The Real Reasons for the Viking Raids

Posted by Ms Elly on

The Real Reasons for the Viking Raids

Whenever we hear the Vikings, what comes into our mind is a group of men who wielded their axe killing people, looting, and raiding the villages. They unexpectedly showed up on their ship and did a hit-and-run raid to make fortune. This is a stereotype by the media that needed to be stopped. Because the Vikings were not the careless and provocative barbarians. They were actually defending their culture against the conversion of the new religion. 

The threat from the Christians and Frankish

In this day and age, historians tend to believe that the Viking raid was to ward off the power of the Frankish expansion. The Viking Age didn't start in 793 AD when the Vikings raided the Lindisfarne monastery. As soon as the beginning of the 8th century, the Vikings felt the threat from the south. Especially, the Danes could see the hanging sword over their head when feeling the great expansion of the enemies from the south. The Danes spent lots of effort to build the defensive systems when the Frankish leader Karl Martell started to raid Friesland killing their war-band leader.

During this time, many Danish defensive constructions were erected. The Kanhave Canal, the first canal defensive system was built during 720s. The Scandinavian version of "Chinese Great ", the Danevirke was erected in 737 AD. From the top of this construction, the Danes could view what/who were coming from the south. 

Charlemagne the King of Franks

In 768AD, Charlemagne became the king of Franks and expressed his desire to expand his nation toward all directions. He forced his victims to convert themselves into the Christians. The year was 782AD that Charlemagne forced 4,000 Saxon men to baptize against their will (the Saxons from Germany South of Denmark). After the conversion, he beheaded all of them. Charlemagne also ordered to destroyed the worshipping houses of the heathens. The Saxon king Widukind bravely fought against the army of Franks. 

Charlemagne baptized 4,000 Saxon men only to behead them later. He tried to convert the Saxon into Christians against their will. After the conversion, he beheaded them as an act to scare the pagans

Charlemagne tried to convert the Saxons into Christians (Art by Émile Antoine Bayard)

King Widukind himself travelled to meet the Danes to form the alliance. He told the Danish kings about the massacres and the destruction of the holy places. The Danish kings then helped support King Widukind and promised to strengthen the Danevirke fort. Hearing this news, Charlemagne sent his missionary to the Danish kings hoping the Danes would stop supporting the Saxons. 


The Danes had heard the story of the Saxons many times. And they continued to support the Saxons. Because the Danish kings believed that what had happened to the Saxons could happen to them one day. 

They chose to support those who shared the same religion. It was not only the massacres and the new religion that threatened them but they also realized how dangerous Charlemagne's desire could be if it came true. It was sure to corrupt the cultural and political system of the Danes. 

The Vikings at the time had a tradition of assembling the chieftains from many areas annually to renew the laws and make important decisions. Realizing that this type of decentralized power would negatively affect his ruling system, Charlemagne ban the traditional practice of assembling the chieftains. He wanted the monopoly and all the power should be in his hand. He carried on spreading Christianity and sentenced the pagans to death if they refused to baptize.

The dominant threat against tradition

What Charlemagne believed and applied to his ruling system was completely against the tradition of the Scandinavians. Nothing made sense to them. But they quickly realized that the coalition between the Franks and English posed a deadly threat to their society. Charlemagne was trying to make an alliance with English at the time. 

The Norwegians and the Danes shared the similar interest to fight back against the Franks. They allied together. The Franks erected their station in Bremen close to the Danish border, challenging the Danes a lot at the time. 

Then the Franks finally gathered enough power to defeat Denmark. 

Viking ship the key to viking success the viking serpents

The Vikings quickly developed their shipbuilding techniques and let these sea serpents wreck havoc in the land of the foes

At the time, the Danes and the Norwegians understood that they could not go against the Franks. But they were the owners of the sea serpents. They mastered the naval warfare. According to some historians, they wanted to scare the Franks away so much that they spent time developing their shipbuilding techniques. 

The very first attacks of the Vikings aimed at the Christian holy places like the Lindisfarne in 793 AD.  Bjørn Myhre, a Norwegian archaeologist, once said that: “They were not ignorant barbarians. They knew exactly the kind of military and ideological pressure they were up against.”.

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  • We were farmers looking for better land,life. Yes we took what we found but we stayed and worked the land. My great grandfather took a boat at age 15 to America. Cost him 5 years work. I was told I am German my whole life (only 2%) Norwegian on both sides. Still could not hang with the real deal

    Douglas Wegener on

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