The Worst Slaughter in Viking HistoryAll around the world, there is likely no man, woman, or child who has never heard of the Vikings. This is partially due to Hollywood’s influence in glorifying bygone visages of masculinity, and partially to do the still visible influences of the Victorian romanticizing of the Vikings as the ‘noble savage’.The Vikings, the people of the North, the Danes, Scandinavians; No matter what they are called, they were know for their valor in battle. With no fear of death, there were few who would willingly step into battle to face of against these brave souls. But how much do we really know about them and the lives they really lived? What were they really like, and how fierce were they really?Among the early settlers of the northern colonies, populated by the sea-going raiders we have all come to love and admire, there really was no writing system or record of history. So we really don’t know too terribly much. I know, I know… “But what about the runes?” you may ask. Well, in truth, they really weren’t used the way we use writing today. That is, until much later, until nearly the end of the Viking age, runes were used symbolically. So when we really look back, we find little more than a charm or a curse etched on a stone every now and again.Most of what we know about how they lived, loved and fought actually comes from outside of the Viking tribes and settlements. So, besides the epics and oral traditions passed down through the generations of dwindling bloodlines, the mainstream histories of the Vikings are essentially the frightened and villainizing tales of their victims. And as such, we really can’t and shouldn’t rely on them too heavily. One such twisted bit of history is the St. Brice’s Day Massacre.It was Friday the 13th, November of 1002: St. Brice’s Day. For the last 4 years, Vikings had conducted annual raids on the English shores, and King Ethelred had grown tired of the wanton destruction and fear spreading across his lands. But how could he stop such a force? He knew that another year would bring another raid, and that his kingdom could take no more abuse from the savage landing parties which would arrive like clockwork. It had been a year since the last Viking raid on England, but they would be back.There were rumors spreading, rumors of fear and of malevolence. The people feared the Vikings’ return and more than that, they feared the end of their society. Even in our day of modern medicine, gym memberships, and generally elongated lifespans, it still only requires the stroke of a blade and less than 2lbs of pressure to take a life. But, the lives that the people feared would be take were not their own, but those of the king and the ruling class of England, rendering them all a people without a country and the entire nation, a lawless Viking settlement. For anyone who had seen the carnage of the raiding parties or heard the rumors, knew that this would be a fate worse than death. It would be a hell of uncertainty, death, and destruction. The English peasants would be considered to be little more than cattle to the vicious Norse. Something had to be done.And as history tells us, something was done about it. English and French nobles had been paying off the Viking raiders for years, but to no avail: the raids still came every year. This time, King Ethelred not only had to protect his country but himself. This time he wouldn’t waste gold or lives, he would set an example for all Vikings to let them know what was to come for any Dane who dared to set foot on English shores.By this time there were several Scandinavian settlements in England, and while the farmers seemed tame enough, they were raising the new generation and their homes acted as base-camps for vessels headed deeper inland to eventually raid English settlements further up the coast. It was his council who pointed out this well-known fact to the king, and it was also his council who pointed this out to the villagers in villages surrounding the Viking settlements… and this is where the trouble really started.As they say, ‘doubt is the most powerful force in the world,’ or at least that’s what I tell my freshman students when I’m teaching them the fundamentals of rhetoric and argumentation. It is not facts that sway your audience, it is doubt. And this is why even in today’s court systems, even with forensic sciences, charges against the defendant must be cleared of all reasonable doubt in order to gain a conviction. Doubt is fear, and if you fear something you cannot deal with it objectively. That fact is the same now as it was back then, and it has always been the job of the usurper to cast doubt and spread fear, in order to get what they want. In this case, the king’s council wanted death for all Danes in England.Ethelred was not a brave king, but he was not a stupid one. He knew that raising his hand to the Norse encampments would bring the full fury of the Viking peoples, and it was likely that England, even with the help of France, would not be able to survive the skirmish if it came to that. He needed a way to destroy the Danes on his shores, but couldn’t take official action, so it was his council who used the power of doubt and fear to have the people do the dirty work for them.It was the people, the villagers