
up the Thames to attack London and Canterbury then, instead of sailing home, spent the winter encamped at Thanet. It was a prelude to the arrival in 865 of what the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle called the “Great Heathen Army” – a force that, after 15 years 
of warring against the demoralised kingdoms of Northumbria, Wessex, Mercia and East Anglia, had gained control of England from York down to East Anglia. 
By 927 much of the lost territory had been regained by the Wessex king Alfred the Great, his son Edward and grandson Æthelstan, but by that time the achievements of the Great Heathen Army had became part of the cultural history of young Viking males. 
Large-scale Viking violence returned to England during the reign of King Æthelred 
in the 990s, under the Dane, Swein Forkbeard, and the Norwegian, Olaf Tryggvason. The policy of the ‘danegeld’ – protection money paid in return for being 
left alone – was practised with a punishing regularity. It was with wealth gained in this fashion that the Viking Olaf Tryggvason financed his successful bid for the crown of Norway in 995. 
In 1012 the archbishop of Canterbury was captured and, when the ransom demanded for him was not forthcoming, was murdered for the sport of a drunken group of men under the Viking earl Thorkell the Tall. They pelted him with bones, stones, blocks of wood and the skulls of cattle before finishing him off with the flat of an axe.
The loss of its spiritual head brought the faltering Anglo-Saxon monarchy to its knees, and within two years a Danish king, Swein Forkbeard, was on the throne of England. By 1028 Swein’s son Cnut was ruler of a North Sea empire that included Denmark (with Skåne in Sweden), Norway, and all England. 
In name, at least, the heathens were now Christians but their pride in themselves 
as conquering warriors remained strong. 
A poem in praise of Cnut – composed by his Icelandic court poet, Sigvat – invoked the memory of the Northumbrian king Ælla of York, defeated in battle by Ivar the Boneless during the first surge of the Great Heathen Army: “And Ivar, who dwelt in York, carved the eagle on Ælla’s back.”
Remarkably, Cnut’s triumphs figured in Sigvat’s literary imagination as the successful resolution of a conflict that had been going on for over 150 years, beginning as a series of gestures of cultural self-defence and soon after developing into dreams of conquest.
Alcuin had foreseen the ultimate consequences of the first Viking raid of 793 with visionary precision. “Who does not fear this?” he asked King Æthelred of Northumbria. “Who does not lament this as if his country were captured?” In his distress, he was overlooking the fact that the Vikings were only doing what his own Saxon forefathers had done to the Britons and Celts of the kingdoms of England some three and 
a half centuries earlier, conquering “this 
fair land” by the same means – violence – 
as the Vikings. 
Cnut was unlucky with his sons, and Danish rule in England lasted less than 30 years. Fifteen years on and the memories of King Cnut and his North Sea empire were all but wiped out by the greater drama of Duke William of Normandy’s conquest of 1066.  
King Cnut depicted in a stained-glass window at Canterbury Cathedral. (Alamy)

Three other explanations for Viking violence

Faster ships, internal strife and new trade links may also have helped trigger the raids
1) Technological advances that encouraged piracy
The onset of the Viking age coincided with the appearance of the technologically advanced, sail-powered longship – the stealth bomber of its time. Longships such as the Oseberg ship (built 820) replaced giant man-powered vessels like the Storhaug ship, found on Karmøy (buried 779), opening up the seas to young Scandinavian pirates as never before.
2) Poverty and overpopulation
In his history On the Customs and Deeds of 
the First Norman Dukes (995–1015), Dudo of Saint-Quentin wrote that, in former times in the Scandinavian homelands, quarrels over land and property were resolved by “the drawing of lots”. Losers were condemned to a life abroad where 
“by fighting they can gain themselves countries”. 
3) A flood of riches into Scandinavia
Trading led to an influx of silver bullion into Scandinavia from the Islamic world, creating elites around which ambitious young men gathered. Leaders had to reward these men for their military support and loyalty, and did so by plundering abroad on the grand scale.

The etymology of the word ‘Viking’ 

It is not even certain that ‘Viking’ is Scandinavian in origin. It occurs several times in the Old English poems Widsith, usually dated to the end of the seventh century, and in the eighth-century Exodus, in which the tribe of Reuben are described as “sæwicingas”, meaning ‘sea-warriors’, as they cross the Red Sea on their way out of Egypt. 
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle uses the term only four times before 1066, in the native English forms wícenga or wícinga, in 879, 885, 921 and 982. Some linguists believe it derives from the Latin vícus, meaning ‘camp’ or ‘dwelling-place’. Others suggest it comes from an Old Norse verb víkja, meaning ‘to travel from place to place’. 
A simple and persuasive theory is that it originally denoted people from the Vik, the name for the bay area of south-east Norway around the Oslo fjord that also denoted the inland coastal region, and included the coast of Bohuslän in present-day Sweden. There is support for the suggestion in the frequency with which the waters of the Vik appear in saga literature, suggesting it was the most heavily trafficked maritime area in the region at the time. 
Robert Ferguson has been a leading scholar and exponent of Scandinavian culture and history for over 30 years. He lives in Oslo and on the Isle of Cumbrae.

