5

The Danes in the south

Pagan ships attacked the coast of Aquitaine in 799. They were repelled, many of the attackers being slain on the shore.

This first reported attack on Frankish lands by the Vikings was noted by Alcuin, the English adviser to Charlemagne. He lamented this attack not with the same passion but with similar perception—God was punishing Christians for their sinfulness—as he had lamented the Viking attack upon Lindisfarne in his native Northumbria six years earlier. With this attack—fleeting, scarcely significant in itself, the subject of a passing moralizing reflection, and then quickly forgotten—a new chapter in Viking history begins. The target of Viking attacks were now the lands to the south, principally the lands controlled by the Franks, which, from the year 800, had been called an ‘empire’, lands stretching from Saxony to the Pyrenees and central Italy. But some attackers went beyond these lands to others, whose cultural ties were with the Moslem world of Baghdad.

Alcuin died in 804 and his ‘David’, Charlemagne, in 814. Suspicion about the looming menace of the men from the north may have clouded their dying thoughts. Charlemagne, at least, is said to have been horror-stricken by the harm they might inflict on his descendants and their subjects. One might wonder what judgements they would have made from their graves about the impact of the Vikings on the Frankish empire. Would they have seen the Vikings solely as a destructive force in their national history, as the traditionalists among us do, or would they have taken a longer-term view and stressed the positive effects of these raids on national development? Probably neither. Alcuin would probably have stressed divine retribution, and Charlemagne the primacy of the Frankish state. Mercifully, their judgements have not been disinterred.

The attacks upon western Europe were predominantly Danish. Although occasional raids might have come from Norway or from

-112-

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The Vikings in History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Maps, Illustrations and Tables 8
  • Acknowledgements 10
  • Preface to the First Edition 11
  • Preface to the Second Edition 13
  • 1 - The Vikings on the Eve 15
  • Selected Further Reading 34
  • 2 - The First Raids on the British Isles and Their Aftermath 35
  • 3 - Across the North Atlantic 58
  • 4 - The Vikings and the New World 81
  • Selected Further Reading 111
  • 5 - The Danes in the South 112
  • Selected Further Reading 137
  • 6 - The Danes in England 138
  • 7 - The Swedes and the East 180
  • Selected Further Reading 206
  • 8 - Epilogue 208
  • Index 212
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