It was a scene of strange incongruity, for in contrast with these barbaric men and their rough songs and shouts, the walls were hung with rare spoils that betokened civilized workmanship. Fine tapestries that Norman women had worked; richly chased weapons that princes of France and Spain had wielded; armour and silken garments from Byzantium and the Orient – for the dragon ships ranged far.
ROBERT E. HOWARD, ‘The Dark Man’ (1931)1
In his appraisal of Alfred’s later years, Bishop Asser was at pains to stress the frustrating lengths to which the king had gone in his efforts to galvanize his subjects into undertaking works for the good of the realm. It is fairly clear, however, from the bishop’s tone in this part of his biography that Alfred had encountered real difficulty in convincing his people that they wanted to spend (or wanted their slaves to spend) their afternoons digging ditches, or raising palisades, or whatever other toil the local reeve had been tasked with delegating. Indeed, when we hear the list of labours that the king required of his people (‘cities and towns to be rebuilt […] others to be constructed where previously there were none’; ‘treasures incomparably fashioned in gold and silver at his instigation’; ‘royal halls and chambers marvellously constructed of stone and wood’; ‘royal residences of masonry, moved from their old position and splendidly reconstructed at more appropriate places by his royal command’), it is no wonder that ‘gently instructing’ and ‘cajoling’ soon gave way to ‘commanding, and (in the end, when his patience was exhausted) […] sharply chastising those who were disobedient’ and ‘despising popular stupidity and stubbornness in every way’.2
Evidently, however, all this chastising and despising wasn’t always enough, and the king sometimes needed outside intervention in order to convince his subjects of the wisdom of his building programmes. When, according to Asser, Alfred’s efforts failed to yield the desired results, and ‘enemy forces burst in by land or sea (or, as frequently happens, by both!)’,3 it merely served to teach the people of Greater Wessex a valuable lesson about the unimpeachable wisdom of their king. His wretched subjects ‘having lost their fathers, spouses, children, servants, slaves, handmaidens, the fruits of their labours and all their possessions’ were probably wasting their time if they thought they could expect much compassion from their spiritual and political leaders: Asser was clear about where to place the blame. The laziness, stubbornness, ineptitude and ingratitude of the people had, in the bishop’s eyes, brought affliction down upon their own heads.4 And, as he approvingly noted, at least those who had ‘negligently scorned the royal commands’ now ‘loudly applaud the king’s foresight and promise to do what they had previously refused – that is, with respect to constructing fortresses and to the other things of general advantage to the whole kingdom’.5
This is all, of course, the authorized version of events, a narrative constructed to serve the interests of the king. The reality seems to be that Alfred was indeed making practical and long-term changes to the way in which the defence of his kingdom was organized and was also trying hard to overcome resistance to his innovations; it is equally clear, however, that on both counts the king’s efforts sometimes failed. (The temptation to blame everyone else for the bungling of executive orders can often be an appealing strategy for a regime and its apologists.) Overwhelmingly, however, whatever the success rates of his projects and the obstacles encountered, what comes across most strongly from Asser’s account is the scale of Alfred’s ambition: he saw a kingdom ennobled by learning and literacy, adorned with towns and palaces of stone, glittering with treasures of silver and gold. And he wanted to be remembered for it: Asser’s biography alone is enough to tell us that Alfred was a man who keenly felt the weight of his own destiny and the desire to preserve its memory.
When he was a small boy, Alfred had travelled to Rome as part of a diplomatic mission, possibly accompanied by his father, possibly by others.6 While he was there he met the pope who, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ‘hallowed him as king, and took him as his spiritual son’.7The questions of when Alfred travelled, who went with him, which pope he met (Leo or Benedict?) and what, precisely, happened when he did, have long been matters of scholarly debate. It is obvious that, from the perspective of West Saxon writers of the 890s, the idea that Alfred was marked for future kingly greatness at such an early age by the heir of St Peter would have been an attractive one to emphasize. It would be wrong, therefore, to take it too seriously – Alfred, after all, still had three older brothers at this stage of his career. However, no matter how faulty his memory and whatever ideas might have been put into the king’s head over the years since his meeting with the pope, it would be wrong to assume that Alfred himself did not believe that something transcendent, something numinous, had touched him in the holy city. It is likely, indeed, that his experience of Rome affected him deeply.
