Viking raids were well planned out, lighting quick and horrifying for those being attacked.
These medieval Norse people liked to raid towns and monasteries that were close to the coastline.
This method of raiding allowed them to use their famed longships, the quickest ships of
the Viking age, to swoop in on their target. They could pull these boats onto the shore, jump out with swords, battle
axes, and spears at the ready, and be upon their target before any kind of defense could be mounted.
The First Viking Raid (the attack on Lindisfarne)
Perhaps the most famous of all the ancient Norse raids was their first; this was on Lindisfarne
England in 793 AD. The Norsemen looted the Benedictine monastery there and massacred many people including several
monks. The raid was quick and bloody and the warriors came and went before the people on Lindisfarne
knew what hit them.
The reason why the early Vikings targeted monasteries, like Lindisfarne, for looting was that they were usually
poorly defended and contained many valuable objects.
Viking Raids - Three historical phases
Most historians categorize the Viking raiding timeline into three phases. These phases have
a lot do with how the Vikings conducted their attacks.
Phase 1 (793 AD - 840 AD)
This phase started with the first Viking raid which was, as discussed above, on the monastery in
Lindisfarne England in 793 AD and lasted until 840 AD. The Lindisfarne attack was typical of how raids in
this phase were conducted. It was quick, the goal was looting, and it was
conducted by a small group of Vikings, the target was on the coast, and the Vikings left
quickly. During this period of attacks the Norse warriors raided towns and monasteries in England and France.
The Carolingian Empire, which during the Viking Age united most of Western Europe, was deeply affected by the raids
during this phase. During this phase the Norsemen attacked the monastery at Noirmountier France every summer for
Phase 2 (841 AD -875 AD)
Starting in 841 AD Viking raids increased in number along with a huge increase in the size
of the Viking war parties. In the first phase of Viking raids a typical raiding party was
three or four ships, by 851 AD an attacking fleet could have up to three hundred and fifty
ships. The Viking warriors were extremely successful during this phase of raids. During this
period the Vikings formed the "Great Army" which was one of the largest military forces of its day.
Other interesting aspects of this phase are:
The Vikings would often stay in the conquered land as opposed to how they use to leave quickly.
The Norse warriors expanded their range of attacks. They not only attacked in England
and France but now also focused on targets along the Mediterranean Sea. These raids
included attacks on North Africa, Spain, and Italy.
During this phase the Vikings increasingly traveled by foot or horseback, not always depend
on their ships for travel.
Phase 3 (876 AD - 911 AD)
In this phase in the timeline of Viking raids the "Great Army" continued its attacks through out
Europe. The Norsemen increasingly colonized conquered lands such as Ireland, Iceland, and parts
of Russia. However in this phase some of the people the Vikings were raiding started to form a
greater opposition to them. For example the English built ships that could, like the Viking
longships, sail in shallow waters and therefore defend against the Vikings.
Why Viking Raids Ended
Viking raiders, as mentioned above in phase three, met increasing opposition
to their raids. Factors leading to the end of Viking raids are listed below.
Perhaps the main reason for the gradual decrease and eventual end of Viking raids
was that their targets were becoming more organized. Throughout Europe strong central
authorities were appearing. This centralization of power enabled these countries to
assemble and train strong armies to oppose any raids on their land.
The Viking targets were becoming more fortified. For example many monasteries built towers
and fortified areas where people and valuables could be quickly moved to when attacked.
People the Vikings targeted were developing better weapons to defend themselves.
Many monasteries simply moved inland making a surprise attack from sea impossible.
Some people the Vikings targeted paid the Vikings off to stop their raids.