Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean


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After landing at Lisbon, they sailed to Cadiz, then to Sidonia, then to Seville. They besieged this city, and took it by storm. We can picture Viking long-ships coming over the horizon, their square red sails billowing.


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The passage has a note of dramatic irony, for the inhabitants of al-Andalus may not have known what to expect. To modern readers, the panic 1. Alcuin was in contact with eyewitnesses to the Viking onslaught. We know very little about him except that he was a judge in Fes who compiled a history of al-Andalus and the Maghreb in Marrakesh early in the fourteenth century Martos He copied some of his information from earlier accounts that still survive, but much of the detail of his narrative is unique to this historian.

Modern scholars have made far less of references to Vikings in the written sources for Iberia and the Mediterranean than they have of snatches of information about those who travelled to other parts of Europe and beyond. Most of the sources have long been available in editions and translations. In , the Dutch Arabist Reinhart Dozy translated into French the most important Arabic sources and put them side by side with passages from Latin chronicles and charters that seem to refer to the same events Dozy , vol. This dossier of sources was the basis for collections in Arabic Seippel , vol.

Most of what we know about Vikings in al-Andalus and the Maghreb was set down centuries after the events described, often elaborated with implausible details and anecdotes. The result can be a sort of Arabian Nights re-telling; it is literature but, to our eyes at least, not history. Even the accounts of travellers such as Ibn Fadlan, who memorably described a Viking ship burial, and Ibn H. The Latin sources appear to be more reliable, since they are usually earlier and more laconic than those in Arabic. Yet Latin sources were also subject to reworking. Christian writers in Iberia may have exaggerated the depredations of Vikings, just as the monks of Northern Europe may have done and for the same reasons — to attract patrons for the reconstruction of churches and monasteries.

Vikings in the South also attracted the attention of the saga writers. The primary purpose of this book is to integrate the Vikings in the South into general histories of the Viking Age. It focuses on the ninth and tenth centuries, but the concluding chapter extends the study to the twelfth century. Balanced against the search for these facts is an emphasis on the process of rewriting Vikings. Later versions of events may be sometimes given the same attention as earlier and apparently more reliable narratives.

This approach reminds us of the pitfalls of interpretation posed by those episodes for which only late records survive. The structure of the book is both chronological and thematic. Readers wishing to go straight to the narrative should begin with Chapter 3, which uses reports of the earliest raids to illustrate the way in which stories about Vikings were passed on through chains of chronicles in Arabic, Latin and Romance.

A concluding chapter brings together the evidence for Viking attacks in the late tenth to the twelfth centuries, when at last there is documentary evidence to add to the narrative sources, but when Iberia and the Mediterranean were increasingly seen as saga destinations. The earliest trade was probably in minerals, for which Galicia, in the north-west corner of the peninsula, was famous in the Roman period. Galicia was also praised for the fertility of its soil and for its horses.

The western coast in particular could have been made for Vikings: it is indented with bays and creeks where they, like other seafarers, could shelter. There are islands to serve as bases for over-wintering. Several of the rivers were navigable by small vessels up to important settlements such as Seville and Cordoba in al-Andalus and Santiago de Compostela in the north.

Coastal sailing in this region was not considered particularly hazardous. Leaving Santiago by water, he said, it took three days to Lisbon Dubler The estimates may have been optimistic, but even the south of Iberia was within the scope of a summer campaign from Viking bases elsewhere in western Europe. In , they attacked Frisia, and they were soon arriving almost every year Nelson Some of these men may have been Norwegians from Vestfold, who attacked Nantes in with 67 ships Ermentarius: ; Annales Engolismenses a. Their activities entered a new phase when they started to over-winter at the mouths of the Loire, and of the Garonne in Aquitaine.

They returned in , again probably from Francia, and this time, after raids on Galicia and Lisbon, they sailed on through the Straits of Gibraltar and into the Mediterranean, where they harried the southern coasts of al-Andalus and Francia for up to three years, crossed to the Maghreb and may have sailed to Byzantium. These are the three principal phases of Viking activity in the peninsula. In the eleventh century, with the Christianization of Scandinavia and the settlement of Normandy, the Viking Age proper came to an end.

Iberian charters and local chronicles, however, continued to record sporadic raiding going on into the twelfth century. It is not easy to see what Vikings expected to gain. Elsewhere in Europe, Vikings made easy pickings from churches and monasteries whose founders sought isolation from the world, but had often found it, unwisely as it turned out, close to a navigable waterway. The emphasis in recent Viking studies has been very much on material culture, especially the evidence for trading.

There is no material evidence for Viking settlement in the peninsula, although the written sources and toponyms hint at short periods of over-wintering. There is some written evidence for raids on religious foundations in the north-west of the peninsula in a scattering of references, some better supported than others, to the rebuilding or re-foundation of monasteries and churches; these will be discussed in Chapter 6.

Further south, there is less documented destruction, apart from damage to the mosques of Seville and Almeria. None of these reports can be corroborated by material remains. Two artefacts and a handful of tiny bones have been linked to Viking activity. Locals from O Vicedo in the extreme north-west of Galicia think that anchors uncovered by recent storms may be Viking Pontevedra A small whalebone casket of Scandinavian manufacture survives in the treasury of San Isidoro, Leon, where it was reworked for use as a reliquary cover picture.