Imagine the impression it must have left on a boy of five (or eight) whose knowledge of royal and holy splendour began and ended with his father’s weather-beaten timber halls and stocky Saxon churches like Winchester Old Minster – impressive, no doubt, in their proper context, but cattle-sheds in comparison with the Pantheon (into which the Old Minster would have fitted several times over) or the mosaic-embellished Basilica of Santa Prassede (completed in the early 820s), let alone the Colosseum, its white marble carcass gleaming in ruinous splendour beneath the Mediterranean sun. If one adds to this the liturgical mystery and material splendour, the carefully cultivated sense of immanent divinity and imperial patrimony that the papacy was uniquely placed to deploy, it becomes difficult to see how the furniture of any sensitive and intelligent young mind could fail to be radically and permanently rearranged. Alfred may well have grown up feeling himself selected for a higher destiny and touched by God, and perhaps some of this lay behind the king’s ambitions in education, building works and administrative and military organization: he had seen first hand the legacies that empire could leave, and the role of the divine in animating and motivating their revival.8 Whatever else, it must have left him with memories – the magical, nostalgia-soaked images of childhood, of an eternal city, shining white and gold, under a sky of endless blue.
One of the most obvious ways in which Alfred’s zeal for Romanitas manifested itself was in the choice of the ‘cities and towns to be rebuilt’ and the manner in which ‘others [were] to be constructed where previously there were none’.9 The urbes and oppida of Roman Britain, long left to wrack and ruin, began to be restored across the West Saxon realm: Bath, Exeter, Winchester and the City of London were slowly restored to the heart of political, economic and social life, their walls repaired, their centres redeveloped. Elsewhere – at Wallingford for example – new proto-urban centres were laid out on a grid that recalled the regular cruciform street plans of Roman towns. Some of the targets for development had already been important places prior to this new phase of consolidation: Malmesbury had been a monastery since the seventh century, Wareham the location of a major church (a minster) and the resting place of King Beorhtric of Wessex, the king whose reign had ushered in the Viking Age in Britain.
But, however motivated Alfred may have been by dreams of civilization (literally, ‘city-dwelling’), there is no doubt that the immediate catalyst for this burst of energy was the need to boost the defences of the realm. We have already seen how hard it was in this period of rudimentary siegecraft to dislodge an enemy who had dug himself in – Alfred had experienced this to his own cost at Nottingham, Reading and Exeter – and the need to protect winter stores, people, livestock, property and production had been demonstrated time and time again from the late eighth century onward. Alfred, so it would seem, was not a man to let lessons go unlearned: his would be a kingdom well organized and well fortified, prepared for anything that might threaten it.
At some point between the 880s and the early tenth century, a document was produced, known now as the Burghal Hidage.10 It is a list of around thirty defensible settlements – ‘burhs’ in Old English (the root of the word ‘borough’ and the element ‘bury’ in the names of so many English towns) – of varying origin. Some of them, like Wallingford, were built from scratch; others reused the masonry circuits of dilapidated Roman towns or the earthworks of Iron Age hill-forts, places which had often been neglected for centuries as settlements, but which had retained a powerful grip on the Anglo-Saxon imagination as meeting places, battlefields and the subject of poetry and legend. The purpose of the Burghal Hidage was to assess the amount of military manpower required to garrison and maintain each burh according to the length of its defensive circuit and the amount of land from which that manpower could be drawn.11 More than forts, but not yet true towns, the burhs seem to have been conceived piecemeal in the later years of Alfred’s reign and the early years of his son Edward the Elder’s in response to the continuing threat of Viking attack from within and without Britain, with the existential threat the micel here had posed still fresh in the collective memory. It was, in its primary purpose, a military solution to a specific set of circumstances, a successful one – as Alfred’s later reign bore out – and one that his son Edward and daughter Æthelflæd (the lady of the Mercians) continued to roll out in the course of their own bellicose careers.12
But burhs also proved to offer a remarkably durable model for imposing, organizing and protecting essential aspects of state governance (such as the minting of coins) in the localities where they were laid out or renewed, as well as providing hubs for manufacture and commerce – places where the inhabitants of the dispersed rural hinterland could exchange agricultural produce for manufactured goods. In this respect, they took over some of the functions that had previously been reserved to monasteries and royal or aristocratic estate centres. As a result, the burhs of the late ninth and early tenth centuries were swiftly on their way to becoming true towns, and though some failed to develop (Eashing, Chisbury, Sashes, the unidentified Eorpeburnan),13 others were to become (and many still remain) the principal urban centres of the English realm.14
In fairness to the rest of Anglo-Saxon England, Alfred and his descendants probably receive too much of the credit for these innovations in urban planning: Mercia seems to have had burhs of its own – at Winchcombe, Hereford and Tamworth.15 York clearly had defences in 865 (for all the good they did); Thetford, Lincoln and other settlements of East Anglia and the east midlands may or may not have been significantly developed before they fell into Viking hands in the 870s; trading settlements at London, Southampton, Ipswich, Canterbury and York had been in business since the eighth century. But the network of West Saxon burhs was still the most extensive, coherent and ambitious system of planned development in Britain since Roman times, and there can be little doubt that it was principally Viking aggression that had hastened the agglomeration of administrative, ecclesiastical, economic and military functions.
