Viking killed in massacre ordered by English king reunited with family 1,000 years later

The bodies of two close Viking relatives are to be reunited 1,000 years after they died hundreds of miles apart in Oxford and a small town in central Denmark.

One of the Norsemen settled in England as a young man in the early 1000s, only to be killed in a massacre ordered by King Æthelred the Unready.

The other remained in Denmark and lived until his 50s, though his remains show signs he lived a life of violence.   Using DNA tests, scientists have proved that the two men were either half-brothers or uncle and nephew.

Their remains are to be reunited in a special exhibition at Denmark’s National Museum in Copenhagen later this month under the title Togtet — or the raid.

Reunited: Scientists on both sides of the North Sea established a genetic link between the two skeletons which will now lie together at The National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen

Credit: Ida Marie Odgaard/Ritzau Scanpix via AP

“The connection between the two Vikings is very special,” Lasse Sørensen, head of research at the museum, told Kristeligt Dagblat newspaper.

“They are found in two different contexts, so it was a matter of screening a lot of data and finding a match. Otherwise there would not have been the slightest chance of discovering it.”

The Viking found in Oxford was one of many who settled in England around the turn of the millennium.

“It’s the same story that you see with many people today, who want to go out and find happiness if they do not have the opportunity where they come from,” said Dr Sørensen.

The northern and eastern half of England – eventually known as the Danelaw – had been progressively settled by Danes since the 880s. And in the rest of England countless Danes had put down roots as farmers and traders, bringing their families or intermarrying.

But the Norseman made the mistake of settling in the area around Oxford, where the Vikings were not as strong as they were elsewhere in England.

England in 878

He is believed to have been a victim of the St Brice’s Day Massacre in 1002, when Æthelred ordered the killing of all Danes in the land under his control in response to Viking raids.

His skeleton was found in a mass grave of  35 Scandinavian men aged between 16 and 25 was found under the quad of St John’s College, Oxford in 2008.

The exhumed skulls and bones date from the right period and disclose high incidents of penetrating blade injuries, indicating that the men were slaughtered rather than falling in combat.

“He died of massive injuries from several types of weapons," Dr Sørensen said. His skull shows traces of at least nine blows from a sword or other sharp object, and the skeleton also indicates he was speared repeatedly in the back.

His relative remained on the central Danish island of Funen, where he was a farmer, and lived until his fifties.

But his remains show signs of violence that suggest he may have taken part in Viking raids.

“He has a violent lesion on his left pelvis, which may have originated from a stab from a sword. The wound from that blow may have cost him his life because it did not heal,” said Dr Sørensen.

The remains, discovered near the town of Otterup in 2005, show that the man stood at almost six feet tall, living up to the Vikings’ reputation as physical giants of the age.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *