Who were the Normans?

Who were the Normans?

By Myrabella (Own work) [Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia CommonsMany people know of the Normans due to their conquest of England after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Many people also know that the Normans controlled Normandy; the place they launched their invasion from. While these are relatively well-known facts there is still some confusion over where they came from.

Questions such as: Where did the Normans originate? Who were the Normans originally? Who were the Normans? Some even ask were Saxons Normans?

There is some mystery over where the Normans came from for many people. Much of the focus is on the Norman invasion of England or just generally about the Norman Conquest. While it is good to know such facts and indeed important markers in British history the Normans existed outside of England and Britain for a long time. They didn’t just appear so who were the Normans originally?

As has already been mentioned in the years before the conquest the Normans ruled over a portion of, what is now, northern France. The story doesn’t stop there though. While the Normans lived in northern France where did the Normans originate? Most accounts suggest the Normans were originally Vikings. While this can easily be shown as their ultimate origin (see below) we know that they did mix with the local Frankish population. This is the reason why we have Norman French.

Let’s go right back to the ancestors of the people we know as Normans setting foot on the shores of what is now northern France.

The Vikings land in France.

During the Viking period, a period generally accepted to be the 9th to 11th centuries, there was a large amount of raiding along the coastlines of northern Europe and the British Isles. The raiders came from various areas although the vast majority of the Vikings came from Scandinavian countries. There were small settlements along the northern coast of Northwest Europe by Norwegian Vikings, some of these Vikings were those who had settled on Ireland’s east coast. Some may well have been from Dublin. The bulk of the Vikings that arrived on the northern shores were Danish in origin.

One of the things to remember here is that the Vikings were not just raiders. They were also traders. The origin of the Vikings is a topic for another article which will be written later so we shall continue.

In the modern world, we consider people to be from countries. This is not odd for us but when you go back; to the time period when the Normans lived in, it is not the right way to look at it. The groupings that eventually became the countries that we have today were starting to form from the groups that were around at this time. Nationalism didn’t exist yet, people felt linked to groups that ranged from families to tribes to wider areas. They held a collective identity that wasn’t directly tied to the land that they occupied.
I f we look at the Normans they were no different. After the initial settlements along the Seine and Loire valleys of Northern France, more Vikings started to arrive on the shores. These new groups of Vikings raided the Frankish settlements and attacked the monasteries. As time went on the invaded further into the Frankish lands and attacked their towns and cities such as Anges, Tours, and Orleans. The Frankish king invited allies, such as the Bretons, to fight against these invaders. These early invasions lasted through the summers with the Vikings heading for home as winter came.

By 845 the raiding Vikings reached Paris. The Franks and their allies fought back and were able to push the Vikings out of Brittany. The raids continued and by 851 the Vikings were also staying for the winter. By this point, the monks were moving inland away from these raids.

The Franks were weak and unable to protect their lands as time went on. In 857 a Breton leader named Salomon took advantage of the situation and took lands across the North coast. These lands were ceded to him by the Franks in 863 with further control being given in 867. When this king died the small empire that he had created collapsed.

By the tenth century, a leader emerged among the Vikings that would change everything. This leaders name was Rollo.


Rollo, sometimes called Rolf, was a Viking who commanded a strong band of raiders. While we can never be certain of his origin it is thought that he was a Norwegian. It is also thought that he was the son of Rognvald, Earl of More. If this is correct then it confirms the reasons for his raiding. There was a lack of usable land in areas controlled by the Vikings. Rollo would have had many kin who would all have received some land which meant that his portion would have been quite small. This happened across much of Scandinavia and is one of the primary reasons why some joined bands of traders and raiders to make a living. They would also look for lands to settle. The Islands to the north of Scotland were colonised by the Vikings as well as areas in the North and East of England as well as the Eastern coast of Ireland.

Rollo was one of the Vikings that went to many of these places to raid and trade. He also raided the area of Northern France known as Neustria. Many of Rollo’s followers were of Danish origin which shows that while a leader may be from one place in Scandinavia he could form a crew from other areas that had close ties. Rollo’s men were well disciplined when fighting on land and he put that to good use. In 911 he raided Northern France and laid siege to the town of Chatres. While the siege was a failure it had an impact on the Frankish King of the time. That King was Charles the Simple.

In 911, or at most only a few years later, Charles met Rollo to discuss the issues that he was facing in the Northern areas of his kingdom. They met at a place called St-Clair-sur-Epte. During the negotiations, Charles the Simple ceded the lands around the Lower Seine to Rollo. Charles had been impressed with the fighting prowess of Rollo’s forces. He knew that he would be unable to end the constant raiding so sought an ally that would answer to him and protect the coast from further raids. Rollo promised to defend the whole river and not to attack Frankish lands.

Norman expansion

Over the next century or more Rollo and his descendants expanded the territory that they had been given to protect. They fought wars against the Bretons to their west and also with the Franks to their east and south. The Frankish kings had had a difficult time controlling the powerful lords in their kingdom and Rollo’s family was no different. At times they allied with Frankish rulers against other Frankish neighbours. They also fought against the Frankish kings.

Over time their conquests were absorbed into the lands that they controlled with the Frankish kings giving them the rights to those lands. By the time of the Norman invasion of England in 1066, the Normans had taken a large amount of territory across the North of France. They had spread west to the border of Brittany and the conquests south eventually settled at a border along the river Sarthe.

Throughout this expansion the makeup of the Normans as a group changed significantly.

Norman culture

The Normans that first arrived on the Seine and across the Northern coast of France were what we would consider traditionally Viking. They were warriors and traders. They used longships and had a warrior culture.  The loyalty of the warriors was to their leader. This did not mean that they would support their leader no matter what. While the leader of the particular band gave them opportunities of trade and plunder as well as the potential of some land at various points then the leader was followed. If the leader stopped doing any of these things then he would quickly find himself losing men.

At this point, we must note that these peoples would call themselves Danes, Norwegians or they would refer to themselves as coming from tribal groupings, even Saxons. The Franks did not refer to them by these terms on the whole. They made little distinction between the different raiding parties and termed them men of the North or North men. In the languages of the time they would be termed Northmanni and Normands at various times. This has come down to us today truncated to the word Normans. The name literally means North men and that is exactly what these groups were. The Normans eventually brought this in as part of their culture and as a way of defining their new duchy.

The Normans, as mentioned above, did not view their history as a people that were of a particular place or from a particular piece of land. They viewed themselves as having a cultural history written through their histories. Over time they would integrate within the culture of the northern Franks. They would not completely lose their original culture and would create a culture that would become that of a Frankish culture with some small differences. The collective history of the peoples was a strong part of their identity. Indeed the History of the Normans by Dudo is important for looking at how they viewed their culture. While it is a standard history with propaganda, as all histories written by a people about themselves are, It gives us a glimpse into how they viewed themselves. We can see through Dudo’s writings that they valued their fighting prowess and strength of arms. This is potentially an attitude that had developed from the loyalty to leaders during the earlier Viking period.

The Normans supplanted the host culture by replacing the elite of a region. While Vikings were settled in the lands early on these were concentrated in a few areas. As the Normans expanded they would remove the Bishops, Lords, and leaders of the communities and replace them with their own leaders. Interestingly due to the heavily male dominated immigration, they would have had to marry local Frankish women. This is even suggested of Rollo. Eventually, the Norman aristocracy would be very similar to the Franks that they had displaced. Indeed, by the year 1000, there would have been little to distinguish them culturally from the surrounding Franks. The collective history of the ruling families and their ability to trace their lineage back to Rollo and his men may well have been prised and an effort to retain their identity as a separate people as the merged with the existing peoples.

So were the Normans French? Were they Vikings? Were they Franks? They were all of these things. Indeed their Viking heritage would have been remarkably similar to the heritage of the Anglo-Saxons. Especially those who had lived in Danelaw. The Scandinavians, English, and Normans were all interlinked with influences on their cultures coming from the inhabitants of the lands they occupied. The Scandinavians obviously having little influence outside of the original Nordic cultures although they would surely have brought some cultural practices back with them from their travels.

In short, the Normans were French, they were also Vikings and realistically the best way is to describe them as Normans with their own unique culture.


The Battle of Hastings 1066

One of the most famous battles in British history is the Battle of Hastings. IBy Myrabella (Own work) [Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia Commonst could be said that it was this battle that formed what we now know as Britain. It is the point which many trace the British monarchy back to so it certainly did have a lasting impact.

When did the Battle of Hastings take place?

