Assembling an extensive patchwork of evidence, Livingston tries to recreate the ‘facts’ of the Battle of Brunanburh – the major battle between King Æthelstan’s English forces and an alliance of Vikings and Scots in AD 937. While he makes some potentially controversial assumptions, such as the idea that England would not exist were it not for this English victory, he is refreshingly frank, carefully laying out his own biases as well as those that exist in the data, and taking pains to make the reader aware of the limitations of the study.
Although a large chunk of the book is a primarily historical account, it also carefully examines what archaeological evidence has been able to contribute. Analysis of LiDAR surveys and other topographical tools are used throughout, and there is a brief chapter dedicated to the work of the Wirral Archaeology group, which has striven to find physical evidence for the battle to confirm its location. Overall, this is an engagingly written book and a great resource for learning more about a British battle often forgotten – but no less important for that.
Never Greater Slaughter: Brunanburh and the birth of England, Michael Livingston, Osprey Publishing, £20, ISBN 978-1472849373.
Review by KK.