The Unknown Hero

By Jefferson P Webb

vikingsAlthough the names of heroes throughout history have been recorded in both the written traditions of literate cultures, and oral tales of illiterate cultures, there is one hero whose name remains lost to us. His brief mention in the primary sources of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and the Saga of Harald Hardrada speak of his courage and of his incredible martial skill, but his name is unknown to us. What we do know is that according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, this warrior was a Viking of Norwegian origin who fought at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25 September 1066.1 He fought in the Viking army of King Harald Hardrada against the Saxon army of King Harold Godwinson. After the death of Hardrada of Norway, the Viking army was in flight in what was described as a disorganized, perhaps even panicked retreat. In the midst of the Vikings’ retreat, one Viking warrior held his position on a small bridge that has been called Stamford Bridge in what has been speculated to have been a move to buy time for the other Vikings to regroup and reform a new battle line to face the advancing Saxon assault. Another explanation for his actions could be one of religious belief and a desire to die courageously rather than die on the run in retreat of an enemy. Whichever the case may be, the warrior commonly referred to as “The Viking of Stamford Bridge” made the incredibly brave decision to fight the Saxons alone as the Saxons moved to cross the small “bottle-neck” the bridge created in the movement of the Saxon army.

The lone Viking warrior is recorded to have been of great size and strength, and skillfully wielded an axe as his weapon of choice. For some time the Saxon warriors attempted to make their way across the small bridge, but the Viking was able to hold them up, killing as many as perhaps forty Saxon warriors in his efforts before the Saxons finally attacked him from a different angle.2 It is recorded that a Saxon warrior took a spear and crawled into a half-barrel. He them floated/paddled himself to a position on the water where he was able to deliver a mortal thrust of his spear into the Viking from below. The Saxons realized that they apparently had no single warrior that was able to defeat the Viking head-on. It stands to reason that more than likely the final Saxon warrior to face the Viking was there to occupy the attention of the Viking rather than kill him, while his fellow warrior was able to maneuver under the Viking to make the kill.

Whether the Viking of Stamford Bridge made his stand in support of him fellow warriors, or whether he knew that the army he was a member of was defeated and decided to make a personal stand to die well and meet Odin in Valhalla, it took incredible courage and martial skill to accomplish what he did on the bridge. He fought with such ferocity that some have even believed him to be a berserker worked up into a frenzy. Whatever the case may be for his reasoning for making his stand on the bridge, it is a terrible shame that his name is not known to us. Perhaps it is not known to us because all those that knew him personally, or knew of him enough to have known his name had been killed prior to his death. The Vikings suffered horrendous casualties in the battle with the Saxons and it is very likely that those remaining alive, though witness to his actions, may simply not have known his name. If this were the case it explains why his actions were recorded, but his name was not.

Whomever this Viking was, he is worthy of the mention that he was given by both the Saxons and the Scandinavians. This man exemplifies battlefield courage and shows what can be accomplished by a single, skilled warrior in battle. This unknown hero is worthy of great acclaim and earned honor on the field of battle on 25 September 1066.

1. Anonymous. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles: A History of England. Trans. Rev James Ingram, Trans. G.A. Giles. CreateSpace, 2012

2. Snori Sturluson. King Harald’s Saga: Harald Hardradi of Norway: From Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla. Trans. Magnus Magnusson, Trans. Hermann Palsson.  Penguin Classics, 1976

Picture:  Accessed 05-01-2013

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