When the air in Europe was filled with the smell of blood

When the air in Europe was filled with the smell of blood
When the air in Europe was filled with the smell of blood

In 793, a new misfortune came to Christian Europe: bloodthirsty warriors attacked the famous monastery of Lindisfarne. Since that day, the Vikings have had a significant impact on the life of the continent for over 250 years.

“This year - 793 - ominous omens appeared in the skies over Northumbria and horrified its inhabitants. These were tornadoes and lightning, fire-breathing dragons flew in the air. The signs were followed by a great famine, and a little later that year, on June 8, pagans attacked God's Church in Lindisfarne and devastated it, they plundered and killed."

This is how the author of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle described the nightmare that his world experienced in 793. Bloodthirsty men with terrible weapons attacked a famous monastery in the northern kingdom of England. And they didn't stop there. In subsequent years, Jarrow, Monkwermouth, Rehru, St. Patrick and St. Columban were attacked, soon it was France's turn, a little later Cadiz and Seville were devastated. And finally, in 862, the conquerors subjugated vast Russia.

First, because of the element from which they appeared as if out of nowhere, contemporaries called them "sea people" or "sea warriors." Only over time, the word "viking" was established, which goes back to the Old Norse word víkingr, which probably meant sea robbers or warriors. For over 250 years, until the conquest of England by Duke William of Normandy in 1066, they have largely shaped the history of Europe.

How they did it, the creators of the six-part documentary "Vikings: Facts and Legends" are going to tell on the German TV channel ZDF. Based on six sensational finds, the author of the film, Jeremy Freeston, describes the way of life of the Scandinavian warriors, as well as the suffering of their victims, who sometimes could not protect themselves from predatory attacks.

Since reference to the shock caused by the attack on Lindisfarne is found in many sources, 793 is considered to be the moment of the beginning of the expansion of the Vikings. However, as Friston explains, the northerners have probably made their way to the shores of England before. True, not as pirates, but as merchants.

As early as 789, there were reports of the Danes who killed the royal governor in Dorchester, who mistook them for merchants. This allows us to conclude that their appearance was not something out of the ordinary. Perhaps this incident was not about profit at all, but about a quarrel: clashes were not uncommon among merchants in that era.

Be that as it may, the Vikings, who regularly attacked the shores of Europe since 793, had a fairly clear idea of these areas, their defensive fortifications and the routes leading there. For example, to get to the harbor of Lindisfarne, one had to be skilled sailors. But, once there, they acted with lightning speed. On their flat-bottomed drakkars, warriors could paddle to the very coastline or even invade deep into the mainland through the mouths of rivers.

Sometimes they dragged their ships across the isthmuses. This gave them a mobility that other warriors of the early Middle Ages did not have. In addition to the pragmatic (one might also say, ruthless) use of violence, speed was a decisive advantage of the Vikings.

Probably, the monks of Lindisfarne did not even have time to sound the alarm to warn the neighbors or the garrison stationed in the castle a few kilometers from the monastery. Many monks were killed, some young novices were captured and turned into slaves. Only a few managed to escape. In a letter to the Abbot of Lindisfarne, the learned monk Alcuin, who served at the court of Charlemagne, described how “the pagans trampled upon the bodies of saints with their feet” and committed desecration of God's holy object. Alcuin, without hesitation, interpreted this "tragic suffering" as follows: the lack of fear of God of his contemporaries brought on Lindisfarne a "non-random" punishment.

The Vikings were alien to such eschatological inventions. For them, summer campaigns, for which free men gathered in groups led by military leaders, were a good opportunity to earn extra money and brighten up the meager northern life a little. They were curious, adventurous and adventurous, and had a good imagination, which, combined with an extreme readiness for violence, made them formidable adversaries.

In search of prey, they ended up in Lindisfarne and other places where they assumed there was such. The fact that the prey could be sacred for someone did not bother them. Rather, they were surprised that such treasures were not guarded by soldiers or dragons, says archaeologist Max Adams. This even encouraged them: "Only the brave get the treasure."

Lindisfarne is in ruins. And from the monastery built later, only fragments have survived, among which archaeologists from the University of Darkham, together with participants in the archaeological project DigVentures, have been excavating since 2017. Under the ruins of the High Middle Ages, they discovered a cemetery, which is probably the burial place of monks who died before the Vikings attacked their sacred chambers.

Soon there was "the smell of blood and entrails hanging in the air," historian Chris Monk concludes. 793 marked the beginning of a new era in European history. The Vikings opened completely new horizons for Europeans. In the West, they settled Iceland and Greenland and even reached Newfoundland. In the east, in Russia, they founded a huge empire that paid tribute to them (as in the text - ed.), Provided the emperor of Constantinople with a guard and supplied the markets of the Middle East with furs and slaves.

But that they wrenched the continent out of a 300-year magical dream that the documentary claims was more or less peaceful is questionable. In their campaigns of conquest, the struggle for power and invasions of foreign lands, the Europeans were hardly inferior to the Vikings.

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