The secret to the Vikings’ success may lie in their encampments

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FOr over the years, archaeologists and historians have provided an increasingly informed insight into the dynamic world of the Vikings, dispelling the clichés of a crazy, cynical people obsessed with beards and bloodthirsty. A particular approach to understanding Viking activity is the study of camps established along the coasts and rivers of Western Europe, which allowed them to substitute their ships for a fixed, onshore position whenever cold, tired, hungry. Or other circumstances compelled them. ,

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Often called “winter camp” or . is called longfuirt, more than 100 of these sites were established in the Atlantic archipelago and the European mainland only during the 9th century, and their tangible remains have been discovered in places such as repton And torksey in England, and woodstown in Ireland. Recently, possible Viking camps have also been found nearby. zutfen in the Netherlands, as well coquette valley in Northumbria.

But while these camps are often regarded for their broad strategic roles, little time has been spent on their daily, practical planning and operation. new research, piecing together these disparate aspects of the evidence, now reveals a more complex image of camp logistics, challenging notions of the Vikings waiting to winter behind their walls in the company of their comrades and their spoils.


safe haven

No two Viking camps are alike. Established in hostile environments, many used islands, wetlands, and other naturally protected conditions to their advantage. Others took over former man-made structures: on the continent, for example, Carolingian Palace in Nijmegen It was commanded by the Vikings in 880, only for its new occupants to set it on fire the following year. Where necessary, the Vikings may have built their own ramparts, as seen at Repton, where St. Vistan’s Abbey Church It appears to have been incorporated into a new perimeter wall as a temporary gatehouse.

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But protection from attack would have been only half the battle, as the continued protection of any local food stores, livestock and non-combatants would have been just as important to the stability of any such camp.

Viking camps map

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Viking camps map

local food

Like any armed force, Viking groups needed stable, reliable sources of food and water to keep their camps viable. Under increasing threat of starvation and malnutrition, they diversified their ways of obtaining provision as much as possible. As well as hunting, fishing, and pastures around the camps, there is evidence that they themselves grew crops and looked after cattle.

Less unexpectedly, the Vikings also obtained their food through violence and the threat of violence. For example, 885–886 saw campers carrying crops and herds outside Paris, while others took large quantities of flour, livestock, wine, and cider as part of regional tribute payments.

Back at the camp, this food would be prepared for consumption and storage. Accordingly, quarn-stone – used to grind grain into flour – has been recovered from Viking bases in both England and Ireland, and a proposed camp at Peran in Brittany provided several iron skillets and other cooking vessels. has produced. Written records also describe Vikings feasting on meat and wine within the confines of their camps.

Hustle and bustle

Keeping such camps running was no small feat, dependent on a level of planning and discipline not usually associated with Viking activity.

Beyond the basics of defending and feeding themselves, Vikings engaged in a wide range of camp-related activities, including building shelters, stables, and workshops; Ships being repaired; And weapons, jewelry and other items are being prepared. To support these ongoing efforts, a steady stream of resources – including wood, stone and (precious) metals – will have to make their way into the camps.

Such places may not be completely off-limits to outsiders, and may even have provided valuable opportunities for business. For example, the 9th-century Chronicles of St. Bertin, describes how the Vikings sought to “hold a market” on an island in the Loire River (now France). Shortly after, the chronicles of Fulda also point to Frankish soldiers setting foot inside a Viking camp on the Meuse River (now the Netherlands) – not to fight, but to trade. physical mark of such commerceCoins, including silver bullion and trade weights, have been found at sites such as Torksey and Woodstown.

As well as providing the Vikings another way to obtain their supplies, such opportunities would have allowed items that had previously been stolen or returned to circulation.

a place for everything

Overall, the Viking camps were not inactive or disorganized in any way, and doubled as command posts, armories, treasuries, granaries, prisons, workshops, markets, harbors, and homes. Hosting diverse and dynamic communities of dozens, hundreds, or sometimes thousands of people, some provided support to regional Viking groups beyond the duration of a single winter.

Running and running such camps was no small feat, relying on a level of planning and discipline not usually associated with Viking activity. As a result, the success of the camps provides an important insight into a wider Viking event that was neither arbitrary nor aimless as it made landfall across Western Europe.

Christian Kuijmans is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Liverpool. This article first appeared on Conversation,


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