Viking raids in Europe, as reported by chroniclers
The Viking attacks on continental Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries are said to have caused widespread devastation. At least that is the scene presented by our main witnesses to these events - the handful of chronicles and annals that were written during this period. Penned by monks, these works usually detail the yearly events and often made note of raids and battles involving the Vikings, who are almost always called Northmen or pagans. Here are examples of entries from six contemporary sources, some of which are short, while others are more details.
The Annals of St. Bertin
845: A very hard winter. In March, 120 ships of the Northmen sailed up the Seine to Paris, laying waste everything on either side and meeting not the least bit of opposition. Charles made efforts to offer some resistance, but realised that his men could not possibly win. So he made a deal with them: by handing over to them 7,000 pounds [of silver] as a bribe, he restrained them from advancing further and persuaded them to go away.
Horic, king of the Northmen, sent 600 ships up the Elbe in Germany against Louis. The Saxons opposed them, and when battle was joined, by the help of our Lord Jesus Christ, emerged victorious. The Northmen went away from there, and attacked and captured a certain civitas of the Slavs.
The Northmen went back down the Seine to the open sea. Then they devastated all the coastal regions, plundering and burning. God in his goodness and justice, so much offended by our sins, had thus worn down the lands and kingdoms of the Christians. Nevertheless, so that the pagans should no longer go unpunished in falsely accusing the most all-powerful and most provident Lord of improvidence and even powerlessness, when they were going away in ships.
The Annals of Xanten
849: The unbelievers from the North as usual wreaked havoc on Christendom and grew stronger daily, but it is painful to say more of this matter.
852: The swords of the pagans were red hot this year. There was excessive heat and a famine followed. The fodder for animals was insufficient, but pasturage for pigs was plentiful.
The Annals of Fulda
880: The Northmen plundered and burnt in Gaul and among the many places and monasteries which were laid waste was Birten, where a great number of the Frisians lived, which they burnt. Turning away from there they put a strong rampart and wall around Nimwegan and made themselves winter quarters in the king’s palace. Louis came against them with a strong army, and returned without having accomplished much, because of the harshness of the winter and the strength of the fortifications.
loaded with booty from a certain monastery which they had sacked and burned, they were struck down by divine judgement either with blindness or insanity, so severely that only a very few escaped to tell the rest about the might of God. It is said that their king Horic was so disturbed when he heard about this that he sent envoys to King Louis for peace talks, and was ready to release all the captives and make every effort to restore all the stolen treasures.
The Annals of Saint-Vaast
882 - In the month of October the Northmen established themselves at Condé and bitterly ruined the kingdom of Carloman. King Carloman and his army resided on the Somme at Barleux, but the Northmen did not stop their robbery and all the inhabitants of that place who remained fled to the other side of the Somme. Whence with their forces making a trip through La Thiearche they crossed over the Oise. King Carloman pursued them and he caught up with them at Avaux. A battle broke out and the Franks were superior; almost a thousand Northmen died there. But this battle in no way tamed them. Carloman went to the palace of Compiegne, while the Northmen took to their boats and returned to Condé. From there they devastated with fire and sword the entire kingdom up to the Oise. Defenses were pulled down, monasteries and churches were demolished, and the servants of the Christian religion were killed by the sword or by hunger or they were sold abroad, and the inhabitants of the countryside were killed. No one resisted them.
Abbot Hugh [of Saint-Martin of Tours], hearing of these things, raised an army and came to the king. The Northmen were returning from the region of Beauvais where they had been plundering. Hugh and the king chased them into the woods of Vicogne [near Condé], but the Northmen scattered here and there and, few of them having been killed, they returned to their ships.
The Chronicle of Regino of Prum
882: In the year of the Lord’s incarnation 882, the Northmen advanced through the Ardennes and entered the monastery of Prum on the very day of the Lord’s epiphany [January 6]. They stayed there for three days and pillaged the whole of the surrounding region. In that place a countless multitude from the fields and farms gathered together on foot as one crowd and approached the Northmen as if they were going to fight them. But when the Northmen saw that this crowd of common people was not so much unarmed as bereft of military training, they rushed upon them with a shout and cut them down in such a bloodbath that they seemed to be butchering dumb animals rather than men. With these things achieved, they returned to their camp loaded with plunder. After they had dispersed, the fire which still burned in various buildings consumed the monastery, since there was nobody to put it out.
The Annals of Flodoard of Reims
921: For five months Count Robert of Paris besieged the Northmen who were operating on the river Loire. After he received hostages from them, he conceded Brittany to the Northmen, which they had devastated, along with the pagus of Nantes. The Northmen began to take up the faith of Christ.
926: When the year 926 began, King Raoul, Count Heribert of Vermandois and some of the Franks who lived along the sea coast besieged the Northmen in the pagus of Arras, who were crowded together in a forest. After several days, the Northmen suddenly attacked the king’s camp at night. Count Heribert came to the assistance of the king lest Raoul should be captured by the Northmen and there was fighting at the encampment, with some huts there being burned. The Northmen were repulsed by an attack from the [king’s] camp and they retreated, although the king was wounded and Count Hilgaudus of Ponthieu was killed. It is said that 1,100 Northmen died in that battle. Raoul then returned to Laon, and the Northmen plundered the forest region as far as the pagus of Porcien.
Carolingian Civilization: A Reader, edited by Paul Edward Dutton (Broadview Press, 1993)
The Annals of Flodoard of Reins, 919-966, edited by Steven Fanning and Bernard S. Bachrach (University of Toronto Press, 2004)
History and Politics in Late Carolingian and Ottonian Europe: The Chronicle of Regino of Prum and Adalbert of Magdeburg, edited by Simon McLean (Manchester University Press, 2009)
The Annals of Fulda, edited by Timothy Reuter (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1991)
The Annals of St.Bertin, edited by Janet Nelson (Manchester University Press, 1991)