One of the world’s leading experts on Scandinavian history now believes that the Vikings had motives similar to those of today’s terrorists. Robert Ferguson, who emigrated to Norway in 1984, is launching a new theory that Viking raids were a reaction to threats to their identity, culture and beliefs.
Ferguson addresses the terrorist issue in his new book entitled The Hammer and the Cross: A New History of the Vikings , which is being released this fall in the US as The Vikings – A History .
In it, he suggests that people from the north (today’s Norway, Denmark and Sweden) already had been living in areas of England (Northumbria), or at least had contact with monks and the local population, long before what’s considered the first major Viking raid in 793AD — the attack on the monastery at Lindisfarne.
What was new was the violence, wrote Ferguson in A-magasinet over the weekend. The raid on Lindisfarne was followed by a wave of attacks on religious settlements throughout the British Isles and Ireland, the Shetlands and Orkney Islands.
Ferguson questions the sudden hatred and violence in 793 and links it to the political situation in Northern Europe and not least the power and expansionism of Charles the Great (Charlemagne). The “King of the Franks,” backed by the pope, forced Christianity on the lands that he conquered, at a time when the Vikings practiced paganism and had their own norse gods.
Archaeologists, Ferguson notes, have found evidence of Viking settlements in England as early as 600AD, and it’s believed there were peaceful relations between the “Norsemen” and those in England, through trade, culture, technological exchange and marriage.
But then came the violence, with most of the Viking Era — which extended roughly from 800-1100 — characterized by a severe cultural conflict between hedonism and Christianity. The Viking raids, Ferguson suggests, were likely fueled by cultural self-defense that later evolved into piracy and expansionism of their own.
“It’s an anachronism, but the Vikings had almost the same motives in the 790s as terrorists have today,” Ferguson wrote in A-magasinet . The Vikings, he wrote, are an example of people who, when they feel their identity, culture and faith are threatened, will do anything to defend it.
The Vikings, Ferguson argues, didn’t have a chance against Charlemagne’s armies and didn’t want to wait for them to force Christianity on them. With no hope for an equal fight, they engaged in “terrorist warfare” against symbolically important targets, like the monasteries scattered along the coasts of northern Europe.
Like today, it was almost impossible for the settlements to defend themselves against such attacks. The Vikings made great inroads in London, even winning power after capturing and murdering the archbishop of Canterbury in 1012.
The Viking terrorists ultimately lost, though, to more organized armies, the conversion of some of their own leaders and ultimately the installation of an archbishop on their home turf at Lund in Sweden (then Denmark) in 1104.