By Simon Coupland
Francia, Vol. 26:1 (1999)
“They ransom with tributes what they should defend with arms, and the kingdom of the Christians is laid waste.”
“Ransom and tribute have now not only made men poor, but also stripped churches which once were rich.”
“The kingdom, which is being ransomed, should be freed from this undeserved tribute.”
Comments such as these from ninth-century Frankish writers show how unpopular the payment of tribute to the Viking invaders could be. As Carolingian rulers handed over thousands of pounds of silver to Scandinavian warbands to persuade them to leave Frankish territory, angry voices were raised in protest, arguing that the kingdom was being impoverished and disgraced. Modern historians have not only echoed these complaints, but added a second charge, namely that the payment of tribute was actually counterproductive, since it merely encouraged the same or other Vikings to return for more. So for example Albert d’Haenens declared: “The effectiveness of paying Danegeld as a means of ending the attacks was practically nil. Far from making the incursions cease, tribute payment included within itself a cumulative effect which could only add to the victims’ confusion and the attackers’ greed.” And Donald Logan commented, “To consider tribute a defensive weapon is like considering a ransom payment to be a life insurance premium.”
It is the aim of this article to consider the truth of these charges by attempting to assess the military, political and economic consequences of the tribute payments. To what extent were they strategically flawed, attracting further attacks? Were they exploited by the magnates, thus hastening the rise of feudalism, as has been claimed? And how far did they weaken the Frankish economy and undermine royal control of the coinage? These are the kind of issues which need to be addressed.