History Trivia - Battle of the Eclipse

May 28

585 BC A solar eclipse occurred, as predicted by Greek philosopher and scientist Thales, while Alyattes was battling Cyaxares in the Battle of the Eclipse, leading to a truce. This was one of the cardinal dates from which other dates can be calculated.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Book signing - meet Author Brenda Perlin at Book Soup on Friday August 5th at 7pm!


Book Signing for PUNK ROCKER & unreleased L.A. PUNK SNAPSHOTS at Book Soup Friday August 5th at 7pm!

8818 W Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA · (310) 659-3110

Punk Rocker is the much anticipated sequel to “L.A. Punk Rocker”: top author Brenda Perlin’s best-selling punk anthology. Here you will find a collection of short stories from those who were there in the early days. Hard core musical anarchists who saw it all, heard it all, did it all - and survived to tell their stories.  Along with Brenda and the West Coast punks, Punk Rocker features rebels, writers, commentators and street kids from all over America – talking about the music, the fashion, the attitude, the passion, the lifestyle and, of course, the bands who made it all happen. Meet people who discovered punk’s new dawn – and those who were there for its sunset, in the ramshackle mausoleum of the Chelsea Hotel. Backstage, in the clubs, in the gigs, in hotel rooms with the band, on the streets –Brenda was there. She saw it all. And so did her friends.  Punk Rocker. If you missed it…what are you waiting for?
Available in print and digital formats

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A New Lead in the Search for Elusive Norse Settlements

Ancient Origins

By Tara MacIsaacEpoch Times

CODROY VALLEY, Canada – A story passed down in my family for generations may be the clue to finding a lost Norse settlement.
The only Norse settlement in the New World thus far confirmed by archaeologists is in L’Anse aux Meadows at the northern tip of Newfoundland, Canada. But the Norse sagas tell of other colonizing expeditions.
Last summer, archaeologists announced they found evidence of a Norse presence–a hearth used for roasting bog iron ore, which is the first step in the production of iron–at Point Rosee in southern Newfoundland. My uncle, Wayne MacIsaac, was so excited he said he didn’t sleep for three days. He felt vindicated in his long-cherished, but long-ignored, theory that he had found an ancient Norse site in the nearby Codroy Valley where he lives.
His previous attempts to attract the interest of archaeologists to the site had met with failure, but that has now changed. An international team of archaeologists are due to investigate in July.
Wayne MacIsaac stands near what he believes may be the remnants of a Norse fortification wall.
Wayne MacIsaac stands near what he believes may be the remnants of a Norse fortification wall. (Tara MacIsaac/Epoch Times)

A Strange Boat

My great-grandfather, MacIsaac’s grandfather, used to tell of a strange boat that was found in the Codroy Valley when he was a child. A storm had shifted a sandbar at the mouth of the Little Codroy River, revealing a plank-built boat that did not match any shipbuilding style known to the locals.
Three tall human skeletons were found underneath it, along with a stone arrowhead.
In that day, no one considered preserving it as an archaeological artifact. But when MacIsaac took an interest in the Norse sagas, he began to see astounding parallels between the descriptions of a Norse settlement and the area the boat was found.
Three Norsemen at the settlement were said to have been killed by natives. MacIsaac wondered whether the three skeletons were those settlers. The stone arrowhead could suggest they were killed by native bowmen.
Local natives only made boats of animal hide or birch bark, suggesting the plank-built boat was of European origin. Yet it didn’t resemble anything known by the local French, Irish, Scottish, or English settlers of my great-grandfather’s time.
MacIsaac found that the sagas describe a mountain range extending north from the settlement. The Long Range mountains indeed extend north from the Codroy Valley. The sagas also describe a river that flows into a lake, which then flows into the sea, and a sandbar that could only be crossed at high tide.
All of this, as well as other details in the sagas, describe a part of the Codroy Valley. MacIsaac went to the spot he felt best matched the description and found what he believes could be remnants of the settlement.
The view from part of what Wayne MacIsaac believes to be a Norse settlement, looking out on a sandbar where a boat that may be of Norse origin was found by locals more than a century ago.
The view from part of what Wayne MacIsaac believes to be a Norse settlement, looking out on a sandbar where a boat that may be of Norse origin was found by locals more than a century ago. (Tara MacIsaac/Epoch Times)
The Little Codroy River, with the Long Range mountains in the background and the potential site of a Norse settlement visible in the middle-ground, to the left.
The Little Codroy River, with the Long Range mountains in the background and the potential site of a Norse settlement visible in the middle-ground, to the left. (Tara MacIsaac/Epoch Times)
MacIsaac has not disclosed the precise location publicly for fear that amateur archaeologists may disturb the site. But he took me there.
He first showed me what he believes may have been a fortifying wall mentioned in the sagas. After 1,000 years, it would be hard for my untrained eye to identify with any certainty a wall possibly built with organic materials.
What I saw was a long, narrow elevation in the ground that extended for dozens of yards, and was some four or more feet high. If it was once a wall, it has been covered with earth and vegetation to the extent that it was difficult to take a photograph of it that conveyed the shape discernible on site.
We moved to another spot, where MacIsaac had found mounds, and particularly a mound that appears unnaturally square in shape.
A square mound believed by Wayne MacIsaac to be evidence of a Norse structure.
A square mound believed by Wayne MacIsaac to be evidence of a Norse structure. (Tara MacIsaac/Epoch Times)
MacIsaac said that, while some of the mounds in the area could be natural, some, including this one, lead him to believe Norse structures existed there. He asked local elderly residents, in their 80s and 90s, whether they knew of any structures built in the area since the Scottish and French had settled there in the early 19th century.
They said the land hadn’t been used, suggesting any remnants of structures on the site are not modern.