Unfortunately, the provenance of the casket is undocumented; it may have been donated by a pilgrim, arrived as a diplomatic gift or been collected by one of the donors to Leon Roesdahl a; b; Martin 15, Recently archaeologists have uncovered evidence that Viking ships may have travelled as far as the island of Madeira Rando, Pieper and Alcover Mitochondrial DNA sampled from the current mouse population shows similarities with the mice of Scandinavia and northern Germany, but not with those on the Portuguese mainland. During the early phases of Viking activity, the potential pickings of pirates may have been small.

Viking Oceans: West Indies to Iberia Itinerary

In the ninth century both the Islamic emirate of al-Andalus and the Christian kingdom of Asturias and Galicia in the north-west of the peninsula were still in the process of consolidating their control over their rivals in the long period of instability that followed the Muslim conquest of They were unable to control Toledo, the former Visigothic capital, except for short periods. A few gold dinars were minted between and —5 Manzano 58— The emirs of the eighth and ninth centuries minted silver dirhams, but they were forced during times of insurrection to reduce their quantity or silver content Manzano — Silver coins in large quantities, and a return to minting gold, are not attested until the ninth century.

Very few Andalusi coins have been discovered in Scandinavia; the largest hoard, of 24 coins, was uncovered on Gotland Morales — Umayyad coins are rarely found in Viking Age silver hoards; there is only one in the Cuerdale hoard, for example GrahamCampbell Arabic coins from Iberia could have circulated as bullion, particularly in the period c. Metallurgical analysis of several hoards from northern England suggests that Arabic coins were also melted down into ingots, ornaments and hack-silver Sheehan , This process began in the Baltic region, using coinage obtained through trading along the Russian river system.

The wealth of towns and cities in al-Andalus in the eighth and ninth centuries is obscure. Even for Cordoba, most of the evidence relates to the tenth century and later. Yet although Arabic geographers of the tenth century and later praised the fertility of the countryside. Further inland, but also a target for Vikings, Seville — the metropolis of the see of Baetica — was probably bigger than Lisbon. Little remains of the early-Islamic city, however, to corroborate this supposition; the impressive walls and mosque were constructed centuries later by the Almohads.

It is unclear whether the mosques of al-Andalus had much gold or moveable goods. The Christian kingdoms of Northern Iberia were equally slow to establish themselves. The most important of these, the Asturian kingdom based on Oviedo, had a complicated and fractious relationship with Galicia to the west, which was only intermittently under Asturian control. The Basque kingdom of Pamplona, sometimes known as Navarre, was another rival. Surviving Asturian buildings, such as the palace at Oviedo Figure 1. By the end of the ninth century, the kingdom of Asturias started to expand into Leon and Castile.

The wealth of the kingdom began to accumulate. In the tenth century, some time after the supposed discovery of the body of St. The Asturian church accumulated treasures, such as the crosses of Oviedo and Santiago, and the liturgical vessels and vestments listed in charters recording bequests or the transfer of church property. Yet the towns of the Christian north-west, even Santiago, were small, and may have been relatively poor.

Clerics are rarely recorded as moving their wealth out of. They may have done so because of the threat of seaborne attack DHEE: — , although this seems too late to be a response to. Vikings alone. Muslim pirates also harried the coasts of Galicia and Asturias. Andalusi Muslims made annual campaigns by land against the north, bringing back captives and booty. Even so, from the many accounts of these campaigns in both Christian and Muslim sources, it appears that the destruction of churches and monasteries was the exception rather than the rule Collins They may not have been an obvious target of Viking interest.

Yet there was one commodity that could be seized from even the poorest settlement: human beings. Accounts of Viking raids in the South emphasize the seizure and sometimes the ransoming of captives rather than the removal of goods and treasures. Slave raiding and trading was important to the early medieval economy of both east and west and occupied men of various origins McCormick These men travelled from Scandinavia via the Russian river system. Most of the slaves in al-Andalus, however, were Christians captured by Muslims in border campaigns.

The existence of Viking slaving in the South rests precariously on references to captives in narrative sources and charters. But slaving was never the main object of expeditions launched from the Viking settlement in Dublin and although it is attested in the ninth century, it did not become important until two hundred years later Holm Captives acquired in. Iberia and the Maghreb may have been held for ransom rather than being traded elsewhere. Two eleventh-century charters from what is now Portugal document the sale of property to redeem debts incurred in ransoming women captured by Vikings Pires ; see Chapter 7.

In the second, the raiders left with a number of everyday items: clothing, a sword, a cow and some salt. Supplied with these provisions, they continued their voyage. Although Vikings active in the South took little that was recognizably Iberian or Maghrebi back to their homelands, their exploits may have been commemorated in inscriptions. None of the stones specify Iberia. Some or all of them could refer to men who travelled to Byzantium via Russia. This may be corroborated by the inscription on a small sandstone implement now in the British Museum.

The runes on this implement, which have been dated to the eleventh century, name four peoples or places: the Greeks Byzantines ; Jerusalem; Iceland; and Serkland. Wherever it was, Serkland was the last corner of the Viking world and the least memorialized. To reconstruct the history of Vikings in the South, the emphasis has to be on the written record; this is also true for Francia before the Norman settlement.

The main legacy of Viking activity in Iberia and the Mediterranean is a fund of narrative. Some of the stories have a core of truth, which the book will attempt to uncover, although it will not be easy. On the skeleton of sporadic references in chronicles and charters to attacks by seaborne raiders, medieval authors. They also recorded stories about Vikings whose factual vertebrae — if such ever existed — have collapsed beneath the weight of later accretions.

