In this article we will present a timeline of the Viking attacks in Spain . Much has been written about the Viking attacks in England or the siege of Paris, but the truth is that their field of operations has gone beyond the Atlantic.
The Iberian Peninsula, mired in clashes between Christians and Muslims, was a luscious target for these professional looters. Over the centuries there have been several campaigns in which the Scandinavians have devastated some of the most important populations of present-day Spain.
Spain in the Viking Age
Viking expeditions to Spain took place between the 9th and 10th centuries . At that time, the Iberian Peninsula was divided between Al-Andalus and the ancient Christian kingdoms . Initially, the Nordics found the crowns of Asturias and Pamplona, as well as the Hispanic mark, territory of the Carolingian Empire.
In subsequent attacks they would also encounter the Kingdom of León. More than a century passed between the first attack by the Vikings in Spain and the last. The situation in the Peninsula does not vary much, as the last Islamic stronghold, the Kingdom of Granada, will fall only at the end of the 15th century.
Viking raids in Spain
The Viking attacks in Spain can be divided into three waves.
844: Along the Atlantic coast
The first Scandinavian expedition to Spain took place in 844. It consisted of an assault on the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula and a subsequent internment by the Guadalquivir River.
A large Viking fleet that had raided the Garonne River (in the south of France) ended up reaching the Cantabrian coast after a storm.
On 1 August, a formidable fleet of around 100 Viking ships is spotted off the coast of Gijón . The Scandinavians disembark to collect water and leave without causing any accidents. Days later, the Nordics began looting the villages in the vicinity of A Coruña . Finally, the invasion ends when Ramiro I’s troops of Asturias defeat the Vikings and force them to board. This is reflected in the second Castilian Annals , also known as the Complutense Annals .
After their little skirmish in A Coruña, the fleet finds what they were looking for in Lisbon . This large city was besieged for 13 days between August and September, until a Muslim army was sent to expel them . Then, the Nordics continued to travel south along the Iberian coast, reaching the Gulf of Cadiz.
They conquered Cadiz and went up the Guadalquivir River, sacking the cities they found and causing great massacres so that no one would notice their presence . Later, they defeated the Muslims in the Battle of Cabtal. Following the course of the river, the nearly 4,000 Vikings reached Isbiliya, Seville, at the end of September. The Sevillians fled in terror to Carmona , as recounted by the Andalusian chronicler Ibn al-Qutiyya in his History of the conquest of al-Andalus .
But a few weeks later a contingent of 16,000 men sent by Abderramán II would arrive from Córdoba . The emir of Córdoba put Musa ibn Musa al-Qasi, one of the personalities of the time, at the head of this army.
The reaction of Al-Andalus
The Vikings established a base in Tablada and divided their forces into four groups. The first, of about 200 men, attacked Morón; the second, attacked Benilaiz; the third attacked Fuente de Cantos; and the fourth, who attacked Córdoba. The huge army of Musa ibn Musa annihilated the first group in the battle of Morón and attacked the fort of Tablada, where a thousand invaders perished.
The Muslims captured and executed another 400 invaders after this confrontation. Most were beheaded and their heads hung from the palms of Seville . Others were buried alive with their heads uncovered, to be trampled by horses. The Andalusians, on the other hand, set fire to 30 Nordic ships.
The Vikings who managed to escape negotiated to deliver their hostages and return the loot in exchange for food, clothing, and a retreat to the coast, where part of the expedition remained. The battered warriors who managed to leave the Peninsula alive continued their expedition across the Mediterranean, devastating the Byzantine lands and arriving in Alexandria.
The few Nordic prisoners who were not executed converted to Islam and established themselves as farmers . As a result of the attack, Abderramán II rebuilt the defenses of Seville and ordered the construction of ships to defend the coast of Al-Andalus. It has also set up a horse mail system to quickly warn of future assaults.
858-862: Björn Ragnarsson’s expedition
The second Viking incursion into Spain was commanded by Björn Ragnarsson, also known by the nickname of Costado de Hierro . From his base on the Loire River, Ragnar Lothbrok’s son chartered a fleet of one hundred ships bound for the Iberian Peninsula.
In 858, Björn’s boats went up the Arosa estuary to attack Santiago de Compostela , the fortified city they besieged. The Christians pay them a tribute to leave, but the Nordics keep the fence. King Ordoño I of Asturias sends an army commanded by Count Pedro Theon, which inflicts a severe defeat on the invaders: of the 100 ships with which the Vikings arrived, only 62 managed to escape.
After the severe setback in Christian lands, the Scandinavian fleet headed south. A failed landing on the Portuguese coast cost them two more ships, but the other 60 managed to reach Algeciras. This city was sacked and the mosque burned.
They later devoted themselves to raiding North Africa, before attacking the Balearic Islands and Orihuela , across the Segura River. After retreating to the French coast for the winter, this expedition headed for Italy.
The capture of the king of Pamplona
Months later, Ragnar’s son had returned to Spanish lands. Björn Ragnarsson’s boats sailed up the Ebro River, reaching Pamplona. There they arrested King García Íñiguez of Pamplona , who had to pay 70,000 gold coins to be released.
After that success, the second Viking visit to Spain suffered a serious setback. When he crossed the Strait of Gibraltar to return home, Björn came across a large fleet of the Emir of Córdoba . In the battle, the Vikings lost about 40 ships.
The few Viking ships that managed to dodge the Muslim army arrived home in 862 laden with treasure.
966-971: The last visit to Spain
The third major wave of Viking attacks in Spain began in 966. Unlike the previous two episodes, this wave consists of several invasion attempts .
In 966, 28 Nordic ships were sighted in Alcácer do Sal, near Lisbon. There was a naval battle won by the Scandinavians, who took many prisoners. However, a Muslim fleet from Seville hunted them down and recovered most of the prisoners.
In 968, the caudillo Gundræd (or Gunderedo) led a fleet of one hundred ships that went up the estuary to attack Santiago de Compostela . Bishop Sisnando leads the defending troops, who are defeated in Fornelos and lose their leader.
Over the next three years, the Vikings unchallenged the suburbs of Santiago . Finally, the Kingdom of Asturias faced them in 971. An army commanded by Bishop Rudesindo and Count Gonzalo Sánchez imposed itself on the Norwegians in a battle in which Gundræd died.
A few months later, a large group of drakkar approached Lisbon. However, the Andalusians had learned their lesson and intercepted them by joining the Mediterranean and Atlantic fleets.
This was the last and frustrated attempt by the Nordics to attack the Iberian Peninsula.
Viking settlements in Spain
Unlike other territories such as France or England, the Vikings did not have a great effect in Spain . They could neither colonize the lands nor influence culturally.
For a long time it was believed that there were no Viking settlements in Spain. However, at some point archaeological remains were found in Galicia that could be a temporary camp for these Scandinavian warriors.
Specifically, this possible Viking settlement is located in Os Mountillós , a town near the beach of San Román, in the municipality of Vicedo Lugo). Currently, a team of researchers is excavating and analyzing this enclave.
Although that of Os Mountillós is the only one found, it cannot be excluded that there were other Viking settlements in Spain. However, his short stays in different parts of the Iberian Peninsula make it difficult for clues of his presence to have reached the present day.