Sunday 3 January 2010

"War on terrror" + Kent a millennium ago

According to the independent Iraq Body Count group, 4,497 civilians met violent deaths in the country last year. That’s not quite as bad as the figure of 9,226 for 2008, but horrifying enough when you think how profoundly we in Britain were shocked by the loss of 56 people in the bus and train bombings of 2005.

Meanwhile in Pakistan, the death toll from the suicide bomb at a volleyball match in the north-west of the country has risen to 93. Altogether, more than 600 people have died in militant attacks since the army launched an offensive against Taliban strongholds in October.

A millennium ago this winter, Kent was suffering a reign of terror of its own after an “immense” Viking army arrived to plunder and extort protection money. Canterbury paid out a huge sum to get them to go away, which they did for a while – sacking towns like Oxford, Cambridge and Northampton instead.

In 1011, they returned, and burned Canterbury to the ground, killing, it is said, nine tenths of the inhabitants. They carried off Archbishop Alphege, but he bravely insisted that no ransom should be paid for him, so the Vikings murdered him, making him the first Archbishop of Canterbury to be martyred. I have just written the story for Kent on Sunday, and it can be accessed here on page 17:

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