The battle of Hastings took place on the 14th of October 1066. This date has been calculated from the old records. The following excerpt talks about the dating: Finding Fulford – the Search for the First Battle Of 1066. Dates in the past were worked out differently to the way we work them out now. if you look back to the way Romans dated things then this is shown quite clearly. If we calculate the date of the 14th of October as the gregorian calendar then we can end up with a date of the 1st of October. The excerpt looks at a date around the same time and has a much smaller difference. However, the date is worked out we can say that the battle took place on a Saturday in October 1066.

Where did the Battle of Hastings take place?

This might seem obvious at first. Clearly, it happened at Hastings. This isn’t quite accurate though. The battle has actually been placed closer to a village called Battle. This is an English village that grew up around and Abbey that was built to commemorate the Battle of Hastings after William the Conqueror had taken charge of the country. The actual battle took place on a hill known as Senlac hill. There is some dispute over the name which can be followed on Wikipedia: Senlac hill on Wikipedia. Whatever the origins of the name that is the most common name for the hill currently.

In the larger landscape, this was in an area to the south of London and near the South Eastern coast of England in East Sussex. It is a relatively short distance from the channel coast which is no surprise considering where the invasion came from.

What happened at the Battle of Hastings?

Apart from the obvious, that there was a battle, knowing how the battle progressed is also important.

The Norman forces were confronted by the Anglo-Saxon army (by now they could be termed English so I shall use that from now on) as they advanced inland. The English army had marched south from a battle at Stamford bridge where they had faced and defeated a Scandinavian army under the leadership of Harald Hardrada. This Scandinavian army was mainly Norwegian as that is where Harald was king.

The English took positions atop Senlac hill and formed the famous shield wall. Shield walls were a common tactic in this era and had been for a long time. This tactic involved the warriors overlapping their shields to form a wall, hence the name. The Norman force consisted of several parts but was famous for its cavalry. The cavalry at this time would throw their spears, or stab downwards as they attacked their enemies. The Bayeux tapestry, which depicts the battle, shows a few of these Norman warriors charging with a couched lance. A couched lance was one which was tucked under the arm and the force of the attack would be delivered through the impact.

Traditionally the Normans attacked throughout the day. They would charge the shield wall with their cavalry but retreat before they hit the wall. Archers would then fire at the dense formation in an effort to break it up. The cavalry would then charge again and retreat if they stood no chance of breaking through. This carried on for the whole day. Near the end of the day, the Normans managed to draw out some of the English with this feigned retreat tactic and killed them. King Harold of the English was also struck in the eye and died. These factors broke the English formation and the Normans were able to run down and kill the English warriors who were on foot. The battle ended with a decisive victory to the Normans.

Why did the Battle of Hastings happen?

What caused the battle of Hastings? Why did the Normans invade? One of the important factors to consider here is the expansionist nature of the Normans. Since arriving in northern France, and being granted a duchy, they had pushed further and expanded their territory. Groups of Normans had also broken off and invaded Italy as well as fighting as mercenaries. Invading England was the next logical step in this expansion from the Northern coast of France. This doesn’t get o the heart of the matter though. The Invasions in 1066, both the Norweigeien one and the Norman one, were due to arguments of the succession of the English crown. Harald Hardrada claimed the crown on the basis of an old agreement that went back to the time of the Danelaw. William the Conqueror claimed that he had been promised the crown by Edward, the previous king of England. Harold’s claim was that he was the most powerful and richest Englishmen and was elected to the position by his peers.

After the death of Edward, there was always going to be a crisis and it was a matter of time before the three main contenders to the throne claimed it and fought over it. The events of 1066 were going to shape the history of England and the British Isles no matter who won the crown.

What happened after the Battle of Hastings?

William the conqueror spent some time chasing down the fleeing English to make sure that he would not have to fight a second battle to secure the victory he had just had. After he had done this he moved north to try and take London. To do this he needed to cross the Thames. At this timeLonfdon was only on the North bank of the Thames. He was unable to cross the Thames close to London so marching west along its course to find a place where he could cross easily. Eventually, he reached Wallingford, a town in what is now south Oxfordshire. It is here that he crossed the Thames and marched west to take London and have himself crowned as the new king of England. In thanks for the help the people of Wallingford had given him, he built a castle and began work on a new bridge. Wallingford had been a Burh under Alfred. Burhs were fortified towns which had protected the northern borders of Wessex during the time of Alfred but that is a topic for another post. Today Wallingford is still based largely on the Saxon and Norman town plan.

William’s taking fo the English crown lead to a succession of rulers and the replacing of the old Saxon lords with new Norman lords. This wasn’t a complete replacement but enough were replaced to change the aristocracy forever.

If you liked this post then please look at some of the related posts on the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans on this site. If you liked it then others may too so please share on social media.

Anglo-Saxon spears

By Pasicles (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia CommonsThe most common weapon at the turn of the first millennium was the spear (Underwood 2006:23) and indeed throughout Saxon history. The spear has been used throughout history in various forms such as javelins, commonly termed Angon in the post-Roman times, pikes, frequently used form the 16th century onwards and the lance, used by cavalry. The lance was synonymous with the spear throughout some historic periods such as the Byzantine Empire. With such a broad range of specialist types, we must look closer into the forms used by the Anglo-Saxon warrior.

Spears were common partly due to their simple construction. A spear would comprise of a head and a shaft and occasionally a ferrule. The head of the spear could be made from any abundant material (fire hardening of spear tips has been suggested during the pre-historic period). In the Anglo-Saxon period, however, spearheads were commonly made from iron. As with sword blades, we do come across pattern welded blades in the archaeological record (Halpin 2008:137) but this is much rarer. The spear shaft could be made from a variety of woods. Although, evidence for spear shafts is rare the use of readily available wood of varying types could be supported by the variety of woods used for arrow shafts (Halpin 2008:45).

Whilst we know iron was used for the creation of spearheads we also know of some methods of construction. A spearhead would be made from a billet of iron. This would first be hammered out into the rough shape needed. The socket of the spearhead (the area where it attaches to the shaft) would be flattened and folded round to form the socket. This would then be hammered and ground into shape. There are a couple of types of blade which suggest forge welding. The first of these are blades with extra wings on the sides of the centre of the blade. The second group are corrugated blades which are thought to have superseded the types with a central column vein reinforcement. These two types suggest the bladed edges of the spearhead were added to a central spike of metal that formed a tang on some types.

The dimensions of spears may at first seem hard to gauge, however, graves that include ferrules allow us to estimate lengths between the ferrule and the head. There is also evidence from bog deposits in Nydam, Denmark. These two sets of data suggest lengths of 1.6-2.8m and 2.3-3m respectively (Underwood 2006:44). It would also be interesting to note length of spear compared to head type so that further differences between throwing spears and those used in close combat may be detected. Such information is unfortunately not available at this time.

When discussing weaponry we inevitably need to discuss form and type so as to extrapolate use. As with swords, spearheads have also been the subject of typologies. Whilst those available concentrate on Pagan or Viking spearheads they are nonetheless useful (Swanton1973, 1974; Peterson 1919; Solberg 1985a). The initial form gives us three broad categories which are:

  1. Those with an elongated shaft
  2. Those with a more regular leaf or triangular blade
  3. Those with larger sword style blades.

I shall deal with each type in turn.

The first of these groups is those with an elongated shaft. These blades most probably represent throwing spears. The heads have parallels to evidence from Angons and Pilum (Leeds and harden 1936:59). The elongated shaft was supposed to bend when entering a shield, therefore, making both the spear and the shield it struck unusable. The spear being made unusable was an important factor as is noted in the sagas as it would prevent the weapon being reused against the original attacker. This group of spearheads is the one most prone to identification difficulties. The types for these spears are Type K (Halpin 2008:148) Solberg type XII (Halpin 2008: 149) and Swanton type A (Swanton 1973).

These difficulties, as can be seen by looking at the typologies, are important as the line between small spearheads and large arrowheads is difficult to draw due to some of the similarities in style. Notably, Halpin’s Dublin arrowhead typology number 5 (Halpin 2008:76 Fig 21). There is nothing to say the same heads could not have been used for both large arrows and small throwing spears especially if a quick casting method were used. It is doubtful that casting would be used for socketed blades although not impossible.