This is a commonplace of Viking studies. I began with Don Teudo Rico and the Viking attack on Luarca — even though our hero may be an invention of the Early Modern period and thus outside the time frame of this book — because Don Teudo Rico serves as a synecdoche for those Iberians who faced Viking attacks. Nevertheless, Prudencio said that the ruins of the Rico family house were still visible in his own day.

Barreyro noted that the. But medieval writers feared that they might. In Iberia, cultural plurality predated the advent of Vikings. What is clear is that the historians of Christian and Muslim Iberia did not record the past in the same way. Yet the same fear and fascination is palpable in both Christian and Muslim memories of Vikings in the South. Medieval writers used a variety of labels for the pirates who attacked the coasts of Iberia.

In the earliest surviving Iberian reference to Vikings, the compiler of the Chronicle of Albelda called them Lordomanni At least fourteen later sources, both histories and charters, used variants of this spelling. An eleventh-century charter from Leon cites the termino de Lordomanes as one of the boundaries of a property Leon cathedral, vol. Adjacent to the property it seems that there was, or had been, a Viking encampment.

Yet this mutation is puzzling. In Romance — the spoken and then written language that developed from Latin in Iberia — it was common for n to mutate to l. Personal and place names were more likely than other usages to change their spelling, as the scribes may never have seen these names in written form and might resort to guesswork Wright Gallen Stiftsbiliothek, Cod. The additional details that writers in Arabic occasionally provide also help to identify such voyagers as Vikings. These ships were capable of sailing backwards and forwards and had square sails.

Seippel vol. Several manuscripts of his Book of Geography survive and it was translated into Romance Bramon Arabic Gutas , takes us back to the beginnings of geographical writing in the Islamic world Miquel 73 , to which we should turn in order to interpret Arabic descriptions of the Encircling Ocean and its wayfarers.

Islamic scholars took over the Ptolemaic conception of the universe, in which the sublunary world was a sphere, whose inhabitable portion was divided into seven latitudinal zones that began slightly north of the Equator and ended in the perpetual darkness of the far North. Beyond the inhabited world lay the Encircling Ocean al-bah. An alternative name for it — the Tenebrous Ocean al-bah. They were steeped in adab, a common cultural heritage of secular writing that included poetry and fantastic ethnography such as the description of the island of Waqwaq where men grew on trees.

Each geographer struggled towards his own synthesis of incommensurable genres of knowledge Miquel , vol. It is not surprising that such works can be contradictory and confusing. Andalusi authors probably had at least an elementary conception of regional geography. Yet the scholastic view of the Encircling Ocean prevailed over actual experience of sailing on it and geographers continued to imply that such a journey was improbable and dangerous.

Similarly, the eleventh-century historian Ibn H. Medieval writers could also be confused. Ibn H. In this instance Ibn H. It is hard to interpret this statement in isolation, which is the way such rulings were preserved in later compilations. It does not seem to have anything to do with Vikings. A brief account of al-Andalus from the conquest to the s, attributed to a pupil of Ibn H. There were other ways of labelling Vikings, but they were employed much less frequently. Arabic authors also used a term that may be related to the Nordomanni, Normani or Lordomanni of the Latin chronicles.

In a compilation from the eleventh century Ibn H. Historians in al-Andalus could have adopted this terminology from Latin usage, perhaps from Christian visitors from Asturias. In an account of a tenth-century embassy to Cordoba from Astorga warning of the advent of Vikings, Ibn H. The similarity between the two terms may be fortuitous. Later writers, both Christians and Muslims, added to the confusion from what they knew about the Scandinavians who had settled in Normandy at the end of the tenth century. Born in Baghdad in the s, he travelled widely in the Muslim world, although he did not visit al-Andalus.

He supplemented the Ptolemaic world-view with information from his own observations and enquiries and from books he discovered on his travels. Yet he accepted the Greek idea that the world ended near the straits of Gibraltar and noted that there was a colossus at Cadiz with its arm raised towards the West, warning travellers not to go any further. Those living further North are characterised by dullness of mind, harsh behaviour and barbarism.

They live by a pleasant sea that runs from the region of the North to the South and also a sea that runs from the West to the East until it meets another sea that runs from the direction of the Bulgars. They have many rivers which are all in the North and they do not have a salt-water sea because their land is far from the sun, and their water is sweet.

No one lives in the North because of the cold and frequent earthquakes. There are many towns and fortresses and they have churches with bells hanging in them. In spite of repeated attempts to undermine the credibility of this episode, it has become part of the story of Vikings in the South. He arrived at one of their islands, where he rested and repaired his ship. They sailed to where the king resided. It was a great island in the ocean, and in it were running waters and gardens.

It is a large country and it takes several days to pass through it. The story survives in an anthology of poetry composed in Egypt in the thirteenth century by an Andalusi, Ibn Dihya. By the time of writing, however, Ibn Dihya may have known of the pilgrimage to Santiago from Arabic sources. An eleventh-century. Yet the point of the embassy was to travel but not to arrive. Another example is Bertha, the queen of the Franks who proposed marriage to a caliph Christys They are easily visible on a clear, cloudless day.

To the North are the Fortunate Islands, with a great number of cities and peoples. In doing so, they tried to put in everything they knew about this category. Scholars writing in Latin were more succinct, but they were working within the same Late Antique legacy from the Greeks. Today, only a Romanesque bell tower stands on the site of the monastery. Its impact on historiography was certainly substantial. Laconic early reports fed into a sort of rolling news broadcast, with updates continuing to arrive for centuries afterwards. It would be a mistake to assume that details were added simply to make it a better story.

