2. There are many legends, sagas and myths hidden in the ground beneath us, and in this series of articles I am going to share some of my favorite stories. They have influenced my literary writings with their exciting and imaginative characters and situations. Today I will tell you about a story that is considered to be a real event: When a Danish Viking army attacked Paris in 885 AD.
This is an extract from the Frankish Annals (Annales regni Francorum) about The Siege of Paris in 885 A.D. It was written probably just a few years after the event, by the monk Abbo of Saint Germaine-des-Prés:
The Northmen came to Paris with 700 sailing ships, not counting those of smaller size which are commonly called barques. At one stretch the Seine was lined with the vessels for more than two leagues, so that one might ask in astonishment in what cavern the river had been swallowed up, for nothing was visible there, since ships covered that river as if with oak trees, elm and alders.
On the second day after the fleet of the Northmen arrived under the walls of the city, Sigfried, who was then king only in name but who was in command of the expedition, came to the dwelling of the illustrious bishop.
He bowed his head and said:
‘Gauzelin, have compassion on yourself and on your flock. We beseech you to listen to us, in order that you may escape death. Allow us only the freedom of the city. We will do no harm and we will see to it that whatever belongs either to you or to Odo shall be strictly respected.’
Count Odo, who later became king, was then the defender of the city.
The bishop replied to Sigfried:
‘Paris has been entrusted to us by the Emperor Charles (the Fat), who after God, king and lord of the powerful, rules over almost all the world. He has put it in our care, not at all that the kingdom may be ruined by our misconduct; but that he may keep it and be assured its peace. If, like us, you had been given the duty of defending these walls, and if you should have done that which you ask us to do, what treatment do you think you would deserve?’
‘I should deserve that my head was cut off and thrown to the dogs. Nevertheless, if you do not listen to my demand, on the morrow our war machines will destroy you with poisoned arrows. You will be the prey to famine and pestilence and these evils will renew themselves perpetually every year.’
So saying, he departed and gathered his comrades.
In the morning the Northmen, boarding their ships, approached the tower and attacked it. They shook it with their engines and stormed it with arrows. The city resounded with clamour, the people were aroused, the bridges trembled…
And so the story continues. Imagine that this text was written down within a short timespan from the actual event, it may well be an eyewitness account. The monk, Abbo, wrote the poetic text in the end of the same century. Several aspects are therefore interesting: Did the Viking, the commander Sigfried, know old Frankish? Or Latin? Was he really able to speak with them, and in such a threatening but still civil way? I find this text so very fascinating. Two voices from a 1200 year old text come to life. OR did Abbo make up the lines: what they might have said to one another during the great siege of Paris? We cannot be sure.
But still the text has some core of truth and it is a spectacular and singular piece of historical record where the Vikings, or Northmen, are described. We are not that fortunate to have a lot of records of our Scandinavian ancestors from this era, but there are some, and they are extraordinary. Imagine for example the manpower and the building skills and riches that were needed for such a large expedition. To travel from Denmark to Paris with 700 big ships and perhaps as many or even more small ships (braques). The whole river Seine was covered with ships and it looked like a forest with all the tall masts. That would be a fearful sight even today. Because those ships were also full of blood thirsty warriors. A big warship from this era, like one of the type Skeid, could easily carry 60 men. Count for yourself, and find that’s not a few barbarians – that’s a lot! But, on the other hand, Abbo might have had many reasons for exaggerating the event to make this own people look braver. Especially to make count Odo, later emperor, look greater. It is very likely that the Viking force was smaller, but we can be very certain that it did happen.
Note also that the Christians in Paris saw the Northmen as a plague sent by the Devil, and not as real people. This creates an apocalyptic feeling about them when they arrive at the gates of Paris. Sigfried threatens with pestilence and famine, as if he was a demon with abilities to conjure sicknesses. And the priests in Paris urged their people to make penance for their sinful lives to make the Vikings go away. A fearful world to live in, if you thought the Devil punished you for your sins by conjuring a fearful barbaric attack on your city.
You had better be a good Christian, dear friend, or the Viking-demons will come yet again…
I am Crowdfunding my novel “The Wizard’s Heir” right now (Trollkarlens arvinge in Swedish). It is a youth fantasy novel with its roots in Norse mythology but situated in modern times. If you read Swedish you can read the first chapters on my webpage. And you can pre-buy the novel by supporting my Kick-starter Crowdfunding campaign I have, to be able to print the book. You can also like my projects on Facebook or sign up for my newsletter by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Hopefully I will be able to translate the novel to English as soon as possible.
The text extract above is taken directly from the original source, as it has been translated into English. From the Royal Frankish Annals, Year 885 AD. Youc can find it in The Viking Age: A Reader