The Reading Summer Dance

From the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, year 871:

A.D. 871. This year came the army to Reading in Wessex; and in
the course of three nights after rode two earls up, who were met
by Alderman Ethelwulf at Englefield; where he fought with them,
and obtained the victory. There one of them was slain, whose
name was Sidrac. About four nights after this, King Ethered and
Alfred his brother led their main army to Reading, where they
fought with the enemy; and there was much slaughter on either
hand, Alderman Ethelwulf being among the skain; but the Danes
kept possession of the field. And about four nights after this,
King Ethered and Alfred his brother fought with all the army on
Ashdown, and the Danes were overcome. They had two heathen
kings, Bagsac and Healfden, and many earls; and they were in two
divisions; in one of which were Bagsac and Healfden, the heathen
kings, and in the other were the earls. King Ethered therefore
fought with the troops of the kings, and there was King Bagsac
slain; and Alfred his brother fought with the troops of the
earls, and there were slain Earl Sidrac the elder, Earl Sidrac
the younger, Earl Osbern, Earl Frene, and Earl Harold. 

They put both the troops to flight; there were many thousands of the
slain, and they continued fighting till night. Within a
fortnight of this, King Ethered and Alfred his brother fought
with the army at Basing; and there the Danes had the victory.
About two months after this, King Ethered and Alfred his brother
fought with the army at Marden. They were in two divisions; and
they put them both to flight, enjoying the victory for some time
during the day; and there was much slaughter on either hand; but
the Danes became masters of the field; and there was slain Bishop
Heahmund, with many other good men. After this fight came a vast
army in the summer to Reading. And after the Easter of this year
died King Ethered. He reigned five years, and his body lies at
Winburn-minster. Then Alfred, his brother, the son of Ethelwulf,
took to the kingdom of Wessex. And within a month of this, King
Alfred fought against all the Army with a small force at Wilton,
and long pursued them during the day; but the Danes got
possession of the field. This year were nine general battles
fought with the army in the kingdom south of the Thames; besides
those skirmishes, in which Alfred the king's brother, and every
single alderman, and the thanes of the king, oft rode against
them; which were accounted nothing. This year also were slain
nine earls, and one king; and the same year the West-Saxons made
peace with the army.


Eric Blair said...

I'd be curious to see what the numbers of the 'armies' were, for that year.

They don't call Alfred "the great" for nothing, but still.

Grim said...

There's always a huge dispute about the numbers involved in battles in this period and earlier; as you probably well know, it's a subject of some pretty hardened schools as to what is possible.

What might be worth noting is the size of the fleets that bore the armies. When we are given numbers for what is represented as a powerful detachment (though not a complete army), we see numbers between forty and sixty ships by the Chronicle.

Now, a ship can be bigger or smaller, and there's some dispute about how many men would be carried by a ship; if a common longship had sixteen pairs of oars, for example, that doesn't mean it wouldn't carry additional men beyond the rowers, especially if it were being used to carry an army to war. Etc.

Still, even acknowledging all those concerns, it puts brackets around what we're talking about. A powerful detachment might approach several hundred men, but not much more than a thousand even if you assume these ships were packed to the gills. A whole army is thus going to be a small multiple of that, I would guess.