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How You Could Have Survived A Viking Raid

Keeping your homeland safe from Vikings was no easy task in the Middle Ages. These hardcore warriors were strong, proud, and often unpredictable. Still, the clever, the tough, and the lucky managed to overcome Viking forces and keep their people safe. 

Viking raids were usually opportunistic and lightning fast. Defending against them was not as important as outlasting them. Of course, some did overcome these Scandinavian warriors in combat as well. It usually came at a cost, but victory over the Vikings was not impossible. 

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  • Give Them Such A Good Fight They're Willing To Make Peace With You

    King Alfred of Wessex was driven from his palace by Vikings, forced to withdraw to the marshes of Somerset with a small remainder of his army. Despite the heavy losses, however, Alfred did not give up, and instead organized a guerilla opposition to the Danish raiders. Over time, he was able to gain more territory and resources and struck a key victory at Edington.

    Alfred's resistance so impressed and intimidated the Vikings that they made peace with him with the Treaty of Wedmore. He partitioned his territory with them - and then made preparations to deal with any future invaders. 

  • Fortify Your Town With Walls And Keeps

    When Vikings led by Reginherus sailed down the Seine in 845, they found the major city of Paris with few defenses. Surrounded by rivers and few walls and a small army, the wealthy city quickly fell to the Viking force and King Charles the Bald had to pay a massive ransom to send them away. 

    In the years after, Count Odo of Paris and the succeeding kings built walls around the city, as well as two sturdy bridges on either side to prevent Viking ships from passing through. These bridges were guarded by defensive keeps which could launch projectiles at any enemy ships below. 

    As a result, when the Vikings returned in 885, they found Paris a much harder target. They were unable to penetrate the city walls and gave up on Paris. 

  • Fight Them Off With Catapults And Greek Fire

    Fight Them Off With Catapults And Greek Fire
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Vikings did not limit their campaigns to Northern Europe. In one famous instance, they struck Seville, Spain during its period of Muslim rule. Although the Moorish caliphate, led by Abd ar-Rahman II, was caught off guard by the first raids, they soon rallied into an effective defense.

    First, the Moors fought the Vikings "to a standstill," preventing them from reentering the city. As the Vikings then tried to retreat with their loot, the Moors trapped them at river ports and used catapults to sink the ships from a distance. Some of these catapults launched Greek fire, a powerful concoction similar to modern napalm. 

  • Wait For The Viking King To Perish And Hope His Successor Wants Peace

    Godfred (also known as Gudfred or Godfrey) was a powerful king of Denmark, which at that time was filled with bands of Viking warriors. When his territory came under threat from Charlemagne in the early 7th century, Godfred initially considered diplomacy. His advisors persuaded him otherwise, however, and he conducted a vicious campaign of resistance and sabotage that drove back Charlemagne.

    When Godfred was unexpectedly slain in 810, however, he was succeeded by his nephew Hemming. The younger Viking agreed to a peace treaty with Charlemagne the very next year

  • Hire Them As Mercenaries

    Hire Them As Mercenaries
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In June 860, the Byzantine capital of Constantinople was beset by Vikings. This group, known in Eastern Europe as "the Rus," ravaged the city additional times throughout the 7th and 8th century before being defeated in a 941 conflict. Still, the Rus gained a fearsome reputation in the Empire.

    When Byzantine Emperor Basil II faced a rebellion, he recruited a warrior force of 6,000 Vikings (called Varangians to distinguish them from the Rus). Basil was so pleased with their success that he hired many Varangians to establish an elite personal guard after the conflict. He was said to appreciate that their lack of nearby families and unfamiliarity with the Greek made them less corruptible. 

  • Slay The Viking Military Leader

    After the passing of King Edward the Confessor in 1066, his son Harold was set to take the English throne. However, his safety and territory quickly fell under threat from conquerors and invaders, including William of Normandy, his own brother Tostig, and Vikings led by Harald Hardrada of Norway.

    Hardrada was initially successful in his conquest, aided by Tostig, but Harold surprised them at Stamford Bridge. Harold's army fought its way across the bridge and Hardrada was slain by an arrow. The already low morale of the Viking warriors plummeted further once Tostig fell in combat, and the survivors retreated to their ships. The Viking threat on England was over, although Harold himself would eventually fall to William.