The Vikings, it can be argued, were responsible not just for creating the conditions that gave rise to the nascent English state, but also for the birth of towns and cities, even (or especially) in the parts of southern England that they had never conquered and colonized. They were not, however, merely the unwitting agents of change, catalysts in a chemical reaction in which they themselves remained stable and unaltered. They were, on the contrary, deeply implicated in these changes from the beginning, shaping the outcomes of the socio-economic revolution that their presence had started, their own identities mutating and fusing in the process. The maritime technology and international trading connections that the Vikings brought to Britain were, in this regard, fundamental. So too was the example that they set for the growth of towns. For when Alfred and Edward cast around for the models that their burhs might take, it was not only a dream of Rome that animated the will: closer, more practical, more familiar models already lay close at hand. For the Vikings, from the moment they first stayed over the winter, had been pioneers of the densely settled, bounded and defensible, commercial and administrative hub.
Viking camps had provided a way of life to their inhabitants since the first over-wintering of Viking raiding armies in Britain in the mid-800s. These camps were temporary – at least at first – often adapting structures and defences that were already present (the enclosure at Repton and the camp at Reading are famous examples). But archaeologically the most revealing material in Britain has come from other sites: from Torksey in Lincolnshire and another undisclosed site in north Yorkshire.16 In Ireland, these Viking winter camps were known as longphuirt (singular longphort), and several of these camps mutated over time into true urban settlements, the nuclei of what are still Ireland’s most populous towns: Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, Limerick and Cork.17 In England there is little evidence that any camp developed in this way, and when Viking armies turned to permanent settlement it was in places that had at least some pre-existing infrastructure. Nevertheless, the habits developed in places like these – the close-order living, the reliance on local rural communities for food and resources (rather than farming the land directly), the self-sufficiency in craft and manufacture, the provision for shipping, the market economy – translated easily to urban life.
At Torksey, for example, where the micel here ensconced itself on a low bluff beside the River Trent over the winter of 872/3, a site of around 65 acres has been discovered through the combined efforts of amateur metal detectorists and professional archaeologists – a sprawling encampment where a large army once lived and transacted its business. And ‘business’ is the right word, for among the gaming pieces that once marched across wooden boards, only to be lost, perhaps, in the upheaval of the arguments they inspired in drunk and enervated fighting men, were found the tools of craft and industry and the mechanisms of trade. Weaving and smelting, sewing and leatherworking, fishing and woodworking – even the production of imitative coins; this was the self-sustaining business of a proto-town, whose inhabitants were busy with repairs and the provision of essentials: weapons and clothing, ship repairs and sailcloth, food and tools. And then there are the weights and scales, the coins and the bullion.