There is no way of knowing how accurate these later additions might have been. As is commonly recognized, historians of all periods rewrite the past in tune with contemporary preoccupations. Medieval historians also wrote within a rhetorical tradition that taught them above all to be persuasive, even if this meant including elaborations that the author knew to be untrue Kempsall It may be possible to develop a theory about why and how they elaborated, but rarely abbreviated, what they had read.

At other times we should just enjoy reading what they wrote, in the spirit of a historical novel that aims for, but does not always achieve, verisimilitude. This chapter takes a cumulative approach to accounts of the raid of , saying a little about each historian mentioned, his sources and biases, what and why he or, less likely, she added to the story. It will be a corrective to modern narratives of Vikings in Iberia that have glossed over the problems of the source material and it will also form the background to discussions of later periods of Viking activity.

The earliest reference to the Viking attack of is in the entry in the Annals of St-Bertin for that year. Prudentius recorded several Viking raids on Francia, and it was in the context of an attack on Toulouse that he described their advent in the Iberian peninsula: Vikings Nordomanni sailed up the Garonne as far as Toulouse, wreaking destruction everywhere, without meeting any opposition.

Then some of them withdrew from there and attacked Galicia, but they perished, partly because they met resistance from missile throwers, partly because they were caught in a storm at sea. We do not know where Prudentius got his information. Of Spanish parentage, but almost certainly educated at the Carolingian court from an early age, Prudentius took over writing the Annals of St-Bertin in c.

Late in , however, Prudentius was appointed to the see of Troyes, a considerable distance from Paris and about as far from the sea as it was possible to be in the western part of the empire. News seems to have reached him only sporadically, to judge. He was born and educated in Armenia and Khorasan, travelled to India and spent his later years in the Maghrib and Egypt, where he wrote his Book of Countries in The earlier of the two is the Chronicle of Albelda, named after the copy made at the monastery of Albelda, in the Rioja, in An appendix to the.

This Prophetic Chronicle, as it is sometimes known, was written in with the expectation that Muslim rule would soon come to an end. The second Asturian chronicle, written for Alfonso III — , which survives in two early tenth-century versions, also dated the arrival of Vikings to the reign of Ramiro I. Ramiro, son of prince Vermudo, was elected king. At the same time Vikings Nordomanorum gens , a pagan and extremely cruel people previously unknown to us, arrived in our region with their naval forces. Ramiro, who had by then been made king, gathered a great army and fought against them at a place called Farum Brecantium.

After the year had passed and the city of Seville had been invaded, they returned to their own country. After nearly a century of Viking activity in Francia, the Christians of Northern Iberia probably knew what to expect from the Scandinavians, as a result of their contacts with Carolingian rulers and clerics Collins 68— His History of the Conquest survives only in a version that may have been compiled by one of his pupils, in a late-medieval manuscript Christys — His narrative of the attack on Seville consolidated memories of the Andalusi response to the marauders.

Using Seville as a base, Vikings raided as far inland as Constantina, north-west of Cordoba. They ruled a semi-autonomous kingdom in the north-east of the peninsula, and their allegiance to Cordoba was unreliable. Thus reinforced, the Andalusi forces ambushed. Indeed, in their attitude to each other, medieval Arabic historians resemble the scholars of any age.

Ibn al-Farad. Thus historical statements were validated by analogy with the practice of h. Yet the theoretical norms were rarely followed, and historians were often indicted for careless transmission. There is no indication where he found his narrative of the Viking raid of Further, for modern readers, the plausibility of the account is undermined in several ways. The number of Vikings — 16, in just one of the three bands of raiders — is ludicrously high.

The dream caused him to awake in distress, so he asked those who interpreted dreams for an explanation.

Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean

Immediately after that the capture of the city by Vikings occurred. Whatever ignited fell to the ground, and the marks of those arrows can be seen in the roof until this day. Then a youth came from the direction of the. According to Vikings, he was a young man of great physical beauty. His message in his narrative of the Viking raid on al-Andalus is clear. Later historians rarely cited him, relying instead on the works of Ah. Part of a description of al-Andalus by Ah. It preserves few historical details, and only in a garbled form. Many historians writing in. The relationship between the various citations is not straightforward, and at times they are contradictory.

The whole work does not survive, although most of the second and third of ten parts, which cover the period of the Viking expeditions of and —, were copied into a late-medieval manuscript preserved in Fez Ibn H. The Muqtabas is the single most important source for the history of al-Andalus in the Umayyad period, but it is problematic.

Modern scholars have read it as an anthology, which Ibn H. It does not mean, however, that he copied his sources in toto or without interpolation. Until scholars have compared the Muqtabas with citations from Ah. The way that Ibn H. This seems to be an exaggeration. Ermentarius said that the attack on Nantes in , possibly by the same group, involved sixty-seven ships. Here, the main protagonist of the defence is the eunuch Nas. Led by Nas. To the accounts of the raids that Ibn H. One is attributed to Muh. This source has little to add to the narrative of the raids, apart from an awareness that Vikings had sailed from the land of the Franks al-Ifranj , a term used of the inhabitants of Western Europe in general.

These works have been erased, and only traces remain. On his return to Cordoba, Nas. The emir also gave Nas. The latter toponym recalls T. Makki and Corriente discussed the location of the battle, or battles, without reaching a conclusion Ibn H. Further, Ibn H. One should not pay too much attention to these discrepancies. Two centuries after the event, for reasons that are no longer possible to determine, the loyal — and appropriately named — Nas. Several later historians writing in Arabic appear to have read Ibn H. He was remembered for works in several genres; the sole surviving manuscript is.

