8

A documentary on The Dark Ages says that Vikings invaded the British isles after Charlemagne of France conquered some of Germany and forced the Germans to convert or die in the years 783-804.

The Germans had a religion similar to the Norse with Wodan (Odin) and an Donar (Thor).

The Vikings invaded Lindisfarne island in 794 and set about conquering a lot of north west Britain.

Do historians accept that the Viking age in the UK was instigated by the Christian conquest of Germany?

  • 1
    bbc4, "the dark ages" i would capitalize it like The Dark Ages, but it's not as good as neil oliver's recent programs. – com.prehensible Aug 2 '15 at 22:14
  • I've heard this said as well, in regards to the Viking raids that preceded their colonization of England. – T.E.D. Aug 3 '15 at 10:45
  • 1
    H.SE likes to know where a claim in the question comes from, so I edited a link in. Feel free to edit if that's the wrong documentary. – Semaphore Aug 3 '15 at 12:11
  • 3
    Hitting north England to get at Charlemagne in France is extremely bad aim. Were the Vikings that bad at navigation? – Oldcat Aug 3 '15 at 18:38
17

There are many theories on why the Viking expansion occurred and there is no real consensus on which (or which combination) is the correct one. This particular explaination, that Pagan Scandinavia attacked Christian Europe in an ideological response to the Carolingian expansion, is merely yet another theory on this highly contentious topic. Although it seems to have captured the public's imagination (judging by Wikipedia's article), this explanation does not seem particularly convincing.

Specifically for this question, the reaction theory has a major logical inconsistency regarding the attacks on Britain. Namely, Britain was not part of the Carolingian Empire. If the Viking expansion truly was in retaliation for Charlemagne's aggression, why was Britain attacked first? While it might be true that some Vikings were ideologically against Christianity, there is little reason to believe they attacked Britain to get back at the Franks on the continent.

More generally, scholars finds the reaction theory rather problematic in general given what is known about Scandinavian societies at the time.

Scandinavian paganism lacked aggression and intolerance, and in any event Scandinavian society at the outset of the Viking Age was hardly unified enough to launch coordinated attacks on western Christendom.

- Somerville, Angus A., and R. Andrew McDonald. The Vikings and Their Age. University of Toronto Press, 2013.

  • No link to the article you are referring to? – T.E.D. Aug 3 '15 at 10:46
  • 2
    I doubt there was much religious motivation for hitting the monistaries early and often. They were 1) rich, 2) on the coast and 3) undefended. – Oldcat Aug 3 '15 at 20:15
  • 1
    That must be why I didn't say the Vikings were religiously motivated to attack monasteries. – Semaphore Aug 4 '15 at 8:04
4

No. That theory doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

First, while the Vikings and the Germans practiced "pagan" religions, their status as "co-religionists" was tenuous at best. Nor did they have other meaningful ties (other than perhaps shared DNA through various wanderings). Vikings were not likely to think "This guy Charlemagne is hurting our Germans, so let's get back at him."

Second, if the Vikings had a "beef" with Charlemagne, they were more than capable of "hitting him where he lives." Beginning in 841, after Charlemagne was gone, they did just that, by invading the part of France now known after them as Normandy. The theory makes even less sense when one realizes that Britain was never part of Charlemagne's holdings.

Around 800 A.D., Viking invasions of Britain were for plunder, as they had discovered that there were large private holdings of wealth that were poorly guarded, particularly at places like monasteries that were "pacifist."

2

The Frankish Annals give a glimpse into why the Vikings attacked Britain, and later Normandy. We know that Charlemagne interfered in the Danish civil war and that while waiting for the Danish to attack, they took up defensive positions and launched a massive naval assault on Frisia, modern day Holland. We know this naval assault forced Charlemagne to abandon his Danish campaign, retreat and spend a year marching along the northern coast to prevent further naval strikes, what would later be known as viking raids.

We know that Danish warriors are recorded in these annals as saying some of their kin were already engaged in an invasion of Scotland. We know that it was around this time that the first Norwegian assaults on Scotland were happening. We know that Denmark controlled much of southern Norway at this time.

We also know that Widikund was initially driven from Saxony and took refuge in Denmark. We know he did not return for several years. What he did during this time remains a mystery. We know that Charlemagne was importing Anglo-Saxon priests and monks from England to forcibly convert Saxons, their distant relatives leftover from the original Anglo-Saxon invasion of England hundreds of years prior. This may have been considered adding insult to injury for the Saxons and any northern sympathizers. The initial viking raids in England were all monasteries.

There is no reason to believe in some great Scandinavian alliance, but nor is there any reason to believe they were dumb as a box of rocks. They were sea traders and would have some knowledge of the Frankish conquest of Frisia, which had formerly been pagan. Witnessing the Frankish invasion of Saxony and the ambitions of the Franks in Denmark may have been an awakening for them. No alliance would be necessary to form viking raids among a diverse Scandinavian population much in the same way many diverse Europeans later banded together for the Crusades (some of which were merely collections of civilians, sometimes children), or how modern day antifa members band together from across the nation to converge on a single location like Charlottesville. We know the Franks originated from the northern lands around the same time as the Lombards, and their history may have been better known by Scandinavians of the time who may have considered these forced conversions a betrayal of the worst kind.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.