Ragnar Lodbrok (“Hairy-Breeches”) was a renowned Viking warrior and raider who was, according to Icelandic sagas, captured by the Northumbrian king Aella, and put to death in a pit of snakes. The Great Heathen Army, led by three of Ragnar’s sons, was, the sagas claim, a revenge mission. It was certainly different in scale to prior Viking attacks on Britain, comprising perhaps 3,000 fighting men. After landing on the Isle of Thanet in 865, the Vikings marched through East Anglia and Mercia to Northumbria, capturing York and slaying Aella to exact their revenge. Returning to Mercia they repulsed a joint Mercian and West Saxon army at Nottingham, before overwhelming the East Angles at Thetford and killing their king, Edmund. Despite Viking reinforcements arriving, the West Saxons were able to defeat them at Ashdown (871). The Saxon general that day, Alfred, became king late that year, while the Vikings decamped first to London then Lindsey.
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