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The First Viking Siege of Paris - 845 CE

by Freya Taylor 2 months ago in Historical

1/2 - The original raid that paved the way for the brutal siege in 885 CE.

Picture Credit to Ubisoft Games

The Vikings are known as fearless warriors who raided cities, towns, monasteries and anywhere in fact, that may have hidden riches. Not only this, but the Vikings had a rich mythology and a desire for glory that spurred their daring achievements.

In recent years, the Vikings have been remembered through the TV show aptly named 'Vikings' and even more recently through the video game 'Assassin's Creed: Valhalla'. The latest DLC of which, will focus on the most ambitious siege the Vikings faced, Paris (released on August 12th 2021).

Note - There were a lot of raids throughout Francia, however the siege involving famous characters, such as Ragnor Lothbrok, in 885 CE wasn't the first time the Vikings had their sights set on Paris.

This article is the first of two that cover the main Viking raids in Francia; starting with where it first began in 845 CE.

Why did the raids begin?

In the 9th century, Viking raids in Francia (modern day France) increased considerably which not only terrorised, but destabilised the whole region. These raids could have possibly been triggered by the death of the Emperor Charlemagne in 814 CE. Charlemagne, who was King of the Franks and also Holy Roman Emperor before his death, created a strong resistance to any invasions. This meant the Vikings had little opportunity to attack while he was still in power. After his death, Charlemagne's son Louis I took over and maintained a strong and united region, mainly keeping the Vikings at bay using bribes and favours. However when Louis I died, his 3 sons battled for power and essentially divided the region into 3 parts and left them vulnerable to Viking attacks.

Map of Francia in the 9th century - Credit to Shepherd, William R. Historical Atlas

When did the Vikings first set their sights on Francia?

The first Viking raid occurred in 820 CE, (when Louis I was still alive) and 13 longships travelled up the Seine. However, as they didn't know what to expect they were soon defeated by the shore guard and the survivors had to turn back empty-handed.

The Burning of Rouen 841 CE

The next significant Viking raid was overseen by a chief called Asgeir, who sailed to Rouen in 841 CE, one year after Louis I's death. Not only did he burn and sack Rouen, his band of warriors also looted the Monastery of Fontenelle and the Abbey of Saint-Denis. He took a high amount of captives too, for the lucky few their friends and families were able to pay the ransom, the others were unfortunately sold into slavery. This was such a huge payoff for Asgeir, it inspired another Viking chief, Reginfred, to try for an even bigger payoff. Paris.

The First Siege of Paris - 845 CE

The chieftain Reginherus (or Reginfred, some historians even believe this to be the legendary Ragnor Lothbrok, but this is disputed) sailed up the River Seine to Paris in March 845 CE with a total of 120 ships. Charles the Bald then assembled an army quickly to fight them off, but they were no match for the numbers of Vikings sailing towards them, with Reginherus hanging 111 of the survivors. This hanging had two meanings: 1) in honour of Odin (who hung himself from the tree of wisdom in order to gain access to the runes) and 2) to install terror into their Frankish foes. Subsequently, there was no bridge to stop the Vikings at this point, so Charles' army could do no more to stop Reginherus' crew sailing on toward Paris. They reached the city on Easter Sunday, which some historians believe they planned as they knew religious monasteries would be packed with wealth and offerings.

Unfortunately, news of the invasion had reached the city before the fleet and most of the population has said to have fled (along with their valuables). Not one to be beaten, Reginherus' sent messenger to Charles I who, instead of keeping his advantage, agreed to pay the sum of 7000 pounds in gold and silver to the Vikings and allowed them to keep whatever they had managed to steal/plunder/take so far! Although, this deal sounded amazing, it took Charles I two months to raise the money and during this time, lots of Viking warriors died from dysentery! In fact, more Viking raiders died from dysentery outside the walls of Paris, than through the entirety of combat! (Not a great story to get you into the halls of Valhalla!)

As soon as Charles I had come up with the money, Reginherus made his way back down the Seine, looting and burning everything in his wake before sailing back home to present his loot to King Horik of Denmark.

Was it a happy ending for Reginherus?

As with all good sagas, this one unfortunately ends in a tragedy. King Horik had sent his own fleet of ships to attack East Francia, but it did not go to plan. While Reginherus' messengers had appeared in Charles I's court with demand of payment, his brother Louis the German sent his own messengers to King Horik and demanded Horik submit to East Francia or else be vulnerable to invasion. The King agreed quickly to the terms and told Louis the German he would release all captives taken by Reginherus and would try to restore all of the riches taken to their rightful owners. Due to the fear of invasion (and of the wrath of the saint that killed so many Viking warriors) King Horik executed as many of Reginherus' men as he could find. Luckily, Reginherus and a lot of his crew had already managed to escape Denmark with their loot.

Reginherus' name is only accredited to this singular raid, however, what a siege to be associated with. This achievement allowed other Viking chiefs to dream of successfully laying siege to Paris.

Continue reading Part 2 for the second Siege of Paris in 885 CE that involves legendary chief Ragnor Lothbrok.


Freya Taylor

A proud Ravenclaw, teacher and archaeologist, who aspires to write, create and travel around the world. Lover of all things Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and ancient history (especially ancient Egypt).

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