The Beginning of the Dane-Norse Invasions

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It has been mentioned that the first Viking raiders appeared on the shores of Britannia in 787. Now whether this is really the date of the first raid (and there is some question about the veracity of this date, to be sure) is really not the point. The point here is this: With the coming of the Vikings, Norsemen, Danes, and other “men of the north,” the Angles and Saxons got a taste of their own medicine. The invaders were invaded, so to speak, by people who didn’t really want to settle so much as just take what they found and add it to their collections.

In recent years, an attempt has been made to reinterpret the Viking invasions as patterns of settlement, in the same way that the Saxon invasions were reinterpreted many years ago.

The facts don’t lie.

Whatever the date of the first invasion, this much is known: The town of Lindisfarne was mercilessly sacked in 793. Lindisfarne, home to one of the great monasteries and the beautiful Lindisfarne Gospels, was put to the sword and ground underfoot by Norsemen looking for a little more money and a little more food than they could find at home.

Jarrow, too, was the target of another invasion, this one in 798. Jarrow, the home of the historic monastery made even more famous by the writings and presence of the Venerable Bede, was also made to submit to superior numbers and determination in the shape and form of determined Norsemen.

This was the beginning but not the end, for with the continued presence of Danes, Vikings, and Norsemen on the coasts and in the interior of England came a determination by the Saxons to band together and defend their common homeland from a common foe, in the same way that the Britons had done many years ago when faced with a seemingly united Germanic foe, and in the same way that the Welsh had banded together at various times in the last few hundred years to defend their territory or encroach on Saxon territory. In a word, the invaders were now the defenders.

The Germanic tribes had gotten quite used to living in Britain. They rather liked it. They weren’t likely to give it up anytime soon. The invaders gained a lot of ground in the first few decades, but it would remain to be seen whether they could hold on to that territory long enough to solidify their presence.

The story of the Norse-Dane invasions begins.