March 29: When Viking and Christian Sun Gods Drew Swords
Easter corresponds with the first Sunday following the full moon after the March equinox and as such the holy day occurs on different dates around the Christian world. However, the story of the Easter crucifixion and resurrection is symbolic of the rebirth and renewal of the cycle of the seasons, the death and the return of the Sun. This is a time for sun gods to shine.
According to the Symbol Dictionary, within the archetypes and symbols of Easter many historians find parallels between the Christian cross and the Norse tree of life, Yggdrasil, upon which the Viking God Odin was hung.
Marking the renewal of the Sun’s annual cycle, March 29th is a historical date when under the power of their resurrected sun gods ancient peoples sharpened their swords and went to battle. And while this article could cover the March 29th 1430 AD capture of Thessalonica from the Republic of Venice by the Ottomans under Murad II, or the March 29th 1461 AD Battle of Towton when Edward of York defeated Queen Margaret to become King Edward IV of England, it focuses on a holy war between Christians wielding swords of God and Viking raiders battling under the watch of their solar deity, Odin.
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William Neville, Lord Fauconberg, orders his archers to take advantage of the wind and advance closer to shoot at their Lancastrian enemies in the Battle of Towton. (Public Domain)
March 29th: Fury of the Sun Gods
Fans of History Channel’s hit-show, Vikings, know him as the legendary saga character “Ragnar Lodbrok” while historians know him as “Reginherus”, but in Paris he will always be known as the “devil” - for on March 29th 845 AD the Viking warlord and his Norse raiders sacked the city of Paris, bringing fire and fury to one of the chief strongholds of Christian Europe.
Ragnar assembled a fleet of 120 Viking longships carrying thousands of blood thirsty and gold hungry warriors who sailed up the Seine in the cover of darkness and slaughtered over half of the Frankish king Charles’ (the Bald’s) army, causing the remaining forces to scuttle in to the wooded river banks in retreat. After plundering, raping, and torturing thousands of Parisians, the Vikings eventually withdrew - carrying a weakened king’s ransom of 7,000 French livres [2,570 kilograms (83,000 oz)] of silver and gold from Charles the Bald.
The Arrival of Odin’s Sea Dragons
According to English Heritage, the Viking’s first major raid out of Scandinavia occurred in 789 AD when “three ships of northmen” landed on the coast of Wessex and killed the king’s reeve who had been commissioned with bringing the “strangers” to the West Saxon court.
But what happened four years later on June 8, 793, on the island of Lindisfarne just off the Northumbrian coast, was an altogether different type of raid, as the Vikings attacked not a Saxon army, but the sacred church of St Cuthbert - and in doing so they slaughtered the island’s peaceful Christian monastic community.
This brutal attack on the pulsing sacred heart of the powerful Northumbrian kingdom, where “the Christian religion began in our nation,” signaled the beginning of an international holy war. It sent a terrifying shockwave through the monarchies of Europe, and the Vikings could say: “we are coming for you all, and we fear not your one God and his son, for with us we have the fury of the Norse pantheon, with Odin at our sterns and Thor at the helms.”
Odin was the Viking sun god. (Victor villalobos/CC BY SA 4.0)
Stripping Paris of its God and Gold
Six years later, in 799 AD, the Viking raiders first attacked the Frankish Empire, causing King Charlemagne to fortify the northern French coast, repelling the Norse raiders in both 820 AD and 834. But in the 830s and early 840s the Frankish civil wars created the required chink in France’s armor. In mid-March 845 AD, a fleet of 120 Danish Viking ships containing more than 5,000 men sailed down the Seine under the command of their esteemed leader, Reginherus, or Ragnar.
Ragnar's Vikings first raided the town of Rouen. Determined to stop the raiders reaching the royal Abbey of Saint-Denis (near Paris), King Charles assembled an army of two parts, one on each side of the Seine. However, Ragnar’s men captured 111 French soldiers, and invoking the power of the Norse god Odin, he hung every one of them on an island on the Seine, again, sending a wave of shock and sheer terror through the Frankish forces.
A King’s Ransom that Assured Further French Slaughter
According to historian Gwyn Jones’ 2001 book, ‘A History of the Vikings,’ the Norsemen reached Paris on Easter Sunday, March 29, and plundered the city. But as fate would have it, a plague broke out in the Viking camp and while the Norse god Odin seemed to care little, a Christian prisoner invoked the healing forces of the Biblical god and the plague soon subsided. According to Britannica, the Vikings only retreated from Paris after the king paid a hefty ransom of “7,000 livres (French pounds) of silver and gold amounting to approximately 2,570 kilograms (5,670 lb.)”
Vikings raiding Paris on March 29, 845 AD. (Public Domain)
But even with a king’s ransom secured in their hulls as Ragnar’s ships sailed back up the Seine, his raiders pillaged the Abbey of Saint Bertin and several other Christian sites of worship. Furthermore, another fleet of Norsemen sacked the city of Hamburg, which was made an archbishopric by Pope Gregory IV in 831 AD to oversee the introduction of Christianity to pagan Scandinavia. The Vikings’ mission was clearly twofold in nature: to strip Europe not only of its gold, but also to sever the expansion of its one God.
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Never Give a Bully Your Pocket Money…
Although many Vikings had died in the plague that struck during the siege of Paris, Ragnar returned home and visited the Danish King Horik. When he showed him the Parisian gold and silver he reportedly collapsed and cried, relating that the only resistance he had met in France was Saint Germain of Paris, whom he associated with causing the plague.
Being deeply religious and superstitious, when Ragnar's men began dying back home King Horik ordered the release of all Christian captives. He also received Archbishop Ansgar, the “Apostle of the North,” into his Viking Kingdom, which secured Christianity ’s foothold in Scandinavia.
Portrait of a Viking holding a Christian cross in his hand. (Warpedgalerie /Adobe Stock)
But knowing the French king was a pushover, rogue Viking raiders returned to Paris again and again during the 860s, milking the city's gold and silver reserves, but the French forces finally resisted the largest Viking force in the Siege of Paris during 885–86 AD, lodging their one God into the throne of history, while Odin became a forgotten dream.
The failed Viking siege of Paris in 885-6 AD. (Public Domain)
Top Image: On March 29th ancient people sharpened their swords and went to battle under the power of their resurrected sun gods. Source: Oleksandr /Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie