03/28 – Ragnar’s Siege of Paris

On this day in 845, nearly 5,000 Viking raiders arrived in Paris. After months of sailing along the Seine river, the Vikings – warriors from Scandinavia led by Ragnar Loþbrók – were hungry for blood. Facing them was a Frankish army under Charles the Bald, a Carolingian ruler and incredibly hairy individual. The Vikings had two motivations for their attack on Paris: first, it was an incredibly wealthy city and Ragnar wanted to increase his prestige with captured loot. Secondly, Charles had humiliatingly defeated Ragnar’s forces in 820. The Viking leader, well aware of the civil war sweeping West Francia (in parts of modern-day France), wanted to exact revenge on the Franks.

Ragnar at his throne in the North. The Viking leader became a legend in Nordic sagas (epic tales) for his exploits in Europe. (Reddit)

As the Vikings arrived in their fleet of longboats, Charles split his army into two divisions on either side of the river. Ragnar concentrated his entire force on one bank and launched a vicious assault on the Frankish defenders. Outnumbered and facing shrieking Viking raiders, the defenders were quickly cut down. The other half of Charles’ force surrendered soon after. To celebrate the Viking victory, 111 of the Franks were hanged to appease Odin – Norse god of wisdom – and Paris was plundered. Charles, anxious to get rid of the of Vikings and continue his civil war, paid the Vikings 2,570 kg (5,670 lbs) of gold to leave him alone. Satisfied with the results of their raid, the Vikings hopped into their longboats and sailed back to Scandinavia.

The vast and complicated Carolingian Empire. (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

For Ragnar, the Siege of Paris was a resounding success. It marked one of the most successful raids in the early Viking expeditionary period. For Charles, the humiliation was short-lived: paying off the Vikings had been the right choice, and he was able to return to the fighting and consolidate power within the Carolingian Empire. Although he failed in achieving total control of the region, Charles managed to strengthen his hold on modern-day France and Italy and expand what became known as the Holy Roman Empire, a vast multi-ethnic power that controlled much of Central Europe until the early 19th century.

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