Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ivarr to A.D. 1014

Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ivarr to A.D. 1014

Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ivarr to A.D. 1014

Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ivarr to A.D. 1014


Vikings plagued the coasts of Ireland and Britain in the 790s AD. Over time, their raids became more intense and by the mid 9th century, Vikings had established a number of settlements in Ireland and Britain and had become heavily involved with local politics. A particularly successful Viking leader named Ívarr campaigned on both sides of the Irish Sea in the 860s. His descendants dominated the major seaports of Ireland and challenged the power of kings in Britain during the late 9th and 10th centuries. In 1014, the battle of Clontarf marked a famous stage in the decline of Viking power in Ireland while the conquest of England in 1013 by the Danish king Sveinn Forkbeard marked a watershed in the history of Vikings in Britain. The descendants of Ívarr continued to play a significant role in the history of Dublin and the Hebrides until the 12th century, but they did not threaten to overwhelm the major kingships of Britain or Ireland in this later period as they had done before. This book provides a political analysis of the deeds of Ívarr's family, from their first appearance in Insular records down to the year 1014. Such an account is necessary in light of the flurry of new work that has been done in other areas of Viking Studies. Recent theoretical approaches to the subject have raised many interesting questions regarding identity, material culture, and structures of authority. Archaeological finds and excavations have also offered potentially radical insights into Viking settlement and society. In line with these developments, Clare Downham provides a reconsideration of events based on contemporary written accounts.


I need to clarify my use of the term 'viking'. The name has acquired many shades of meaning and been used in a variety of ways in both scholarly and popular literature. It is widely known that the word is derived from Old Norse víkingr which is usually translated as 'sea-rover' or 'pirate'. However, it is clear that not every pirate from the past can be called a 'viking'. In this book the word is used to describe people of Scandinavian culture who were active outside Scandinavia. I have used the term with reference to Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, Hiberno-Scandinavians, Anglo-Scandinavians or the inhabitants of any Scandinavian colony who affiliated themselves more strongly with the culture of the coloniser than with that of the indigenous population. Such an umbrella-term seems necessary to avoid the semantic difficulties posed by ethnic labels. For example, when did the families of Scandinavian settlers become English, and how Scandinavianised were the English? There are problems of being over-specific with ethnic terminology as identities are subjectively, not just objectively, created or assigned. The historian risks using ethnic categories which may not have been universally recognised or rigidly applied, and who belonged to a particular group may have been a matter of debate in the past, and not just now.

The partial nature of ethnic designations is exemplified in the primary sources. In Ireland the inhabitants of viking-settlements were called 'Foreigners' (Gaill, echtrainn, allmuire), until they were displaced by a different group of foreigners in 1171. Nevertheless, from the tenth century, when inhabitants of the viking-settlements in Ireland went abroad, they were sometimes identified with the land of their abode. John Hines has concluded in a recent study that 'It is indeed quite clear that the

Fell, 'Modern English Viking'.

Byock, Viking Age Iceland, pp. 11-13; Mac Shamhráin, The Vikings, p. 9.

Amory, 'The Meaning', p. 28; Hadley, 'Viking and Native', p. 46; Hadley, 'Cockle', p.

Other terms include: 'heathens' (gentiles, pagani), and 'Northmen' (Nordmanni).

For debate over this issue in relation to Welsh chronicles see ByS, s.a. 940 “=941” (ed. and
trans. Jones, pp. 30-31); Maund, Ireland, p. 157; Duffy, 'Ostmen', p. 382.

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