The second of these groups covers the majority of early and middle Saxon spearheads. Swanton’s typologies (Swanton 1973, 1974) show several types from triangular blades, types E1 and E2 (Swanton 1974) to leaf shaped blades type C and D (Swanton 1973). The leaf shaped blades are supposedly derived from earlier pre-migration pattern spearheads in use before the Saxons arrive in the British Isles (Swanton 1973, 1974). Swanton also points us towards several other groups of spearheads, e.g. Types H and I (Swanton 1973, 1974), which have different properties such as blades which flare outwards, type H (Swanton 1974:19) and type I’s corrugated blades also mentioned above (Swanton 1974:21). There are corresponding types within both of our other typologies. The Swanton type H is the same as the Peterson type F (Halpin 2008:148) and Solberg type I (Halpin 2008:149). This group of spearheads would lend themselves to thrusting as their pointed blades are at such an angle as to make slashing not as effective. It is interesting to note that Peterson’s types B, C and D blades, as well as Solberg’s type IX.1B and VI.3B blades, have shoulders to stop them entering flesh too far whilst Swanton identifies none of these types. From this, e can draw two conclusions. Either this is a peculiarly Viking type or only came into use much later than the 7th century (the date which Swanton’s typologies finish). These wings, if used to stop the spear entering flesh too far, may suggest a role in hunting as it would be a more important factor in that pursuit. This would possibly be supported by the relatively small number with this feature in Solberg’s typology. Another possibility is that they aided in the use of the spear as a defensive weapon which could be used to push opponents blades out of the way when thrust forwards.

The third group of blades are those which are elongated and in some ways resemble the blade of a sword. Some of these blades, Swanton type G2; reach lengths of around 500mm or more (Swanton 1973:101). These blades are characterised by parallel edges and would suggest a slashing blade. It is interesting to note that neither Peterson’s nor Solberg’s typologies contain such blades. Some are similar such as Solberg type VII.2B and Peterson type E; however, these similarities are fairly loose. It may, therefore, be possible to suggest that such blades were in use from the 7th century until before the 9th century in England although it is entirely possible that this is a purely Anglo-Saxon type. As already noted this type suggests a slashing rather than stabbing motion. This would, in turn, suggest a lack of armour for the typical opponent as the ability of such an attack to cause harm would be significantly reduced against mailed opponents.

Whilst we have talked of the spearheads and their shafts there are other attachments which can be considered. These included the reinforcing of the socket and also the ferrule. Ferrules are an interesting addition to a spear and are useful to use for several reasons. The first of these is they us to the length of spears although this was clearly not an intended effect. A ferrule tells us that the butt of the spear needs protecting. This would suggest two things. First, that the weapon is not a throwing weapon as they were designed to break on impact thus making the practical use of a ferrule pointless. They also suggest that the spear would be resting on the ground or used for walking. This means a spear is then important militarily, enough so that reinforcing it for a longer life was worthwhile.

Ferrules are generally a simple socket, conical in nature capping the end of a spear. Being hardened metal they could be used to prod prisoners forward or to disable a warrior without having to turn the spear point downwards or kill the victim. As such Ferrules must be taken into account when assessing the potential trauma marks that they may leave in the archaeological record.

The reinforcing of the spearhead is important as it helps to keep a heavy head attached. The head could either be riveted or have a ring pushed down over the socket to hold it in place. A combination of these two could also be used. It was noted that the heads of throwing spears may be loosened as a form of disabling the weapon so that they enemy could not reuse it.

So far we have covered. The use of the spear, its form, and its construction. We now need to look to its commonality of use and also the evidence of its use as a status symbol. As we have already seen above the spear was the most common weapon used by the Anglo-Saxon warrior. It has a high frequency in graves with it appearing in 86.1% of weapons burials (Härke 1989:54). This quantity is not recorded for other Germanic tribes where it falls behind the Seax as 45%-56% of graves furnished with a spear (Härke 1989:54). This shows us that the spear was particularly important within Anglo-Saxon England. Indeed it is the only other weapon listed as a demand for the Heriot (Loyn 1988:226) and is demanded at double the rate of swords.

In historical sources it can be seen that it is the spear that is the symbol of a freeman. As such being buried with your spear, which may have been granted to you as a sign of freedom, would show your status. Those lacking spears in this context may be either graves containing weapons showing them to be higher status or those who were not free. Whilst Härke notes we should be cautious of inferring use from burial custom we may be able to use the evidence of the Heriot to show the frequency of its use, Other literary sources can also corroborate such a postulation (Halpin 2008:16).

As a cheaper option than the sword yet with nearly equal ability to cause harm whether thrown, used for thrusting or for slashing the spear may thus be seen to be a common weapon. The evidence of the Heriot and that from graves supports this conclusion and as such wounds from this weapon may be found with some frequency within the archaeological record.

The Spanish Civil War

The_International_Brigade_during_the_Spanish_Civil_War,_December_1936_-_January_1937_HU71509There were many conflicts throughout European History. An often overlooked on is the Spanish civil war as it fell between the First World War and the Second World War. This article takes a brief look at the conflict and the reasons why it ended the way it did.

The Spanish civil war was a conflict that took place between 1936 and 1939. The conflict is often seen as a war between right wing and left wing ideologies although this may be a simplified surface view due to Spain’s recent history at the time which included several military dictatorships.

The conflict started when a number of Generals declared opposition to the republican government. Some of these had been involved in previous political conflicts within Spain. The military dictators that I mentioned above still had support and many of the officers in the Spanish army sided with the nationalist forces when the Spanish civil war broke out. One of the leading figures in the initial uprising was General Franco who would become the leader of the Spanish government after the Spanish civil war had ended.

The uprising was led largely from the south of the Spanish territories. Notably, the uprising centred in Spain where it was set to start slightly earlier than the uprisings on the mainland. This was in part due to the rebellious generals mainly commanding forces on the Spanish islands in the Mediterranean and in the Spanish territory of Morocco. While the uprising drew a large amount of the officer corps of the Spanish military the forces that backed either side at the outset of the Spanish civil war were relatively even with the Republican government forces controlling a slight majority.

The equipment that was seized led to the nationalists gaining the most advanced equipment in the Spanish forces. The two best ships and also the majority of the modern tanks although there were less than 20 of these to start off with. The majority of Spanish equipment was outdated compared to the standards of the time although both sides were in effect using comparative equipment as they drew from the same sources.

The initial rebellion resulted in a large amount of land going to the nationalist forces in the first couple of months. The west of mainland Spain and the territories to the south of the mainland were all in the rebels’ hands. The government managed to retain control over the major urban centres on the whole. This was not particularly surprising as this is where their main political support had come from.

When the Spanish civil war broke out there were several different political groups in the country who aligned with each side. On the whole, the Catholics and the fascist groups joined the nationalist forces while the left-leaning groups moved to support the government. One of the groups which became important was the anarchists. The anarchists did not support the government ideologically but they did join forces with them. This was an alliance of convenience as they were strongly opposed to the nationalist forces.

Internationally there were mixed reactions to the outbreak of the Spanish civil war. The League of Nations tried to set up a non-interference pact which was joined by many of the nations especially those who had been hard hit by the First World War. This has been suggested to be a fear of the Spanish civil war leading to the outbreak of a second world war which none of the nations of Europe could afford at that time. While there were many nations who signed up to the non-intervention pact the League of Nations had very little clout and each individual country focused on its own actions. Notably, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, as well as fascist Italy, involved themselves in the war quite heavily. Other nations such as France and the UK officially did not intervene although many volunteers did come from these countries even though in the case of Britain it was illegal. France actively aided the republican government near the end of the conflict. This was a small amount of aid in planes and was kept relatively quiet.

The nations that actively declared involvement were the Soviet Union and Mexico on the side of the republican government; and, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy on the side of the nationalists. Portugal also supported the Nationalist side.

The Soviet support sent to the Republican forces was larger than that sent by the Nazi’s in terms of material. The issue was that the small arms and artillery pieces were often out of date although the aircraft and tanks were modern. The Soviet Union also sent relatively few military personnel to the Spanish civil war. Mexico diplomatically held itself as the place where refugees from the conflict could escape to. They also sent an amount of small arms and ammunition as well as loaning some money.

The support for the nationalist side in the Spanish civil war came from both Nazi Germany and Italy. Hitler didn’t want the Second World War to break out this early as he was not prepared and also needed to test the new military equipment that Germany had produced. The infamous Stuka dive bomber and the aerial bombardment tactics that were used by the Nazi’s in their blitzkrieg operations were tested during this conflict. The tanks and tactics were also tested. One of the worst atrocities carried out in the conflict was at Guernica where the Condor legion (the name for the Nazi forces fighting in the Spanish civil war) killed several hundred civilians with a sustained bombing. The Italians sent more troops to the conflict than the Germans did. This was partly because of the political and military dynamics in the western Mediterranean. The amount of tanks and aircraft sent to the nationalist forces equalled that of the amount sent by Nazi Germany but they also sent large amounts of small arms and ammunition as well as a greater number of troops.

