Viking raids into the Rhineland

The Viking raids were not only on the British Isles, Ireland and into Western Europe. They also raided lands adjacent to their own, taking booty, enslaving locals and creating a chaotic scene that led to regular famines. One such account of the impact of Viking raids into more northerly parts of the European coastline is from the Annals of the Abbey of Xanten. Situated close to the mouth of the River Rhine this was a relatively short journey for Viking raiders. The consequences of the raids were devastating, as outlined below.

Viking Raids into the Rhineland
Viking Raids into the Rhineland

The Annals of the Abbey of Xanten, (near the mouth of the River Rhine)


Twice in the canton of Worms there was an earthquake; the first in the night following Palm Sunday, the second in the holy night of Christ’s resurrection. In the same year the heathen broke in upon the Christians at many points, but more than twelve thousand of then were killed by the Frisians. Another party of invaders devastated Gaul; of these more than six hundred men perished. Yet owing to his indolence, Charles [the Bald, the rule of France] agreed to give them many thousands of pounds of gold and silver if they would leave Gaul, and this they did. Nevertheless the cloisters of the most of the saints were destroyed, and many of the Christians were lead away captive.


According to their custom the Northmen plundered eastern and western Frisia and burned down the town of Dordrecht, with two other villages, before the eyes of Lothair [The Emperor], who was then in the castle of Nimwegen, but could not punish the crime. The Northmen, with their boast filled with immense booty, including both men and goods, returned to their own country.

At this same time, as no one can mention or hear without great sadness, the mother of all the churches, the basilica of the apostle Peter, was taken and plundered by the Moors, or Saracens, who had already occupied the region of Beneventum. The Saracens, moreover, slaughtered all the Christians whom they found outside the walls of Rome, either within or without this church. They also carried men and women away prisoners. They tore down, among many others, the altar of the blessed Peter, and their crimes from day to day bring sorrow to Christians. Pope Sergius departed life this year.


After the death of Sergius no mention of the apostolic see has come in any way to our ears.


On the fourth of February, towards evening, it lightened and there was thunder heard. The heathen, as was their custom, inflicted injury on the Christians.


While King Louis [Ludwig, the King of Germany] was ill his army of Bavaria took its way against the Bohemians. Many of these were killed and the remainder withdrew, much humiliated, into their own country. The heathen from the North wrought havoc in Christendom as usual and grew greater in strength, but it is revolting to say more of this matter.


On January 1st of that season, in the octave of the Lord, towards evening, a great deal of thunder was heard and a mighty flash of lightening seen; and an overflow of water afflicted the human race during this winter. In the following summer an all to great heat of the sun burned the earth. Leo, pope of the apostolic see, an extraordinary man, built a fortification round the church of St. Peter. The Moors, however, devastated here and there the coast towns in Italy…


The steel of the heathen glistened; excessive heat; a famine followed. There was not enough fodder for the animals…..


A great famine in Saxony so that many were forced to live on horse meat.

Teachers Notes

  • Later raids into the Rhineland were a direct consequence of King Alfred’s victory over the Great Heathen Army at the Battle of Edington. On the defensive, the bulk of the army was withdrawn and began to raid and plunder areas of the European coastline that were not already under Viking control. This included excursions a long way up the River Rhine and into the Meditteranean.

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