Siege of Paris (885-886)

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The siege of Paris by Danish Vikings began on November 25, 885 and was after the Frankish Emperor Charles III. had agreed to pay tribute, canceled in October 886.


Since the end of the 8th century, Western and Central Europe have been threatened by raids by Vikings. In 793 they plundered the Lindisfarne monastery on the English coast and subsequently expanded their area of ​​attack to include the Frankish Empire . After the death of Charlemagne in 814, the Frankish Empire was divided up several times among his descendants, which was connected with disputes and weakened the successor empires against external threats. Danish Vikings took advantage of this and, particularly since the middle of the 9th century, plundered numerous villages in western France . In contrast to the Norwegians and Swedes , the Danes deployed large war fleets that were manned by experienced warriors. Almost every year they undertook campaigns against Franconian cities, penetrating deep into the interior of the country via rivers such as the Loire or Seine .

From 845 Paris was also a target of Danish attacks, but the city was spared serious devastation. Count Robert the Brave , the ancestor of the Robertin family , had the fortifications of Paris expanded and drove several Viking armies from his territory. Although the East Franconian Emperor Karl III. until 885 united a large part of the Frankish empire under his rule, this renewed Frankish power did not prevent the Danes from further raids. In 885 a large Danish army went ashore at the Seine estuary and demanded a heavy toll, which Charles III. refused. The Danes then made their way across the Seine to Paris.


The Danish Viking army allegedly sailed up the Seine with 700 ships and arrived at the gates of Paris on November 25, 885. The Danes are said to have deployed around 30,000 men under the orders of Siegfried and Rollo , but the sources are likely to be exaggerated. In the late 9th century, the urban area of ​​Paris was limited to the Île de la Cité , which is an island on the Seine. The city was connected to the mainland by two bridges, a stone one in the north (today Pont Notre-Dame ) and a wooden one in the south ( Petit Pont ), at the ends of which watchtowers had been erected. Paris was protected by a stone city ​​wall . When the Danes arrived outside the city, there were only 200 aristocratic fighters and their entourage in Paris. The defenders of the city were commanded by Odo , the older of the two sons of Robert the Brave, who was Count of Paris from 882. Odo was supported by Bishop Gauzlin . When the siege began, Emperor Charles III was. on a campaign in Italy , so that the defenders of Paris could not count on the arrival of a relief army in the foreseeable future . On the day after the arrival, the Viking leader Siegfried began negotiations with the Bishop Gauzlin: he suggested that Gauzlin should let the Viking fleet pass Paris unhindered, whereas he promised complete sparing of the city and the possessions of Odos and Gauzlin. The bishop rejected Siegfried's proposal, pointing out that he was a vassal, whereupon Siegfried withdrew under threats. The battle for Paris began.

Battle for Paris

Representation of the Vikings (12th century)

The day after the Danish Vikings closed the siege ring around Paris, they began bombarding the city with rocks and arrows on November 26th, using catapults and mangonels . The city's defenders fended off a first Danish assault by pouring boiling oil from the walls. The particularly hard-fought tower at the end of the northern bridge was extended by one floor by the besieged on the night of November 27th. In further attacks on the city, the Danes used battering rams and tried to undermine the towers. Bishop Gauzlin also took part in the fierce fighting. After all assault attacks had been repulsed by the defenders, the Danes dug trenches around the city, in which some of them entrenched themselves, while the remaining troops looted the area around Paris.

At the end of January the Danes resumed the fight. They set three of their ships on fire and drifted them towards the south bridge of Paris, which was made entirely of wood. The ships went down before they reached the bridge. What the Vikings failed to do was accomplished on February 6, 886 by heavy rains. The Seine burst its banks and tore away the wooden bridge, which was heavily used by hard fighting. The tower south of the bridge was now cut off from Paris.

The destruction of the bridge made it possible for the Danes to travel upstream unhindered. They went on a raid along the Seine, but left enough fighters to keep the siege going. In this situation, Count Odo sent a messenger past the besiegers to Charles III to ask for help. When it became known that Heinrich , the military leader of Charles III, was approaching with an army from the east to end the siege, the morale of the Vikings sank considerably. After Siegfried had received about 30 kilograms of silver from Count Odo, he withdrew with his troops in mid-April.

But Rollo and his fighters were still determined to take Paris. When an epidemic broke out in the city in April, which also fell victim to Bishop Gauzlin, the situation became critical for the defenders. Count Odo snuck past the besiegers out of the city to visit Charles III. to advance. Odo quickly found out that Karl had already made his way to Paris while Heinrich's arrival was imminent. With the support of a few West Franconians, Count Odo managed to reach Paris again after a battle with the Danes. However, Heinrich was killed on the way to Paris while Charles's arrival was delayed. Rollo used this for a last major attack, which was repulsed by the city's defenders.

The End

Charles III appeared in October. before Paris and enclosed the Danish army with his troops. Instead of attacking the Danes, Karl opened negotiations with them. He agreed to pay the Danes the amount that Count Odo was not prepared to pay. Charles III granted the Danish Vikings free travel on the Seine and promised them a tribute of around 350 kilograms of silver. Contrary to these agreements, Count Odo still refused the Vikings the use of the Seine, so that they brought their ships ashore and transported them to the Marne . They then went up the Marne to plunder Burgundy . This was also Charles's intention, since Burgundy revolted against his rule. What appeared to Karl to be clever tactics was viewed by the Parisians as treason and cowardice.

Further development

Karl's reputation was badly damaged by his accommodating behavior towards the Vikings. As early as 887, Charles III. forced to abdicate and banished by Arnulf of Carinthia . Arnulf was elected the new king of Eastern France. Count Odo was elected King of West Franconia in 888 and prevailed against the Carolingian counter-king Karl the Simple , whom he appointed as his successor.

While Paris had become a rather insignificant seat of counts under the Carolingians, the siege of the city by the Vikings had made its strategically important location clear. Under the Robertine King Odo, Paris also regained political importance.

After the unsuccessful siege of Paris, the Danes made fewer and fewer raids into the interior of Western France. They settled at the mouth of the Seine and were enfeoffed with Normandy in 911 after a last major campaign by Charles the Simple . The Seine Vikings under Rollo pledged to defend their fiefdom against invaders and accepted the Christian faith. In 912 Rollo was appointed duke as a vassal of the King of West Franconia.


  • Annemarieke Willemsen (Ed.): Vikings on the Rhine. 800-1000. Viking Ship Museum Roskilde , Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn , Centraal Museum Utrecht , Utrecht 2004, ISBN 90-5983-009-1 .
  • Walther Vogel : The Normans and the Franconian Empire up to the founding of Normandy (= Heidelberg Treatises on Middle and Modern History. Volume 14). Winter, Heidelberg 1906, pp. 320–338.
  • Anton Paules: Abbo von Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Bella Parisiacae urbis , Book I, Verlag Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1984, ISBN 3-8204-8009-9 .
  • Eduardo Coelho (drawings), Jean Ollivier (text), Peter Puls (translation): Die Wikinger - Sturm auf Paris , in: Karl der Große / Die Wikinger , Classicomics # 13.2, Schwager & Steinlein Verlag, Nuremberg 1978.

Individual evidence

  1. Walther Vogel : The Normans and the Franconian Empire up to the founding of Normandy , p. 325.
  2. ^ Annemarieke Willemsen: Vikings on the Rhine .