Both sides in the conflict conscripted troops from the local populations but the Republicans conscripted more heavily. The support that had been sent from Italy and Germany in the form of manpower was not able to be contracted though and by the end of the conflict the nationalist forces were around 10% larger than those of the republicans.

Militarily the Spanish civil war was hard fought with the total casualties reaching around 500,000 by the end of the conflict. This number is an estimate and does not include those killed by executions and other similar atrocities as there is little to no data on large amounts of those killed by the winning side. The large amount of executions is indicative of the political and ideological nature of the conflict or at least the ideologies that underlay the conflict.

The Nationalist forces increased the land they had grabbed in the opening months of the conflict slowly pushing the republicans into the South east of the Iberian Peninsula. The republicans were defeated in early 1939 which led to Franco ruling over nationalist Spain until his death in 1975.

There are many reasons for the outcome of the conflict. One of the likely reasons that the conflict went against the republican forces was the unity of the people that were on its side. The nationalist forces were united with very little difference in their ideologies. The forces were all conservatives. While there were some with stronger nationalist views and further right ideologies they were focused on their main ideology of having a conservative government. The republican forces were, however, quite divided. As I have already mentioned they were in an alliance of convenience with anarchist groups. The ideologies of the state government did not fit with the ideology of the capitalists. The communists on the ranks of the republican forces were looked down on and politically smeared by their erstwhile allies within the more centrist elements of the Republican government that still existed. The only focus of the republican side was to fight against Franco’s nationalist forces. They did not have a more overall unifying purpose internally. When you add to this the support that was given from across the world the support for the republican side of the conflict was a patchwork and not all from the same place. While both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy had sent organised troops with the latest weapons of war the Soviet Union only supported the republicans with equipment and relatively few military personnel. When you add in the difficulties that this support had in arriving in Spain and the poor nature of large amounts of the equipment it can be seen that the nationalists had a clear advantage from a purely hardware perspective. The attitude towards the communists amongst the centrist and centre-left elements was likely a large part of the reason why this pact never truly worked.

The Spanish Civil war was won by the nationalist forces under General Franco who, as mentioned above ruled Spain for over 35 years after they won the conflict. The conflict was also the scene of many atrocities. Those that were committed by the nationalist forces were often covered up lest the government post Spanish civil war were made to look bad. The amount of people executed by the nationalists is disputed although it seems to be a minimum of around 150,000 people. When this is added to the nearly half a million people who fled Spain during and after the war the impact of the conflict can clearly be seen. The Spanish civil war is much like any of the civil wars that we see in the disastrous outcome especially in death toll and to the national psyche. This can be compared to the effects of the English civil war or that of the US.


Early years of the Nazi Party

The Nazi Party in Germany did not appear out of nowhere. They grew during the interwar years and had their beginning not long after the first world war and relatively soon after the signing of the treaty of Versailles. Here are some key points of that rise.

Early years of the Nazi party

The rise of the Nazi party from 1920 to 1933.

The Freikorps were an important movement that came about after the demobilisation of the Germany military after the First World War.

  • They were largely made up of the officer class who had been made redundant by the treaty of Versailles. This group felt disenfranchised and were proud of their military traditions.
  • As with many militaries, they liked the structure that they had been part of and liked the Kaiser and his way of running the country.
  • Due to their liking of the previous system under the Kaiser, and the feeling that they wanted to feel needed again as well as wanting a strong Germany with a strong military, they hoped to return the Kaiser to power and along with it the strong military that they were part of.

Early years of the Nazi party  1920-1933  Freikorps 	made up largely of the officer class who had been made redundant by the treaty of Versailles 	liked the Kaiser and his ways 	hoped to bring back the Kaiser and the power of his army  Kapp Putsch 	1920 	Dr Kapp led an attempted Putsch 	Eberts government was unable to be strong enough to put it down 	Only put down by a German workers strike  Munich Putsch 	November 1923 	attempted rebellion by the early nazis 	had been an economic crisis in bavaria 	General ludendorf and Hitler led the Munich beer hall Putsch 	both were arrested 	stresserman was already starting to put things right 	Hitler had impressed the judges and he got off lightly 	wrote his book in prison (Mein Kampf translated to my struggle)   Nazi points 	25 point program 	one of the chief points was the destruction fo the treaty of Versailles  	Anschluss 	Strong central government  	Nazis had started as the German workers party 	Under Hitler it became the National Socialist workers party Nazis for short 	put forward nationalist views 	looked for scapegoats 	blamed allies, Eberts government, communists and Jews 	SA was founded a private army 	Hitler watched the communists to see how they worked 	communists trained members young 	Nazi party enlarged the SA and established the SS these were Hitlers personal troops. 	Brought in Goebbels to look after the use of propaganda 	in 1925 the Nazis had 32 seats (5% of the Reichstag) 	in 1928 their proportion dropped by two percent as stresserman had been so successful. 	Wall street crash and death of stresserman in 1929  	Germany was badly affected 	It had to repay loans sooner and thus became bankrupt. 	Unemployment rose 	reparations were suspended 	Under the Weimar constitution it was impossible for the government to take decisive actions 	young plan suspended 	Nazi party offered strength and the destruction of the treaty of Versailles 	reunite all Germans and make Germany big again 	Nazis offer employment in the SA 	this gave them a sense of pride 	no shortage of men in the SA ex-servicemen got jobs 	It had risen to 107 seats and then nearly doubled again 	by 1932 the Nazi party had become the biggest single party 	main enemy was the communists 	in business and industry there was fear of communism 	middle classes supported the Nazis to stop inflationThe Kapp Putsch

  • The Kapp Putsch happened in 1920.
  • The Putsch was lead by Dr. Kapp.
  • As the government, led by Ebert, was not strong enough the Putsch was unable to be put down.
  • The Putsch was eventually ended by a strike from the German workers which halted production.

The Munich Putsch

  • The Munich Putsch took place in November 1923.
  • This was an attempted rebellion by the early nazis before the party became what we know from history today.
  • There had been an economic crisis in Bavaria where the Putsch took place which had led to anger at the government.
  • General Ludendorff and Hitler led the Munich beer hall Putsch. The Putsch was known as the beer hall Putsch as that is where it had started.
  • Both of them were arrested when the Putsch was put down.
  • Stressermann was already starting to resolve some of the issues that had led to the unrest and also to the Putsch.
  • Hitler had impressed the judges when he was taken to court. Because of this, the judges gave him a light sentence as they sympathised with him.
  • It was while Hitler was in prison for this Putsch that he wrote Mein Kampf which set out his ideas and also why he had come to those conclusions.


The Nazi’s 25 points

  • The Nazi’s moved forward to formulate a plan of action which became their 25 point program.
  • One of the chief points was the destruction fo the treaty of Versailles which was hated by a lot of Germans. It was especially hated by those who had been in the military such as Hitler and members of the various Freikorps.
  • The idea of Anschluss was put forward which was a move to connect Austria and Germany and a start to bringing the Germanic peoples together as one nation.
  • The 25 points proposed a strong central government. This was born out of the idea that the current German Weimar republic was weak and under it Germany was suffering. It harked back to the days under the Kaiser that were seen as a great period for Germans.

Other important points to consider.

