Why did the Vikings’ violent raids begin?

Robert Ferguson argues that the chief motivation behind the Vikings' brutal raids on the British Isles was the need to defend their culture in the face of a Christian onslaught...

Image of the Lindisfarne Stone from Holy Island, Northumbria. It shows seven warriors, possibly vikings. The Vikings’ first recorded raid on Lindisfarne took place in AD 793. (Photo by CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images)

This article was published in December 2009 issue of BBC History Magazine 

On a clear day, a Viking longship at sea could be seen some 18 nautical miles away. With a favourable wind, that distance could be covered in about an hour – which was perhaps all the time that the monks at Lindisfarne had to prepare themselves against attack on one fateful day in 793. This was the raid that signalled the start of the violence associated with the onset of the Viking age.

“We and our fathers have now lived in this fair land for nearly 350 years, and never before has such an atrocity been seen in Britain as we have now suffered at the hands of a pagan people. Such a voyage was not thought possible. The church of Saint Cuthbert is spattered with the blood of the priests of God, stripped of all its furnishings, exposed to the plundering of pagans – a place more sacred than any in Britain.”

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