Change in Northern Winds: A Modern Review of the Viking Siege of Paris 845

Change in Northern Winds: A Modern Review of the Viking Siege of Paris 845

By Danielle Turner

Noter: Vikingerne i nyt lys, No.203 (2014)

viking shields by Hans Splinter

Introduction: Paris has been besieged many times throughout history, yet the Siege of Paris by the Vikings in 845 remains a significant episode in this larger chronology. What information do the relevant primary sources actually contain, what specifics have historians focused on, and are there any areas of prominence still overlooked? The once-great kingdom forged by Charlemagne – encompassing the borders of modern day Spain, continuing into northern Italy, and up through Germany – was carved into three territories. These areas together constituted the Frankish Empire in the eighth-century. Numerous internal struggles and political plays resulted in rulers and their military forces failing to perceive outside threats. Moreover, the Siege of Paris in 845 has retained the reputation as the first example of the Danegeld – official payment to the Vikings in exchange for safety – and overwintering of Northmen on the continent. In the same year, it is recorded that Vikings travelling back from plundering towns along the Siene River were struck by an illness, a development presented as divine punishment. These instances are not the first or only primary-source examples of Vikings being paid money in exchange for security, overwintering, or association with negative religious undertones, so why is this date still relevant for medieval historians?

The answer traces back to political and military decisions.This event marks the change in status of peoplefrom the north from trader to raider. Many earlier historians have argued the actual impact of raids was not especially violent within the wider context of the Middle Ages. However, the Siege of Paris witnessed greater aggression from the north than ever previously seen. During this event, the Northmen appeared as enemies, the first official payment to Vikings was made, and overwintering for plunder began.

Medieval annals and chronicles serve as primary sources for happenings in ninth-century Frankia. The various authors of the Annals of St-Bertin offer a non-monastic view of events that focuses primarily on the western part of the Empire and is thus the main source for Viking interactions because of the authors’ advantageous positioning. The Annals of Fulda served as the eastern equivalent for the empire, but they contain significantly less information regarding interactions with Vikings. According to the Annals of St-Bertin, the Vikings sailed down the Seine River with around 120 ships in the year 845. They arrived in Paris,where King Charles realized he did not have the resources to put up a great defense. As such, he gave them “7,000 lb [of silver] as a bribe” to go away. The group of Northmen continued plundering down the Seine River and “devastated all coastal regions.” After this travel, the Vikings suffered some sort of illness, which was interpreted by the Franks as divine punishment for all the wounds inflicted by pagans upon Christian kingdoms.

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See also Danielle Turner’s article Vikings in France and England: Military, Pecuniary, and Regional Aspects that led one settlement to Medieval Domination, 800-1200

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