Page images
PDF
EPUB
[table][graphic][ocr errors]

keeping the peace with each other, in spite of all the grudges which the events of the last fifteen years had raised between them. The second was that of defending Western Christendom from the assaults from without, which were daily growing more and more dangerous. The Danes, whose first ravages we have related under the reign of Lewis the Pious, were now becoming no longer a mere pest to the coastland, but a serious danger to the whole empire. The Saracens were commencing a series of daring piratical descents on Provence and Italy. The Slavs beyond the Elbe were gradually throwing off their allegiance to the empire, and recommencing the raids on Germany, from which they had been stayed by Charles the Great.

For ten years (843-53) the three kings succeeded—contrary to all expectation—in keeping the peace with each other. But in spite of their temporary freedom from civil strife, they did not succeed in defending their realms with success from the outer barbarian. As the chronicler observed, 'the slaughter of Fontenay seemed not only to have thinned the ranks of the Frankish host, but to have robbed them of their ancient invincibility in war.' The only one of the three kings who showed the slightest power to defend his borders was Lewis the German: his two brothers suffered one continual series of checks and disasters.

The main problem which now confronted the Frankish rulers was the necessity for dealing firmly with the invasion of the Scandinavian pirates. The peoples on both shores of the Cattegat had now thrown themselves heart and soul into the occupation of harrying the lands of their southern neighbours. They were a group of kindred tribes, some of whom dwelt in Jutland and the Danish isles, others on the southern and south-eastern shore of the Scandinavian peninsula, others along the fiords which face the German Ocean. Western Christendom often styled them indiscriminately by the name of Danes, though in truth the Danes were only the most southern of the four races which joined in the invasions. A better common appellation was that of Northmen, which would include the Swede, the Goth and the Norwegian as well as the Danish dwellers in Jutland and Zealand.

From time immemorial the dwellers on the Cattegat and the southern Baltic had been a sea-faring race. Tacitus, in the second century of our era, speaks of Scandinavia as powerful by its fleets. The Jutes and Angles who joined in the conquest of Britain had sprung from these seas. The Danes had been addicted to piracy from the earliest times. Far back in the sixth century, we have heard of Viking chiefs, like king Hygelac whom Theudebert the Frank slew,1 as occasionally descending on the Austrasian and Frisian shores. But it was not till the end of the eighth century that western Europe began to be seriously troubled by the Northmen. The cause of the sudden increase of activity among races who had so long spared the feeble realm of the later Merovings is difficult to ascertain. Perhaps their constant wars with the Saxons, tribes as fierce and untameable as themselves, had kept them quiet. But it is certain that down to the time of Charles the Great they were mainly expending their energy on wars with each other, and were seldom heard of in the North Sea or the British Channel till the Frankish empire with its wealth, its commerce, and its Christian propaganda came up to meet them by subduing the Saxon and Frisian, and stretching forth its boundary to the Eider.

It was just after Charles the Great had conquered Saxony that the Vikings began to make themselves felt. The earliest trace of them in western waters was a petty raid on the English town of Wareham in 789. Within a few years, however, the scope of their expeditions enlarged; in 793 they sacked the great Northumbrian monastery of Lindisfarn; in 795 they are heard of in Ireland for the first time. In 799 they Early viking began their assaults on the Frankish empire by raidsa transient raid on Aquitaine. From this time forward 1 See page 113.

their activity grew incessantly; every year their fleets discovered some new and rich field for plunder, till no creek or estuary of western Europe was unknown to their pilots. We have already told how Charles the Great was so vexed by their first ravages that he endeavoured to establish a defensive flotilla in all the ports of Neustria, and how in the last years of his reign the Danish king Godfred had given him serious trouble both in the South Baltic and on the Frisian shore.1 We have mentioned the far more important descents of the Vikings on the lands about the Rhine mouth in the days of the feeble government of good king Lewis. But now the evil was still growing: the emperor Lothair and his brothers were to find the Northmen no longer a nuisance but a real danger.

Nothing could have been more daring than the enterprise of the Northmen in setting out from their distant homes to undertake the long voyage to Ireland or Aquitaine Their vessels were merely long narrow open boats, generally some seventy-five feet long by fifteen broad, but drawing only threeand-a-half feet of water. They relied on rowing more than on The ships of sailing, and their one mast could easily be lowered, the vikings. and generally was taken down before a naval engagement. When the wind was favourable they used a single large square sail, but it was always in the strength and endurance of the oarsmen that they placed their main confidence. The ordinary Viking vessel seems to have carried about one hundred and twenty men, so that to transport any large body an enormous number of ships was required. But even in small numbers the Vikings were very formidable; they were all professional warriors, who had taken by choice to the trade of sea-robbers, and were individually far superior to the forced levies whom English aldermen or Frankish counts could hurry into the field against them. They were far better armed than their opponents, almost every man being well equipped with the shirt of ring-mail and steel helmet, while among the Franks 1 See page 367.

and English only the nobles and chiefs were as yet wearing armour. They were also fighting for their lives: the pirate defeated in a strange country was completely at the mercy of the people of the land, and always doomed to death; hence he fought with a far greater fury than his enemies. But at first the Viking came to pillage rather than to fight: he was better pleased to plunder some rich undefended port or monastery and then put out to sea, than to win precarious spoil after hard handstrokes with the levies of an angry country-side.

By this time the Vikings were operating on every coast in western Europe. It was not only the Franks who were suffering from their inroads: the English kingdoms and the Celts of Scotland and Ireland were faring even worse. The expeditions of the Northmen were now taking two well-marked courses; one was the voyage past Frisia and the Rhine-mouth to the Neustrian and south English coasts. The other was a longer and bolder adventure, the open sea voyage from the western capes of Norway to Orkney and Shetland, and thence southwest, past the Hebrides, to Ireland, Wales, and western England. The former line of plunder was mainly in the hands of the Danes; the latter was more frequented by the Norwegians. The other two northern peoples, the Swedes and Goths of the Scandinavian peninsula, were almost entirely engrossed in cruises eastward, against the Slavs and Finns of the Baltic.

In the earlier years of the Viking raids, Ireland suffered more than any other country; its tribal kings could give no protection to* their subjects. There was not a town in the island defended by a stone wall, and the numerous and wealthy monasteries, protected by their sanetity alone, lay open to the spoiler. The Norwegian pirates ranged at their goodpleasure over the face of the land, and ere long The vikings commenced to winter in it, instead of returning in Ireland. home at the end of their summer ravages. It was in Ireland that they first bethought them of seizing the whole country and turning it into a new Norse kingdom. It was in the very

PERIOD I. 2 D

« ՆախորդըContinue »