By Ryan Lavelle
The defence of the 9th-century country of Wessex less than King Alfred opposed to the 'Great Viking Army' is among the significant army achievements of Early Medieval historical past. whereas the guerrilla war within the Somerset marshes and the conflict of Edington are attribute of Alfred's army talents, his definitive actual success used to be a chain of a few 30 well-structured fortifications (known as burhs) around the state. lots of those fortifications continue to exist to this present day and a few have been even strengthened to face as much as German tanks within the anticipated invasion of 1940. This identify describes their beginnings within the turbulent early years of Alfred's reign in addition to their next improvement and use.
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Extra info for Fortifications in Wessex c. 800-1066 (Fortress, Volume 14)
Qxd 48 3/3/09 12:17 Page 48 tells us that at Paris in 885⁄6, the Vikings used battering rams and siege engines to throw missiles at the Franks. The Carolingian Franks had not been unprepared either, as they used a mixture of oil, wax and pitch as well as ballistae against their besiegers, and reinforced their fortifications with wooden structures. Of course, as ever with medieval accounts of warfare, we should not dismiss the possibility that Abbo may have been rather influenced by classical models of warfare in his portrayal of the siege of Paris, but neither should we ignore the fact that the scholars at the West Saxon court, so influential in the policies of King Alfred, were equally well versed in the writings of classical authors and the West Saxon court’s official record, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, took a special interest in happenings across the Channel in the 880s.
For the majority of peasants drafted in to work on the smaller fortifications, especially during the period of what may effectively have been ‘emergency’ arrangements under King Alfred, garrison life may also have been singularly dull. qxd 3/3/09 12:17 Page 41 to underestimate the importance of press-ganged peasantry in the building of Alfred’s networks. For those living in areas such as around Winchester or London, the royal orders to work within the towns were probably not too onerous for a few months.
These were not simply camp followers, but are presumed to have been the wives of the warriors whose families lived and worked within the fortifications. Archaeological excavations and later records of street patterns have tended to show that the larger towns, such as Winchester, tended to be ‘zoned’ with trades and crafts grouped into particular areas. This was hardly unique to the Anglo-Saxons and was a tendency that continued throughout the Middle Ages into the Early Modern period. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see the early development of such urban life within the city walls as, for example, Winchester’s ‘Fleshmonger Street’, ‘Parchment Street’ and ‘Tanner Street’ became identifiable trading or craft-working areas during the Anglo-Saxon period.