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  Assessment of the Battle

Maldon itself does not appear to have been attacked, despite the Viking victory. However in the following months the raiders forced the rulers of Kent, Hampshire and West Sussex to pay them. Indeed the defeat had dramatic implications nationally, for it led King Ethelred to raise £10,000 by a new tax in order to buy off the Vikings. ‘The precedent then set was followed on several occasions during the next twenty-five years, and these emergency levies were the prototypes of the recurrent Danegelds imposed by the Anglo-Norman kings.’Despite the significant political outcome of the defeat, the events at Maldon in 991 might have faded into a footnote of history but for the survival of the major contemporary poem The Battle of Maldon. It would have been treated as just one of a series of battles in the conflict with the Vikings in the late 10th and early 11th centuries. It certainly passed unmentioned in northern verse and saga, and it is indeed also ignored by various major works on medieval warfare, such as Oman’s influential study.

The battle at Maldon culminated in the death of Earldorman Byrhtnoth and the defeat of his army. It also revealed the true scale of the Viking threat and was an important factor leading the king to follow a strategy of paying tribute to the raiders to secure temporary respite. In future years Ethelred finally managed to divide the Viking forces, paying some to fight for him as allies, to defend against other raiders, while he reconstructed the defences and built up his navy. But the strategy was ultimately unsuccessful, for this king was no Alfred able to unit his people to defeat the invaders, though it must be admitted that Ethelred probably faced by a far more united and powerful military force than that which Alfred overcame. The Viking attacks, from both Denmark and Norway, continued on and off until 1017 when the Danish king, Cnut (more popularly ‘Canute’), finally conquered England.

It has been argued that Maldon was one of the largest of the battles of the period and yet in 994, just three years later a fleet of 94 ships once more attacked the south east of England. Indeed there were many other engagements large and small during Aethelred’s reign. Other battles were fought across England, the Ealdormen of other regions raising their fyrd, sometimes of one county sometimes several together. The importance of Maldon is that it is the best documented of battles of this dramatic period which ended in the subjugation of England under a Danish king.


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