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The First Viking War was a war fought between Francia and the 'Viking nations', i.e. the Danes and the Swedes. It was a highly destructive war for both parties, resulting in the devastation of many cities along the Rhine in Francia and the destruction of much of the Palace of Aachen. The Danes fared no better; Jutland was taken by the Franks and the Danes were devastated. The war, however, is seen as a wake-up call for the Franks and is considered the reason for the strengthening of the Frankish navy.
The repercussions lasted for decades on both sides. The Danes inhabited Zealand and other Danish islands. It is also seen as a turning point in the history of Frankish politics in that Atticus I bypassed the normal traditions of the kingdom being split among heirs once the king died.
Raid of Paris
In 845, a force allegedly led by Ragnar Lodbrok sacked Paris. The Frankish armies were slow to respond and were unable to prevent the devastation of the city and loss of thousands of pounds of gold and other valuable items. It is said that the loss of life exceeded ten thousand, though this may be an exaggeration. Many people, however, were kidnapped. By the time Lothair I arrived to the scene with his army, the Viking ships were long-gone.
First Invasion of Jutland
The Franks were outraged by this attack responded by declaring war on the Danes that spring. The Franks spent the spring, summer, and many autumn months invading Jutland. The initial war is largely undocumented due to the quick speed of the invasion. The invasion, however, was sloppy and rushed. According to some historians, it seemed as if the Franks 'didn't want to be there'. The Franks were finally stopped dead in their tracks during an ambush attack during the Battle of Ravning Bridge, which forced a Frankish retreat.
The Franks began to lose battle after battle as attrition took its toll. Attacks on Frankish camps forced them further south until, finally, the Frankish armies were cornered at the Battle of Sønderborg in 847. This battle marked the expelling of Frankish troops from Jutland.
The Rhine Raids
Raid of Utrecht
As Danish forces attacked the Franks in Saxony, the Swedes joined the war against Francia. They began sending ships into the Rhine river. The initial raids were relatively small; fishing boats were destroyed and towns were sacked. The attacks became more aggressive in the spring of 848 when Utrecht was attacked by the Swedes and the Danes. Unlike the Raid of Paris, this attack was a confirmed massacre. According to some sources, the Rhine ran red.
Raid of Cologne
The next major attack took place in September of 848. Cologne was attacked by the Swedes and the Danes. A massive fire engulfed the northern portions of the town, resulting in the Great Fire of Cologne. The Vikings are said to have gone into burning buildings for anything of value. Following the raid of Cologne, the Vikings disappeared once again down the Rhine River.
First Battle of Aachen
After the battle of Cologne, the Vikings sent ships down the Meuss River to attack the Frankish seat of power, Aachen. This battle, unlike the raids of Cologne and Utrecht, would end in the occupation of the city rather than the simple devastation. Aachen was severely damaged in the attack, resulting in the destruction of many buildings, including much of the Palace of Aachen. In the romanticized history of the battle, Fire on Water, which was the accepted account of the battle until the 20th century, Lothair I valiantly fought against Ragnar Lodbrok before being struck down. Recent evidence, however, has pointed to Lothair being killed when the Palace of Aachen collapsed.
Regrouping Under Atticus
With the death of Lothair I, Atticus immediately claimed the throne of the Frankish Empire, bypassing several customs so Lothair's children couldn't inherit the throne. In doing so, the Byzantine Empire also became involved in the First Viking War. The navy was mobilized, including several Byzantine Dromons. Atticus rallied the troops in Bonn before moving on Aachen.
Second Battle of Aachen
The Second Battle of Aachen, led by Atticus I himself, allowed Frankish forces to retake the city. The area surrounding the ruins of the Palace of Aachen was highly guarded, not to mention strewn with rubble and debris from the First Battle of Aachen. Atticus' forces surrounded Wurm. Several skirmishes outside the city resulted in the Vikings pulling back to the city of Aachen, waiting for the Frankish and Byzantine forces to reach Aachen. Siege engines from Bonn arrived on the third day of the battle, allowing the Frankish and Byzantine forces to enter the city and retake it, forcing the Vikings to either retreat down the Wurm and up the Meuss River or face death.
Sack of Verdun
As it turned out, the Vikings occupied Aachen to draw attention away from their next target, Verdun. The town was sacked, gold was taken, and people were slaughtered. While this tragedy was costly, it marked the end of the Rhine Raids. The Franks were able to ambush the force at Liége.
The Tide Turns
Battle of Liége
A day or two after the turn of the year, the Franks were able to ambush the Vikings that attacked Verdun. Forced to navigate treacherous, frozen waters, the Vikings were unable to regroup as planned. Meanwhile, a small Byzantine group of ships was moving in on Liége, anticipating their next move. The Byzantine ships arrived just in time to catch the Viking ships. For the first time, Greek fire was used against Viking ships, decimating their wooden ships and resulting in heavy casualties by the time the foot soldiers left the ships.
