In the middle of the Guadalquivir marshes, in what is now known as Isla Menor, the Vikings in 844 built a military base from which to attack Seville, a practically empty city because its inhabitants had fled in terror upon discovering the threatening ships of the Norse going up the river. The madjus —As the Arabs called the invaders from Scandinavia— finally took the Andalusian city and killed or made slaves of its inhabitants, especially the women, whose sale was one of the most significant engines of its economy. The Arabs needed 42 days to expel them from the city, but not before being forced to recruit numerous reinforcements from Córdoba and the northeast of the peninsula.
Irene García Losquiño (Elche, 36 years old) tells it in That wasn’t in my Viking history book (Almuzara 2020), a work where this doctor in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Aberdeen (United Kingdom) brings together the adventures of this bloodthirsty people through Spain, Europe, North America and Asia. From the cogorzas that they picked in the wild grape fields of Canada to the marble rooms that they stepped on in the palaces of Constantinople protecting the emperor.
The first known Viking ships in the Iberian Peninsula were sighted in Galicia, a region that was visiting between the IX and XII centuries as looters, as merchants or as soldiers of fortune. It is believed that in the year 966 the region of A Mariña (Lugo) received a new and unexpected visit from the Scandinavians. So the inhabitants, knowing what their inexorable destiny was going to be, instead of preparing for battle, decided to call Bishop Gonzalo, from San Martín de Mondoñedo, for advice. This one – who also knew the uselessness of facing a much superior military force -, instead of offering the neighbors “swords, fortifications and attacks to repel the Viking hosts”, he took everyone to a mountain to pray. The chronicles of the time say that for every prayer a Scandinavian ship sank and thus the attack could be repelled. “In the 16th century, King Felipe III ordered the construction of a hermitage in the place to commemorate the miracle and every year, until today, the residents of Foz carry out a pilgrimage”.
The arrival of the Nordics to the Iberian Peninsula is narrated in numerous Latin and Arab chronicles and annals, as they extended their raids along the coasts of Lisbon and Cádiz, as well as in the interior of Andalusia: from Carmona to Coria del Río. His invasions and victories were so many that they ended up influencing peninsular politics. In Galicia, for example, they created “great political tensions and insurrections of the aristocratic powers” against King Bermudo III, who proved incapable of defending his people.
The historian from Elche says that a group of Basques, aware of the instability of the region, built a fortification on top of a Galician rock. “From this base they dedicated themselves to stealing and burning churches and lands, murdering peasants and, in general, sowing destruction in the area where they had settled.” No one could stop them. The inhabitants were so desperate that they decided to look for someone who could defeat the outsiders. So who better than the Vikings, who perfectly fulfilled the contract signed by burning the Basque fortress and destroying the enemies.
Many of these wars are reflected in Icelandic literature, such as the Oekneyinga Saga, where the count’s adventures are related (jarls) Rögnvald Kali Kolsson, who docked in Galicia — being so far north made the region easy prey for Scandinavians — and tried to trade with its inhabitants. But it all ended – as almost always despite the good intentions of the Scandinavians – with a new massacre and the overthrow of a local tyrant named Godfrey.
Because if something was beyond doubt, it was both the courage and the violence they displayed. The Muslim chronicler Ibn Idari wrote that the armies of the emir had to work very hard to defeat them in one of their forays up the Guadalquivir. “Great numbers of Vikings were put to the sword; others were hanged in Seville and others were hung from palm trees. About thirty of their ships were burned. Those who managed to escape embarked for Niebla and Lisbon and were never heard from. The emir communicated the happy outcome to all his provinces, he sent them the head of the Viking leader and 200 of his best warriors.
The raids, while mostly leaving a trail of destruction, also inspired some works of art. For example, in the Matritrenses Skylitzes conserved in the National Library of Spain, a manuscript from Sicily that reproduces a Byzantine chronicle of the twelfth century illustrated with 574 miniatures, tells, among other episodes, how a Byzantine woman pierces a Scandinavian warrior with a spear after this will violate her. The young woman, however, was forgiven by the rapist’s companions, since the woman’s reaction was considered “adequate and commendable.” It was even compensated with the fortune with the deceased.
A strange people whose memory spans the whole world (movies, series, comics, literature, music …). For example, in the United States and Canada, part of the America that they discovered 500 years before Columbus, although they soon abandoned it because it was much easier to raze Europe than to develop remote and dangerous settlements on the Canadian coast. And it is that although it seems a strange image, Indians with arrows and Vikings with rounded-edged axes and helmets (without horns) saw each other’s faces at some point. The Vikings lost. It is recorded.