Citing Ah. He too began with the sighting of the ships — the dark red birds of my introduction — and his Vikings follow a similar itinerary to that in Ibn H. Ibn-Wazim had these burnt, after selling all that was found in them. The [Vikings] were defeated at T. Many were killed, others hanged at Seville, others hanged in the palm trees at T.

Those who escaped from the bloodshed embarked. They went to Niebla and then to Lisbon and were no more heard of. They arrived at Seville on the 14 Moharram, October 1 and forty-two days had passed from the day when they entered Seville until those of them who were not put to the sword departed. Their general was killed. To punish them for their crimes. God gave them to our sword and destroyed them, numerous as they were.

Vikings in the South - Medieval Histories

At the same time he sent them the heads of the general, and of two hundred of the noblest Vikings warriors. By the fourteenth century the memory of what really happened had been obscured by repeated re-writing. He dated the arrival of Vikings outside Lisbon to and outlined an itinerary for their campaign that does not reach Seville until God knows best. In the period when Arabic chroniclers were compiling varying versions of the events of , their contemporaries writing in Latin and Romance were elaborating the deeds of Ramiro against Vikings.

He felt that he needed a back story, which he copied from three earlier chronicles. He had raised the army that defeated the Almohads at Las Navas de Tolosa in , a victory that set the seal of success on the Christian re-conquest of the peninsula. It begins with the foundation of the country by Japhet, Tubal and Hispan, but the main narrative runs from the early history of the Goths to the conquest of Cordoba.

This was followed by volumes devoted to successive waves of invaders of the peninsula, ending with the Historia Arabum, which dealt with the aftermath of Rodrigo Historia Arabum, 87, trans. Rodrigo weighted the parallel by having Ramiro destroy seventy Viking ships, but overthrow 70, Saracens at Clavijo. In the course of reading this source, the compilers came to the attack on Seville. In the following year, many ships and greater forces came to the shore of Seville and besieged Seville for 13 days and engaged in combat with the Arabs, and with many dead, departed with much booty and many captives.

Rodrigo Historia Arabum, — It is even possible that Rodrigo did not connect the ships that menaced Lisbon and Seville with the gens Normannorum of the De rebus, since he labelled the. But the order of the two episodes has been reversed. It seems that the compiler did not spot the connection between the attack on Galicia from the De rebus and the raid on Seville from the Historia Arabum.

Nor did he recognize the raiders on Seville as Vikings. By now the memory of the raids on Galicia and Seville of may have been held in common by Christians and Muslims, but it was confused. In the ninth century it had been common knowledge that Vikings — the same men who pillaged and settled around the North Sea and traded along the Russian rivers to Byzantium — had extended their range to Iberia.

After raiding the northern and western coasts of Asturias and Galicia, they attacked Lisbon and Seville, and perhaps threatened the Umayyad capital. Although the raiders may have settled for a short time at the mouth of the Guadalquivir, they were soon repulsed. That is perhaps as much as we can say for certain. Even the later sources do not claim that major damage was done. If these early accounts had been lost, the whole episode might have seemed legendary.

Above all respect for the truth, it was important for the key players in Christian and Muslim Iberia to claim victory over Vikings. How they continued to do so we shall see in the next chapter. The narrative of this voyage comes mainly from citations of earlier Arabic historians in Ibn H. As was the case for the campaign of , the story of Vikings in the Mediterranean gathered more detail in the re-telling of later centuries.

This expedition also featured men of the sagas who took part in improbable adventures that may, however, have a core of historical fact and which are certainly true to the spirit of the Viking enterprise. Since most of the sources are those introduced in the previous chapter, we may pass more quickly over the pitfalls of historiography, although we should always bear in mind that later authors often wrote with a contemporary slant and added colour to their stories.

Then, heading towards the islands of Mallorca and Menorca, they depopulated them with the sword. Not all the later Latin chronicles mentioned the — campaign. There is, however, a new source of information with a unique perspective. The Chronicon Iriense ES vol. The chronicle ends with the year , but it may have been composed as late as the twelfth century Isla The dramatis personae of the Chronicon Iriense are models and anti-models of this reform. The problems posed by the text are compounded by the state of the unique manuscript of the second part of the Muqtabas, which covers the period — Similarities between parts of Ibn H.

For the campaign of — as a whole, there are more details in Ibn H. At times, Makki resorted to educated guesswork. They found the coasts guarded; ships of the emir Muh. And [the inhabitants] were in the greatest state of alarm. The emir Muh. And they hastened from all directions.

They abandoned the land of al-Andalus, seeking the [opposite? Then they returned to the east coast of al-Andalus and appeared on the coast of Tudmir. Then they came to the fortress h. They went to Ifranja Francia and over-wintered there and obtained captives and wealth. They took possession of a city that is named after them to this day. They went away to the sea of al-Andalus and more than forty ships were destroyed.

And they ransomed him for 70, [dinars]. They kept his sons as part payment of the ransom, and released him. They were met by a naval attack from the direction of Algeciras that destroyed fourteen of their ships. They did not meet with any success. They hastened away to their country defeated and they have not returned to this day. If we read this passage as a summing up of the failure of this Viking expedition, there is no need to invoke a second visit to al-Andalus. The prosopography of the Andalusi response to the second Viking campaign is complicated.

