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The Viking Siege of Paris

The Vikings are traditionally assumed to be raiders who preyed along the coastlines, pillaging small villages and outposts.Nevertheless, the Vikings’ attacks on Paris showed they were more than this. The initial attack was in 845, when a Viking force of 120 ships and over 5000 men sailed up the Seine led by Reginherus or Ragnar. The Frankish King, Charles the Bald, met the attackers with an army divided into two parts on either side of the Seine. The Vikings defeated one section of the army and hanged any prisoners taken on an island in the middle of the Seine. They went on to sack Paris but were devastated by a plague whilst doing so.

Odo defends Paris from the Vikings

The Vikings returned, however, in 885 with an even larger force consisting of hundreds of ships and thousands of men. They had returned several times in the years between but only to collect tribute, whilst each year, Paris continued to fortify itself and learn the necessarily skills to fight back. Upon hearing of the approaching Viking force, the Duke of Frankia, Odo, fortified the bridges with towers.

 

Yet, this was no usual Viking strike. The Danes arrived with siege equipment such as catapults, mangonels and ballistae. These initial attacks were repulsed, forcing the Vikings to expand. They attacked again, this time with mining, battering rams and fire but with no success. The Danes settled down, besieging Paris for the next two months. They tried to fill the shallower parts of the river with debris and launched fire ships at the bridge, but, to no avail. Shortly afterwards, heavy rains filled the river and one of the bridges collapsed, leaving a fortified tower stranded on the other side of the river with 12 guards inside who refused to surrender to the mass of Vikings at their base, and were all subsequently killed.

 

Petitions came from the people of Paris to Charles the Fat, who was in Italy. However, eventually the Viking leadersSigfredand Sinricaccepted silver and left whilst another leader, Rollo, stayed behind with his men to press the siege. At last, Charles appeared with the Imperial Army but made no attack and paid the rest of the Vikings to leave. By this time, morale in Paris was extremely low and the need for payment felt like no victory.

 

The attack is important, not only because it proved that the Vikings did not only stay on the coast, (there is evidence that they reached Baghdad) but, that they successfully used siege equipment in a very dissimilar way to the raiding-esque attack associated with the Vikings.