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18 September 2014
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Loot: Why the Vikings Came to Britain

Lindisfarne sacked

Image of Lindisfarne Isle
Lindisfarne - site of the first Viking raid ©
Alcuin was a scholar and monk living in Germany, who, when he heard the news of the raid on Lindisfarne, wrote long letters to the Northumbrian king and to the Bishop of Lindisfarne. In these he commiserates with their plight and blames it on the sinful lives of their people.
'Consider carefully, brothers, and examine diligently, lest perchance this unaccustomed and unheard-of evil was merited by some unheard-of evil practice… Consider the dress, the way of wearing the hair, the luxurious habits of the princes and people.' Letter from Alcuin to Ethelred, King of Northumbria

'It was unthinkable that such a holy place should suffer attack from foreign heathens.'

The raid of 793 was the first recorded Viking raid on Britain, and Alcuin's words express the horror of his Christian world at the ferocity of pagan raiders, whose attack was sudden, unexpected and devastating.

It was unthinkable that such a holy place should suffer attack from foreign heathens, that its monks should be slaughtered and its treasures taken. Yet this was to happen again and again to other monasteries throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

Alcuin's letters are just one piece of historical evidence for Viking attacks. Other raids were recorded in the annals kept in monasteries at Iona and in Ireland - an entry for 794 in the 'Annals of Ulster' tells of '... devastation of all the islands of Britain' - while Columba's famous monastery on the Scottish island of Iona was pillaged the following year, and again in 802, in 806 and in 825. Nowhere was safe from the Vikings.

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