Ragnar Lodbrok raiding Paris in 845

28 March 845, 1170 years ago, a large Norse warband of 5,000 Vikings in 120 longships led by the legendary Ragnar Lodbrok raided Paris.

"We fought with swords, at Bardafyrda. A mower of blood rained from our weapons. Headlong fell the palid corpse a prey for the hawks. The bow gave a twanging found. The blade sharply bit the coats of mail: it bit the helmet in the fight." ("The Krákumál")

Angus McBride’s (1931 – 2007http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angus_McBride) somewhat pulpy imagination of a 9th century Viking raid using almost all the popular clichés of a strandhögg with the dramatis personae with (to current knowledge) historically accurate costumes and equipment (probably from Osprey’s “Men-at-Arms” series, found on: http://haraldwartooth.es/hoy-racion-doble-de-vikingos/).

Snakes wiggle like a red thread through the tale of Ragnar. His second wife Thora breeds a pair of giant vipers the Norse hero has to overcome and protecting himself from the poisonous brood’s bites with loden or “hairy breeks”, gains the sobriquet “Lodbrok”, marries a third time, Aslaug, daughter of the legendary hero couple Sigurd and the Valkyrie Brynhild, has a son by her with the famous trait of the Völsung clan, a mark of a snake biting its own tail in his left eye hence his name Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, and finally and famously, Ragnar Lodbrok ends his Viking hero’s life in the snake pit of King Ælla of Northumbria. The Lodbrok sons Ivar the Boneless, Halfdan Ragnarsson and Ubba didn’t take it too well, assemble the Great Heathen Army in 865, invade the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, wreak havoc for the next 14 years and finally capture Ælla and carve the blood eagle upon him. Or so the story goes. Whether there was a historical Ragnar Lodbrok at all is highly doubtful. More probable is that several Norse warlords of the early 800s have been condensed into one heroic figure centuries later. However, contemporary Frankish sources namen a Reginheri who had followed the prow beast along the whale road to the coast of the Frakkarlands and sailed his ships to Paris and this might have been the historical Ragnar "Leódbroga", the people frightener.

Hugo Hamilton’s (1802–1871) imagination of Ragnar Lodbrok in Ælla’s snake pit (1830)

It was a black year for Charles the Bald, King of the Franks. The war with his brothers Louis the German and Emperor Lothair I had just come to an end two years before with the Treaty of Verdun and now Aquitaine was in rebellion and it was raid-the-Franks time again for the Bretons as well as the Norse. By mid-March of the year 845, Ragnar and his raiders obviously brought one half of Charles’ army to battle while the other half was caught on the opposite shore of the Seine. The Vikings allegedly executed their prisoners in a rather unpleasant manner in full view of the rest of the Franks, they fled in terror, Ragnar proceeded to Paris, sacked the place and forced the king to pay a Danegeld, a ransom of 7,000 pounds of silver to make them leave. Not an uncommon practice until well into the 12th century when royal taxes became more common. Ragnar proceeded to the coast and north to England for a Strandhögg (a raid, more or less a fight on the beach) or three until he met his legendary fate after a shipwreck on the coast of Northumbria. Paris was raided again three times more during the 860s and fortifications considerably increased until they held and enabled Count Eudes to fend off the next major raid in 885, allegedly by 40,000 Vikings in 700 ships under their warlords Sigfred, Sinric and Rollo, the selfsame man who would become the first Duke of Normandy in 911, just two generations after Ragnar’s first raid.

The scene above pictures the legend about what kind of a vassal King Charles got. When asked to bow down and kiss Charles' foot in submission, Rollo asked on of his warriors to lift the king's foot so he hadn't to lower his stiff neck. The said Viking was perhaps a bit... impetuous and laid the French king flat on his back

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