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BLOG: Why did the Vikings raid?

Last summer while traveling through Iceland, I read the entire 700 plus pages of the Sagas of the Icelanders. It was a long read, but taught me a great deal about Norse exploration, culture, and yes--raids. Most of the Vikings who landed and farmed Iceland were also warriors who would occasionally take off for a season, a year, or even decades to raid and make a name for themselves the way only Vikings do, by raping and pillaging--also known as raiding.


This week, join me into delving a bit deeper into the WHY for Viking raids. I'm pleased to welcome Donovan Cook to the Journal, as his novel Son of Anger takes place in the Viking era and he's well-versed in their lore and lifestyles.


Welcome, Donovan! I know my readers will enjoy hearing more about Vikings and their raids.


Read ON, everybody!


Why did the Vikings raid?

By Donovan Cook


Raiding had long been part of Viking history and can be dated back to the 6th century. Back then, there was no single Viking kingdom, no Norway, Denmark, or Sweden. Instead, the Scandinavian lands consisted of small kingdoms and tribes, all of them trying to survive in a harsh land that offered little opportunity for farming. So to survive, they would often raid each other for wealth, livestock, and slaves. This all changed, though in the late 8th century when they ventured across the whale road and attacked the British Isles. In 789, three ships landed on the coast of Wessex and killed the king’s reeve. But it was the attack on Lindisfarne in 793 that heralded the start of the Viking age. The Christians believed this attack was a punishment from God because they had lost their way because they had become obsessed with earthly riches. History, on the other hand, tells us it’s more complicated than that.

Many reasons have been given for why the Vikings started raiding. Some are backed by archaeological evidence and others are speculative. One of the main reasons though is overpopulation. During the 8th and 9th centuries, Europe saw a period of warmer weather which resulted in more food and more people. In Scandinavia, especially Norway, which is mainly mountains, this caused a problem as there was not enough land for everybody. This forced the Vikings to venture out across the whale road to search for new homes and farming land. The Great Heathen army of 865 took over the north of England and established Danelaw. Thousands of Scandinavian people migrated to these newly gained lands and built farms and towns which still exist today. In Francia, land was given to the famous Viking leader Rollo in the hope that this would stop the raids. This area is today known as Normandy.

Another reason for the raids was economical. The European nations to the south were much wealthier than their Scandinavian neighbours and the Norse people wanted this wealth. Some chose to trade and the extent of Viking trade is well documented. Others chose to steal. This was helped by the fact that many of the European kingdoms were embroiled in their own wars and problems. England at the time consisted of five separate kingdoms that were constantly fighting each other and were too busy looking inward to realise the threat from across the whale road. Some kingdoms even paid the Vikings to attack the other kingdoms, hoping to weaken them so they could steal land. In Francia, Charlemagne’s great empire was falling apart because of sibling rivalry. In the 8th century, Charlemagne saw the threat coming from the north and built up his fleet and coastal defences to combat the Viking raiders. But in the middle of the 9th century, Charlemagne’s grandsons started a civil war with each other when Louis the Pious, Charlemagne’s son, did not name a single heir but split the kingdom into three parts, each part to be controlled by his three sons. This left the Frankish coast undefended and weak and the Vikings took advantage of this by launching huge raids, some with more than 200 ships. In most cases, instead of fighting the Viking raiders, the city leaders or even the kings would pay them to go away. But this only emboldened the Vikings even more and they would just come back the next summer. Captives taken during these raids, especially priests and monks who could read and write, were sold for large sums of money in the Middle East and Byzantium where they were in high demand.

But for young Viking men trying to make a name for themselves and earn their places in Valhalla so they could fight for Odin during Ragnarök, it was simply about fame and glory. Going on raids to foreign lands and returning in ships laden with plunder and slaves was the best way to do that. Having a large Christian cross made of gold in your hall would make you the envy of your neighbours. The Vikings also had a fatalistic approach to life. Their religion told them the world was going to end and they wanted to face that end covered in gold and glory.

But in the end, the raids came to an end. In England, Alfred the Great and his descendants formed a nation hardened by fighting the Vikings for more than a hundred years. In Francia, the civil war ended, and the grandsons of Charlemagne could focus on defending their coasts and rivers from their neighbours to the north. But the Vikings did not go away, they just evolved. Just like in England, the different kingdoms of Norway were brought together to form one nation. The Scandinavian nations adopted Christianity and were welcomed into the political fold of Europe. But the legacy they left behind is still with us today and will always be a part of us.


All about Son of Anger


Ulf is like a storm, slowly building up its power, he grows more dangerous with each passing moment. And like all storms, he will eventually break. When he does, he will destroy everything in his path. Ulf is one of a long line of famous Norse warriors. His ancestor Tyr was no ordinary man, but the Norse God of War. Ulf, however, knows nothing about being a warrior. Everything changes when a stranger arrives on Ulf’s small farm in Vikenfjord. The only family he’s ever known are slaughtered and the one reminder of his father is stolen -- Ulf’s father’s sword, Ormstunga. Ulf’s destiny is decided. Are the gods punishing him? All Ulf knows is that he has to avenge his family. He sets off on an adventure that will take him across oceans, into the eye of danger, on a quest to reclaim his family’s honour. The gods are roused. One warrior can answer to them. The Son of Anger.


All About Donovan



Donovan Cook was born in South Africa but raised in England, and currently works as an English tutor. He is the author of the Ormstunga Saga, which includes his debut novel Son of Anger and the follow up, Raid of the Wolves. His novels come from his fascination with the Viking world and Norse mythology and he hopes that you will enjoy exploring this world as much as he did writing about it.


When Donovan is not teaching or writing, he can be found reading, watching rugby, or working on DIY projects. Being born in South Africa, he is a massive Springboks fan and rarely misses a match.




Connect with Donovan



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