Christian Kings and Viking Armies, c.850-930

Tutor: Guy Halsall

Module type: Period Topic

Module code: HIS00014C

The appearance of Viking raiders in the last decades of the eighth century had been shocking enough. From the middle of the ninth century things got much worse. Instead of small bands of raiders looting coastal monasteries, large agglomerations of warriors began to appear. Soon, as if this wasn't bad enough, these 'Great Armies' stopped going back home at winter. Instead they set up camp and stayed in Christian territory all year round, fighting battles, killing kings, exacting tribute, sacking towns and generally behaving in a reprehensible manner.

This module is not concerned with the old question of whether the Viking have been misunderstood, of whether they were 'traders or raiders'; our Vikings are indisputably armed forces out for themselves. That does not mean that their motivations, aims and objectives are not open to serious debate, however. In this module we shall look at how the Viking armies operated within the politics of the British Isles and the Frankish empire, and how the kings of those regions dealt with these large concentrations of youthful Scandinavian testosterone on the move. Finally we will examine what effect the Vikings had on late ninth-century western Europe.

Although this module will primarily examine political and military history we shall see that this had profound knock-on effects on social structure and the economy. On the way, we shall also confront a wide range of the sources available to the early medievalists: chronicles and other narratives, charters, later legends, coins, archaeological evidence, and so on. Whilst this amounts to far more data than you might have imagined, there is considerable scope for imaginative reconstruction too.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

    • The Vikings and their origins.
    • Anglo-Saxon politics in the ninth century: The decline of Mercia?
    • Bald, Fat and Stammering: The Frankish Empire in trouble?
    • The Great Army in Britain 865-71: Strategies and responses.
    • The Vikings in Francia.
    • The Vikings in Britain 871-0900: King Alfred: What aren't they telling us?
    • Viking settlement, how, where, why and did anyone want it?
    • The Viking Armies: were they all bad?


To find out more

You might like to look at the following:

  • Haywood, John. The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings. London: Penguin Books, 1995.
  • Sawyer, P. H. (ed.). The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.