and farmers who were whipped into a frenzy of anguish and anxiety who caused the greatest massacre in Viking history. It was the peasants of England who rose up and slaughtered the Viking settlers and drove the raiding parties from the shores of England, or was it? Did malnourished and overworked farmers really murder hundreds of battle-hardened Vikings with shovels and pitchforks? I mean, even an old Viking who had given up on raiding could probably hold their own against a peasant with little to no fighting experience, right?Well, as luck would have it, we no longer need to rely on one-sided reports from scared nobles acting on their own ambitions. Technologies in forensic sciences and archaeological methods have revealed many truths about the past, and not just about the pyramids and the mysterious heads of Rapanui Island, but also about the previously lost history of the Vikings.If you are thinking that I am about the tell you that archaeological evidence suggests that the St. Brice’s Day Massacre never happened, then you are sorely mistaken. The massacre did happen, and now we not only know how many victims there really were, but we know what really happened! And, spoiler alert, but it wasn’t a group of angry villagers who hunted the Vikings down like Frankenstein’s Monster, with torches and pitchforks.As far as evidence tells us from the uncovering of mass-burial sites, there were over 100 victims and each one was between the ages of about 20 and 30 years old: prime fighting age for a Scandinavian youth. This was only one detail that historical documents didn’t account for, which raises more than one major question. Another detail not mentioned is one that leads us to either question the bodies in the grave, or the records from the court of the king.Not just one of the bodies found in the mass graves, but all of the victims found had been beheaded. And not by chance, but in a controlled fashion with clean and precise strikes. The age of the victims raises an eyebrow as far as the accuracy of the accounts, but is explained by the fact that fighting-age Danes would be an obvious priority target, but clean blows through bone is another matter altogether frightening.Peasants in such a day as the year 1000 AD could not have afforded swords and even iron axes would have been in short supply. Even if a villager did get their hands on a sword, it is unlikely that it would have been a sword with a blade of high enough quality to hold and edge long enough to cleave cleanly through over 100 spinal columns. That is just ridiculous.Additional inspection of the corpses also revealed that there were little to no other abrasions to the bones of the victims, meaning that these youthful Norse were likely not treated roughly and poked, prodded, or beaten by the blunt weapons of farmers. In light of all this, there really is only one reasonable way to recount the events of the St. Brice’s Day Massacre, and a peasant revolt is certainly not it. But it does make for a great cover-story, one that doesn’t incriminate the crown.So, are you ready for what really happened to the Vikings? I’m sure you can already guess, but here it goes…The king was indeed afraid of yet another Viking raid, and the council did instruct him that if the villagers were to eliminate the Scandinavian settlements, it would alleviate the threat of future raids, and rumors did spread like wildfire to insight fear. However, it wasn’t the villagers what raised their swords against the threat. Even a knight’s sword would be blunted after several slashes through solid bone and dulled to the point that it would no longer cut cleanly. And this fact alone tells us that there were multiple high-quality swords used with precision. It was not a revolt, but a decisive execution of a foe; clean and swift. It was an action that could only have been carried out by the royal guard.This also helps clarify the age and gender of the victims found in the mass grave sites. All male, all young, and all in good health. Peasants out on a grudge would never have been so selective. However, a lord who had though through a plan to subdue an entrenched foe would have made exactly such a choice. Kill the warriors and set an example. Kill the young males and end the bloodlines. It was insidious to say the least, but here is why he did it.By the year 1,000 AD, the number of Danes in England was incredible. They didn’t arrive by boat though, but by birth. Nearly half the population of England had a Scandinavian heritage by this point. After all, the Norse were skilled farmers and were easily able to take advantage of such fertile soil. The Vikings who decided to farm were prosperous and marriage to English citizens was a willing engagement. The Vikings were hard workers and prospered, and bred, and multiplied… and this is what scared the king most of all. He knew that if he did not sever the connection of his mixed-blooded English citizens, he would lose them. It was not a war of blood, but of bloodlines.King Ethelred was intelligent but truly wicked in his methods. It was king Ethelred and his soldiers who carried out the most vicious and mindless slaughter in in history. It was Friday the 13th, November 1002… St. Brice’s Day. The day all of the English Vikings systematically massacred.