Scandinavians and Franks: Good Neighbors–Bad Neighbors—By Daniel F. Melleno

This is an abstract of Dr. Melleno’s paper, which he presented in the Hortulus-sponsored session at the 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Saturday, May 10, 2014.

In Frankish accounts of encounters with Scandinavians the prevailing imagery is savage and brutal. In sources such as The Annals of Saint-Bertin, the Miracula Sancti Martini, and Regino of Prüm’s Chronicle, Frankish authors report attacks on trading ports, monasteries, and towns. A common vocabulary of violence emerges from these sources: Northmen devastate (vastare), pillage (praedare), and burn (incendere).

With these contemporary sources as our guide, it is little wonder that the common conception of the relationship between Scandinavians and Franks in academic and popular culture remains one of fierce hatred and enmity. The Northman appears as an alien other, striking without warning, driven by a lust for blood and a hatred for the Christian Franks. Over the last three decades, however, scholars have come more and more to question this uncomplicated picture of the relationship between two peoples. Instead of focusing exclusively on moments of conflict, we have become more aware of the ability of Carolingian kings and Viking invaders to form productive relationships. More recent research has begun to reveal the long standing connections that existed between Franks and Scandinavians well before the mid-ninth century.

But if we can’t regard Franks and Scandinavians solely as enemies, is there a better way to understand their interactions? This paper examines exchanges between the Franks and three different Danish kings in the period from c. 750 to c. 840 and discusses another possible context within which to frame their relationships: that of neighbors.

Neighbors meet and exchange pleasantries; they form relationships based on familiarity and ongoing contact, sometimes friendly, other times not; they bicker and argue over boundaries and minor transgressions, conflicts which sometimes lead to violence. The conception of neighbor allows for an understanding of the complicated ongoing relationship between Danes and Franks that goes beyond the othering so often present in Frankish sources. It allows for a spectrum of possible interactions, from the exchange of envoys, to the posturing of armies, to the giving of gifts. Neighbors need not always be friends, but they are always something more than enemies.

Daniel F. Melleno

Daniel F. Melleno earned his PhD in medieval history from the University of California, Berkeley in 2014.  His dissertation, titled “Before They Were Vikings: Scandinavia and the Franks up to the Death of Louis the Pious,” examines political, social, and economic relationships and interactions between the Carolingian Empire and Scandinavia in the period before the major Viking attacks of the ninth century.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.