The Liége militia was able to attack the stunned Vikings. Before long, the Viking fleet had been decimated, with nowhere to go. The Battle of Liége was the first in many Frankish victories against the Viking onslaught.
Rhine and Frisian Campaigns
The Byzantine navy arrived in the Frisian lands in 851, laying waste to several longships near the coastline. The Vikings had terrorized the Frisians during the war, making the Frisians grateful for the supposed support from the Carolingian Union. The Byzantines, seeing the opportunity to seize land for the Carolingian Union, turned their attention on the Frisians for a short time, however, forcing the Frisians into a quick surrender.
With the Frisians under Carolingian control, the Byzantines fought the Swedes and Danes near the islands, though they were able to establish a presence in the newly conquered area. During this period, the Byzantines and Vikings engaged in a number of naval battles. While the Byzantines had Greek fire, the Vikings also had a similar fire-starting liquid that was highly effective against wooden targets. The legendary naval battles are said to have been the most impressive in history at the time, with fire and sails dominating the ocean horizon for miles at times.
As the Byzantines fought to prevent the Vikings from re-entering the Rhine River, the Franks began attacking targets near Jutland. Led by Atticus I, the Franks triumphed over several Viking forts, attacking them regardless of terrain or hostile weather. The Franks lost thousands of men to freezing and exposure, especially during the winter of 852. While the Frankish armies froze in the winter of 852, the naval battles for the Rhine river died down, with the Vikings ceasing their attacks. This allowed the Byzantines to enter the Rhine and hunt down any Danish or Swedish forces. Attrition, however, had taken its toll and, by 853, the Vikings had been expelled from the Rhine River.
Battle of Hammaburg Castle
After the harsh 852 winter ended, the Franks continued to push on through the German area, fighting the Danes back until, finally, the Battle of Hammaburg Castle occurred in 853. The romanticized tale of the battle depicts Ragnar Lodbrok and Atticus I meeting in single-combat to determine the fate of the castle. There is, however, indisputable evidence that a battle took place in the area. With Lodbrok dead, the Danes did not have a strong ruler to follow.
While the Moravian War postponed the second invasion of Jutland, the Franks ultimately invaded the peninsula in 856.
Second Invasion of Jutland
The war effort into Jutland was postponed in 853 when the Moravians attacked the Franks, forcing immediate attention. While the Franks did not make any advances, the Byzantine navy prevented another invasion of the Rhine. Furthermore, the Franks held their positions when the Danes attempted to attack. The final assaults on Jutland occurred in 856 after the subjugation of the decentralized Moravia. Carolingian troops poured into Jutland, quickly taking Sønderborg in their invasion.
The invasion of Jutland lasted for five years. As relations between the Danes and the Swedes soured again, the two ceased protection of each other. While the Swedish navy held strong, the Danish navy began to fall apart. While it held strong in the Danish islands, especially around Zealand, the Franks were able to make significant claims in Jutland. In 858, the seige of Vejle begins. While Ravning Bridge had been destroyed, the Frankish forces were still able to storm the city before finally taking it in 859.
End of the War
The fall of Vejle signaled the demise of the Danes in Jutland. As minor rebellions were put down, the surviving Danes, fractured in Jutland, sued for peace in 863. Ships and property were seized as the Franks turned Jutland into a subkingdom in the Carolingian Union. Shortly after the surrender of the Danes, Atticus I fell ill and died later that year. Nevertheless, the Byzantine navy continued to perform well against the Swedish navy.
In 864, the Swedes surrendered, offering gold, ships, and women to the Carolingian Union. While many Swedes were unhappy about the end of the war, warriors on both sides commended the other side for fighting bravely.
The First Viking War was devastating to the economy and infrastructure of central Europe. With bridges burned and towns sacked, the economic disaster continued well past the end of the war. Aachen in particular was reeling from the two battles. The destruction of the Palace of Aachen resulted in its remaining portion, Palatine Chapel, becoming an iconic landmark in the city, if not a bittersweet reminder of the destruction in Aachen.
Hammaburg Castle gained fame in Francia. The influx of population resulted in the creation of the city of Hamburg in Middle Francia. The lessons learned in the war resulted in the strengthening of Francia's military in case such an attack ever occurred again. For this reason, the First Viking War is seen as the beginning of the formation of the Carolingian Navy. In addition to the creation of the Carolingian Navy, the war is seen as the main reason Atticus I defied tradition to become King of the Franks. Many people agree that, had the war never occurred, the tradition of splitting the Frankish kingdom among heirs would have continued, breaking decades of progress and power.