On This Day: Lindisfarne Viking Raid, AD 793

General
08.06.2021

On this very day 1,228 years ago, the age of the Vikings began. What marked the occasion was a particularly brutal attack on the monastery at Lindisfarne in the kingdom of Northumbria in England. For the Vikings it was just another day at the office, looting, burning, and killing, but the raid on June 8, AD 793 was the first time that a Christan sanctuary had been defiled by Norse pagans. It wouldn’t be the last time either, given the riches that many held and how poorly they were defended. 

Lindisfarne Priory, captured by Nilfanion

Since the expected level of divine intervention was minimal, shocked Christian leaders across England took to apportioning part of the blame for the attack on local people, whose apparent sinfulness gave their God an excuse to hold back his retribution - and no doubt the church to restore its riches through taxation. All this was of course lost on the Vikings, who at Lindisfarne had simply hit the jackpot and thereafter continued to target isolated religious settlements (such as at Jarrow and Iona) on account of them being low risk and high reward.

After Lindisfarne, the age of the Vikings continued to be dominated by hit-and-run raids along the coastal areas of Western Europe until the middle of the 9th Century, when the Scandinavians became the era’s greatest conquering armies, securing lands across much of England and Europe, as well posing a persistent threat to many great cities such as Paris.

The end of the Viking Age is aligned with the adoption of Christianity across Scandinavia and is marked in England with the failed invasion by King Harald III in AD 1066, who was defeated by the Saxon King Harold at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. It was a victory that led indirectly to Harold’s death at the Battle of Hastings less than a month later in the wake of the Norman Invasion. That event was to change England forever, and mark the start of the Medieval era.

Lindisfarne Castle, captured by Nilfanion

As a footnote, it should not be overlooked that when the Duchy of Normandy was established, it was handed to a Norse warlord, in return for which the ex-king Rollo pledged vassalage to France. In that sense, the Norman conquest of England a hundred years later was as much a Norse victory as it was a French one, since William the Conqueror was undoubtedly of Viking descent. In effect, the Viking warlords that held sway over much of northern England during the so-called Dark Ages, were simply replaced by a more cultivated Christian variant when the Normans united the land in their wake.