Viking Raids - From hit and run to large scale invasion

Viking raiding strategies and warfare

The phrase "Viking Age" is used to describe the time period in Europe roughly from the 790s to the late 11th century, although Norse raids continued until the 12th century on Scotland's western isles. Viking activity during this time period began with raids on Christian areas in England and then spread to continental Europe, including portions of modern-day Russia. Although Viking bands seldom engaged in naval conflicts, their effective vessels, frightening war tactics, skilled hand-to-hand fighting, and bravery made them particularly effective at attacking coastal cities and monasteries. Through crude colonization, what began as Viking attacks on tiny villages evolved into the formation of significant agricultural areas and commercial trading-hubs throughout Europe. Despite the fact that the Vikings had a relatively small population in compared to their foes, their military strategies offered them a significant edge in successfully raiding, and eventually colonizing.

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The Vikings' raids and conquests should be considered in light of the general level of violence that prevailed throughout medieval Europe. They were part of the ongoing back and forth of medieval combat, not in a "calm vacuum. The Vikings weren't unusual by the norms of their period for their brutality; in fact, they would have been extraordinary if they hadn't been so brutal.

However, there is no denying that the Vikings excelled at what they did. The Scandinavians eventually came to control sizable portions of Europe during the Viking Age, while plundering the majority of the remaining territory. The other Europeans at the time were in awe and dread of their accomplishments. By the time this article is over, you'll know why.

Viking invasions

Due to the difficulty of defending such areas, the Vikings frequently assaulted coastal areas. By the middle of the 9th century, they were also using rivers and horses that had been taken to raid farther interior.

The Norse were raised in a maritime society. Seafaring proven to be a significant way of communication for Scandinavians and a crucial tool for the Vikings because of the Atlantic Ocean's proximity to the west and the Baltic and North Seas' borders with southern Scandinavia.

Despite accounts of maritime Germanic peoples in the Black Sea and in Frisia dating back to the fifth century and archaeological evidence of earlier interaction with the British Isles, the Viking Age proper is known for massive raiding, which is described in numerous annals and chronicles by their victims.

East and West Frankish chronicles of Viking invasions may be found in the Annals of St. Bertin and the Annals of Fulda, as well as Regino of Prum's Chronicle, which was written as a history of the Carolingian Empire in its latter years.

Throughout the whole Viking Age, these attacks persisted, and the Vikings were known to start fires as they left their trail. They would target monasteries near the shore, plunder cities, and raid them for their loot. While there is proof that Vikings committed arson attacks, more recent research has questioned the extent of the physical harm (as opposed to the psychological toll). Although the palace of Aachen was reportedly completely destroyed by fire, according to Regino of Prum's Chronicle, there is no archaeological proof of such extensive devastation at the location. Because of these assaults, there was a great deal of terror, to the point that some monks believed the Vikings were God's retribution. The dearth of primary written records concerning these attacks from the Viking perspective complicates matters further. As a result, Christians who were being targeted in their churches and countries develop prejudiced opinions of the robbers.

The Vikings first restricted their raids to "hit-and-run" operations. But they quickly grew their business. Danish Vikings regularly attacked monasteries in the Bay of Biscay via the Loire River and the districts of Northwestern France via the Seine River between the years 814 and 820. The Vikings eventually made these places their home and began farming. This was mostly because of Rollo, a Viking chief who captured what is now Normandy in 879 and received the Lower Seine from Charles the Simple of West Francia in 911, when the Lower Seine was given to him by Charles the Simple of West France. This served as a prelude to the Viking expansion, which built significant trade stations and agricultural settlements throughout large portions of what is now European Russia, English land, and Frankish territory. By the 870s, which was beyond the time of the Great Heathen Army, the Vikings had seized control of the majority of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

In 865, a revolution drove the Anglo-Saxon kings from office. This army, which was made up of small gangs that were already present in Britain and Ireland and who cooperated for a while to achieve their objectives, was not focused on raiding but rather on conquest and settlement in Anglo-Saxon Britain.

During the Norse Ivarr Dynasty, which began in the late 9th century and lasted until 1094, the Vikings were also successful in establishing a protracted era of economic and political dominance over a large portion of Ireland, England, and Scotland. After the initial raids, longphorts coastal fortifications were built in several locations in Ireland, and over time, they evolved into trade centers and villages. In Ireland, several contemporary towns, including Dublin, Limerick, and Waterford, were established in this manner.

