Tom Lovell - Viking Selling A Slave Girl To A Persian Merchant

What Were The Economic Consequences Of Viking Invasion?

Europe is a tiny continent which was exposed to great invasions in early times of history. In history, people have tendency to exaggerate occasions, giving eccentric numbers of soldiers, explaining a simple war as a great battle which decides the faith of humankind or complaining about a plundering like an act which eradicated the humanity. Invasions brought a great chaos to a region as well as instability, disturbance, massacre and robbery. There is no doubt this kind of disaster meant great for people who experienced that. They were victims to what they have lived. It is a normal attitude. However, the historian must focus on not to the pixels but to the whole picture. For this reason, many things that are known as very destructive by people, like Scholasticism, in fact is not destructive as that much. As being one of them, Viking expansion has destructive effects in short term but also positive effects on Europe in long term. In this paper, economic consequences are tried to be explained, especially results which aren’t known by people very much.

The Economic Results of Viking Expansion

Ninth and tenth centuries are the time of invasions from all around to Europe, from east Magyars, from south Muslims and from the north Vikings. These invasions kept Europe under great pressure. But among all of them, Vikings are very remarkable who showed great expansion, from the north of American continent to Constantinople and the deep of Russian steppes, from England to the south of Italy. Vikings were not simply savages and barbarians. They have very developed culture. The earliest relationship between Scandinavia and the continent seems to have been of a peaceful kind, based on trade.[1] The reason of Viking expansion is not known exactly but the one thing that eased their attacks was the lack of efficient authority in the region. After Charlemagne’s death, the empire could not attain a ruler like him to fill his absence. In the reign of Louis the Pious, a civil war broke out between his sons from which people suffered as equal as Viking expansion which mostly affected the coastal regions.[2] This turmoil attracted Vikings. It seems more likely that Vikings drew no distinction between trade, piracy and raiding, turning from one to other as occasion offered.[3]

Beyond the instability in mainland Europe, the tools and tactics that were used by Vikings were getting more complicated for the rulers who were exposed invasions. Their long ships were designed highly developed with which they could cross the ocean, and penetrate the inland of continent via rivers. When these abilities combined with speed, they became very appalling for the authorities. Their aim was not to capture land to rule, the main purpose was money, gold, silver and profitable everything. So, they came from sea or river suddenly, plundered the most vulnerable area immediately at the most vulnerable time, and disappeared instantly before the army arrived to the place. But the Frankish heavy cavalry were not designed for such surprise attacks. This act of superiority brought great advantage to them. The local authorities could not react quickly because they did not know when and where they planned to attack. So, they took some precautions to prevent from plundering. The local lords offered resistance by building forts along the rivers or fortified bridges. In this way, the invasions helped to accelerate the process of decentralization of power that had already begun.[4]

Vikings attacked to places where money and profitable goods could be found. This led them to trade centres, and as being non-Christians to the churches where plenty of precious metals could be found. Therefore, Vikings attacks were described as very disastrous and barbaric by clerics who suffered from Vikings too much, the only people who could read and write. And historians use those materials, which were obviously biased, to comprehend to things that happened in that time. Trade centres were the places that were exposed to plundering much more than anywhere. Although trading centres remarkably resilient in the face of repeated plundering – Dorestad was raided at least seven times between 834 and 865 – in many regions of Western Europe the raids must have caused a serious decline in trade.[5] Although there are some counter theories over disappearance of Dorestad in the trade arena – Janet Nelson claims that its disappearance in the 860s was a consequence of shift in the course of the river channel along which its trade flowed rather than a result of Viking raids[6] -, there is no doubt the raids had great damage on trade in the continent in its own time. It is a common rule for trade that stability, security and peace are the prime necessity for commercial activity. And the Viking raids obviously disturbed these requirements throughout the continent.

The consequences of many events in history can be interpreted in a good and a bad way. A great victory may cause harmful results for the victor in the long term. Even the Black Death which was catastrophe all on its own – Europe might have not experienced such a mass killing – has some advantages like the broken of population pressure and the increasing of value of human labour; even if it is not quite a humanistic view. So the Viking invasion has some sort of benefits for the good of Europe. In trade centres, precious metals were used in the circulation. So the Vikings plundering damaged this circulation for their benefits. Money changed hands in this occasion. But, there were some precious metals as much which cannot be ignored, used in churches for ornaments. This attracted Vikings to plunder the churches, as non-Christians they saw no objections to do that. Although, priests and monks must have found it terrible when their treasures were stolen, from an economic point of view it meant that the precious metals that long been hoarded were brought back in circulation again as means of payment for long distance trade.[7] Acquiring the capital, Vikings improved the trade with east and opened the region to the intercontinental trading system.[8]

As mentioned above, Vikings were talented in trade. And they were not interested solely in murder, robbery and looting, at the same time they sought commercial ties to develop.[9] They might cause the destruction of the great trade centre at that time, Dorestad, even some historians argue about the effect of Vikings on the destruction of Dorestad – it has to be remembered that it was raided at least seven times. On the other hand, as merchants their efficiency in trade appears from their activities in parts of trade such as York, Dublin, Birka, Kaupong and others.[10] They established contact with these places latter where they raided before. So, even they destructed the existing trade centres and commercial activities, they replenished these destructions with new trade centres and new commercial liveliness.


The events in history can be examined in two directions in a good and a bad ways generally depend on the long term and short term consequences. To try to be objective historians must explore the events in both manners. Vikings expansion was such an example. Their plundering and raids have great damage on trade in the continent in short term. They sacked the trade centres and churches for precious metals. These are true but to show only the one side of the medallion can be regarded as malevolence or ignorance. In the long term, Vikings brought the precious metals hidden in the churches in circulation. They developed the trade with the east which had been interrupted with the fall of the Roman Empire. And lastly even they ruined the trade centres; they did not leave Europe in ruin, they tried to build new trade centres. The intent in this paper is not to prove that Viking expansion is actually a very fruitful event for Europe but to bring forward its positive side-effects, which are not generally expressed, at the same time.


Arbman, Holger, The Vikings, London: 1961

Blockmans, Willem Pieter, Introduction to Medieval Europe, London: 2007

Lönnroth, Lars, “The Vikings in History and Legends”, The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings, edt. Peter Sawyer, London: 2001

Nelson, Janet, “The Frankish Empire”, The Oxford Illustrated History of Vikings, edt. Peter Sawyer, London: 2001

Nicholas, David, The Evolution of Medieval World, London: 1992

Pounds, Norman John Greville, An Economic History of Medieval Europe, London: 1994

Williams, Gareth, “Raiding and Warfare”, The Viking World, edt. Stefan Brink, New York: 2008

[1] Holger Arbman, The Vikings, London:1961, p.74

[2] Gareth Williams, “Raiding and Warfare”, The Viking World, edt. Stefan Brink, New York: 2008, p.195; Janet Nelson, “The Frankish Empire”, The Oxford Illustrated History of Vikings, edt. Peter Sawyer, London: 2001

[3] Norman John Greville Pounds, An Economic History of Medieval Europe, London:1994, p.350

[4] Willem Pieter Blockmans, Introduction to Medieval Europe, London: 2007, p.105

[5] Lars Lönnroth, “The Vikings in History and Legends”, The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings, p.255

[6] Nelson, “The Frankish Empire”, p.24

[7] Willem Blockmans, p.105; David Nicholas, The Evolution of Medieval World, London:1992, p.167

[8] Blockmans, p.105

[9] Blockmans, p.104

[10] Blockmans, p.103

Ahmet İlker Baş