Collected Essays on the Nature of Viking Settlement

Dr K Buckingham (

Scandinavians, commonly known as Vikings, unquestionably settled in England in the ninth century. We know that from contemporary sources. But whether they settled in the same way that Norman lords took over the manors of their Anglo-Saxon predecessors or whether there was a mass colonisation, as in Australia, and North America is a moot point. If they were simply a ruling elite, it is difficult to explain the profound effect that the Scandinavian languages have had on English. I examine the evidence in the linked documents below. These are mostly based on articles I submitted to the journal of the English Companions (a group of people who share an interest in Anglo-Saxon History).

Click on the topics below to open an Essay

1. "Scandinavian Place Names in England are Remarkably Different from their European Counterparts."

This essay makes two important points. Firstly that no other Viking age colonies had substantial numbers of the place name endings which typify Scandinavian Settlement in England. This implies that these place names were not imported by Viking age settlers. Secondly that the number of such place names is overwhelming. It is not simply the establishment of a few villages, but, over substantial parts of England, their numbers indicate a continuum of Scandinavian place names across the North Sea. These numbers suggest a massive tribal migration not associated with the Viking Age Conquests.

2. "The Documentary Evidence for Settlement from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle."

The earliest and most important source of information about the Viking conquest of parts of England comes from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It mainly records when the kings and bishops of England held office but goes into some detail about the struggle between Wessex and the invaders. It has been used as evidence for a mass Scandinavian settlement. This essay considers that evidence.

3. "The Origin of Danish Settlement in England."

This was my first attempt to understand why the consensus of opinion favours a Viking Age settlement of England, when there is so much evidence for Scandinavian settlement that pre-dates that period. It is rather a naive account, and makes some points that I would change with hindsight. However, there is also much that I would still stand by.

4. "Do Anglo-Saxon Place Names Cluster into Groups?"

We don't know how the various Germanic tribes divided up the England. They may have agreed upon nice tidy borders, or they may have formed a patchwork of tribal areas. I undertook this work to see whether place names could help clarify the situation. In England place name endings (or elements) often indicate the nature of a place, for example "ham" meaning a "home", "ing" meaning "the possessions of", or "beck" meaning a "stream". Where several of these place name endings commonly occur in close proximity, that group of place name endings might indicate a social grouping or tribe. Looking at groups of place names can be more powerful than looking at each place name ending individually.

5. "The Inferred Origins of Pre-Viking Anglo-Saxons."

A recent paper on ancient DNA by Gretzinger et al has helped clear up a debate between those who saw the Germanic settlement of England as a tribal migration and those who saw it as an elite takeover. The DNA evidence shows extensive Germanic settlement. The article goes on to examine the precise European origins of the settlers. My essay summarises and comments on this aspect of the Gretzinger paper.

6. "Myres and the Anglo-Saxon Settlement of England Re-Visited."

This essay considers the work of JNL Myres, who made a lifelong study of early Germanic pottery in England. This led him to believe that the Germanic settlement of England originated in the Roman auxilliaries who came here before the Roman withdrawal, and that these people were already "mixed" Anglo-Saxons before they arrived. In some repects his findings are similar to those of Gretzinger et al.

7. "The Viking Settlement of Northumbria"

It is widely believed that Viking power in England extended only as far north as the River Tees. There is no contemporary written support for this belief. The principle argument in favour seems to be the almost complete absence of Scandinaian place names in the area (particularly those ending in "by"). However, the same could be said of Viking colonies in Normandy, Ireland and Iceland. "By" place names were not commonly used by the Vikings of that period. If the absence of these place names north of the Tees is a poor test of the presence of Vikings in the area, we must look for other indicators. This essay examines the question further.