Viking ships

The mechanical excellence of the Vikings' shipbuilding contributed significantly to their success. They showed to have extremely quick ships. Despite the fact that the Vikings seldom ever fought in naval combat, these long, narrow ships could fit up to 50–60 rowers and a complement of soldiers, making them capable of transporting sizable forces quickly to favourable land positions. Viking ships could land straight on sandy beaches due to their shallow draft, as opposed to mooring in heavily defended harbors.With attacks recorded far up rivers like the Elbe, the Weser, the Rhine, the Seine and the Loire, the Thames, and many more, Viking ships made it feasible to dock nearly anywhere on a coast and travel rivers in Britain and on the Continent. The enormous system of waterways in Eastern Europe was also used by the Vikings, although they tended to conduct commerce rather than raids.

During the Viking Age (from 790 CE to around 1100 CE), the Scandinavians created Viking ships, which were utilized both inside Scandinavia and outside of it for a variety of activities, including being the primary mode of transportation, trade, and warfare. Additionally, the Vikings' expansion would not have been feasible without ships. The dragon-headed longships with red-and-white striped sails that give it lethal speed and convey its ruthless soldiers to their destinations of pillage are one of the most well-known images associated with the Vikings.

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Viking ships, however, came in a variety of shapes, including big-bellied cargo ships and, yes, the swift longships that facilitated raiding and gave the Vikings the advantage over their contemporaries, though they did not always have the intricately carved dragon-heads that are so ingrained in popular culture.

Annoyingly, the archaeological record paints a rather patchy picture, as wood is not headstrong enough to stand the test of time very well, and our knowledge of early Viking Age ships comes almost exclusively from a handful of ship burials, although later on in the Viking Age sunken ships pop up to broaden our knowledge a bit.

Combat strategies on land

The classic Viking tactic was to swiftly and unexpectedly appear at a town or monastery, quickly plunder all they could lay their hands on, and then leave on their ships before the local armed forces could gather to fight them.

These raids grew significantly in size over the Viking Age. Early attacks were conducted by a small group of ships under the direction of chieftains with comparatively little power. But as the most powerful chieftains gained strength throughout the course of the Viking Age, so did the scope of the raids they could conduct. Later attacks, starting in the middle of the ninth century, occasionally included hundreds of ships under the leadership of one or more kings, who by this time occasionally united to form even more powerful forces.

Viking armies expanded in size and might, and they also increased in ambition. They first only conducted summertime raids before returning to Scandinavia to enjoy their loot around their own hearth fires. However, in certain instances, they finally started hibernating on the territories they plunder. Then they ruled over those nations. Then they settled there permanently.

The peoples who were the target of Viking raids were eventually able to repel them by adopting their strategies: building fortified bridges to block the Vikings' access to inland waterways, building ships to engage them in battle before they set foot ashore, and more effectively fortifying settlements.

Viking battle at sea

For their hit-and-run attacks, Viking ships had to be built quickly. For instance, Charlemagne gathered his men as soon as he learned of the invasion on Frisia in the early ninth century, but when he arrived there were no Vikings to be discovered. The Vikings were surprised at their ships. They could readily sneak into a hamlet or monastery while traveling in small groups, quickly plunder and grab loot, and escape before reinforcements arrived. The Vikings utilized longships to a large degree because they were aware of the benefits of their mobility.

Viking fleets of over a hundred ships did exist, but they were often made up of smaller fleets, each headed by a different chieftain, or by several Norse bands, and they only gathered together for a single, brief goal. The Francia attacks between 841 and 892 were when this occurred most often. They can be linked to the period when the Frankish elite started hiring mercenaries and paying off Vikings in exchange for protection against Viking invasions. As a result, the basic foundations of Viking armies were seen.

Due to the design of Viking ships, they rarely attempted to ram other ships in open waters. Vikings did assault ships, but their goal was to board and take control of them rather than to destroy them. Vikings were anxious to profit themselves through ransom, extortion, and slave selling since their raids were conducted for financial rather than political or territorial objectives. The 882 siege of Asselt, which was ended by emperor Charles the Fat paying the Vikings 2,412 lbs of gold and silver, as well as granting them land and allowing them to sail back to Scandinavia with an estimated 200 captives, is one notable instance of a ransom or tribute being paid to end a conflict.

Although they weren't as frequent as wars on land, Viking naval battles did happen. The majority of maritime conflicts were fought amongst Vikings themselves, "Dane against Norwegian, Swede against Norwegian, Swede against Dane," because they had nothing to fear from other European nations conquering the hostile territories of Scandinavia. The majority of Viking-on-Viking maritime encounters were essentially infantry conflicts on a moving platform. The prows of the boats of Viking fleets were always pointed in the direction of the foe. The combatants would employ their longbows, spears, and ballast stones when they were near enough. A shield wall configuration would be built in the front of the ship to defend the archers who would be placed in the back. Some would launch attacks from smaller vessels to flank the larger ships, depending on the strength of the defensive fleet.

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