Guesses on how much loot the Vikings hauled out of Europe – #2

If this was your view from the shore during the 900s or early 1000s, you were about to have a really bad day. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Here are some more guesses for how much gold and silver the Vikings extracted from Frankia and England during their plundering raids. Keep in mind these are official payments and don’t include what the Vikings were able to take from monasteries or the local populace. Also doesn’t include any guess at the amount of food they took as they devoured the fields and storehouses.

The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings by Lars Brownworth says the payouts from the Franks to the Vikings totaled 120,000 pound of silver.

About a third of all the coins minted in France made their way to Viking hoards in Scandinavia.

Mr. Brownworth reports another wave of attacks by Norwegian Vikings starting in 991 was remarkable lucrative. Here are a few fun, summarized highlights from pages 228 through 232.

Olaf Tryggvasson  kicked off this series of raids by plundering for a while before obliterating an Anglo-Saxon army under command of Byrhtnoth. Oh, notice that’s obliterating, as in killing essentially every soldier. That led King Athelred to pay the Vikings 10,000 pounds of silver to go away. Payoffs don’t always work, as in this case, when Olaf Tryggvasson continued pillaging.

Athelred had some success resisting the pillaging, but it continued. Athelred paid off Olaf and Svein (his marauding co-leader) again, this time with an additional 16,000 pounds of silver. Both of the Viking leaders finally left England for their home countries. Olaf had enough wealth that he could use it to engineer becoming king of Norway.

Unfortunately, handing out that much wealth drew more raiders, all seeking to extort more silver. The book reports in the following years Althered handed out 108,000 pounds of silver in multiple rounds of payments.

If I understand the book correctly, one more round of raids by the Jomsvikings, with their leader Thorkell the Tall resulted in yet another payout of 48,000 pounds of silver from Athelred after a raid on Canterbury.

Let’s summarize those payouts by Athelred:

  •   10,000# – Olaf Tryggvasson
  •   16,000# – Olaf and Svein
  • 108,000# – sundry raiders
  •   48,000# – Jomsvikings
  • 182,000# – total payout, if you buy the above reports

That is a massive amount of wealth. Not only did a variety of Viking raiders make off rather nicely (from their perspective), consider the amount of wealth available in the country that King Athelred was able to gather that much and pay it out. Granted it most likely wrecked the economy, but that amount of wealth was around.

Oh, remember to add in the amount King Cnut extracted from the population when he conquered and became king. Book says Cnut used the system of tax collectors that Athelred put in place to successfully pull another 72,000 pounds of silver out of the populace.

Here is a recap of plunder measured in silver moving to Scandinavia per the above sources:

  • 120,000# – Frankia
  • 182,000# – King Athelred
  •   72,000# – King Cnut
  • 374,000# – total of above point estimates

Size of armies

The book Vikings at War by Kim Hjardar and Vegard Vike, says that Torkjell the Tall (and his buddy Olaf) had 45 ships and soldiers to fill them. Those are the leaders of the Jomsvikings. After collecting their 48,000# payoff, he and his forces went to work for King Athelred as mercenaries.

Vikings at War says that Olaf and Svien had about 90 ships, which suggests about 5,000 warriors. That implies an average of about 55 warriors per ship. Before they accepted their 16,000 pounds of silver as payoff, they had stopped their attacks and were plundering the surrounding area. That plundering had the triple benefit of feeding the army, providing them more riches to carry home, and increasing the incentive for King Athelred to pay them off.

More on the brutality of the era

One more tidbit on King Cnut. Vikings at War explains that in 1018 A.D. he extracted 82,500 pounds of silver as additional Danegeld. Yeah, I know the numbers for this round of official looting are all over the board.

Anyway, when he took the kingship in 1017, he assassinated several people who could have threatened his reign as king. In that time, killing off the competition was the technique used by a ruler to assure he would continue to rule.

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