Evidence for Viking disruption from early Norman histories and commemorations of saints
By Leif Errol Pierson
Master’s Thesis, Texas Tech University, 1999
Abstract: Historians have few sources for the early history of Normandy. This study consults several saints’ lives from the period before and after the Viking invasions, and for purposes of comparison it also addresses two historiographical works. The result contributes to the debate over the degree of continuity of Frankish society as the region that became Normandy went from Carolingian to Viking control.
The main approach is to analyze the connection among works written at different times in order to illustrate changes over the period of the Viking invasions. The study concludes with a review of the evidence, its significance for the continuity question, and suggestions for further study of the problem.
Introduction: In the late eighth century, the Scandinavian people began a remarkable campaign of raids and conquests directed against the British Isles and the European continent. Their activities concentrated on areas accessible from the sea, and their attacks varied in intensity and in the amount of resistance they faced.
Viking activity contributed, among other things, to the downfall of the Carolingian Empire. Already weakened by disputes over succession, including a division into three parts in 843, the Empire often responded ineffectively to Viking invasions. As a result, the duchies grew in power while the authority of the kings diminished. One of the most important Viking conquests was Normandy. Vikings entered and began to settle Normandy in the mid-ninth century. In an effort to prevent further raids on Paris, the French king ceded the area around Rouen to the Viking chieftain Rollo in about the year 911. Normandy developed into a powerful duchy ruled by the descendants of Vikings. By the end of the eleventh century it numbered among its conquests England and several Mediterranean lands, including Sicily, southern Italy, and Syria.
The uniqueness of Normandy as a military power and as a duchy founded by Vikings has interested scholars in its original development. It is clear that the region which became Normandy started as part of Frankish society and then was taken over by Scandinavians. However, historians disagree over the exact nature of this transition. Did the Vikings devastate the indigenous culture, leaving only a faint memory of Frankish society in Normandy or did they largely assimilate with “minimal disruption” to Carolingian ways?