‘Viking Empires’? Scandinavian Kingship and the nature and orchestration of Viking raids, c.800-c.950
By Mark King
Cambridge Undergraduate History Journal, Vol.1:1 (2010)
Introduction: To what extent were Viking raids part of a more general process of expansion by Scandinavian rulers? Theories of ‘state-formation’ have long suggested that early Viking age Scandinavia (c.800-c.950) witnessed the consolidation of regional power into kingdoms, and that the Viking raids were the external aggression of these new realms. This paper analyses the basis and stability of ‘royal’ authority in Scandinavia during this period, looks for evidence of royal orchestration of the raids, and compares them with the Carolingian conquests to determine the extent to which this was the case.
‘The paradox of early medieval states’, writes Janet Nelson, ‘was that their stability depended upon chronic instability, as kings made constant efforts to expand their territory… inevitably at their neighbours’ expense’. This depiction of the ‘great game’ among early medieval kingdoms is by no means unfamiliar to an historian of the early Viking age, c.800-c.950 A.D., for nowhere is this more evident than with regard to the Frankish empire under the Carolingians. The importance of external warfare as a means of exercising royal control over violence has been recognised by many commentators, and the ability of the Carolingians to direct aggression against their enemies, both internal and external, has therefore been seen as vital to the cohesion of the Frankish realm. In many ways one can attribute their later success, beginning with Pippin II’s tenure as mayor of the palace and culminating in Charlemagne’s coronation as emperor in 800, to the strong leadership of the Frankish polity in war. As Timothy Reuter has noted, in a comparison that is of particular importance to this study, ‘for most of Europe in the eighth or ninth century it was the Franks who were the Vikings’. To what extent, however, were the Franks simply receiving a taste of their own medicine in the ninth and tenth centuries?