Contradictory Interpretations

Douglas Bolender, an archaeologist at the University of Massachusetts Boston, investigated the Point Rosee site last summer and talked to MacIsaac at that time. He was intrigued by MacIsaac’s theory.
 “There may be a Norse colony in the Codroy Valley (more work definitely needs to be done),” he wrote to me in an email. “But I wouldn’t base that on the saga descriptions. They’re too vague and contradictory,” he said.
MacIsaac said of the sagas: “There are several different versions and different translations, some of them have details the others don’t have.” The details he found to match the Codroy Valley site were picked out of various versions.
The settlement the sagas describe was started by Thorfinn Karlsefni (980–1007), who led a colonizing expedition to the New World following its discovery by Leif Eriksson.
A statue of Thorfinn Karlsefni in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
A statue of Thorfinn Karlsefni in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (public domain)
Karlsefni’s settlement is described in the Saga of Eirik the Red:
Karlsefni headed south around the coast, with Snorri and Bjarni and the rest of their company. They sailed a long time, until they came to a river which flowed into a lake and from there into the sea. There were wide sandbars stretching out across the mouth of the river and they could only sail into the river at high tide. Karlsefni and his company sailed into the lagoon and called the land Hop (Tidal Pool). There they found fields of self-grown wheat in the low-lying areas and vines growing on the hills. Every stream was teeming with fish. They dug trenches along the high-water mark and when they tide ebbed there were halibut in them. There were a great number of deer of all kinds in the forest.
This passage is from the Keneva Kunz translation in the 1997 Hreinsson volume, Bolender said, which is the main account of Karlsefni’s secondary settlement.
“People have used this text to situate the colony almost anywhere on the American east coast,” Bolender said. “Carl Refn placed these spots in Cape Cod and Rhode Island back in the 1830s. Others have placed them near Boston, in Maine, Nova Scotia, and even on the Pacific coast in British Columbia!”
He also noted that the vines mentioned in the story refer to grapes, which don’t grow in Newfoundland.
I asked botanists at the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre what they thought of the grape reference. Could it have described a plant existing in Newfoundland 1,000 years ago, particularly in the Codroy Valley area?
Botanist David Mazerolle replied via email: “Our native grape (Riverbank grape, Vitis riparia) does not occur in Newfoundland and, in my opinion, it is highly unlikely that the species would have occurred there 1,000 years ago.
“A few months ago, I heard of a similar theory, concerning that same mention of a [Norse] settlement in a river valley which had ‘grapes.’ The theory was that this may have been in New Brunswick’s Miramichi River Valley, which does support Riverbank grape.”
Botanist Alain Belliveau added to Mazerolle’s response: “Groundnut (Apios americana) is another vine from Atlantic Canada that was an important food source for First Nations and would’ve been grown in river valleys, but its distribution is similar to that of Riverbank grape and it’s highly unlikely that it was in Newfoundland 1,000 years ago.”
MacIsaac awaits further investigation by archaeologists this summer. He would like to see satellite imagery used in the investigation.
That is how the Point Rosse site was identified. TED awarded archaeologist Sarah Parcak a $1 million prize to use satellite surveillance to discover and monitor ancient sites.
I asked MacIsaac how he will feel if the Codroy Valley site turns out not to have been a Norse settlement after all. He replied: “I will be very disappointed, but I’m trying to be prepared for that, because it is possible it is not what I think it is–despite all the parallels in the sagas, despite the evidence that I see on the site itself, and despite its close proximity to what’s been pretty much confirmed as Norse iron-working.
“Maybe it is just natural formations, but I really don’t think it is,” he said.
If it turns out to be a Norse site, it would have a substantial impact on the Codroy Valley, a town of some 2,000 residents. Archaeological digs would certainly stir up this small town, and the find could draw tourists.
“I want to see all of that. I have no problem with that whatsoever,” MacIsaac said. “Archaeology is my main interest, but … this place could certainly use some economic spin-off from [tourism].”
Top image: Norse explorers. ‘Summer on the Greenland coast circa year 1000’ by Jens Erik Carl Rasmussen (1841–1893) (public domain)
The article ‘A New Lead in the Search for Elusive Norse Settlements’ was originally published on The Epoch Times and has been republished with permission.