  • The Nazis had started as the German Workers Party. There was a general move across Europe for representation of workers which World War One had catalysed. This can be seen in the Russian revolution and the move for women’s rights in the UK.
  • Under Hitler, it became the National Socialist workers party. This change was to reflect some of the opinions that Hitler was putting forward that had their roots in Socialism. Nazis is short for this as it is derived from the Party name, as an acronym, in German.
  • They put forward nationalist views. The idea of Nationalism had been prevalent in Europe since the days of the French revolution over 100 years previously.
  • They looked for scapegoats. As there was a lot of anger and they didn’t believe that Germany could have lost like it did they believed someone was to blame for the state of the country and why they lost the First World War
  • They then blamed the allies, Ebert’s government, communists, and Jews.
  • SA was founded as a private army under the employ of the Nazi party. They were there to give both protection and a look of professionalism.
  • Hitler watched the communists to see how they worked. The communists had been quite successful in creating change. This was most apparent in Russia. The German communists were trying to use the same methods as the Russian ones had. The growth in the movement was due to Germany being in a similar position to Russia on the eve of their revolution. Hitler’s use of socialism in the party name and putting the Nazi party forward as a party for workers (as is shown by their name) show this quite clearly.
  • The communists trained members young which helped keep their numbers strong it also allowed indoctrination to take place more easily. This idea would eventually become the Hitler Youth in Nazi Germany.
  • The Nazi party enlarged the SA and established the SS these were Hitler’s personal troops.
  • They brought in Goebbels to be the head of their propaganda arm as they saw that it would be vital if they ever wished to get into power.
  • In 1925 the Nazis had a total of 32 seats which was 5% of the Reichstag seats. It was enough to have a strong presence but not enough to control the proceedings.
  • In 1928 their proportion dropped by two percent because the Chancellor Stressermann had been so successful with his policies. This showed that the Nazi party was a clear reaction to the countries issues. When more centrist ideas were tried that were successful the extreme attitudes within the Nazi party were seen as likely to cause more harm than good.
  • Wall street crash and death of Stressermann both hit Germany in 1929. This changed the political playing field quite dramatically.
  • Germany was badly affected by the Wall street crash and following depression. This was partly due to the Germany economy only starting to recover under Stressermann’s policies.
  • It had to repay loans sooner and thus became bankrupt.
  • Unemployment rose as businessess didn’t have enough money to keep their employees let alone employ more due to the effects of the depression.
  • Reparations payments were suspended as they simply could not be paid.
  • Under the Weimar constitution, it was impossible for the government to take decisive actions. This was due to the way that they had constructed the government under proportional representation.
  • The Young plan which had aided the German economy was suspended due to the great depression.
  • Nazi party offered strength and the destruction of the treaty of Versailles. Many saw the current government as ineffectual and the treaty of Versailles hanging over their heads was seen as something that was crippling their country.
  • Hitler’s plan was to reunite all Germans and make Germany big again with the concept that they would be stronger together.
  • The Nazis offered employment in the SA. This was seen as attractive as there were few jobs around and the wearing of a uniform and being part of something bigger gave the applicants a sense of purpose.
  • Not only did this give them a sense of purpose but it also b=gave them something to be proud of and that pride had taken a large hit amongst supporters of the military due to the defeat and the dismantling of the German military.
  • As such there was no shortage of men in the SA ex-servicemen got jobs and felt at home.
  • Due to these events, the Nazi party had risen to 107 seats and then it nearly doubled again.
  • This meant that by 1932 the Nazi party had become the biggest single party in the Reichstag.
  • Their main enemy was the communists. This was partly due to the communists using the same or similar methods but also as the underlying ideologies clashed completely.
  • Hitler was helped because in business and industry there was fear of communism. This meant that he had the support of those who still had money and wealth and had managed to ride out the great depression.
  • The middle classes supported the Nazis to stop inflation to protect what little they had left after the Great Depression.

While there are many more events that became part of the rise fo the Nazi party this article attempts to sum up the most important points that became part of the rise of the Nazi party.




What can we infer from the burial rites of the 5th -8th centuries in Europe?

By Sutton_Hoo_Burial_Mound.jpg: Geoff Dallimore derivative work: SilkTork (Sutton_Hoo_Burial_Mound.jpg) [CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia CommonsThis is an essay that I wrote on the burial practices within Europe during the early medieval period. It is only a starting point on the subject but we do need to start somewhere!

What can we infer from the burial rites of the 5th -8th centuries in Europe?

In this essay, I will first discuss the burials which were interred in flat cemeteries or in barrows. This I will start with the typical burial which covers most of the burials in this period, I will then go on to talk about multiple burials and those in this category which have a more interesting nature. I am going to centre the essay around Anglo-Saxon burial and burials in the British Isles. I believe that these burials show parts of different societies from across Europe through the means of trade and migration. For example, the burial at Sutton Hoo showed coins from Merovingian kingdoms and even grave goods from as far away as Scandinavia and the Byzantine Empire.

To set a background for the essay we need to be reminded that the 4th and 5th centuries saw the fall of Rome (395-476 AD) and the migration of different peoples across Europe such as the Huns, Goths, Vandals, and Alans. With the fall of Rome, there was no state-backed religion throughout Europe which meant the invading tribes were able to continue their Pagan practices. These tribes were slowly Christianised with the majority being Christianised by the fall of Rome; however, the Celts weren’t Christianised till the 5th and 6th centuries and the Anglo-Saxons weren’t Christianised until the 7th century. North Germany, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe were not Christianised until between the 9th and 10th centuries so there would have been outside pagan influence to much of western and northern areas throughout the essays time frame. I believe that the British Isles will give a good view of the changes as it is well situated to receive Christian views from the Merovingian Kingdoms to the south and internal Pagan beliefs of two varieties while in the later stages, after Christianisation, there were still influences from Pagan traditions in Scandinavia.

The spread of Christianity is something which needs to be kept in mind when looking at all aspects of the burial rites of Europe as there are set Christian ways of burial which may conflict with Pagan ideals. A good example of this is the resurrection of the use of barrows, and indeed reuse of barrows, when Christianity was starting to gain a foothold in Saxon kingdoms in England[1]. This can also be seen in the typical single burial in a cemetery, although this has been disputed by several archaeologists and other, more secular, theories put forward.

To start talking about single burials[2] we first need to look at where these early burials took place. Burials were inhumed at cemeteries near villages and often at sites that had been used previously. By previous use, I mean areas which were used in prehistoric times many of which had been abandoned during the Bronze Age. Such sites can be found at Bishopstone in Sussex, Holborough in Kent and Winterslow in Wiltshire. There are other sites which are also used and indeed barrows from prehistory saw reuse by the Anglo-Saxons in around the 7th century. These burials were usually on their back (supine) in an extended position with the grave head at any position but usually, the majority of burials in one cemetery will face the same direction. Typical grave goods would be a few items possibly symbolic of the position that the deceased held in the community the higher in the community the more lavish the grave goods. I shall, however, discuss this more in depth later on.

In eastern Britain, in the 5th century AD, new burial practices were taking place. Before this time, during the 4th and 5th centuries, the normal burial practice was the use of cremation. As with inhumation, the grave would be furnished with goods such as combs, tweezers, other cosmetic items and occasionally clothing and brooches. However, by the 6th century inhumation was more popular and eventually replaced cremation as the sole burial rite. This change from cremation to inhumation also took place within the Merovingian kingdoms. There are also other major changes throughout this period which are the use of barrows, change in the direction of the body and the amount of grave goods used. Most of these explanations can be explained both religiously or with a secular opinion.

I will start with the use of barrows in England. Barrows were originally used during the late Bronze ages but during the 7th century they received a period of revival. The barrows were either new ones or reused prehistoric ones; these are called primary and secondary barrows respectively. These have been explained as a defiant action by Pagans in face of Christian conversion (see footnote 1). This however can be contradicted as many barrows contained burials without grave goods which can be seen as Christian. Grave-goods or rather their presence or absence, however, has provided a lot of discussion because there are two ways to view the change. It is when after Christianisation grave goods start appearing less and less and eventually disappear. This has been explained as a direct effect of the Christianisation by several archaeologists and historians. However in my research I came across a piece in which a historian (J. Kerr) talks about Pictish burials and the way in which they used very little if any grave goods which shows a tradition of no grave goods. The link with Christianity although plausible cannot be proved or disproved as there are no written records that state Grave goods should not be used. Other historians, notably Wilson in his book Anglo-Saxon Paganism, have come to the conclusion that it was economic factors that were the cause for less grave goods and he even goes so far as to suggest that it may have become less fashionable. The economic argument would mean there is a greater need for portable wealth within the community this correlates with increasing trade. Ironically this evidence for trade is shown in the burial at Sutton Hoo by way of its grave goods. These grave goods included Merovingian coins and also other objects from Byzantium. The claim that it was a fashion can be seen by the burials in the higher echelons of Merovingian Frankish society. In a piece by B. Effros it is argued that in the late 7th and early 8th centuries grave goods and epitaphs are replaced by a service for the deceased. This is especially true in the upper parts of Merovingian Society. Also stated is that

“Burial goods were instead employed in funerary ritual to express symbolically the recognition which kin of the deceased, whether by blood, social or religious ties, sought from their fellow members of society.” (Effros 1997, Fall, http://www.camargofoundation.org/fellowdetails.asp?recno=457)

This combination leads me to conclude that grave goods were actually linked to religion but this was because Christianity had become not only the religion but also a fashion and tool. The use of Grave goods less and less while linked to increasing Christian belief would also seem to me to be using Christianity as a type of excuse for not putting in grave goods.

