The First Viking Landings in Britain

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A.D. 787. This year King Bertric took Edburga the daughter of Offa to wife. And in his days came first three ships of the Northmen from the land of robbers. The reve (30) then rode thereto, and would drive them to the king’s town; for he knew not what they were; and there was he slain. These were the first ships of the Danish men that sought the land of the English nation.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

With this entry from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle begins a new insight for the Germanic tribes that were still getting themselves settled in Britain: defense of territory hard won.

The Angles and Saxons, it will be recalled, had been making progress all the while toward turning the entire eastern bloc of the Island into a Germanic playground. Saxon towns, weapons, and customs were everywhere. The guttural language of Saxony and “Angland” was becoming the lingua franca of Britain, and the folks from Germanic lands on the continent were finding out just how “nasty, brutish, and short” life in Britain could be.

And just when they thought they had it figured out, they themselves get invaded.

To be fair, the Welsh and Picts had done their fair share of invading Saxon lands in the past few hundred years. But by and large, by the time of Offa (who was still reigning in Mercia at the time), the Saxon ascendancy was taken for granted.

And now, in one bold move, the invaders were themselves invadedby Vikings!

The Chronicle mentions three ships. It is likely that more showed up on the shores of Northumbria that day. And it is equally likely that the “Danish men” weren’t really Danish but Norwegian.

But no matter. They were Vikings, or “Northmen,” and they had come to see what they could see and take what they could get, just as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes had done to the Britons some several centuries before.

Was it a surprise? Probably. Should it have been? Probably not.

The Germanic kingdoms of Britain were, at that time, certainly conducting trade with the peoples of Europe and, quite possibly, with the peoples of Scandinavia. Communication is a must in commerce, and discussions of Britain would not have been out of the ordinary. In fact, Vikings could very well have been planning such an expedition for some time.

The fact remains that in 787, they arrived. Whether it was 3 ships or 30 ships doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, for with this landing, the Vikings had come to stay.

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