History Trivia - Procopius executed

May 27

366 Procopius, Roman usurper against Valens, and member of the Constantinian dynasty was executed.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Burial Sites Show How Nubians, Egyptians Integrated Communities Thousands of Years Ago

Ancient Origins

New bioarchaeological evidence shows that Nubians and Egyptians integrated into a community, and even married, in ancient Sudan, according to new research from a Purdue University anthropologist.

"There are not many archaeological sites that date to this time period, so we have not known what people were doing or what happened to these communities when the Egyptians withdrew," said Michele Buzon, an associate professor of anthropology, who is excavating Nubian burial sites in the Nile River Valley to better understand the relationship between Nubians and Egyptians during the New Kingdom Empire. The findings are published in American Anthropologist, and this work has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. Buzon also collaborated with Stuart Tyson Smith from the University of California, Santa Barbara, on this UCSB-Purdue led project. Antonio Simonetti from the University of Notre Dame also is a study co-author. Michele Buzon, a Purdue University associate professor of anthropology, is excavating pyramid tombs in Tombos, Sudan to study Egyptian and Nubian cultures from thousands of years ago in the Nile River Valley. Image credit: Purdue University photo/Charles Jischke Egyptians colonized the area in 1500 BCE to gain access to trade routes on the Nile River. This is known as the New Kingdom Empire, and most research focuses on the Egyptians and their legacy. The Mystery of the Miniature Pyramids of Sudan Tomb of Huy, ruler of Nubia under Tutankhamun, to be opened to the public Location of New Kingdom (CC BY-SA 3.0) "It's been presumed that Nubians absorbed Egyptian cultural features because they had to, but we found cultural entanglement? That there was a new identity that combined aspects of their Nubian and Egyptian heritages. And based on biological and isotopic features, we believe they were interacting, intermarrying and eventually becoming a community of Egyptians and Nubians," said Buzon, who just returned from the excavation site. During the New Kingdom Period, from about 1400-1050 BCE, Egyptians ruled Tombos in the Nile River Valley's Nubian Desert in the far north of Sudan. In about 1050 BCE, the Egyptians lost power during the Third Intermediate Period. At the end of this period, Nubia gained power again and defeated Egypt to rule as the 25th dynasty. Nubian Pharaohs. (Public Domain) "We now have a sense of what happened when the New Kingdom Empire fell apart, and while there had been assumptions that Nubia didn't function very well without the Egyptian administration, the evidence from our site says otherwise," said Buzon, who has been working at this site since 2000, focusing on the burial features and skeletal health analysis. "We found that Tombos continued to be a prosperous community. We have the continuation of an Egyptian Nubian community that is successful even when Egypt is playing no political role there anymore." Human remains and burial practices from 24 units were analyzed for this study. The tombs, known as tumulus graves, show how the cultures merged. The tombs' physical structure, which are mounded, round graves with stones and a shaft underneath, reflect Nubian culture. Ancient Tomb Reveals Cultural Entanglement between Egypt and Nubia The rich history of the ancient Nubian Kingdom of Dongola "They are Nubian in superstructure, but inside the tombs reflect Egyptian cultural features, such as the way the body is positioned," Buzon said. "Egyptians are buried in an extended position; on their back with their arms and legs extended. Nubians are generally on their side with their arms and legs flexed. We found some that combine a mixture of traditions. For instance, bodies were placed on a wooden bed, a Nubian tradition, and then placed in an Egyptian pose in an Egyptian coffin." Aerial view at Nubian pyramids, Meroe (CC BY-SA 1.0) Skeletal markers also supported that the two cultures merged. "This community developed over a few hundred years and people living there were the descendants of that community that started with Egyptian immigrants and local Nubians," Buzon said."They weren't living separately at same site, but living together in the community."

Top image: Nubians bringing tribute to the Pharaoh, from the tomb of Huy. Photo Source: (Exploring Africa)

The article ‘Burial sites show how Nubians, Egyptians integrated communities thousands of years ago ‘was originally published on Science Daily.

Source: Purdue University. "Burial sites show how Nubians, Egyptians integrated communities thousands of years ago." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 May 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160518165301.htm

History Trivia - St Augustine dies

May 26

604 St Augustine died.  The Benedictine monk became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 597. He is considered the "Apostle to the English" and a founder of the English Church.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