More than 350 coins were found at Torksey, including silver pennies of the 860s and 870s struck in England and a large number of copper-alloy ‘stycas’, a low-value and rather unglamorous Northumbrian coinage of the pre-Viking period. It is these coins that, in great measure, enabled archaeologists to date and identify the encampment as belonging to the micel here’s stop at Torksey in 872/3. Crucially, however, it was not only English coins that were discovered. The ground gave up 123 Arabic dirhams, many of them cut into smaller pieces, coins that had once exchanged hands in the streets of Merv (Turkmenistan) or Wasit (Iraq), left to seed the Lincolnshire soil. The dates of these coins, the youngest of which were struck in the late 860s, support the dating of the encampment. But the presence of the fragmentary dirhams is interesting in a number of other ways. Islamic silver coins flowed into Scandinavia in great numbers during the ninth century, travelling up the Russian river-systems towards the Baltic in return for the slaves, furs and amber that poured south. It was this trade that Arab travellers like ibn Fadlan were witnessing when they wrote their accounts of the exotic barbarians they met on the banks of the Volga and elsewhere. The fact that the micel here was carrying this coinage in volume, and that some of them were struck later than the arrival of the micel here in England, suggests that Viking armies in England remained connected to these sources of silver, even as they kicked their heels on the banks of the Trent. For these venture capitalists of the Viking Age, the rivers of England and Russia, the sea-roads of the North Sea and the Caspian, were all just byways of one great interconnected network: a world-wide web of slaves and silver.
The fact, however, that the coins were cut into smaller pieces indicates something else significant. For most of the Viking Age, even when Viking rulers were producing coins of their own, a system of economics prevailed across areas of Viking influence that valued precious metal (primarily silver, but also gold and copper alloys) by weight alone. In such a system, silver coins were valuable not so much because they were ‘money’ but because they represented portable units of precious metal that could be easily melted down and re-formed into other shapes and sizes (as arm-rings, say, or ingots), or broken up into smaller bits as the need arose. And it was not only coins that were tossed into the crucible. Regardless of whether the labour and smithcraft was invested by Anglo-Saxon, Irish or Scandinavian artisans, no work of delicate artistry or imaginative skill, no filigree or niello, enamel or inlay, wire work or beading was safe when the weight of the metal was what mattered: all was there to be melted down or chopped into bits. ‘Hack-silver’ and, more rarely, ‘hack-gold’ are commonly found in Viking hoards and settlement sites; both were found at Torksey. Such fragments represent the loose change of a bullion economy, the shrapnel required to top up a large amount or to exchange for lower-value goods. Also present at Torksey are ingots, the result of the melting and re-forming of coins and other objects into bars of precious metal that were easily transported and stored. These provided the raw material for creating new objects, or as convenient building-blocks to be weighed out in a transaction.
The technology of such transactions was also there at Torksey. Dozens of weights were found, many of the ‘cubo-octahedral’ and ‘oblate-spheroid’ types that copied the design and weight standards of those encountered in the Islamic world. The latter are colloquially known as ‘barrel weights’. The former, with six square and eight triangular faces (imagine a cube with the corners filed down to flat triangular planes), each decorated with a varying number of incised dots, are often known – for obvious reasons – as ‘dice weights’. These designs were a visual marker of reliability and, thanks to their incised decoration and distinctive shapes, hard to tamper with.18 Finally, of course, scales were required, to weigh out silver, to calibrate weights, to measure out loose commodities such as amber, jet, beads or grain. Fragments of a simple balance were recovered from Torksey, but beautifully preserved examples have been found at centres of Viking commerce across the northern world.19
Consider, for a moment, what this evidence for trade – at a temporary military encampment unexpectedly thrown up in the Lincolnshire countryside – implies about interactions between Viking armies and local populations. Certainly it suggests that local people were willing to enter into a trading relationship with the micel here – the Viking army cannot have been dealing with anyone else, and interaction was probably frequent and associations increasingly familiar. That does not mean, however, that those relationships were symmetrical or respectful ones: trade is not always a happy transaction of goods and services, a mutually beneficial exercise in cultural interchange. It is undeniable that trade has, historically, been one of the greatest drivers of technological innovation, improvements in living standards and the spread of knowledge and ideas. But this is far from being a complete picture: diseases spread faster than knowledge, technology kills as readily as it cures, not all ideas are worth sharing. The history of mercantile adventure, moreover, presents a spectacularly corrupt and bloody carcass: from the infernal horrors of the Belgian Congo to the moral abortion of the Opium Wars, from the mercantile tyranny of the East India Company to the brutality of Amazonian rubber barons, trade has often gone hand in hand with greed, violence and injustice.
