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Causeway from Northey Island looking west
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The causeway to Northey Island at low tide
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The Battlefield

Maldon is the only battle from before 1066 for which the battlefield has been identified with some confidence. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that the battle took place near Maldon. This is clearly Maldon in Essex because Byrhtnoth was Ealdorman of Essex, while the earlier plundering by the Viking force took place at Ipswich, 30 miles to the north east.

Only a handful of battles from before 1066 have been located and Maldon is the only one of these for which the battlefield has, supposedly, been identified with confidence. The exact position of the battlefield has been identified using strong topographical evidence within the poem, The Battle of Maldon. The current interpretation is that the battle was fought on the mainland immediately opposite Northey Island, in the Blackwater estuary just to the east of the town of Maldon. However the current identification of the site has been challenged by Bessinger and, unless and until substantial archaeological evidence is recovered for the battle, the identification of the battlefield must remain open to question. Even if the Northey Island site is the correct one, the exact location of the action has yet to be identified within the general area.

Because significant doubts still remain, too much should not continue to be built upon the current interpretation until and unless archaeological evidence is retrieved to confirm the location. No archaeological finds which might relate to the battle have been reported from the battlefield as currently identified. This should not be considered as undermining the identification. It may simply be because no investigation has been attempted, because the evidence is buried beneath alluvium or because little archaeology exists for battles of this period. If the site can be confirmed archaeologically then the battlefield will become one of the most important in England, for its potential to contribute to the understanding of one of the most destructive periods of warfare in English history. This is because it has been demonstrated that buried evidence survives for the contemporary historic landscape. More important still, with such extensive burial of the earlier land surface beneath alluvium, there is a high potential for well preserved buried archaeological evidence of the battle itself. If intensively explored, such evidence might tell us a great deal about warfare in the Viking period in England.Unfortunately the only physical evidence which may relate to the battle is the apparent discovery in 1769 of a headless corpse with the head replaced by a ball of wax, excavated in Ely Cathedral. This is where Byrhtnoth was said to have been buried. It is the one ‘fact’ that may lend any credence to the otherwise highly individual account of the battle recorded in the Liber Eliensis.


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