3,600-Year-Old Town of Treasures Excavated in Gaza

Ancient Origins

A rich trading town dating back about 3,600 years has been under excavation in the Gaza Strip on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Archaeologists have uncovered stunning gold jewelry, scarabs and Cypriot pottery in the town, Tell el-Ajjul, which was on one of the ancient world’s major trade highways.
Various peoples fought major wars along the route over the millennia, though it appears the people of Tell el-Ajjul were peaceful.
William M. Flanders Petrie first excavated the town from 1930 to 1934 and found large amounts of pottery, gold objects and other jewelry, many of which are on display in the British Museum.
Gold falcon earring jewelry found at Tell el-Ajjul
Gold falcon earring jewelry found at Tell el-Ajjul (studentreader.com)
Ha’aretz reports (subscription required), that recent excavations have shown that there were more than 500 years of trade between Tell el-Ajjul and other people around the Mediterranean. More than 200 potsherds of a type rarely found outside Cyprus have been uncovered from the ruins, indicating close ties between the people of the town and the island.
“I was aware of the Cypriot imports from Petrie’s excavations, but when I realised the actual amount of Cypriot imports, I came to the conclusion that Tell el-Ajjul was a trading centre with tight connections to Cyprus, sanctioned by the Egyptian overlord,” Gothenburg University Professor Peter Fischer, head of excavations, told Haaretz.
After arriving in Tell el-Ajjul, Cypriot pottery and copper and bronze items were redistributed in the Levant, including in Transjordan, Ha’aretz says.
Fischer told the Israeli newspaper he believes the great wealth of the tell was from trade surpluses because there are few natural resources in the area except, perhaps, from the fruits of agriculture, including olive oil and wine.
Fischer said he thinks Tell el-Ajjul was the main trading town in the area and it may have had a monopoly on commerce with major trade centers in Cyprus from the Middle through Late Bronze ages. Imports of rich items from Syria, the Jordan Valley, Egypt and Mycenae are evidence of the importance of the trading post from about 1650 to 1300 BC, Ha’aretz says.
The site of Tell el-Ajjul
The site of Tell el-Ajjul (Google Earth)
The tell is situated on the trade route, one of the world’s oldest, called the Via Maris or King’s Highway that connected North Africa with the Levant. It was a site of battles from the time of ancient Egyptian rule, conquest by Philistia, through Alexander the Great’s conquest, the Crusades and up to nearly modern times with Napoleon’s excursions into the region, says Ha’aretz, adding that the list is not exhaustive.
The famous Via Maris road running between the empires of the Fertile Crescent to the north and east and Egypt to the south and west
The famous Via Maris road running between the empires of the Fertile Crescent to the north and east and Egypt to the south and west (saffold.com)
It is unknown who ruled the trade town. Experts have speculated that during the Middle Bronze Age the rulers were sovereign kings or governors, Ha’artez says, dispatched from the Egyptian Hyksos capital of Avaris in the Nile Delta. But later, around 1500 BC when the Hyksos Dynasty was overthrown, it seems Egyptian governors of the 18th and 19th dynasties may have assumed control.
“Fischer believes Tell el-Ajjul is identical with Sharuhen, where according to Egyptian sources the Hyksos fled after being expelled from Egypt by Pharaoh Ahmose I,” Ha’aretz states.
Fischer said: “Most of the more than 1300 scarabs from Tell el-Ajjul were locally produced and represent trading goods which one can find everywhere in the Levant, including Transjordan.  However, there are also genuine Egyptian scarabs at Tell el Ajjul.”
There was a large amount of deluxe pottery at Tell el-Ajjul, most of it imported from Cyprus, one of the major pottery manufacturers of the Eastern Aegean. It appears the people of Tell el-Ajjul traded Canaanite jars with wine, oil and incense for the luxury pottery of Cyprus, Ha’aretz states.
Unfortunately, says the article in Ha’aretz homes are now being constructed on the ruins of the ancient town, which threatens efforts to do proper excavations and may even destroy it. The population of Gaza is 1.87 million as of 2015. The people live on 141 square miles, so space is cramped, and they don’t have enough money to build high-rise apartment buildings.
Fischer told Ha’aretz he fears the entire tell may be destroyed by the new construction. And excavations of the tell were halted in 2011 because of Egyptian and Israeli restrictions.
"There are new houses everywhere on the tell. In consequence, I am very pessimistic that Tell el-Ajjul can be saved for future generations. Believe me, I have tried,” he told the newspaper.
Top image: Main: Excavating at Tel el-Ajjul, Gaza. Credit: Peter M. Fischer. Inset: Gold crescent shaped earring jewelry found at Tell el-Ajjul. 
By Mark Miller

History Trivia - Thales of Greece predicts solar eclipse

May 25

585 BC Thales of Greece made the first known prediction of a solar eclipse.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Why did Anne Boleyn have to die?

