THE VIKINGS AND THEIR VICTIMS:THE VERDICT OF THE NAMES
N the Dorothea Coke memorial lecture delivered in 1986,Professor R. I. Page, that silver-haired master of silver-tongued vituperation, had to admit that he had been at a lossas to how to translate without resort to obscenity one of the manymore or less obscene descriptions employed by the late tenth-century English chronicler Æthelweard of the late ninth-centuryViking invaders.
The rather colourless result arrived at:
most vile people
was included in the title of his lecture on the radi-cally differing views about the Vikings that were held by earlyhistorians. It is not, of course, surprising that the victims of Vikingattacks considered their aggressors to be pagan barbarians, capableof every kind of deed of shame, nor that inscriptions on rune-stones in Scandinavia raised to the memory of Vikings who haddied in action in the west praise the dead men as models of valour,liberality and loyalty. Among the many inscriptions commemorating Swedes whodied in England discussed by Professor Sven B. F. Jansson inhis Dorothea Coke memorial lecture in 1965, for example, isthat on the stone at Transjö in Småland, which was raised in theeleventh century by
to his son
who is said to have been ‘among men the most un-dastard’ (
Ketil’sEnglish enemies may not have shared the opinion of his father but there certainly were Englishmen in the eleventh century who
R. I. Page, ‘A
Most Vile People
: Early English Historians on The Vikings
(London, 1987), p. 1.
Sven B. F. Jansson,
Swedish Vikings in England. The Evidence of the Rune Stones
(London, 1966), p. 9. References in the present paper to rune-stones inSweden are to the series
(Stockholm, 1900–) with thefollowing abbreviations: