The importance of promoting history through video games

The importance of promoting history through video games

By  Sam Jones - 24th Apr 2018

Historians give their insight on the regions included in the strategy game

The importance of promoting history through video games

Setting aside the fictional, often mythical realms portrayed in video games, some developers opt to follow history’s key moments for their narrative path.

World Wars, historical battles and open-world adventures are but a few examples of ways that games have delved into the archives to tell a realistic story of how our ancestors lived.

The well-received and prevalent Total War series, now in it’s 18th year, is one of the big guns when it comes to history-based combat games – from Rome and Napoleonic Wars to medieval Europe and colonisation of the Americas – selling over 20 million copies of its 17 games to date.

Now, a new story in the Total War franchise begins, a new ‘saga’ you might say. A Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia, which launches next month, sees 10 factions fighting for survival and supremacy in post-invaded Britain.

The British Isles was in a fragile state during the 800s, and now, players will lead one of five cultures on a perilous journey to rewrite and define the future of modern Britain.

Ahead of Thrones of Britannia’s launch, we contacted UK historians from the faction areas included in the game to ask them why these particular regions were so fascinating during the 9th century.


Dr John-Henry Clay, Associate Professor in Medieval History at Durham University, provided an insight into Northymbre, known in modern times as Northumbria.

Northumbria saw the first major Viking raid on Britain – the attack on Lindisfarne in 793,” SAYS Dr Clay. “King Raedwulf was killed in battle with Viking raiders in 844. In 866 the Great Heathen Army invaded Northumbria from the south, attacking York and the Tyne area, and in 867 they killed two Northumbrian kings (Aelle and Osberht).

“In 876 a force of Vikings returned to Northumbria and established the Viking kingdom of York, which lasted on and off until the expulsion and death of King Eric "Bloodaxe" in 954. Before the Vikings, Northumbria was a massive kingdom that stretched from the Humber as far north as Edinburgh, and across the width of Britain.

“The Vikings basically destroyed this kingdom, exterminating its royal line and leaving it broken up into different parts, each with its own petty ruler(s). The ‘Northymbre’ on the Thrones of Britannia map is the southern core of the old kingdom which the Vikings kept for themselves.

“York was something of a boom town during the Viking period, an economic centre with links across the North Sea world and beyond, and the most important city in the north. The West Saxon successors of King Alfred gradually regained control of Northumbria, but it was a very stop-start process.

“Alfred's grandson Aethelstan held York from 927 until he died in 939. The next two West Saxon kings, Edmund and Ealdred, both had a hard time keeping control of Northumbria and were occasionally kicked out altogether by Viking rivals.

“After Eric Bloodaxe was killed in 954, Northumbria was ruled by earls who technically owed allegiance to the English (i.e. West Saxon) king but were pretty much independent. Right up to the Norman Conquest the northern noble families were always resistant to the interference of southern kings (you can see where George R. R. Martin gets it from).”

Dr Rebecca Pinner, Lecturer in Medieval Literature and History at the University of East Anglia, spoke in detail about the East Engle faction, based in East Anglia, who had a strong Viking history.

“Written sources for this period are few and far between,” says Dr Pinner. “Most of our evidence for who was king comes from coins minted during the period which usually include the name of the ruler, the name of the moneyer who made the coins and the place where they were made, giving as an idea of where some of the major settlements were.

“Our key written source for this period is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which details key events year by year. The first copy was probably made in Wessex during the 9th century but several other copies survive which show that it was still being updated into the 12th century. 

“The 9th century was a turbulent period in East Anglia’s history, rife with political intrigue, battles and bloodshed. East Anglia had been officially Christian since the mid-600s but this seems to have been a culture in which the old warrior ethos survived, and where kingdoms were won and lost by the sword.

“Rivalry with the neighbouring western kingdom of Mercia is evident for much of the 800s. Mercian power grew from the mid-7th to the early 9th century until a large area from the River Thames to the Humber, including East Anglia, was either directly ruled, or overshadowed by, Mercian power.

“In 794, Offa of Mercia had the East Anglian Æthelberht murdered and took direct control of the kingdom. After Offa’s death in 796 the East Anglians regained some independence under the leadership of Eadwald, but this was soon suppressed by the new Mercian king Coenwulf.

“It was another half a century before the independence of East Anglia was securely restored when Æthelstan led a successful rebellion in 825, fighting off subsequent attempts to restore Mercian control and slaying two Mercian kings in the process. The East Anglians sought an alliance with King Egbert of Wessex and for a few decades, at least, East Anglia flourished as an independent kingdom.


“However, this wasn’t to last for long, as despite the rivalry with Mercia, the greatest threat to East Anglia in the 800s came from further afield: from the feared Northmen. Since the first recorded raid on the monastery at Lindisfarne in 793, Scandinavian Vikings had harried the coasts of England, including East Anglia, attracted both by the plunder they could steal from wealthy monasteries, but also seeking new land and homes for themselves.

“They were ferocious enemies who struck fear into their opponents. The monk Abbo of Fleury, writing in East Anglia in the 980s but describing the situation a century or so earlier, describes the Vikings as ‘hardened with the stiff frost of their own wickedness from that roof of the world’, lamenting that ‘from the north comes all that is evil’.

“The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that from the 850s the Vikings became more audacious, no longer simply raiding and retreating, but over-wintering in England. We are told that in 865 ‘a great heathen raiding-army came to the land of the English and took winter-quarters from the East Anglians, and were provided with horses there, and they made peace with them’.

“The suggestion is that Edmund, king of East Anglia, tried to buy peace with the Vikings by bribing them with horses, but when they returned in 869 he was unable, or unwilling, to strike a similar deal: ‘the raiding-army went across Mercia into East Anglia, and took winter-quarters at Thetford; and in that year St Edmund the king fought against them, and the Danish took the victory, and killed the king and conquered all that land, and did for all the monasteries to which they came’. Edmund came to be regarded as a saint, but the kingdom he left behind fell under Viking rule, becoming part of the Danelaw for the rest of the 9th century.”

A Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia launches on May 3rd 2018 for Steam PC.

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