If you are a fan of History Channel’s Vikings, you will be aware that the Vikings first attacked England with a raid on an Abbey at Lindisfarne. While this isn’t quite technically true, the Viking raid on Lindisfarne is considered one of the earliest Viking attacks, according to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, a historical manuscript that dates back to the Viking Age. And now, 1,225 years later, people still remember this fearsome event.
History Channel has credited the famous Viking, Ragnar Lodbrok (known as Ragnar Lothbrok in the TV series), as being the one who led the raid on Lindisfarne. However, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle doesn’t name who led the raid, instead deciding to describe the event in one small passage of the huge manuscript.
The Viking raid on Lindisfarne occurred on June 8 in the year 793 BCE and it is described as an event that caused “immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament.” Afterward, it is said a great famine followed, which is likely due to the fact the Vikings would have plundered all the available food sources at Lindisfarne. The chronicle then describes the Viking raiders as “heathen men” who “miserably devastated God’s church in Lindisfarne island by looting and slaughter.”
However, it is a letter written by the bishop of Lindisfarne and sent to the king of Northumbria that further describes the event, as shared by Archive. In it, he relives the horror of the event from the viewpoint of the Christian monks who witnessed it.
“Pagans have desecrated God’s sanctuary, shed the blood of saints around the altar, laid waste the house of our hope and trampled the bodies of saints like dung in the streets.”
While this wasn’t the first Viking raid on England, it was certainly the earliest recorded attack. According to the Daily Telegraph, Vikings landed in Dorchester in 789 BCE and killed a reeve (chief magistrate). However, the attack on Lindisfarne was much larger and more attacks followed afterward.
In fact, it is this single event that is usually cited as being the beginning of the Viking Age. After this event, Vikings went on to further raids across England. Traveling by longships from Scandinavia, the pagan groups would attack isolated churches such as the one at Lindisfarne, knowing these places were not well protected and housed many treasures.
Over the more than 250 years the Vikings terrorized England and surrounding countries in an attempt to gain new lands and territories. While successful, the English did fight back and by 1066 BCE, the Viking Age was considered over. Many Vikings, however, continued to live and thrive in England as they assimilated into the English way of life with many of them also converting to Christianity.