30 April 2013

229. The Vikings and Charlemagne

I had never made the connection. Strangely enough the advent of the Vikings and of Charlemagne had been put in separate files in my brain!

In the Wexford public library at the other end of my street where I've been spending my afternoons lately, I am learning about the History of Ireland in general and of Wexford in particular. Fascinating! Absolutely fascinating.

We learn at school in France that the Vikings came running to the northern coast of the French kingdom around the year 800. Under the impression that it was the only important thing they did I was very surprised to read that they actually raided the coast of Ireland in a much more drastic way.

In the book Exploring Ireland's Historical Towns, The History Press Ireland, 2010, Pat Dargan writes:

"The second phase in the development of Irish towns was undertaken by the Vikings, during the 9th century. At this period Ireland, in common with most of Western Europe, was subjected to a series of Viking raids. The first attack on the country took place in 798, when the monastery of Lambay Island, off the coast of Dublin, was sacked and destroyed. Thereafter, for the next 100 years or so, waves of similar attacks continued. Attracted by the wealth of the Irish monasteries, the Vikings arrived by sea, raided the monasteries and then disappeared back out to sea with their captured goods.

Towards the middle of the 9th century, the frequency of the Viking raids increased and, in about 841, the first permanent bases were set up in Annagasen in County Louth and in Dublin. These were 'longphorts', i.e. sheltered harbours that allowed the Vikings to over-winter in Ireland for the first time. Soon after, additional Viking posts were established around the Irish coast."

..."their captured goods". The Vikings were traders, international traders. That too was a surprise to me. I had been under the impression that they raided places for sport!

And then from another book, what do I read?

From Ireland's Other History by Hector McDonnell, The Lilliput Press, 2012, on page 157:

"The raiders returned each year, gradually moving inland, first to places near the sea like Derry, Bangor or Cork, then up rivers to Clonmacnoise, Devenish and Slane and finally to landlocked places like Armagh.

Ironically, much of the impetus came from Charlemagne's attempt to recreate the Roman Empire. His currency reform of 793-4 led to a big demand for gold and silver. As Islam now dominated the Middle East and the Mediterranean, Charlemagne looked north for precious metals and the Vikings became his suppliers."

..."Charlemagne looked north for precious metals and the Vikings became his suppliers". It makes sense.

Hector McDonnell goes on to say:

"They also wanted young females to sell to Islamic tribes on the Volga in exchange for Silk Route luxuries for Charlemagne's court."

This information we definitely do not learn at school. The Vikings were into trafficking humans, slaves and maidens, all over Europe. And of course ladies and gentlemen of Charlemagne's court did not ask where all the brilliant stuff came from. It did not say on the label: "stolen from Ireland"!!! And the young men and maidens thus sold into slavery could not appeal to anybody for justice. What a shamble!

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