Jorvik Viking Festival

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The Vikings raided, as well as traded, in order to acquire the land and goods they desired. In Scandinavia, the Vikings were born into a seafaring culture, with the Atlantic to the west, and the Baltic and North Sea surrounding their southern borders. They began raiding in England at the end of the 8th Century. The first recorded raid was at Lindisfarne in AD 793 and they soon moved on to raiding across Europe.

The Vikings were motivated to raid and pillage by the desire for wealth and power. Chieftains dispensed wealth to warriors who fought for them in battle. Riches from trading created elites around which ambitious men gathered, eager to prove themselves and get wealthy through plundering abroad.

The famous Lindisfarne raid of AD 793 sent shockwaves throughout Christian Europe. A Christian community at Lindisfarne survived, and recorded the event on the famous ‘Doomsday stone’. The Vikings were depicted as violent heathens, however Europe was a violent place during this period and raiding should also be understood in this context. Ecclesiastical sites were a popular target for Viking raids, as they contained agricultural produce, raw materials, wine and high-quality textiles. The Norsemen increased their profits from raiding by stealing the manuscripts and bibles and then selling the books back to the monastic communities. Anglo-Saxon aristocrat Ealdorman Aelfred and his wife paid pure gold to the Vikings to ensure the safe return of the Codex Aureus to Christchurch, perhaps after the Viking attacks on Canterbury in AD 851.

The Vikings predominantly travelled on longships, which could sail in shallow water so they could travel up rivers as well as across the sea. The design enabled them to sail through the Thames in England, the Volga in Russia, and the Loire in Frankish territory. In a raid, their ships could be hauled up on a beach, enabling them to make a quick getaway if they were being pursued. Longships travelled quickly, leaving little time for defensive forces to be gathered against a Viking raid.

The Vikings used the same effective strategy for most raids. They would show up at a town or a monastery without warning, loot what they could find, and then vanish before any forces could be organised to fight them.  

In the second half of the 9th century, the Vikings began conquering and permanently settling in some of the places they had raided, rather than just “hit and run” raiding. What began as raiding small towns evolved into the Vikings colonising territories and establishing trade hubs and permanent settlements, like Jorvik. 

Discover stories of Viking raids at JORVIK Viking Festival 2020