It is not necessary to work through all the contradictions, but two comments may be made here. Some of the same people may have defended al-Andalus against Vikings on both occasions. Lubb served the emir Muh. Looking back on this rebellion, Ibn H. At this point in the Muqtabas, however, Ibn H. We do not have to postulate another Viking campaign in the s, for which there is no other evidence. The second author in Ibn H.

Unfortunately, the state of the Fes manuscript does not allow for the reconstruction of the whole of Ibn H. After a lacuna, there is a reference to the Viking attack on Pamplona, to which we shall return, before Ibn H. Then they departed. This conclusion echoes the closing words of Ibn H. Rodrigo Historia Arabum: — It illustrates the problems that medieval historians found in reconciling their sources. We can sympathize. The fact that Rodrigo and several later Arabic authors mentioned the expedition of — in terms not dissimilar to Ibn H.

We will see other instances of al-H. Then they [Vikings] ravaged the two coasts completely until they reached the land of the Byzantines and Alexandria. Yet his work is unique within the geographical genre in supplementing an itinerary of the Islamic world and beyond with. In the course of a brief description of the port of As. Among their prisoners were Ama al-Rah. They took over the town and sacked it for eight days.

It is not clear whether Viking ships reached As. The port of As. Adding to the implausibility of this. It is impossible to rule out a Viking presence in As. The ruling dynasty in the region were the descendants of S. In the early Middle Ages, the town had a wall of coarse brick and a large mosque, markets, gardens and orchards. It remained a regional capital under the Idrisid dynasty, who ruled the Maghreb from until their defeat by the Fat. Unfortunately, apart from this reference to the hostages ransomed by Muh. The southern shores of the Mediterranean are hostile to navigation, with shallows and islands, and reefs running far out to sea, few landmarks visible from the sea and few natural anchorages Pryor The middle of the ninth century saw the development of this region.

Sandstorms and attacks by bandits had forced the gold trade from the Sudan to divert north to the Mediterranean coast. New trading centres were established and others grew. A century later, when Ibn H. There was little to attract pirates travelling long distances. They may, however, have returned home with slaves — if we believe a problematic Irish text whose protagonists may be invented.

The protagonists of this story, expelled from Lochlann with their father, went to Ireland, whence they harried the British Isles and then the South: Now, their pride and youthful ambition induced them to row forth across the Cantabrian Sea, i. They afterwards crossed the Gaditanean Straits, i. Long indeed were these blue men in Erin. Mauritania is situated opposite the Balearic Isles. Even by the standards of medieval historiography, the Fragmentary Annals are unreliable. The text survives in one seventeenth-century manuscript, now in Brussels, of a collection of annals and legend; it was compiled in Gaelic early in the eleventh century and has been modernized at least once.

There are, however, germs of plausibility in the story of the Mauritanian black or blue captives. Vikings probably traded in slaves from the Maghreb, and some of them may have reached Ireland. The archetype of this episode — sons who take revenge for the death of their father Tulinius 23—25, — — links Ragnall with two Scandinavians with similar names. Thus the story of Ragnall and his sons in the Fragmentary Annals is unlikely to have much evidential value for Scandinavians in the South.

Vikings were not the only sea raiders operating in the Mediterranean. The presence of Muslim and other freebooters complicates the interpretation of the evidence for Vikings. Muslim enclaves in southern Italy were a bulwark of the slave trade to the Maghreb Wolf There were nests of Muslim corsairs in Candia in Crete from c. Pirates operating from bases in al-Andalus travelled as far as Alexandria Manzano The ninth-century Sicilian saint Elias the Younger was captured twice by Christian African slave merchants, according to his Life, which was probably written in the s McCormick — Negotiations for the release of captives might have enabled.

In their chronicles, medieval historians listed Viking raids with the attacks of other pirates. They left nothing in it except for those buildings which they were paid to spare. Greek pirates pyratae Grecorum ravaged Marseilles in Provence. The Moors and Saracens Mauri et Saraceni sacked the Italian city of Luni Luni , and without meeting the least resistance ravaged the whole coast along to Provence. His silence does not mean that no raids occurred, although Ado did refer to Saracen pirate attacks both on Vienne and on Septimania in the eighth century Ado of Vienne: col. Most of the piracy in southern Francia that was worthy.

This was true of the Camargue, supposedly the site of a Viking camp. The area belonged to the archdiocese of Arles. Only the Chronicle of Alfonso III mentioned attacks on Majorca and Minorca; Rodrigo added Ibiza and Formentera to the list, presumably from his knowledge of geography rather than from better information about Viking activity in the Balearics Rodrigo De rebus: — Ermentarius of Noirmoutier, writing within a decade of the events he described, said that Vikings active in Francia went on to attack Italy.

While everywhere so many domestic and foreign wars were raging, the year of the Incarnation of Christ past. Ermentarius: , trans. The year , if it refers to Vikings in the Mediterranean, is too early. More than a century later, Dudo of St-Quentin narrated a Viking attack on Luni in his History of the Normans, written for the dukes and prelates of Normandy sometime between and Dudo De moribus. A prime example of the latter was Hasting, who had desecrated the church of St-Quentin, amongst many others: When they [the Danes] had laid waste everything they had seen, and had met with no serious military resistance throughout the whole of Francia.

This plan suited them all, and the pirates hoisted their sails and turned their prows away from Frankish coasts.

Which books about the Vikings should I read?

