The effects of Viking activity on Scandinavian society
By Peter Sawyer
Les mondes normands (VIIIe-XIIe s.) Actes du deuxième congrès international d’archéologie médiévale (Caen: Société d’Archéologie Médiévale, 1989)
Abstract: Three ways in which Viking raids and conquests in western Europe affected Scandinavian society are discussed: 1. Returning Vikings were an important factor in Scandinavian politics. They repeatedly challenged Danish authority in western Scandinavia. Danish kings responded by leading raids and their conquest of England greatly affected their authority in Scandinavia. 2. Christianization, which in time fundamentally changed Scandinavian society, owed much to the experiences of Vikings, notably at Paris in 845. Later contacts, especially with England, contributed to the development of the Scandinavian church. 3. The wealth accumulated by Vikings facilitated the development of markets and apparently also affected the property rights of married couples.
Introduction: Viking activity in western Europe had a profound effect on Scandinavia, causing political and religious as well as economic changes. In the first place, Viking raids provided opportunities for political exiles to win fame, fortune, and a following, and some of these exiles were tempted to return home in the hope of winning power for themselves.
Many leaders of Vikings armies in western Europe were members of the Danish royal family; at least one, Harald Klakk, was an exiled Danish king and so too, possibly, was the Sigred who attacked Paris in 885 ; that is at least implied by Abbo’s description of him as king only in name, amplified by the gloss “for he lacked a kingdom”. Others were the sons or brothers of kings. Before the ninth century such exiles must normally have retreated to other parts of Scandinavia or to neighbouring Slav or Saxon territory. There are several ninth-century instances, including the exile among the Swedes of the sons of Godfred after the assassination of their father in 810. A more revealing example is the exile of the ninth-century Swedish king Anound among the Danes. According to Rimbert Anound had eleven ships of his own and recruited 21 Danish ships for an attack on Birka. This is not only a remarkable example of a Viking raid within Scandinavia, led by an exiled Swedish ruler, it is also significant because Anound is said to have been prepared to leave Birka in peace on payment of £100 of silver, the same sum as was paid by the Frisians as tribute to Godfred’s fleet in 810.
At about the same time as Anound’s attack on Birka, other Vikings extorted no less than £7000 of gold and silver as the price for leaving Paris in peace. One result of this was naturally that many Scandinavian warriors were drawn to Frankia, another was that the cost of maintaining status and power in Scandinavia rose. Some of the Danish exiles who returned to claim power were unsuccessful, but in 850 king Horik was forced to share his kingship with two nephews and in 854 another nephew, Gudorm, who had been expelled and lived as a pirate, returned and fought a battle against Horic in which both he and the king were killed.