Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Were the Viking attacks self-defense against Christianity?

I found an excellent article, linked below, outlining a profound new perspective on the Viking raids on Christian settlements and monasteries during the Viking era:

"A new theory about what drove the Vikings to raid Western Europe in the late eight and ninth centuries has been published. It suggests that the Vikings in Denmark were reacting to a threat from the Carolingian ruler Charlemagne, who was seeking to destroy their society and impose Christianity on them.

The theory was put forward by Robert Ferguson in an article for the December 2009 issue of BBC History Magazine. His book, The Hammer and the Cross: A New History of the Vikings, was also published in November.

Starting in the 790s, Viking ships began raiding throughout Western Europe and the British Isles, often targeting monasteries. Ferguson points out that peaceful contacts between the Norse peoples and Christian societies, such as trading with each other. He therefore asks why did the Viking attacks begin when they did?

But with the accession of Charlemagne in 771, the Carolingians began to implement a new program of converting their pagan and neighbors and promoting Christianity. Charlemagne launched numerous invasions of the Saxon peoples led by Widukind.

In a podcast interview, Ferguson adds the goals of Charlemagne were to force the Saxons "to abandon their culture, political system, beliefs and everything, and make them part Christians and part of his empire."

Ferguson notes an episode of "ethnic-cleansing:" when, in 782, Charlemangne's armies forcibly baptised and then executed 4,500 Saxon captives at Verden, a town close to Denmark. The Danes would have been well aware of what was happening with the Saxons anyways, as Widukind was married to sister of the Danish king, Sigfrid, and often took refuge in Denmark to escape the Carolingians.

Considering the situation, Ferguson writes, "Should the Vikings simply wait for Charlemagne's armies to arrive and set about the task? Or should they fight to defend their culture?"

But the Norse could not fight the Carolingian military directly - instead they went after soft-targets, such as monasteries, which were symbols of the growing Christian encroachment. Ferguson says, "everything points to a hatred that goes beyond just robbers who just wanted money."

The article goes on to describe these early Viking attacks, and how their raids expanded throughout Europe, with Viking kingdoms developing on the British Isles and elsewhere.

Several other explanations have been put forward for Viking violence, such as innovations in shipbuilding which encouraged piracy, and overpopulation in Scandinavia, which forced many of its people to leave their homeland in search of fortune.

The article, "The Vikings: Why did their violent raids begin?" is in the December 2009 issue of BBC History Magazine."


Apuleius Platonicus said...

From the beginning, Charlemagne's war against the Saxons had the character of a Jihad. It is perfectly reasonable to think that the destruction of the sacred Irminsul in the early 770's sent shock waves through the Heathen world.

jeannette stgermain said...

Have a few thoughts about this subject, since I am from Europe myself.
One is that I didn't know Scandinavia was overpopulated?
Since when? How thorough was this author in his research?
Two is, the fjords are extremely hard to invade, so I'm skeptical about the "threat" of the Vikings land being invaded. They were a fiercely warring people.

Galaxian said...

Thank you very much for posting this. As a heathen with Saxon ancestry this was precisely my intuition when I first read the history of Widukind. As a first time reader of your blog the serendipity is awe inspiring.
Woden mit uns!

Hrafnkell Haraldsson said...

Very interesting thesis! I've seen the suggestion made before (though I can't remember the source). And I agree with Apuleius that Charlemagne was conducting an anti-Heathen crusade - one blessed by the Pope.

My only question (off the top of my head) is why Lindisfarne first (and not a Continental target - since Charlemagne wasn't in England) and to what extent were far-flung Scandinavian communities able to organize to act on such a grand scale. Obviously Denmark was better organized politically and could manage.

But I haven't read the article yet so I'll get busy with that!

Anonymous said...

I have studied this, and totaly agree as Charlmane the great was imposing unexceptable taxes on the poor farmer peasants in the Northern countries and as they were being threatened with death and genocide they invoked for protection the god of war Odinn which precipitated the the frenzie of odin and the fury of the North man and its assault and attempted destruction of the alien christian invading empire and its hand of tyranny.

Mhaoil Lain said...

Here's an interesting article that I found on BBC's site recently which may support this claim.

Death Trip said...

I have never been convinved by conventional explanations fo rthe viking invasions. I have heard that they targeted churches because they were easy - but history shows the vikings charged fearlessly into the heart of england.

This seems far more plausible, and explains the christian reaction in england as well.

perhaps a monument should be arrected to the defenders of indigenous beliefs? in wantage stands a statue of king alfred, who slaughtered hundreds of danes

Anonymous said...

I wish I could of fought along side these magnificent norsemen in their war againt christianity. My people were also brutally forced into christianity. One day our pagan beliefs will be redeemed.