And when they had encountered heavy seas in all directions, and had conquered lands and coast hither and thither, hoping to reach Rome, which is the mistress of the nations, undetected, they arrived in their ships at the city called Luni. The blasphemer Hasting observed that the city could not be forcibly taken by all his men, and he thought of a crafty plan.

Dudo De moribus: , trans. Hasting made it known that he was near death, and asked for the bishop of Luni to baptize him. Shortly afterwards a bier with the apparently dead Viking leader lying on it was carried into the city. Like Ragnall, Hasting may have a historical core, but he became both exotic and ubiquitous in later French and Scandinavian sources.

The historical Hasting was not active in western Europe in —; he probably did not. The ruse by which Hastings and Bjorn entered Luni became one of the most popular strands of the Norman myth; the same stratagem was attributed to Robert Guiscard, Harald Hardrada and the emperor Frederick II.

Yet, like As. The town had been a thriving port of the Roman Empire, but after the Lombards seized the coastal towns of Liguria from the Byzantines in c. This is little more than a faint memory — at best — of the Viking campaign in the Mediterranean. In there was a well-attested Viking incursion on the outskirts of Constantinople, graphically described in a sermon written by the patriarch Photios during the attack: Why has this dreadful bolt fallen on us out of the farthest north?

Is it not for our sins that all these things have come upon us? For this reason, a people has crept down from the north. Photios Sermon 1, trans. This episode has been much debated in Russian historiography; even Catherine the Great got involved Vasiliev In his book on the attack Vasiliev argued that Vikings who sailed the Mediterranean from the Straits of Gibraltar also reached the outskirts of Constantinople, but in the following year. The Byzantine chronicles did not mention a raid in ; they are less helpful on elucidating the problem, Vasiliev argued, because the Greeks sometimes mistook Viking pirates for Muslims raiding from Crete and elsewhere in the Mediterranean Vasiliev In the absence of corroborative detail, the plausibility of a raid on Byzantium from the south remains unresolved.

A separate group of Vikings who were active in Aquitaine could have extended their activities southwards without sailing on around the peninsula, although there is no evidence that they did so Pons Sanz There are several references in the Arabic and Latin sources to triangular struggles involving the Asturians, the Umayyads and Navarre in this period Ibn H.

Not all the later Arabic historians mentioned the attack on Pamplona. The expedition of —, like that of , seems to have involved a single band of adventurers. Returning to the scene of Viking incursions in northern Iberia and al-Andalus, but meeting with little success, they sailed on to raid targets on the shores of the Mediterranean. Here they may have taken captives for ransom or to trade as slaves. Vikings seem to have over-wintered in Francia, perhaps waiting on the northern shore of the Mediterranean for favourable tides and currents to exit the sea through the Straits of Gibraltar.

They may even have sailed to Italy, Alexandria and Constantinople. But they almost certainly passed by Pamplona without collecting 70, dinars; at the very least, this booty has yet to be unearthed in their homelands. The detail of their exploits was recreated as saga by Arabic, Irish, Latin and Scandinavian storytellers but it would be many years before Vikings returned to the South. Waiting for the Barbarians Compared with elsewhere in western Europe, Iberia was brushed only lightly by the Viking scourge.

Yet the irruption of marauders from the sea inspired fear. From the late ninth to eleventh centuries, the people of both northern and southern Iberia took defensive measures against them. Towers were to be constructed and a watch maintained cited by Picard a: Some of these structures remain; archaeologists have found traces of others. Now there is some material evidence to balance the witness of the written sources. Putting the two together, however, is not straightforward.

Among the few surviving inscriptions relating to defensive structures, some relate to the narrative of the chronicles, but others seem to have no context. All this evidence must be treated with care. Most of it, however, is no earlier than the tenth century. Improved defences may have been, at least in part, responsible for a long period free of Viking attack. But if the rulers of Iberia and the Maghreb were fortifying their coasts against Vikings, the timing is odd. This was not a period of documented Viking raiding The status of Vikings in the world beyond Iberia was changing as they morphed from freebooters to rulers and settled into embryo statehood in Normandy and Kiev.

Thus the evidence that the new coastal defences of Iberia or the Maghreb were ever used against Vikings, rather than against pirates of other origins whom the sources occasionally mention, is tenuous. This chapter considers a range of defensive measures that may have been deployed against Vikings. The narrative of the tenth-century Viking raids is deferred to the next chapter. There are a few references to coastal towns that were walled. Only Seville acquired walls as a direct response to a Viking raid, at least according to the written sources. He made the Pilgrimage to Mecca, but his return coincided with the invasion and he was chosen to build the wall around Seville.

His name is inscribed on the gateways of the city. A wall around the city may have been in existence at the turn of the tenth century, when it appears to have helped the people of Seville to sustain a rebellion against the Umayyads in Cordoba Ibn H. The term used in Spain and Portugal for watchtower — atalaya, from the Arabic t. There is a little archaeological evidence linking some of the towers on the south-western coast with the Viking period. The fortress at Castelo Velho de Alcoutim may have been founded in the ninth century to defend the river Guadiana below Merida Branco c.

Pottery found at some of these sites indicates that they were in continuous occupation from the Roman period through the Early Middle Ages and were used by Christians after the reconquest. Most of the building and restoration of watchtowers seems to have been undertaken in the eleventh and twelfth centuries Picard a: but coastal towers were still being reinforced in the seventeenth century, against Barbary pirates.

