The cruelty of the Vikings was legendary. However, the reality was different

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7 min readJun 10, 2023

They were famous for their violent nature, sudden attacks and barbarism. But to what extent is the cruelty of the Vikings a fact confirmed by historians?

[Photo by DAMIANUM CASTRUM from Pexels]

In June 793, Vikings invaded a monastery on the island of Lindisfarne off the northeast coast of England. The center, which had existed for 150 years, was the spiritual and intellectual center of the region. However, to the pagan aggressors it was nothing more than an undefended object full of riches. Thus began in the history of Europe an era of Vikings that lasted more than 250 years, until the decisive battle of Hastings fought in 1066.

“Never before had there been such a terror in Britain as that which has now arisen through the heathen race. These barbarians poured the blood of the saints around the altar [in St. Cuthbert’s Church] and trampled on the bodies of the saints in the temple of God like dung in the streets.”

These words, still breathing terror today, were written by Alcuin of York in a letter to King Ethelred of Northumbria. This was the name of the land on the coast of which the profaned and devastated monastery and church were located.

The medieval author thus reflected the state of mind of the people who first encountered the warriors known today as Vikings. Like Alkuin, other writers of the time also tried to emphasize in their accounts the destructive barbarism of the invaders from Scandinavia.

Viking cruelty — truth or myth?

Prof. Anders Winroth, an expert on the Viking Age who debunks many myths about them, confirms the fact of the cruelty of the sea warriors: — The Nordic invaders were determined to get what they wanted. And once they got it, they demanded more tribute. Both by threatening to attack, and by kidnapping residents and collecting huge ransoms.

The churches were getting poorer. In 994, they threatened to burn Canterbury Cathedral if the archbishop did not pay them a large sum of money. The archbishop, who only a few decades earlier had been one of the richest landowners in England, had already paid them so much that he had to borrow money from another bishop.