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Archive for September, 2013

Centres of power

In the past few days I’ve been working up a new post for my other blog Senchus. I’ll be looking at a controversial topic: the famous battle of Brunanburh, fought in AD 937 at an unidentified location somewhere in what is now northern England. The victor at Brunanburh was Athelstan, king of the English, a grandson of Alfred the Great. The leaders on the losing side were King Anlaf (‘Olaf’) of Dublin, King Constantin of Alba (Scotland) and King Owain of Strathclyde. In the blogpost I’ll calculate the distances travelled by the respective armies to a couple of places suggested as the site of the battle, and then mark the routes on a map. I’ll take the starting-point for each army as the leader’s principal centre of power or ‘royal capital’.

The map below represents an early stage in the exercise. It shows the ‘capitals’ of the main protagonists in the Brunanburh campaign: Winchester, chief power centre of the West Saxon dynasty who ruled most of Anglo-Saxon England in the tenth century; Dublin, headquarters of the most powerful Viking kingdom in the British Isles; Scone, home of the Gaelic-speaking kings of Alba; and Govan, the royal capital of Strathclyde. Two other places are also shown: York, the great stronghold of Anglo-Scandinavian Northumbria; and Bamburgh, an ancient coastal fortress in Bernicia (the northern part of Northumbria) held by a hereditary line of English lords.

Each of these places was a hub of political authority and military strength, and each played a role – directly or indirectly – in the sequence of events leading up to the Brunanburh campaign. Five of the six – Winchester, Dublin, York, Scone and Govan – were the most important centres of power in tenth-century Britain and Ireland. Govan’s membership of this elite quintet has frequently been overlooked but cannot be denied. Sculpture and archaeology confirm its status as one of the major royal capitals of the Viking Age.

Original topographic map by Equestenebrarum via Wikimedia Commons

Original topographic map by Equestenebrarum via Wikimedia Commons.

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Govan Stones banner
Yesterday afternoon the skies were blue in Sunny Govan so I dug out my camera and took some photos of the new banners advertising the carved stones. Two of the banners flank the pedestrian route from the ferry to the old parish church while a third hangs near the churchyard entrance. I also photographed a new information board which, like the banners, appeared this summer to mark the unveiling of the stones in their new, improved settings inside the church.

Govan Stones banner

Banner on the fence overlooking the old ferry slipway and the River Clyde.


Govan Stones banner

Banner on Water Row, facing the public car park. The old parish church, where the stones are displayed, is just visible behind the trees.


Govan Stones banner

Banner on the churchyard fence. A modern (1930s) replica of the 10th-century Jordanhill Cross can be seen in the background.


Govan Stones

Information board at the churchyard entrance.

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