History Extra

The most familiar depictions of Anne Boleyn are various reproductions of this glamorous portrait, in which she wears the famous B-pendant. The earliest dates from 50–60 years after Anne’s death, though they may derive from a portrait, now missing, produced in her lifetime. (Copyright NPG)

On the morning of 19 May 1536, Anne Boleyn climbed the scaffold erected on Tower Green, within the walls of the Tower of London. She gave a speech praising the goodness and mercy of the king, and asked those gathered to pray for her. Then she removed her fine, ermine-trimmed gown, and knelt down – and the expensive French executioner that Henry VIII had ordered swung his sword and “divided her neck at a blow”.
Her death is so familiar to us that it is hard to imagine how shocking it would have been: the queen of England executed on charges of adultery, incest and conspiring the king’s death. And not just any queen: this was the woman for whom Henry VIII had abandoned his wife of nearly 24 years, waited seven long years to wed, and even revolutionised his country’s church. Yet just three years later her head was off – and the reason for her death remains one of the great mysteries of English history.
To this day, historians cannot agree why she had to die. Had Henry and Anne’s relationship gone into terminal decline, prompting Henry to invent the charges against his wife? Was Thomas Cromwell responsible for Anne’s demise? Or was she indeed guilty of the charges laid against her? Evidence is limited – but there is enough to appear to support several very different conclusions.
There are a number of undisputed facts relating to Anne’s fall. On Sunday 30 April 1536 Mark Smeaton, a musician from the queen’s household, was arrested; he was then interrogated at Cromwell’s house in Stepney. On the same evening the king postponed a trip with Anne to Calais, planned for 2 May.
The next day, 1 May, Smeaton was moved to the Tower. Henry attended the May Day jousts at Greenwich but left abruptly on horseback with a small group of intimates. These included Sir Henry Norris, a personal body servant and one of his closest friends, whom he questioned throughout the journey. At dawn the next day Norris was taken to the Tower. Anne and her brother George, Lord Rochford, were also arrested.
On 4 and 5 May, more courtiers from the king’s privy chamber – William Brereton, Richard Page, Francis Weston, Thomas Wyatt and Francis Bryan – were arrested. The latter was questioned and released, but the others were imprisoned in the Tower. On 10 May, a grand jury indicted all of the accused, apart from Page and Wyatt.
On 12 May, Smeaton, Brereton, Weston and Norris were tried and found guilty of adultery with the queen, and of conspiring the king’s death. On 15 May, Anne and Rochford were tried within the Tower by a court of 26 peers presided over by their uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. Both were found guilty of high treason. On 17 May Archbishop Thomas Cranmer declared the marriage of Henry and Anne null, and by 19 May, all six convicted had been executed. Later that day, Cranmer issued a dispensation allowing Henry and Jane Seymour to marry; they were betrothed on 20 May and married 10 days later.
What could explain this rapid and surprising turn of events? The first theory, argued by Boleyn biographer and scholar GW Bernard, is simply that Anne was guilty of the charges against her. Yet even he is equivocal, suggesting the Scottish legal verdict of ‘not proven’ – he concludes that, though the evidence is insufficient to prove definitively that Anne and those accused with her were guilty, neither does it prove their innocence.
Anne’s guilt was, naturally, the official line. Writing to the bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner, Cromwell stated with certainty – before Anne’s trial – that “the queen’s incontinent living was so rank and common that the ladies of her privy chamber could not conceal it.”
The key piece of evidence was undoubtedly the confession by the first man accused, Smeaton, that he had had sexual intercourse with the queen three times. Though it was probably obtained under torture (the accounts vary), he never retracted his confession. Unlikely as it was to be true, it catapulted the investigation to a different, far more serious level. All subsequent evidence was tainted with a presumption of guilt. Henry VIII’s intimate questioning of Norris, and his promise of “pardon in case he would utter the truth”, must be understood in this light: whatever Norris said, or refused to say, it reinforced Henry’s conviction of his guilt.
Other evidence for Anne’s guilt is unclear – the trial documents do not survive. Her indictment, however, states that Anne “did falsely and traitoroysly procure by base conversations and kisses, touchings, gifts and other infamous incitations, divers of the king’s daily and familiar servants to be her adulterers and concubines, so that several… yielded to her vile provocations”. She even, it charges, “procured and incited her own natural brother… to violate her, alluring him with her tongue in the said George’s mouth, and the said George’s tongue in hers”. Yet, as another Boleyn biographer Eric Ives noted, three-quarters of the specific accusations of adulterous liaisons made in the indictment can be discredited, even 500 years later.

True wedded wife

Certainly, Anne maintained her innocence. During her imprisonment Sir William Kingston, constable of the Tower, reported Anne’s remarks to Cromwell. His first letter details Anne’s ardent declaration of innocence: “I am as clear from the company of man, as for sin… as I am clear from you, and the king’s true wedded wife.”
A few days later, Anne comforted herself that she would have justice: “She said if any man accuse me I can say but nay, and they can bring no witness.” Crucially, the night before her execution, she swore “on peril of her soul’s damnation”, before and after receiving the Eucharist, that she was innocent – a serious act in that religious age.