As mentioned in the above quote “recognition of kin” or more precisely linking people to their ancestors was taken more seriously by the Anglo-Saxons. This links to barrows as there is the possible explanation that they are trying to preserve links with ancestors who had been buried there; also the same could be said for flat cemeteries which have been placed on the same site as a previous bronze age cemetery. This however as I have already said has been disputed as in Wilson’s book on Paganism he points out the time gap between use during bronze age and early Anglo-Saxon burials means there is not actually continuation.

The direction of graves is, however, harder to dispute as being the influence of Christianity. The head facing in an easterly direction is one which is a Christian fashion and indeed the accepted method of burial. However, it is found that in Pagan cemeteries the graves can face in any direction although most graves are usually facing the same direction. A common direction for Pagan graves is north-south which means any Christian burials in the same cemetery would be fairly easily distinguished due to the different facing.

Single burials are not the only type of burial during this time. Most cemeteries included some multiple graves. Some of these are similar to those found in even modern cemeteries where one member of the family is buried lying next to the other members of the family. This links with the Anglo-Saxons who believe strongly in the links of ancestors. Other burials can be linked to this like the burial of a partner on top of an already buried person. There are however some more sinister connotations to some of these burials. It has been suggested that these burials are through a practice of ritualistic sacrifice of a human who is thrown into a grave on top of a dead person for whatever reason, possibly as in Ancient Egypt an idea of needing a slave in the afterlife would be a decent explanation. It is also mentioned that a practice called suttee could have been used in some areas. This is an idea which was put forward by Wilson after looking at the work of Talbot who had studied a tribal group called the Wends who had lived on the continent during the 8th century. I quote:

“[a race with] such a high regard for the bonds of matrimony that when the husband is dead the wife refuses to live” (Talbot 1954:123)*

Wilson points out that the Wends cremated their dead and in burials of females on top of males by Anglo-Saxons usually the female was not placed in reverently. This leads me to the conclusion that the Suttee idea was probably not practiced by the Anglo-Saxons. Other reasons why bodies may have been buried on top of others is that with unmarked graves as most Saxon ones were a burial could be superimposed by accident. This also has evidence at a grave in Camerton, Somerset where the bones of the lower burial were carefully put back. However in opposition to this a burial at a later date to go with a previous inhumation would have to have some sort of marker and there is very little evidence for grave markers in Anglo-Saxon Britain. Another feature of multiple burials is the grave goods as there is always a difference between the two burials which is often that the upper burial is devoid of goods.

Grave goods are a common feature throughout and as I have mentioned before there are several reasons for them being slowly dropped from burial rites of the Anglo-Saxons. Grave goods help to display a picture of the status of individuals who are wealthier receiving more grave goods such as the royal burial at Sutton Hoo down to slaves who not being allowed possessions in life took nothing to their graves unless they had wealthy or generous masters. Grave goods usually were stereotypical for men and women with men being buried with a spear and shield and buckles, while women were buried with hair pins brooches and jewelry. Pagan burials also often included offerings such as a joint of meat and sometimes there were other grave goods. Horses are a good example of a rare “grave good” one grave at Sutton Hoo and notably, Childeric, one of the first Merovingian kings, were buried with their horses. It was proposed by an anonymous historian that this may have been linked to a horse cult which was followed by the Alans who were a nomadic tribe in the east of Europe.

To conclude burial rites changing between the 5th and 8th centuries show how the fall of the Roman Empire meant Christianity could spread much further and establish itself as the dominant religion throughout Europe. This is supported by the archaeological evidence such as lack of grave goods and eventual burials in churchyards in the 8th century. Pagan rituals were slow to vanish and many were also kept for several centuries, again grave goods, till finally being replaced by the Christian way of burial.



*for full references to those books please see the bibliography in Davis Wilson’s Anglo-Saxon Paganism.


BAHN, P. 2001 The Penguin Archaeological guide.

London: Penguin.

DARVILL, T. 2003. The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Archaeology.

Oxford: Oxford University Press

GANNON, A. 2003. The Iconography of Early Anglo-Saxon coinage.

Oxford: Oxford University Press

GRANT, J. GORIN, S. FLEMING, N. 2002. The Archaeology Coursebook: an introduction to study skills, topics and methods.

London: Routledge.

GREENE, K. 1996. Archaeology and Introduction.

London: B.T. Batsford Ltd. Third edition.

LUCY, S. 2000. The Anglo-Saxon way of death

Stroud: Sutton Publishing

RENFREW, C. & BAHN, P. 2004. Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice.

London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. Fourth Edition.

WILSON, D. 1992. Anglo-Saxon Paganism.

London: Routledge

Ed. WOOD, I. 1998. Franks and the Alamanni in the MerovingianPeriod: An Ethnographic Perspective.

Woodbridge: The Boydell Press

(Whole volume used)

Electronic sources

EFFROS, B. 1997, Fall, Camargo foundation.


(3 March 2005)

KERR, J. (date unknown) Tanwayour


(3 March 2005)

[1]This has been explained as an act of defiance by the Pagans (Carver 1986:45)*

[2]These are inhumations cremations will be discussed later.

5 ways World War Two could have been avoided

Creative commons picture, treaty of VersaillesA question that comes up when talking about the devastation caused by wars is Could this war have been avoided? Particularly could World War Two have been avoided? There are many ways that world war 2 could have been avoided. This is mainly due to there being a lot of reasons why the war started in the first place. While there are lots the following are some ways in which it could have been avoided.


I shall start from the declarations of war in 1939 and go backwards.

1. If Hitler had have believed there was a credible threat of war (including an invasion by France on his western flank) then he may have held off from an invasion of Poland. This would mean that there would have to have been stronger actions against Hitler gobbling up territory in central Europe leading up to that point. If the threat was dealt with accordingly then there may well have been a serious build-up of men and material. A cold war may have then ensued but there would still be a high likelihood of the war turning hot. Max Werner in his book the strength of the Powers (published in 1939) suggested that Hitler should have waited until 1942 to start the war so that he could have consolidated his position and built up a more advanced military. This is a plausible scenario but still leaves everything on the brink of war and potentially leaves Hitler in a better position. Perhaps then the possibility of averting the war is smaller than delaying it. While it could be argued that the threat of war was credible as it did happen the years of appeasement may have emboldened Hitler and removed his cautiousness. This scenario is based on whether appeasement was the right path for nations to take with regard to Hitler.


2. Let’s go back in time a little further to see if we can make a more concrete stop. How about Anschluss in 1938? In simple terms, this was the joining of Austria to Germany to create a larger Germanic state. This gave Hitler a lot more power in both terms of Industry and manpower. It is also the point at which he starts to feel truly safe about annexing territory. If World leaders had have declared war over this rather than over Poland the story could well have been very different. After the invasion of Poland, there was the period of the phoney war. This was the part of World war two between the declarations of War caused by the invasion of Poland and the offensives in the West against France and Belgium etc. This period had some conflict but not on a major scale. Without the confidence that Hitler had gained he may well have backed down and sought peace treaties. The Phoney war lends a bit of weight to this as the war would have been a minor skirmish. if you consider that Poland may have been roped in to attack Germany on its eastern flank in concert with a western attack by the French then you could suggest that Hitler may have backed down at the threat of War at this time. Again this would have several outcomes. A shorter and less expansive war, A war held off much like the First option or no war at all as the strength shown by the other powers may well have translated into more action and strict pressure with regards to the terms of the treaties after WW1.

This one again hits on the point of appeasement. It also brings up the subject of the Phoney war which showed that there was still a reluctance to fight even after declarations had been made. This can be partially mitigated by the time it takes to mobilise an armed force. This would not explain the whole period though and it could be suggested that there was some thinking that a full-scale war akin to that of the First world war was to be avoided at all costs.


I could go blow by blow for many years but I will stick to three more.


3. The Wall Street crash and Depression. If US internal policy had managed to stop this happening then Germany would not have been in a state where Hitler could have taken power. His original Putsch failed and that may well have been the end of his political career if the Weimar republic wasn’t bankrupt. While they weren’t a very good government they didn’t exactly have a lot to work with either. Changing a whole country’s system of government that rapidly will always have teething problems. If you add to that the effects of the treaty and the Depression they didn’t stand a chance. The treaty was seen as harsh so people were pulling back on some restrictions (I’ll go into more in a second) if the money had have still been coming in Germany may well have rebuilt itself and seen that another world war was not the answer. So this bit leaves you without a war and removes Hitler’s route to power.

