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The Danelaw (from the Old English Dena lagu) was an area of England under the administrative control of the Vikings (or Danes, or Norsemen) from the late 9th century. The term is also used to describe the set of legal terms and definitions established between Alfred the Great and the viking Guthrum which were set down in agreements such as the Treaty of Wedmore which established a modus vivendi between the Anglo-Saxons and the viking in-comers.
Geography of the Danelaw
Five fortified towns became particularly important in the Danelaw: Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham, Stamford and Derby. These strongholds became known as the "Five Boroughs". Borough derives from the Old English word burg, meaning a fortified town.
History of the Danelaw
From about 800 AD, waves of viking assaults on the coastlines of the British Isles, were gradually followed by a succession of settlers, bringing with them a culture and a tradition markedly different from that of the prevalent Anglo-Saxon society. These enclaves rapidly expanded, and soon the viking warriors were establishing areas of control to such an extent that they might reasonably be described as kingdoms.
The reason for these wave of immigrations are complex and bound to the political situation in Scandinavia at that time; moreover, they occurred at a time when the viking forces were also establishing their presence in the Hebrides, in the Orkneys, the Faroe Islands, in Iceland, in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine (see Kievan Rus').
The Danelaw was formally established as a result of the Treaty of Wedmore in the late 9th century, after Alfred the Great had defeated the Viking Guthrum at the Battle of Edington. The Danelaw represented a consolidation of power for Alfred; the subsequent conversion of Guthrum to Christianity underlines the ideological significance of this shift in the balance of power.
The Danelaw was gradually eroded by Anglo-Saxon raids in later years.
Legal concepts of the Danelaw
The Danelaw was an important factor in the establishment of a civilian peace in the neighbouring Anglo-Saxon and viking communities. It established, for example, equivalences in areas of legal contentiousness, such as the amount of reparation that should be payable in weregild.
Enduring impact of the Danelaw
The influence of this period of Scandinavian settlement can still be seen in the North of England and the East Midlands, most evidently in place names: name endings such as "by" or "thorp" being particular giveaways.
Old Norse and Old English were still mutually comprehensible, and the mixed language of the Danelaw caused the incorporation of many Norse words into the English language, including the word law itself, as well as the third person plural pronouns they, them, and their. Many Old Norse words still survive in the dialects of Northeastern England.
Four of the five boroughs became county towns — of the counties of Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. However, Stamford failed to gain such status — perhaps because of the nearby anomalous territory of Rutland.
Significant archaeological sites related to the Danelaw
Major archaeological sites which bear testimony to the Danelaw are few, but perhaps the most famous is the site at York, which derives its name from the Norse, Jorvik. Other sites include the cremation site at Ingoldsby .
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