Édouard Cibot’s painting of 1835 depicts Anne imprisoned in the Tower of London. The queen protested her innocence until the end. (Copyright Bridgeman Art Library)
Anne was not alone in professing her innocence. As Sir Edward Baynton put it: “No man will confess any thing against her, but only Mark of any actual thing.” And even Eustace Chapuys, ambassador for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Anne’s arch-enemy, would finally conclude that everyone besides Smeaton was “condemned upon presumption and certain indications, without valid proof or confession”.
Another set of historians have favoured the explanation that Anne was the victim of a conspiracy by Thomas Cromwell and a court faction involving the Seymours. This rests upon a view of Henry as a pliable king whose courtiers could “bounce” him into action and tip him “by a crisis” into rejecting Anne. But why should Anne and Cromwell, erstwhile allies of a reformist bent, fall out? Differences of opinion are thought to have arisen over the use of funds from the dissolution of the monasteries, as well as matters of foreign policy – seemingly slender motives for destroying a queen.
It has been suggested that Cromwell’s court faction intended to replace Anne with Jane Seymour. Chapuys mentioned Jane in a letter of 10 February 1536, reporting that Henry had sent her a gift of a purse full of sovereigns, accompanied by a letter. She did not open the letter, which – Ives speculated – contained a summons to the royal bed. Instead, she kissed it and returned it, asking the messenger to tell the king that “there was no treasure in this world that she valued as much as her honour,” and that if the king wanted to give her a present, she begged it might be at “such a time as God would be pleased to send her some advantageous marriage”.
Such a calculated reply is reminiscent of Anne during the days of her courtship with Henry. In response to Jane’s coyness, Henry’s love for her was said to have “marvellously increased”. Yet she was described as a lady whom the king “serves” – a telling word implying that he sought her as his ‘courtly love’ mistress. There is little evidence that, before Anne was accused of adultery, Henry had planned to make Jane his wife. Marriage to Jane was, surely, a symptom and a product of Anne’s downfall, not a cause.
The pivotal piece of evidence for a conspiracy is a remark made by Cromwell to Chapuys after Anne’s death. In a letter to Charles V, Chapuys wrote that Cromwell had told him “il se mist a fantasier et conspirer le dict affaire,” which has been translated as “he set himself to devise and conspire the said affair,” suggesting that Cromwell plotted against Anne.
Crucially, however, this phrase is often used out of context. The previous sentence states that “he himself [Cromwell] had been authorised and commissioned by the king to prosecute and bring to an end the mistress’s trial, to do which he had taken considerable trouble.” If we accept this account, it is impossible to dismiss Henry VIII from the picture – Cromwell claimed not to be acting alone.
It has been proposed, therefore, that Henry asked Cromwell to get rid of Anne. David Starkey suggested that “Anne’s proud and abrasive character soon became intolerable to her husband”. JJ Scarisbrick, author of the authoritative volume Henry VIII, agreed: “What had once been devastating infatuation turned into bloodthirsty loathing, for reasons we will never completely know.”

Lovers’ quarrels

Evidence for this view is taken from the writings of the ever-hopeful Chapuys. As a Catholic and a supporter of Catherine of Aragon, he referred to Anne as “the concubine” or “the she-devil”, and had made bitter assertions about the doomed state of Henry and Anne’s relationship even at the height of their happiness in late summer 1533. But Chapuys himself recognised that Henry and Anne had always been prone to “lovers’ quarrels”, and that the king’s character was very “changeable”.
True, Henry and Anne were direct with each other: they got angry, shouted and became jealous. But they were also frequently described as being “merry” together; it was an epithet still being applied to them during the autumn of 1535 – and one that was appended to their marriage more often than to any of Henry’s other unions. Bernard has described theirs as a “tumultuous relationship of sunshine and storms”.
Some have proposed that the miscarriage of a male foetus suffered by Anne in January 1536 led inexorably to her downfall. Did it cause Henry to believe that Anne would never be able to bear him an heir, and thus to consider the marriage doomed? Certainly, the king was reported to have shown “great disappointment and sorrow”. Chapuys wrote that Henry, during his visit to Anne’s chamber after the tragedy, said very little except: “I see that God will not give me male children.”
Henry then left Anne at Greenwich to convalesce while he went to Whitehall to mark the feast day of St Matthew. Chapuys, rather maliciously, interpreted this as showing that Henry had abandoned Anne, “whereas in former times he could hardly be one hour without her”. Clearly, the miscarriage was a great blow to both Henry and Anne – yet another four months were to pass before Anne’s death, so demonstrating a direct link between the events would be problematic.
Another story, reported third-hand by Chapuys, quotes Henry as telling an unidentified courtier that he had married Anne “seduced and constrained by sortilèges”. That last word translates as ‘sorcery, spells, charms’, and has given rise to the suggestion that Anne Boleyn dabbled in witchcraft. Though this is regularly cited as one of the charges of which she was found guilty, it is not mentioned in the indictment.
Ives, though, pointed out that the primary English meaning of sortilèges at this time was ‘divination’, a translation that changes the meaning of Henry’s comment. It could imply that he was induced to marry Anne by premarital prophecies that she would bear sons, or could refer simply to Henry’s earlier infatuation or ‘bewitchment’ by Anne.
The idea that Henry had been “seduced by witchcraft” has become attached to another theory, which holds that the real reason for Anne’s ruin was that the foetus miscarried in January 1536 was deformed. According to Tudor specialist Retha Warnicke, the delivery of a “shapeless mass of flesh” proved in Henry’s mind that Anne was both a witch and adulterously promiscuous. But this description comes from a Catholic propagandist, Nicholas Sander, writing 50 years later; there is no contemporary evidence to sustain this salacious theory.

