Viking Ship

It turns out it wasn’t just for the booty! When it came to treasure, the Vikings prized their own reputation above all else.

The Vikings are well known for their campaigns of pillaging and plundering across swathes of the British Isles in the 8th -9th centuries, particularly targeting the long-suffering monastic communities in the North East of the country (who, quite frankly, must have started to get a little sick of it!)

But what was the real motive behind this aggression? An archaeologist at the University of York thinks he knows, though it may be of little consolation to the monks to hear that it wasn’t ALL about the treasure…

Social justifications?

Previous research into the subject has considered factors such as environmental, demographic, and economic drivers behind this increase in aggressive activity; the lure of treasure alone seems an unlikely reason to persuade a man to leave his home and family to make the perilous journey across the sea.

Dr Ashby of the University of York believes that the rewards of these voyages consisted much more than the portable wealth (i.e. silver and slaves), and that the lure of the ‘exotic’, power, and reputation were just as highly prized.

Power and street cred

Joining a raiding party could earn you some serious street cred in Viking society, and could be used as a method to impress superiors. Raids offered the opportunity for ambitious Vikings to earn a reputation for their skill in battle, reliability, cunning and courage, meaning that participation in these raids could really improve your social status! (Well, unless you weren’t all that great at fighting…)

Power could also have been a key driving force, as the distinctive spoils from Anglo-Saxon and Celtic raiding missions served as potent reminders of an individual’s successes in battle, and promoted their social standing within the community.

The plundered goods could also be used as tools to commission and gain support for future raids, enticing fellow clansmen to follow in search of their own treasure, as well as demonstrating a Viking’s skill and reliability as a leader. The wealth of artefacts acquired screamed “how can we possibly fail when I’m clearly good at this!”

An exotic getaway

The lure of the ‘exotic’ is a theory that is often applied when searching for motive in archaeology, as the temptation of the mysterious and the unknown has been seen to be a power driving force behind human behaviour. Did Viking leaders market these campaigns in such a way to appeal to the people’s sense of adventure and intrigue? Just imagine the promotional posters: “See the world, defeat new people – join a raiding party today!”

Value in experience

The acquisition of portable wealth was clearly still a key driving force behind these raids, but what this research shows is that the act of acquiring the booty itself was just as important as the tangible material gain.

The travel opportunities, the appeal of gaining a reputation, and the potential to improve social status all served as incentive for these Viking raiders to make the crossing. In a way, not much in the way of motives has changed for young holiday makers today…

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Rosanna Ring

Rosanna is one of DigVentures' intrepid Community Archaeologists. She's busy turning Barrowed Time (our dig at Morecambe's Bronze Age burial mound) into a real seaside adventure, and getting the Pop-Up Museum on the Prom ready for you to visit!

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