We Just Found an Ancient Barbarian Massacre That Makes 'Game of Thrones' Sound Tame
Over 400 years before the anonymous, knife-handed Longobard warrior found in Northern Italy walked the Earth, two Germanic tribes met on a field in the 1st century A.D. what is now Alken Enge, Denmark, for what some scientists are characterizing as one of history's great lost giant battles.
The brutality of the massacre was so intense that even our knife-handed friend might have blushed.
According to a new study, the bodies of 82 fallen enemy warriors weren't just piled up by the victors—they were systematically mutilated, dismembered, crushed, and eventually thrown into a nearby lake.
The battle in question was happening when Rome was still conquering parts of Europe, but occurred in an area that had never seen Roman rule, allowing archaeologists to surmise that both the armies, which probably totaled around 380 soldiers, were made wholly of 'barbarian' Germanic tribespeople.
Based on the remains, all of them were men and most of them were adults—the bones of one unfortunate adolescent, estimated to be about 13 years at the time of his death, were found.
It's unclear why a young boy was brought along, but according to the study: "The relative absence of traces of healed sharp force trauma suggests that they had relatively little previous battle experience."
As for the mutilations, the study surmises that the "stripping of bodies, disarticulation of bones, crushing of crania, and arrangement of body parts points to a new form of post-battle activities," most likely a kind of ritual.
What's particularly interesting is that most of the bones were left out in the open for several months before they were tossed in the nearby lake—many of them have evidence of animal gnawing.
As the study notes, "The ferocity of the Germanic tribes and peoples and their extremely violent and ritualized behavior in the aftermath of warfare became a trope in the Roman accounts of their barbaric northern neighbors."
Apart from the ritual butchery, this battle gives archaeologists a new perspective on the size of Germanic tribes during this period, as well as the scale of their warfare.
Previously, these tribes were thought to have around 80 members on average. The fact that hundreds could come together for a single battle suggests that the tribes were larger (and the battles were far bloodier) than previously thought.
Something to keep in mind next time you watch a historical epic and wonder if history really was as violent as Hollywood tells us.