Anne receives the news of her death sentence in an 1814 painting by Pierre-Nolasque Bergeret, now in the Louvre. (Copyright AKG)

Diplomatic coup

An event in April 1536 suggests that, just weeks before Anne was executed, Henry was still committed to his marriage. In the early months of 1536, Henry was increasing the pressure on Charles V to recognise Anne as his wife. On 18 April he invited Chapuys to the court. Events that day were very deliberately staged: the ambassador attended mass and, as Henry and Anne descended from the royal pew to the chapel, she stopped and bowed to Chapuys.
Etiquette dictated that he return the gesture – a significant diplomatic coup, because it implied recognition by the ambassador and, by extension, his emperor. It would, as Bernard has argued, have been extraordinarily capricious of Henry to seek to have Anne recognised as his wife if he already harboured intentions of ridding himself of her soon after.
So was it not guilt, nor a court coup, nor Henry’s hatred of Anne that led to her downfall but, rather, a terrible combination of malicious gossip and her own indiscretions?
A poetic account written in June 1536 by Lancelot de Carles, secretary to the French ambassador, relates that one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting, Elizabeth Browne, was accused of loose living. She made light of her own guilt by stating that “it was little in her case in comparison with that of the queen”. These words reached Cromwell who, according to de Carles, reported them to Henry; the king blanched and, very reluctantly, ordered him to investigate.
This certainly aligns with Cromwell’s own retelling of the events. De Carles adds a crucial, though unsubstantiated, clause, Henry telling Cromwell that “if it turns out that your report, which I do not wish to believe, is untrue, you will receive pain of death in place of [the accused]”. So Cromwell may have had reason to find evidence of Anne’s guilt.
Given that Anne was accused of conspiring the king’s death (the only charge that actually constituted treason – consensual adultery was not covered by the treason law of 1352), it seems likely that the evidence used to demonstrate her guilt was a conversation she recalled – and William Kingston reported – with Norris.
Anne had asked Norris why he did not go through with his marriage. He had replied that “he wold tary a time,” leading her to taunt him with the fateful words “you loke for ded men’s showys; for yf owth cam to the King but good, you would loke to have me.” Norris’s flustered response – that “yf he should have any such thought, he wold hys hed war of” – provoked her to retort that “she could undo him if she would,” and “ther with thay felle yowt” (“there with they fell out”.)
It might seem that this overstepped the normal boundaries of ‘courtly love’ talk only a little. But the Treasons Act of 1534 held that even imagining the death of the king was treasonous, so Anne’s conversation with Norris was charged, reckless and, arguably, fatal – useful ammunition if Cromwell were looking for dirt. Was it, as Greg Walker (author of Writing Under Tyranny) has suggested, not what Anne did but what she said that made her appear guilty?
When it comes to Anne Boleyn’s fall, historians give their ‘best guess’ answers on the basis of the available evidence – which is too sparse to be conclusive. For my part, it is the final ‘cock-up theory’ that convinces me. I believe that Anne was innocent, but caught out by her careless words. Henry was convinced by the charges against her; it was a devastating blow from which he never recovered. For Anne, of course, the consequences were far more terrible.


Timeline: The rise and fall of Anne Boleyn

1501 (or possibly 1507): The birth
Anne is born at Blickling, Norfolk, to Thomas Boleyn and his wife, Elizabeth (daughter of Thomas Howard, later second Duke of Norfolk). Historians debate whether Anne was born in 1501 or 1507; the former is more plausible
1513: The first post
Anne is appointed a maid-of-honour at the court of Margaret, archduchess of Austria; she later leaves to serve Mary, queen of France, wife of Louis XII (and Henry VIII’s sister). After Louis’ death, Anne remains at the court of the new French queen, Claude, for seven years
1521: The repatriation
Anne is recalled to England by her father
1 March 1522: The court appearance
Anne makes her first recorded appearance at Henry VIII’s court, playing the part of Perseverance in a Shrove Tuesday pageant. At that time, Henry was having an affair with Anne’s sister, Mary
c1526: The object of love
Henry VIII falls in love with Anne. A letter from him, dated to 1527, states that for more than one year Henry had been “struck by the dart of love” and asks Anne to “give herself body and heart to him”
1532/33: The royal wedding
Anne marries Henry. The official wedding is held in January 1533, but they are probably married secretly at Dover in October 1532. Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon is not annulled until May 1533
7 September 1533: The birth
Anne gives birth to a daughter, Elizabeth
29 January 1536: The miscarriage
Anne miscarries a male foetus
2 May 1536: The accusations
Anne is arrested and taken to the Tower, along with her brother George Boleyn, Lord Rochford
19 May 1536: The execution
Anne is beheaded on Tower Green within the Tower of London

Suzannah Lipscomb is a leading Tudor historian, author and broadcaster