”…never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race, nor was it thought that such an inroad from the sea could be made. Behold, the church of St. Cuthbert spattered with the blood of the priests of God, despoiled of all its ornaments; a place more venerable than all in Britain is given as a prey to pagan peoples.”
(Alcuin, Letter to Ethelred, King of Northumbria)
In England the Viking Age began dramatically in AD 793 when Vikings destroyed the abbey on Lindisfarne off the coast of Northumbria. Lindisfarne ws a centre of learning, famous across the continent. Monks were slaughtered, thrown into the sea to drown or carried away as slaves along with the church treasures. The monastery itself was put to the torch. This first Viking attack marked the start of decades of raids that nearly destroyed the early Christian church in Britain.
But, it was not the first time. Three Viking ships had beached in Portland Bay four years earlier. They were met by a small band of men in the belief that the strangers had been on a trading expedition. This was the first time Vikings came to England.
The Vikings were pagans, not Christians like most people in Britain. A Viking did not seem to feel any remorse about robbing a Christian church and the monasteries in Britain were easy to attack. They had no weapons and they kept valuable treasures, such as gold, jewels and books. There were food, cattle, clothes and tools as well.
With the longships the Vikings could attack, load the ships and leave as fast as they came, before any help could be sent. It was easy to attack, monasteries were built close to the coast since they din’t have Amy roads. During that time, it was easier to spread the word of God by boat than by foot.
It was unthinkable that such a holy place should suffer attack from foreign heathens even in an age when murder was common. Alcuin, an advisor to the emperor Charlemagne and one of Europe’s primary scholars reasoned: For something this bad to happen to the holiest site in Britain, the local community had to have done something very bad themselves in order to evoke the wrath of God.
”…when the pagans desecrated the sanctuaries of God, and poured out the blood of saints around the altar, laid waste the house of our hope, trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God, like dung in the street…. …Either this is the beginning of greater tribulation, or else the sins of the inhabitants have called it upon them. Truly it has not happened by chance, but is a sign that it was well merited by someone….” (Alcuin, Letter to the Bishop of Lindisfarne)
The raids happened again and again throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. But, every raid wasn’t violent. They soon realized it was easier to give the Vikings what they came for than to put up a fight.
The massacre of the entire monastic population of Iona (west coast of Scotland) in 825 marked the end of the destruction. Vikings settled along the coast to farm and trade but they could still turn their hand to raiding if they wanted or needed to. The monasteries was now, in a way, protected by Viking overlords – at least for a price.
In 880, Alfred the Great (king of Wessex) paied the Vikings to leave his kingdom alone. By that time the Vikings had taken over one third of England. But, the Vikings returned after five years to take Wessex. This time Alfred decided to fight and managed to defeat the Vikings.
The Viking leader, King Guthrum, asked for peace and settled peacefully in an area of Britain which became known as Danelaw.
Lindisfarne was the base for Christian evangelising in the North of England.They wanted to convert the pagans to Christianity. Viking raids could have been a reaction to Christianity who created serious conflicts. The British Christian merchants would not trade with the heathens which made trading more difficult for Vikings.
The Vikings started to look for trading in new territories. By this time Christianity had spread to the Nordic countries as well. Local Norse lords did not want to be oppressed by kings. Many emigrated overseas which led to a hunt for more land.
The Kingdom of the Franks (Northern France) was also hit hard by the Vikings. Several Norse raids resulted in a Viking settlement now known as Normandy. Several generations later, the Norman descendants of these Viking settlers identified themselves as French. They spoke French and had their own version of the French culture. They brought it to England in 1066 (the battle of Stamford Bridge). With the Norman Conquest, they became the ruling aristocracy of Anglo-Saxon England.
Who were the Vikings?
Vikings were also known as the Norsemen. They were pagans from Sweden, Norway and Denmark. They were great travellers and sailed to other parts of Europe, including Greenland, Iceland and part of Scotland. They even spent a short time in North America.
They traded, raided, and often settled.
The Vikings were also farmers, fishermen, trappers and traders. Viking craftsmen made beautiful objects out of wood, metal and bone. Viking women were skilful weavers and produced fine, warm textiles.
Vikings are mostly known for their ship making skills. They had the technology to make superior longships that made it possible to travel fast and over long distances. They could perform highly efficient hit-and-run attacks even in shallow waters, allowing them to invade far inland along rivers.
The end of the Viking AgeThe end of the Viking Age is traditionally marked in England by the failed invasion attempted by the Norwegian king Harald III (Haraldr Harðráði or Harald Hardråde), who was defeated by Saxon King Harold Godwinson in 1066 at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Godwinson was subsequently defeated within a month by another Viking descendant, William, Duke of Normandy. Normandy had been conquered by Vikings (Normans) in 911.
Read more about the events in 1066 here ►
In Scandinavia the Viking age is considered to have ended with the establishment of royal authority in the Scandinavian countries and the establishment of Christianity as the dominant religion.