How much material damage did the Northmen actually do to ninth-century Europe?

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The aim of this dissertation is to examine the material damage the Northmen perpetrated in Northern Europe during the ninth-century, and the effects of their raids on the economy of the Carolingian empire. The methodological approach which is taken involves the comparison of contemporary written accounts of the Northmen’s destruction to archaeological evidence which either supports these accounts, or not. In the examination of the evidence, the destruction of buildings and settlements, and human losses are taken into account. The first chapter deals with the current state of the question. In it, secondary sources are critiqued from the standpoint of what they have to say about the nature of the Northmen’s invasions into continental Europe, the ramifications these incursions had with respect to the defences of Frankish territory, and the resulting economic effects. Chapter two places the original written source material under scrutiny. Chapter three provides a critical narrative of the consecutive waves of attacks engaged in by the Northmen in Frankish territory between the years 835 and 892. The final chapter sets up a comparison between the written accounts of the Northmen’s destruction and what has been uncovered and published by archaeologists. Primarily because the written sources regularly mention that there was much burning that accompanied the attacks, this chapter includes site excavations that report burn layers and/or other documented forms of material destruction. Four maps and two appendices are featured at the end of the dissertation. The maps illustrate both the areas where the Northmen marauded and the archaeological sites mentioned in chapter four. The appendices inventory the places where the Northmen were reported to have caused destruction, the numbers of casualties on both sides, tribute paid to the Northmen, and the relics translated from their “homes” to other, safer sites. The dissertation shows that the written sources of the ninth century were generally quite accurate when they reported on the levels of destruction at various sites and that the economy of the Frankish territories was not disrupted completely as a result of the Northmen’s incursions into continental Europe, as previous historians have claimed.

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Department of History - Simon Fraser University
Thesis type: 
Thesis (Ph.D.)