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Statue of Ealdorman Brihtnoth on the south wall of All Saints Church, Maldon
 
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Battle of Maldon
10th August 991

Ealdorman Brihtnoth’s army, which fought at the battle of Maldon, was mainly a militia force from Essex. At most perhaps 3-4,000 strong, it was raised following the Viking attack on Ipswich and marched to challenge the Viking forces as they advanced on Maldon. It is believed that the Viking boats landed on Northey Island to the east of Maldon and that the East Saxon army cornered them there. But it was high tide and so there was a shouted negotiation where Brihtnoth refused to pay the invaders to depart but rather challenged them to battle.

As the tide fell the Viking force attempted to cross the causeway but a small band of Saxons held them back. Needing to bring the enemy to battle and defeat them, if he was to protect East Anglia from further destruction, Brihtnoth withdrew and allowed the Vikings to across to the mainland. Formed up in a shield wall the Saxon army waited for the Viking advance. First the bowmen fired their arrows and then the rest of the infantry let fly spears as the enemy came closer. Finally they were locked into hand to hand fighting, thrusting with spears and slashing with swords.

The battle turned against the Saxons when their leader was killed. Once they realised their commander was dead most of the army seems to have fled to the woods behind them. But Brihtnoth’s own retainers fought on to revenge his death, killing large numbers of the enemy before they too were cut down. So many of the Vikings were killed that, though they were victorious, they did not attack Maldon and indeed are said to have had trouble even manning all their boats to leave.

Maldon was a significant battle, with important political results, but it was just one of many fought by regional forces against the Viking armies which marauded across the country in the decades of Ethelred’s reign. Maldon is special because it is so well documented in the poem The Battle of Maldon and because its battlefield is believed to have been located with an accuracy unusual for the Anglo-Saxon period.

KEY FACTS

Name: Battle of Maldon
Type: Pitched Battle
Campaign: Maldon
War period: Viking
Outcome: Viking victory; death of Brihtnoth
Country: England
County: Essex
Place: Maldon
Location: probable
Terrain: Estuary & open pasture land?
Date: 10th (possibly 11th) August 991
Start: uncertain
Duration: uncertain
Armies: Vikings under Olaf Tryggvason or Danish king Svein Forkbeard; East Saxons under Ealdorman Brihtnoth
Numbers: perhaps between 3000-6000 on each side
Losses: uncertain
Grid Reference: TL867055 (586700,205500)
OS Landranger map: 168
OS Explorer map: 183

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