Vikings: Mobile Fighting Machines


One thing the Vikings did seemingly better than the Saxons was fight on the run. By this is meant that the Vikings (and Norsemen) were better able to work with what they had and make the best of a bad situation.

Unlike later Saxons, who came almost from the second voyage with the intent of settling down, Viking raiders continued to plunder and drive their way inward from the coast, seeking mostly to increase their wealth and gain. They didn’t bring an overwhelming load of provisions. Rather, they depended on their resourcefulness to take advantage of the resources they found or seized.

An excellent example of this took place in the late 9th Century. Vikings had raided the coast of East Anglia and established a small base there, taking enough time to reprovision themselves before driving inward. While in East Anglia, they appropriated a number of horses and then rode them to York, where the enterprising Vikings struck hard at one of Northumbria’s most treasured cities.

Why did the Vikings prefer to keep moving, at least at first? Well, that question seems to be asked in the context of what the Saxons did. When asked independently, it doesn’t really need an answer: They simply did what they did. This issue is found to be raised in other contexts and many times in historical circles as well, and it bears repeating: Not everything can be viewed in the lens of someone else’s camera. Said another way, historians are big on context, but context isn’t always big on explanations. Better to claim context when it’s needed than to lean on it like a crutch.

Still, in comparison to the Saxons, who by the time of the Viking invasions were well ensconced on the Island, the new invaders were more adept at hitting hard, taking what they needed, and maintaining the attack: mobile warfare at its finest.

The question naturally arises, then, of whether the Vikings preferred fighting on horseback. As has seen before, the Saxons definitely did have access to horses and most likely would have had training in cavalry fighting and horseback scouting, yet chose to fight on foot. The same was true for the Vikings and Norsemen. The York example is one of resourcefulness. We cannot say for certain whether the Vikings stayed on those horses when they got to York; we know only that they used the horses for transportation. Like their Saxon counterparts, the men from the North liked to keep their feet on the ground.