Viking Era

Fragments of information on the count of ships in Viking raiding parties

A decent size Viking raid – I count ten ships in sight. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Some fragmented counts on the size of Viking raids are provided on page 39 of The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings, edited by Peter Sawyer. The number of ships reported and recorded for some raids between 789 and 896 are listed. That would be essentially the 9th century.

This will be first in a series of posts on tidbits of information I found particularly interesting in the book.

Author points out we need to be careful in relying on the reported number of ships. In addition, it is not possible to calculate the size of particular raiding parties (assuming the reported number of ships is actually correct) since ships varied dramatically in size. Text says they could carry anywhere from 10 to 60 warriors.

Author points out that exaggeration is possible in all the reported data. I’ve also learned that ancient data is often rounded. Thus the report of “100” ships could be 60 or 80. Or maybe it was 120 or 140 ships. Or maybe nobody even tried to count but to give an idea that it was a really large raid the symbolic number of ‘100’ was recorded.

To get a wild guess on the size of raiding parties, I’ll extend out the ship count in the text.

Author estimates the range of warriors per ship ran from 10 to 60. The midpoint of those two amounts would be 35 warriors.

I’ll guess the range of warriors is between 20 and 60 per ship.

Following data lists the year, location, and reported ship count. Following that is the number of warriors at my low estimate of 20, my high estimate of 60 per ship, and a midpoint of the author’s range.

year location ships warriors, low est. warriors, high est. warriors, midpoint
789 Dorset 3             60             180         105
820 Flemish coast 13            260             780         455
836 Somerset 35            700           2,100       1,225
840 Hampshire 33            660           1,980       1,155
843 Somerset 35            700           2,100       1,225
843 Loire/Nantes 67         1,340           4,020       2,345
844 Spain 70         1,400           4,200       2,450
845 Elbe/Hamburg 600       12,000         36,000     21,000
845 Seine/Paris 120         2,400           7,200       4,200
848 Dordogne 9            180             540         315
851 Thames 350         7,000         21,000     12,250
852 Frisia 252         5,040         15,120       8,820
853 Loire 105         2,100           6,300       3,675
861 Seine 200         4,000         12,000       7,000
861 Seine 60         1,200           3,600       2,100
862 Loire 12            240             720         420
865 Loire 40            800           2,400       1,400
865 Seine 50         1,000           3,000       1,750
874 England 7            140             420         245
876 Seine estuary 100         2,000           6,000       3,500
877 Dorset 120         2,400           7,200       4,200
878 Devon 23            460           1,380         805
882 Elsoo 200         4,000         12,000       7,000
882 England 4             80             240         140
885 East Anglia 16            320             960         560
885 Seine/Paris 700       14,000         42,000     24,500
892 Kent-south coast 250         5,000         15,000       8,750
892 Kent-north coast 80         1,600           4,800       2,800
893 Devon 100         2,000           6,000       3,500
896 Dorset 6            120             360         210

An interesting mental exercise is to estimate the cost needed to build all those ships, buy all the arms, and feed all the warriors for the length of the raid.

As a wild guess on the severity of the growth in size of raids, I will add the tally above by quarter century. I know I’m pretending to get a precisely quantified amount based on a long string of guess, assumptions, possible exaggerations, and massive missing data. Yet, that is all we have.

So, don’t just take the following subtotals by quarter century with a grain of salt. Please take them with a large block of salt.

A huge grain of salt for your assistance while interpreting the following data. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

 

years # raids listed ships low range high range midpoint
789-826                        2           16            320             960         560
826-850                        8          969       19,380         58,140     33,915
851-875                        9       1,076       21,520         64,560     37,660
876-900                      11       1,599       31,980         95,940     55,965

Data is listed above so you can extend, revise, shrink, or recalculate them as you wish.

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