It is this tension that makes the signature ‘debate’ of Viking studies – ‘raiders or traders?’ – so wearisome and irritating. For what could a Viking army camped on the Trent have had that the local people might have been tempted to buy? The treasures looted from local churches perhaps? The livestock driven from their fields? The grain they had stored against the winter? Their friends? Their families? An account of a Viking army campaigning in France (also during the later ninth century) recorded that they struck camp on an island in the Loire: there they ‘held crowds of prisoners in chains’, and launched mounted raids to devastate the surrounding countryside. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle makes it plain that Viking camps in Britain disgorged similar raiding parties (it was just such a raid that fell foul of Ealdorman Æthelwulf and the Berkshire fyrd in 870). Such raids would have been necessary to provision a large force over winter; but the potential for profiteering from the cruelties inflicted on the locals was ever present. Imagine the misery of a people forced to trade their winter food supplies for their beaten and abused husbands, wives and children, think of them watching blankly as some barbarian measured out the lives of their kin in grain – scales stacked with corn, blood for barley, pigs for people: desperate efforts, in Asser’s words, to ‘redeem those captured from a hateful captivity’.20
Nor was it only human lives that were bartered in this way.
Ealdorman Ælfred and his wife wander through the camp, their cloaks splattered with mud as they stumble on the uneven ground, tripping on tent pegs, skirting the camp-fires. The air thrums with hammers on iron, axes in wood. Away in the distance a wooden pen holds prisoners, shackled and beaten, staring vacantly towards a place that no one else can see. Ælfred and Werburg try not to look at them, terrified of meeting a familiar gaze. As they walk, their own vulnerability radiates from them, turning every foreign word to an insult, distant laughter to cruel jeers. Suddenly, they find the way blocked by a pair of big men, rising suddenly from the low table where they had been seated, pushing dome-shaped pieces of whalebone across a wooden board. They seem to Werburg to leer with undisguised intent, their thoughts as plain as if they had dropped their trousers. Ælfred stammers and waves his hands and eventually they are pointed towards a nearby tent.
Inside, a fat man sits behind a table strewn with silver coins and bullion. Ælfred speaks a little, haltingly, stuttering the words, and a smirking translator – a Northumbrian from his accent – repeats them in Old Norse. A pudgy hand reaches out, to grab the bag of coins that Ælfred offers, spilling them swiftly on to the table. They are gold – coins made long ago, fashioned by the bishops and the old kings of Kent. Surprised, the Viking takes one up and bites down upon it, bends it in his teeth. In the Viking’s grimace Ælfred spots the dark grooves that score the man’s teeth, blue bands of self-inflicted mutilation; he shudders.21 The Viking draws a knife and picks up more coins, the point picking and scratching at their surfaces with deft movements born of long practice, like a man gouging the stones from cherries.22 He grunts, and shovels them on to the pan of a set of scales that hang suspended from a post beside the table. Slowly he places little barrel-shaped weights on to the other side. After a while he looks up, says a few words in Norse. ‘Not enough,’ the translator sneers.
The tension in the tent rises. The Viking narrows his eyes, looks hard at Werburg and hauls himself upright, reaching out towards her breast. She starts away, Ælfred’s hand moving instinctively to his sword hilt. The sound of a weapon unsheathing near the tent door freezes them both, and the hand that had paused in mid-air continues its progress towards the ealdorman’s wife, closing around the circular silver brooch she wears on her chest, ripping it suddenly from the fabric. He turns it over in his hands, a silver disc, chased with images of running deer and hounds, the detail limned in black. He tosses it on to the table and the knife comes down, point into the wood and the handle hammered down hard. The brooch splits in one movement, the silver sheared through like hard cheese. The Viking adds half of the brooch to another set of scales, adding weights until he grunts in satisfaction. He bends over to root around in a pile of objects on the floor, retrieving a pile of manuscript pages, tied up in string. Rising red-faced, he tosses them to Ælfred who catches them clumsily, and the couple turn to leave. ‘Wait,’ comes the voice of the translator. ‘Doesn’t the lady want her brooch back?’
And they turn, a mangled lump of silver held up in the grinning Viking’s fist.
