Between the end of the 11th century and the first years of the 12th, the coasts of Lugo, in the A Mariña area, witnessed a prodigious miracle. Its author was Gonzalo, the “holy bishop”, the superior prelate of the Mindonian diocese, besieges in San Martín de Mondoñedo, a church that is considered the oldest cathedral in Spain and is located in Foz. As I glimpsed on the horizon the umpteenth viking fleet —They had been devastating the peninsular northwest for more than a hundred years—, the locals came to him seeking protection. Instead of providing them with weapons or a secret place of shelter, he asked them to follow him to the top of A Grela, from where the entire estuary could be seen.
Bishop Gonzalo, confirming that the Scandinavian invaders were heading ashore, raised his staff and began to pray, imitated by the rest of the faithful. And every time he put his knees on the ground to recite the prayer, a Viking ship was going to sink Or burst into flames, according to the version of events. He only left one intact, so that the crew of the drakkar narrate the extraordinary event in their land and thus never attack that region again. Philip IIIUpon learning of the miracle, he ordered the erection of a hermitage on the top of A Grela at the beginning of the 16th century, where a pilgrimage that recalls the company of the holy bishop still concludes today.
This legend, which the researcher Irene Garcia Losquiño pick up in your book That wasn’t in my Viking history book (Almuzara), gives a good example of the footprint that Northomanni, as the Christians baptized them, and the effects of their violence left in the peoples of the Iberian Peninsula. This is one of the most striking aspects of the work of the doctor in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Aberdeen: the dimension of viking raids in an accumulation of territories so vast that it runs through much of the northern hemisphere, from Canada — they reached America five centuries before Columbus — to Istanbul.
Regarding the attacks they directed on present-day Spain, a bloody and initial adventure recorded in 844 stands out, which from the Galician coasts, from where they were repelled, ended up triumphing (briefly) in a southern city that does not even face the sea: Seville. On that first peninsular campaign, a large group of Vikings launched themselves on Lisbon or Cádiz to then go up the Guadalquivir and take the Andalusian city – at that time under Muslim rule – for seven days.
That fateful week in Al Andalus described by the Arab historian Ibn Hayyan, whose story affects the large number of victims caused by the Scandinavian incursion and their predilection for capturing women and children. The Vikings installed their base of operations in the Guadalquivir marshes, where Isla Menor is located today, to control the city’s exit by river, and from there they destroyed the municipality of Coria del Río and attacked Seville twice. If the first of them generated a mass flight of the local population, the second ended with the capture of the site as few defenders resisted.
According to the Muslim chronicler Ibn al-Qutiyya, which lived in the 10th century, the inhabitants of Seville took refuge in Córdoba, seat of the emirate that presided Abderramán II. The Umayyad emir, desperate for the destruction that those savage men of the north were causing, managed to convince the bosses of the Banu Qasi, a peninsular dynasty that dominated part of the northeast of the peninsula, to organize an army and face the Vikings. After a bloody battle, the Andalusians finally managed to defeat and drive away the invaders. This is how Ibn Hayyan himself narrates it:
“After using weapons of siege and defense, the army made the Vikings flee. The Arabs killed five hundred of their men and captured four of their ships, which they burned after having looted anything of value. Large numbers of Vikings went passed by the sword; others were hanged in Seville and others were hung from palm trees at the battle site. (…) In total, forty-two days passed from his arrival to his expulsion. Their leader and all of them passed by our sword as divine punishment for their crimes. The emir communicated the happy outcome to all his provinces, and sent them the head of the Viking leader and two hundred of the best Viking warriors. “
Bands of brothers
The “vikingueada”, as García Losquiño translates the activity of these people from Scandinavia which consisted of getting foreign assets to increase status within your society Whether it was through looting, mercenary work or trade – the Vikings were not exclusively barbarians who dedicated themselves to razing all the land where they landed – Seville ended in a tragic way. But it would go much further east by following the Mediterranean route, up to the walls of Constantinople.
Several expeditions sailed there, trying to lay siege to the heart of the Byzantine Empire and failing due to the inability to save its walls. But not all were raises. Viking warriors were admired in Constantinople, and at the beginning of the 11th century it was formed a body of the emperor’s bodyguards, the Varangian Guard, which was made up of Scandinavians with their characteristic axes. Anonymous mercenaries did not participate, but rather prestigious figures, such as Harald Hardrada, King of Norway, came to serve three Byzantine sovereigns. Even in the Basilica of Hagia Sophia there are two runic inscriptions with the names of two Vikings.
Irene García Losquiño’s book is a very didactic approach to the Viking world and at his age, between 793, with his first great foray into England, and 1066, the year of the battle of Stamford Bridge, where the last Scandinavian with claims to the English throne died, full of anecdotes and curious facts about his customs, his religion or its legal codes. For example, they considered the rape of a free woman a crime; there are Icelandic medieval laws that stipulate that just kissing a woman without her consent was grounds for banning and banishment.
Forged in hard work and the development of the family estate, the Vikings were communities of men and women – this has been evidenced by archeology and can be seen in television fictions, such as Lagertha’s character in Vikings– “who went out to Viking and depended heavily on established roles and interrelationships of dependency and trust, “explains the researcher. These were” bands of brothers “who followed a boss who occupied the highest position in the group’s hierarchy and who in turn was in charge of paying for the operation, in the that harmony, trust and loyalty were essential, a postcard much more complex than that of simple barbarians.