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The Beast of Seven Heads. Saint-Amand Abbey Apocalypse ~ 9th century. Bibliothèque municipale de Valenciennes
San Michele (IX sec.), lunetta del portale d’ingresso, Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo, Sant’Angelo in Formis, Capua.
The Viking Sack of Rome, 860 AD
In 859 AD a Norse Chief named Bjorn Ironside, son of Ragnar Lothbrok, gathered a large group of men with 60 ships and decided to go on a Viking expedition across the Mediterranean. Between 859 and 860, Bjorn and his men raided the coast of Spain, Southern France, and eventually Italy. During his raids, Bjorn learned of the rich city of Rome, hearing tales of the ancient Roman Empire and it’s fantastically wealth, glory, and power. With visions of grandeur swimming through his head, Bjorn decided he, like many great barbarians before him, would sack Rome and claim the city’s wealth and power for his own.
In 860 Bjorn arrived at the gates or Rome. Seeing that it would be impossible to breech the walls, Bjorn devised a “Trojan Horse” style trick. Sending a messenger into the city, Bjorn claimed that he was dying and that he wanted to convert to Christianity. The Bishop of the city granted him entry along with an unarmed guard of fifty men. Once his procession was inside the city chapel, he leaped from his “deathbed” as his guard produced hidden weapons and massacred the congregation. His men then opened the city gates allowing the rest of the army to enter and capture the city.
It did not take long for the city to surrender, however, after the Vikings captured the city, they learned something quite disappointing. They had not captured Rome. Rather they had accidentally captured the small city of Luni, which is approximately 250 miles north of Rome. What a bummer!
In addition they learned that Rome was much bigger, with much stronger fortifications, and many more defenders. After some deliberation Bjorn made an important decision. Rome was too strong for his army to conquer. Why not just claim they had conquered Rome? Who was going to know the difference? Satisfied with their successes they stripped Luni of any and all valuables and left.
On the journey home Bjorn’s fleet was attacked by a fleet of Moorish pirates, who destroyed 2/3rds of his ships. Luckily he was able to escape with most of his loot. Bjorn returned home with a good deal of treasure and tales of how he had conquered Rome.