The Stockholm Codex Aureus (‘the Golden Book’) is a copy of the gospels in Latin. The manuscript is a work of art probably produced in Canterbury during the eighth century, glimmering gilded letters and spiral illuminations recalling other famous treasures of the early Anglo-Saxon Church.23In the mid-ninth century, however, around a century after the labours of its creators – Ceolhard, Ealhhun, Niclas and Wulfhelm the goldsmith – had come to an end, a new inscription was added:
+ In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I, Ealdorman Ælfred, and my wife Werburg procured these books from the heathen invading army with our own money; the purchase was made with pure gold. And we did that for the love of God and for the benefit of our souls, and because neither of us wanted these holy works to remain any longer in heathen hands. And now we wish to present them to Christ Church [Canterbury] to God’s praise and glory and honour, and as thanksgiving for his sufferings, and for the use of the religious community which glorifies God daily in Christ Church; in order that they should be read aloud every month for Ælfred and for Werburg and for Alhthryth, for the eternal salvation of their souls, as long as God decrees that Christianity should survive in that place. And also I, Ealdorman Ælfred, and Werburg beg and entreat in the name of Almighty God and of all his saints that no man should be so presumptuous as to give away or remove these holy works from Christ Church as long as Christianity survives there.
Alhthryth their daughter24
The Stockholm Codex Aureus was bought back by Ælfred around the time that the first Viking camps are recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (the first was established at Thanet in 850 – not, we might note, very far away from Ælfred’s own shire of Surrey, or from the place – Canterbury – at which the book was probably made and to which it was returned). Of course, we have no idea how this transaction really played out, but it is extraordinary evidence: both for the reality of the Viking acquisition of holy treasures (almost certainly through violence or menaces) and for the fact that Viking armies were trading with local people from the moment they started to maintain a longer-term presence in Britain (if not before).
For all that Viking winter camps like Torksey were superficially ‘urban’, they would not – in any known case – develop into lasting towns in England. They may have established some of the habits of urban living, may even have given pointers to West Saxon kings about the value of defensible multi-purpose settlements, but they were doomed to be short lived. In little over a generation, however, Scandinavian settlers – whose constituents hailed from overwhelmingly rural communities – had become strongly identified with the control of places which developed, unequivocally, into ‘proper’ towns, many of which have yielded little or no evidence of prior Anglo-Saxon occupation, and certainly none on a scale or density comparable to the truly urban environments they became.25 At Thetford, Cambridge, Huntingdon, Bedford, Northampton, Stamford, Leicester, Derby, Nottingham, Lincoln and York, metropolitan life was suddenly beginning to bloom from the withered remnants of defunct Roman garrison forts and old Mercian estate centres, even as the wonky gridirons of the West Saxon burh were being stamped down on to the landscape in a creeping northward expansion.
The interwoven causes and effects of the economic growth that followed the Viking irruption can be difficult to disentangle: the relative weight that is ascribed to the West Saxon state versus Viking entrepreneurship – to determined planning and top-down reforms of currency, law and administration versus the free-wheeling enterprise of an unregulated merchant-warrior class – is, to a certain degree, a matter of preference, subject specialism and, perhaps, personal politics. We certainly shouldn’t discount the impact of the new trading connections that Viking armies brought with them, or the redistribution of wealth that their activities had entailed: think of all that Islamic silver, flowing from the Baltic as the human cargo travelled east; imagine the chalices and processional crosses ‘liberated’ from the treasure houses of the Church, melted into ingots. It must all have provided quite the economic boost.
Unwelcome interactions like the one that Ælfred and Werburg experienced may well have continued to be a feature of British life for some time after the period of Viking settlement began in England. Within the ‘Danelaw’, however, it is likely that as communities gradually became more integrated and Viking armies more permanently settled, trading relationships would have grown less exploitative, the differences between newcomers and settled communities less sharply delineated. Regional identities, often definitive in this period, would have rapidly swallowed ethnic distinctions as fashions and languages merged and cultural practices homogenized. People whose families had previously thought of themselves as East Anglians or Northumbrians would doubtless have continued to do so. But in eastern Mercia, in the absence of clear royal authority, narrower loyalties would have risen in importance. Mixed communities of Scandinavians and Anglo-Saxons would probably have identified primarily with local places around which the economic aspects of their lives revolved, and to which they increasingly looked for political, spiritual and military leadership, and the same may have been true in parts of East Anglia and Northumbria.26 This must be partly conjectural, and the evidence – as ever – is thin. But what evidence there is certainly points in this direction, not least the speed with which ‘Danish’ authority ultimately collapsed in the face of a concerted campaign from the politically unified kingdom to the south.