The Viking Siege of Paris – Longships raid the Seine, AD 885-86, Si Sheppard

The Viking Siege of Paris – Longships raid the Seine, AD 885-86, Si Sheppard

The Vikings weren’t famous for their lengthy sieges, but in 885-886 they spent nearly twelve months, from November 885 until October 886 attempting to capture Paris, at that point a key defended position in the Seine although not yet the major city it would soon become.

There is a good introduction, looking at the nature of political and military power in Carolingian France, where the church played an unusually major role in military affairs (and providing several key leaders of the defence of Paris).

Although the siege lasted for an impressive twelve months, that isn’t the entire picture. Capturing the city may have been one of their aims, but getting past the bridges that blocked the Seine on either side of the city was clearly just as significant, allowing them to raid further into France (although largely without success). The Vikings also appear to have decided to lift the siege in early February 886, before a sudden flood on 6 February swept away one of the bridges, encouraging them to return.

The main Viking efforts were actually made against the two fortified bridgeheads, on the mainland on either side of the river. Although they could isolate Paris, and eventually capture one of the bridgeheads, they were never really able to launch a proper assault on the main part of the city on its island. We get a good account of the fighting around Paris, including the various relief efforts that came before the Emperor finally turned up with the main Imperial Army after what to us seems like an inexplicably long delay.

The aftermath of the siege reminds us that their contemporaries didn’t quite see the Vikings in the same way as we do, as a threat to their existence, but perhaps more as a yet another player in an already warlike world. For us this now looks like a prolonged attack on the most important city in France, but for the Emperor Charles the Fat it was yet another Viking attack on a sizable but not yet important city in the far north of an empire that included all of France as well as large parts of western and central Germany and northern Italy. This helps explain why he didn’t take the chance to inflict a crushing defeat on the remaining Vikings outside Paris, but instead effectively paid them to attack some of his other enemies within his Empire!

This book provides a good account of the siege itself, as well as successfully placing it within its wider context, and thus making more sense of the various motives of the key players in the year long drama.

Initial Strategy
The Plan
The Siege of Paris

Author: Si Sheppard
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 80
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2022

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