It is a reminder that the threat to Iberia and the Maghreb of seaborne attack did not vanish at the end of the Viking Age. After Vikings took As. The geographer al-H. As we saw in the previous chapter, al-H. San Carlos de la Rapita. Most of them have left no physical traces, and where they can be dated and characterized, they seem to be no earlier than the twelfth century and to have been local retreats with no military function Picard b: Yet the biographical dictionaries do not say that this was their intention.

The practice of spiritual retreat was not an exclusively Muslim activity. Ships coming from the Mediterranean into the Atlantic were forced to wait for a favourable wind, sometimes for several weeks, before going round Cape St. Vincent at the extreme south-west of the peninsula. Here a monastery dedicated to Vincent became a pilgrimage site for both Christians and Muslims. If Cape St. Vincent was a good place to lie in wait for Vikings, the sources do not say so. Some scholars have connected hus. A local function for h. Only the ruins of Guardamar del Segura, south of Alicante, date from the right period to be linked to Vikings.

The now appropriately named Guardamar was uncovered in It does not appear in the written sources, but in a dedication inscription for a mosque founded in was found nearby Azuar 82— There are twenty-two cells for the occupants, perhaps modelled on Christian monastic building but each with its own mihrab indicating the direction of Mecca. Guardamar, however, may have had an agricultural function, for exploitation of the salt pans, rather than being a military base. It was abandoned shortly after Some three kilometres to the south, and very close to the sea is a small oratory, dated to the tenth-to-eleventh centuries by a single coin from — Nearby stands a tower of a similar date.

For this reason, says one fatwa, the men were not allowed to return to their families at night. He ordered the establishment of a shipyard in Seville and the construction of ships. He got together sailors from the coasts of al-Andalus and enlisted them and paid them well. So when the Vikings came again, in the time of the emir Muh.

It is impossible to say whether these Muslims were freebooters from al-Andalus or the Maghreb, or a force sent from Cordoba. We have seen, however, that an Andalusi naval force contributed to the defeat of the — expedition. No archaeological trace of an early-medieval dockyard in Seville has yet been uncovered. Accounts of this naval base vary; some of the Arabic historians thought that it was at nearby Pechina Lirola Lugo had Roman walls a little over a kilometre long, of which there are massive remains.

At least two of the Asturian kings carried out defensive works against raiders coming by water. Walls and towers were built around the town to protect the shrine of the saint. So that the body of the blessed Apostle should not fall into the hands of his enemies in a sudden attack. Another wall was built around the town during the episcopate of Cresconio c. Further south, the coast of present-day Portugal is dotted with fortresses, and although nearly all of the current buildings date from the Late Middle Ages, some could be earlier foundations.

Sintra, situated at the point furthest west, Finisterre, served as a look-out point for Lisbon and places south. Taking all these indications together — as perhaps one should not — a recent commentator suggested that these places all played a role in the defence of Lisbon against Vikings Oliveira Local tradition, which a charter of donation helps to corroborate, associates the origins of the castle at Guimaraes, located above the river Ave, with the Viking Age.

Here the date suggests that these pagans might have been Vikings, although it is just as likely that the attackers were Muslims, coming either by land or by sea. Known today as the Torres del Oeste, the site was called Honestum in the medieval sources. Most of the written information comes from the. The written sources are a little more helpful. Modern scholars have seen the building or restoration of Honestum as a response to Viking attempts to reach Santiago.

The nearby toponym of Camporamiro is. The Historia Compostellana is, in fact, much vaguer about the functions of Honestum. The chronicler also noted that Saracen pirates were active all along the northern coast as far as the Pyrenees HC: But by the eleventh century, coastal defences spread along the coasts of Iberia and the Maghreb. Manning such defences may have been a religious duty. It seems that most of the new work was carried out at a time when Vikings do not seem to have troubled the peninsula.

Iberia was not unprotected. We will see in the next chapter how these defences were tested by raiders coming to Iberia from the north in the tenth century. Only sketchy accounts of their activities survive. Yet as we saw in the collective memory of the campaign of , the mere presence of Vikings was enough to trigger the writing of grander narratives in both Christian and Muslim Iberia. A century later, Vikings killed a bishop of Santiago de Compostela and harried the coasts of al-Andalus. Most of the raids after this date were small in scale, but several heroes of the Old Norse sagas were said to have raided in the peninsula.

These Vikings have been only a footnote to the history of the Viking Age. Many stories about their activities survive only in elaborate versions written centuries after the event, and in Arabic. This book reconsiders the Arabic material as part of a dossier that also includes Latin chronicles and charters as well as archaeological and place-name evidence. Arabic authors and their Latin contemporaries remembered Vikings in Iberia in surprisingly similar ways. How they did so sheds light on contemporary responses to Vikings throughout the medieval world. Read more Read less. Review Ann Christys's concise and well-written book fills a real need; she has read carefully all relevant sources, in Arabic, Old Norse and Latin, concerning possible Viking visits to the coasts of the Iberian Peninsula in the ninth and tenth centuries, stripped away many romanticized details that have attached to the accounts over the years, and come up with a sober assessment: that there were indeed occasional such attacks, but the shock and fear which the Vikings generated in coastal areas of the Iberian Peninsula were lasting, and greater than the actual threat.

About the Author Ann Christys is an independent scholar. No customer reviews. Share your thoughts with other customers. Write a customer review. Discover the best of shopping and entertainment with Amazon Prime. Prime members enjoy FREE Delivery on millions of eligible domestic and international items, in addition to exclusive access to movies, TV shows, and more. Back to top. Get to Know Us. English Choose a language for shopping.

Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean
Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean
Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean
Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean
Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean

Related Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean



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