It is important to consider that while there were general feelings of anger at the way that Germany had been treated after the First world war it was Hitler and the Nazi’s that were pushing the hardest when it came to rebuilding the military and retaking the territory it had owned in 1914.


4. The next one would be to look at the treaty of Versailles. There are two schools of thought on what would have prevented it creating a scenario in which Germany would be likely to start another war. The First of these was the US argument. A modicum of oversight but a general rebuilding effort across Europe and bringing the powers close together (horrendously simplified but that is the general viewpoint). The other was the French idea to tear apart Germany into its constituent states and not let them have a military. This is the revenge scenario. As everyone who has briefly looked at the period knows a middle ground was found. Well sort of. It is often put down as the British position to reconcile both ideas. The logic of the US ideas, tempered with the anger about the destruction of a generation of British youth and a near bankrupting of its empire. The upshot of this was that it made a crippled and angry Germany who still had the potential for another war. This could have prevented war one way or the other. The first way would be an effort by the British to shore up its financial situation and empire. To do this a strong Germany with a decent economy would be a great trading partner. You could also go the complete other direction. Neuter Germany to the point where it couldn’t start a war. To do that the idea was to de-unify Germany. Split it into its constituent states each with restrictions on its military and also having to pay war reparations. If Hitler had have taken over say Bavaria then he would have to try to take over every single other state. Each of these states could have had their own Hitler figure. Some would not have. You then have a bunch of willful and stubborn leaders trying to come together which completely neutralises the threat. Any that do become a threat could easily be picked off by France without much effort.

This one is the one that you will see most frequently as a factor in the build-up to the Second World War. Personally, this treaty sealed the deal and very little could have been done to change the effect it had. Above I mentioned appeasement which was an effort to rectify the situation yet may well have had the opposite effect.


5. That leads to the final scenario.

Stop German unification. Here is a quote from Wikipedia

The unification of Germany into a politically and administratively integrated nation state officially occurred on 18 January 1871 in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles in France. Princes of the German states gathered there to proclaim Wilhelm I of Prussia as German Emperor after the French capitulation in the Franco-Prussian War.

(Unification of Germany – Wikipedia.)

Apart from the slap in the face of where the treaty was signed look at why it was signed. Germany, as it was unified, was only really galvanised by winning the Franco-Prussian War. There are numerous ways to put a spanner in the works here. France could have won the War. Unification wouldn’t have been such a massive issue.

The effects of the unification and this war are massive catalysts (From a French perspective) for both the First World War, the treaties after the war and its fear of a unified Germany. The French winning that war may have been a little far-fetched and not particularly plausible but look deeper. The driving force behind this was Otto von Bismark. Bismark was from a military family and was himself in the military. The rebellions that happened in 1848 across Europe also hit Prussia. he wanted to attack the revolutionaries. If they had let him there is a likelihood he could have been shot. Right there a stray bullet could have ended this before it started. The unification would eventually have happened but would have likely taken a very different form.

A side note here. Hitler fought in the First World War. He was wounded and gassed. Both things could have killed him or disabled him for life, this is a similar situation. The difference is that Hitler could have been replaced by someone else with his views. Potentially Ernst Rohm could have pushed for the same ideas. I digress, however, so shall leave that aside there.

As you can see there are a lot of different things that led to the war. The most plausible way is to remove the conditions that were needed for the war. That meant no Treaty of Versailles as is. To get that into a plausible state you need to change the motives of the First World War. To do that you need to stop German unification by a militaristic Prussian. The most plausible way may well be to have Bismark die before his career gets off the ground which would change the course of the entire 20th century and the latter half of the 19th century. but that would be a topic for another post.


(This post has been adapted from an answer I gave on Quora, check me out here https://www.quora.com/profile/Aidan-Colyer)

How did the crusades start?

The crusades were wars sanctioned by the Catholic church during the medieval period. There were many crusades although many people only know about the crusades in the Levant. It was these crusades that were the first crusades that happened so this is understandable.

how did the crusades startHow did the crusades start?

Unfortunately, the reasons for the start of the crusades cannot be boiled down to a single incident or action. While the First crusade as an action can be boiled down this far the reasons why the crusades started lay within the events that were happening throughout Europe and the Byzantine Empire as well as the events in the Middle east.

The first crusade itself was a direct response to a request for aid from the then Emperor Alexius I. The Byzantine Empire had been dramatically changed from its time as part of the wider Roman Empire. After the collapse of the Western Empire, the Eastern Empire had tried to stabilise itself as a major power. Over the intervening 600 odd years between the collapse and the first crusade, the Byzantine Empire had had many ups and downs. Although, by the time of Alexius, it had stabilised. Even though Alexius had managed to stop the empire from declining he still had a lack of troops to combat those on his borders and also to reclaim the land that had been lost during the Islamic expansion.

Historians, such as Thomas Asbridge, have suggested that Alexius was expecting a mercenary force that he could use to bolster his forces. This makes a lot of sense if the Byzantine military as a whole is considered. Throughout much of its history, it had used mercenaries to bolster its forces and frequently had the gold to pay for them. Alexius I did indeed have enough gold for such a purpose too. Western and particularly Northwestern Europeans had been used to fill the ranks of the Varangian Guard and were considered one of the elite units of the Byzantine armies.

While this core fact is considered as one of the founding actions of the crusade movement the reasons for the call for aid were deeper than simply to take back Jerusalem. The Byzantine Empire had controlled much of the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean and within that area, there were many large cities that were both prosperous and wealthy which would have helped to support the Empire.

Within Europe, it was the Pope who started the crusading movement. During a large service in November 1095, Pope Urban II decided to put forward the idea of forming a Christian army to retake Jerusalem. This idea is obviously linked to the correspondence received from Alexius I and on the surface could simply be a call for an army to directly help the Byzantine Emperor. The problem with this is that it misses the context within Western Europe at the time. The Church and Urban himself wanted to increase their power. Having an army that is directly run by the Pope and his officials would indeed serve this purpose. While the merits of the actions taken by Urban II can be debated it would be foolhardy to suggest that he did not have an agenda in calling the crusade. When one considers that Jerusalem had been under Islamic control for roughly 400 years it could be considered that the retaking of Jerusalem was not due to the Muslims being in control of Jerusalem but for other reasons. These reasons will be explored in another post as they are not directly relevant here.

So, in conclusion, How did the crusades start?

Pope Urban II called the First crusade in November 1095. This was at least in part due to a request for aid from the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I for troops to help him protect his Eastern borders from the Turkish kingdoms. The Europeans who heard this helped spread the message gathering troops and equipment to set off in 1096.

Anglo-Saxon houses and settlements

Anglo-Saxon houses and settlements

Anglo-Saxon villageAnglo-Saxon people needed somewhere to live so what did their homes look like?

Anglo-Saxon houses were rectangular rather than the round like the houses of the British people. These houses were made from wood and were built with a series of posts although occasionally they would lay beams out and build on top of them. When building on posts, pad stones were sometimes used to make a stable platform. These houses would be topped with thatched rooves and have wooden walls.

anglo saxon house planWhile the basic construction of a wooden house with a thatched roof is common throughout most societies the shape of the house is often different. Anglo-Saxon houses had a pretty structured plan. (see left) If you drew two squares with a small rectangle between them you would have the basic plan for an Anglo-Saxon house. The door, or doors, would be in the centre portion of those shapes effectively dividing it into two. This basic plan was used on a variety of scales. Larger buildings would have aisles down the sides to make the building wider while still having the posts close enough the centre to support the larger roof.

Aisled halls can be seen at sites such as Yeavering which was a major Anglo-Saxon royal site that spanned both pagan and Christian Saxon time periods. Aisled halls look similar to the plan of modern churches. We still call the side portions of these churches aisles as well. This isn’t surprising as we have churches that date back to the Anglo-Saxon period and some that still have evidence of original Saxon doorway arches.

While we only have evidence of postholes from archaeology we are able to reconstruct what these houses looked like. West stow is a place where Anglo-Saxon houses have been rebuilt and you can visit the village that has been created. There is also an Anglo-Saxon house being built At the Weald and Downland open air museum. The Weald and Downland open air museum has multiple houses from different time periods so you can see how the Anglo-Saxon house developed through time. Medieval houses after the Norman conquest were still similar. It took several hundred years for the design to be significantly modified into one that could not be recognised.

reconstructed grubenhaus JarrowIn early Saxon settlements, there were also small sunken huts. These have variously been termed sunken feature buildings and
Grubenhause over the years. As the second name suggests there is evidence for this type of construction on the continent as well as in England. These small buildings were dug into the ground with a thatched roof held up by posts set into the sides. These buildings were thought to be simple residences but further digging has recovered artefacts that suggest these were more likely to be workshops and storage places.

