Viking Era

Guesses on how much loot the Vikings hauled out of Europe – #1

Viking Wall” by hans s is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

I’ve read a number of guesses on how much gold and silver the Vikings looted on various excursions around England and continental Europe. A few posts will describe those estimates.

The first recap is explained by Professor Kenneth Harl in his course The Vikings, from The Great Courses. (By the way, with minimal effort you can find all their courses at huge discounts from the list price.)

In lecture 26, Prof. Harl touches briefly on the guesses for silver taken out of Europe by the Vikings.

He says that Frankish sources say the kingdom paid something in the range of 40,000 pounds to 45,000 pounds of silver to Viking raiders. Estimates (or perhaps that would be guesses) are for those amounts to be somewhere around one-half or one-third of all the precious metal taken out of the Frank territory.

Over in England, sources from the Anglo-Saxon side say that Danegeld paid out by King Elthered was something in the range of 180,000 pounds of silver over a fifteen year span. After Knut took kingship over the country, he extracted another 87,000 or 88,000 pounds of silver to cash out his warriors. He also, from other sources I’ve read, kept a portion of that to jump-start his own treasury.

Oh, keep in mind newly ruling King Knut didn’t draw that much silver out of the royal storehouse. Instead, he levied taxes on the general population and presumably the monasteries as well. He took it from the people. That is sort of the way things worked, and not just back then.

Here is my tabulation of those amounts, applying a 1/2 ratio to the low estimate of 40K# and 1/3rd  ratio to the 45K#:

low est. high est.
    40,000     45,000  paid by Frankish kings
    40,000     90,000  other silver plundered from Frankish territories, 1/2 to 1/3
  180,000   180,000  Anglo-Saxon King Ethelred
    87,000     88,000  Viking conqueror King Knut
  347,000   403,000  range of rough guesses

From those four specific sources, that would put somewhere in the range of 350,000 or 400,000 pounds of silver into the hands of the Viking warriors. That is a massive amount of wealth to transfer into Scandinavia.

As a really wild guess, ponder how much loot that was per warrior. Allowing half of that to go the yarls and sea kings, there would still be a pound or two or three of silver as loot for each warrior that survived.

Those amounts do not include profits from trading goods around Europe or running slaves to the Muslims.

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