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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Siege of Paris (845)

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The Franco Empire was attacked by vikings for the first time in 799, and eventually led Charlemagne to create a coastal defense system in the north of his territory. The system he established had successfully repulsed a lot viking attack at the mouth of the river Seine, but in the year 834 the attacks by Danish Vikings in Friesland and Dorasion couldn’t be held back. These attacks weren’t planned and didn’t have any political motivation, more systematic attacks did not occur until the middle of the 830s.

Viking raids were, on several occasions, grounds for power struggles and status among the Scandinavian nobility, and as in relation to other adjacent nations, the Danes were well informed about the political situation in France, so much so that in the 830s and early 840s they took advantage of the French Civil War.


In March of 845, a fleet of 120 Danish viking ships, containing more than 5 000 men, entered the Seine under the command of the Danish chief named Reginhero or Ragnar. This Ragnar is commonly identified as Ragnar Lothbrok, a figure of the legendary sagas, but the historicity of this connection remains a subject of discussion among historians. Somewhere around the year 841, Ragnar had received lands in the territories of Torhout and in Friesland, from the current king Charles the Bald, but he had eventually lost the lands and later the king’s aid as well. Ragnar’s vikings started the invasion with Rouen as they ascended the river Seine in the year 845. In response to the invasion by the Vikings, determined not to let the valuable Basilica of Saint-Denis near Paris be destroyed, Charles the Bald had gathered an army and divided it into two parts, placing each one on both sides of the river. The plan wasn’t successful because Ragnar focused on one of the divisions, he then attacked and defeated the Frankish army, taking around 111 of the men as prisoners and hanging them on an island in the Seine. This was done as a way of honoring the Nordic god Odin, as well as inciting terror in the remaining Frankish forces.

The Viking army finally arrived in Paris, entering and plundering the city on Easter Sunday, March 29. During the siege, a plague spread in their encampments. The Norsemen were exposed to the Christian religion and, after praying to the Nordic gods, they fasted, following the advice of one of their Christian prisoners, and it is said that the plague diminished its impact. The Franks failed to organize any effective defense against the invaders and the Vikings withdrew only after receiving a ransom of 7,000 francs of silver and gold, equivalent to approximately 2,570 kilograms. Considering the loss of land that Ragnar suffered, the substantial payment may have been a way of compensating for the loss, and the invasion itself as an act of revenge. In any case, this would be the first of a total of thirty payments of the so-called danigeldo given to the Viking invaders by the Franks. Ragnar agreed to withdraw his invading Vikings from Paris but he sacked several towns along the coast as he returned home, including the Basilica of St. Bertin.

Although Charles the Bald was severely criticized for granting a large ransom payment to the Vikings, he had other critical issues to be addressed at the same time, including disputes with his brethren, discontented regional uprisings, and international pressure. Since he would have trouble trusting his own counts to organize troops in order to defeat Ragnar’s great military force, to pay them would make Charles the Bald save time and a possible peace for future Viking invasions – at least in one near future.


In the same year, a Viking fleet also sacked Hamburg, which in 831 had been elevated to the post of archbishopric by Pope Gregory IV and Louis the Pious in order to guard the Saxon territory and help Christianity enter Scandinavia. In response, King Louis the German, sent a diplomatic mission led by Count Cobon to the court of Horik, requesting that the Danish king submit to the French suzerainty and pay reparations for the invasion. Eventually, Horik agreed to the terms and requested a peace treaty with Louis the Pious as he promised to return with the treasures and captives of the invasion. Horik probably wanted to secure the borders with Saxony, since he had faced a conflict with King Olof of Sweden and was also involved in domestic fights. In the treaty, Louis the Pious demanded the obedience of Horik, which was later secured by the regular sending of embassies and gifts to Luís by Horik, and by the suspension of his support for the invading Vikings.

Although many Vikings died by the plague during the siege of Paris, Ragnar was able to return home and to King Horik. The king had been so frightened that he ordered most of the survivors to be executed and all of the captive Christians to be released. This event, in part, led Horik to receive the title of “Apostle of the North” by Archbishop Ansgar on friendly terms with his own kingdom. The vikings would return again in the 860s, winning plunder and ransoms. However, at a turning point in the history of France, the city walls would resist against the great viking attack of the Siege of Paris of 885-86.


Duckett, Eleanor S. (1988). Carolingian Portraits

Goldberg, Eric Joseph (2006). Struggle for Empire

Hoops, Johanne; Beck, Heinrich (2002). Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde

Jones, Gwyn (2001). A History of the Vikings

Kohn, George C. (2006). Dictionary of Wars

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Ogg, FA (1908). A source book of mediæval history

Sawyer, PH (2001). Illustrated History of the Vikings

Sprague, Martina (2007). Norse warfare

Zupko, Ronald Edward (1990). Revolution in Measurement

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