Saxon settlements were small by modern standards although the trading towns such as Hamwic, near modern-day Portsmouth on the south coast of England, were larger. These groups of houses would slowly be replaced over time as the wood the posts were made from rotted. This can leave large areas of postholes with no discernible pattern without scrutiny by archaeologists. Later Saxon towns had plots of land called burgage plots. There are some nice examples of this layout. Excavation sites such as St. Mary’s school in Wantage, Oxfordshire show a small farmstead just outside the area of these plots. The dating of these sites allows us to see the growth of towns during the later Anglo-Saxon period.

Anglo-Saxon Burh mapA later Anglo-Saxon document that is of interest when looking at this subject is the Burghal Hidage. This document lists defensive towns called burhs which were used to defend against raids by Vikings and Danes from Danelaw. Today we still have evidence of such defences. Wallingford in Oxfordshire is a good example of this as the town inside the bank still closely resembles the pattern of settlement that was originally there (obviously there are many modern additions of buildings and side streets added to this area). Within these towns, there would still be areas for growing crops and the houses would follow a similar construction to those in the more modest villages in the countryside.

As we can see there are quite a few aspects to consider when talking about Anglo-Saxon houses. The evidence that we have from archaeological excavations gives us plenty of house plans to look at. Perhaps one day all of these settlements will be placed together on a map to give us an idea of how the Anglo-Saxon’s were distributed across England.

(All images apart from the plan of the Anglo-Saxon house are courtesy of creative commons)

Are National borders a thing of the past?

Are we confusing the past movement of people with ourAnglo-Saxon kingdoms 878 modern concept of borders?

Recently I have been researching the movement of the Anglo-Saxons into the British Isles. Aside from the usual debate of invasion vs. migration, which I have partially covered on the Anglo-Saxon page and also in an article, I started to think about the concept of borders. Borders are a concept that is ubiquitous in modern society. Humans, as a race, have a great love of dividing things up and putting things into neat little brackets. Historians and archaeologists have done this for years with typologies and eras. In the news almost constantly (here in the U.K anyway) we see the subject of border control come up again and again. guardian article on border checks BBC article on borders

While borders in the modern world have developed as kingdoms and nation states have solidified in the ancient world and even more recently in areas such as Africa during the 19th century this was not so. Borders were looser and often porous. Hadrians wall is one of the few good examples we have of a border with controls http://www.visithadrianswall.co.uk/hadrians-wall/life-on-hadrians-wall/border-control. While the edge of the Roman empire is often clearly defined, such as the Rhine frontier, Were these borders always as secure as we imagine them. Even in the modern world, as the above Schengen agreement link shows the borders in Europe aren’t hard and fast. We have the lines on maps but they don’t exist on the ground and can be crossed without much hassle.

When we look at the tribes that inhabited Europe they would have territories but very few clear boundaries. The edges of the territories they controlled moved frequently. Raiding was commonplace and as such we can conclude that while certain villages and farms were linked as part of a group the actual land itself wasn’t exactly owned as we view it now. This concept of owning land that is not being used is a little odd. Indeed, political philosophers on the left have often railed against land ownership even in our modern times.

Are we making a fatal mistake in the fundamentals? Are we being anachronistic when we talk of invasions by groups of people? Undoubtedly there were invasions such as those by the Huns or Bulgars are the smaller movements of tribes really invasions? Are they actually taking the land from anyone?

This may seem like a far left standpoint but is it? Are we again making a mistake by creating a border in our thoughts? Those thoughts need not be classed in such a way. We could describe the concept of tribal lands with blank areas as a left wing ideal if we wanted but the events we describe took place many decades and centuries before the concepts of right and left wing entered our consciousness.

How do we resolve this?

We should look at the facts.

If we take raiding parties as a starting point. The idea was often to steal livestock. There may be other moveable wealth stolen or slaves taken but, on the whole, it was frequently just a bit of cattle rustling. At times, the raids would get more vicious and villages and towns would be targetted. their people slaughtered. These accounts are often couched in terms of the people that were killed. It was a Roman settlement so they were Romans etc. While we often see ‘the lands of X’ we could suggest this just included the lands that were in use. We could, therefore, make a delineation between the two concepts. When the Saxons arrived on the coast of Britain they didn’t instantly spark wars with the tribes that we would consider as controlling the land. There was no clear they have invaded as they have passed this invisible line. If there were we would see plenty of battles in the archaeological record. We don’t. What we do see is the settlement of areas by small groups. There isn’t a concerted effort to carve out large kingdoms. Farmsteads crop up all over the place. Can we say that the areas that were settled in such a sparsely populated country were taken from anyone? Towns had been abandoned and were resettled by groups in an ad hoc fashion, some were left such as Silchester. It is only later that we see tribes coalesce into larger groups and kings emerge.

Even many years later, in the later medieval periods, we don’t have such nationalist terms such as countries. We have territories owned by knights, dukes, counts, barons and Kings. We have principalities and demesnes. Which ‘country’ you belonged to was often down to a certain level of ethnicity but even then we can see such a close link between French aristocracy and English aristocracy that that is still not a clear dividing line. King Richard the paragon of English virtue didn’t even speak English. He is famous for never really being in England. Yet he is hailed as an English king. So does ethnicity even play a large role?

What about fealty? Much of the intrigue in medieval courts was due to fealty. Who could command the most knights was the order of the day. It wasn’t the kings that directly controlled the land it was the landholders such as knights or barons that were the de facto owners. It was who they swore fealty to which set them up as on one side or the other. You could easily switch sides back and forth if a large army pressured you into kneeling to a new liege lord. With the parcels of land being divided up in such a manner, we could suggest that we still hadn’t left our tribal systems behind. we just grouped those tribes into larger groups. This would still mean it was a very similar state of affairs to the classical roman period. It isn’t until the rise of absolutism that we really see countries as controlling the lands that they nominally occupy.

Anglo-Saxon villageAll of this discussion centres around the forming of groups at the higher end of the hierarchy. What about those at the bottom end. Do the people in an Anglo-Saxon farmstead in Mercia in 850AD really see themselves as Mercians? Did they truly see Beorhtwulf as their monarch? Did they even think of themselves as Anglo-Saxons? It is almost certain they didn’t see themselves as English as that concept seems to have only really solidified in Wessex under Alfred. Perhaps they did or perhaps they are like an apathetic voter today. We see in some articles (Varsity article on voter apathy) figures as high as 59% of people who couldn’t name the prime minister. With communication and information at our fingertips in the modern age, we still have a large amount of apathy. We could suggest that a similar figure may be applicable to the Anglo-Saxon period. Why such a leap? Well, as mentioned above we have a considerably larger body of information to draw upon. There are more people so news can spread faster by word of mouth. Even then we have a channel dedicated to airing the goings on in parliament. With such widespread information, it is hard to fathom why people don’t know such a basic question. That is until we look at why. Perhaps it is because people just don’t care. The same article linked above suggests a large portion of the country are apathetic. What if the same was to be said for the average Anglo-Saxon? When you have a farmstead that is away from the main areas of raiding you would have little need to concern yourself with more than feeding your family. You may go to a nearby market to trade but who was wandering around with their werod smashing the place up wouldn’t matter to you. It wasn’t that information that was important. The weather, the failure of another family’s crops, a new ploughing technique. They are the things that are most important.

By now you may be wondering where this is going. First, I say we put our ideas of modern culture on the past and try to fit them in. I say this may be wrong. I then go ahead and seemingly do the same thing. The difference is what I am using to compare to the past. We can look at general trends of the average person’s views. These won’t change much over time. They still boil down to the essentials. To bring in enough that you can live comfortably and well fed in your own home. The particulars may be different but the concepts are the same. While we have a preoccupation with borders it isn’t an essential part of life. We could redraw most of the world’s borders five feet to one side or the other and it would have little noticeable effect. The difference is therefore that our modern notion of borders comes from our modern concepts of nation-states. If a society doesn’t have the concept of a nation then they wouldn’t have a concept of national borders.

This topic has so many facets and some aspects we will never truly know. I will be revisiting some of the questions that I have posed here. If you have any more or indeed if you have a different take please let me know.


(All images courtesy of creative commons)