Vikings seize York
The city of York had become an important centre under the Roman occupation, indeed two emperors died there – Septimius Severus and Constantinus I Chlorus. The Romans had built a mighty fortress in the city, parts of which were incorporated in the construction by the Saxons of the religious buildings in what they called Eoforwic. In Saxon times York became a centre of scholarship, trade, religion and political power.
By the mid-9th century Viking raids had become more organised after what had previously been glorified robbery with violence in earlier times. In 846 King Ragnar invaded Northern France, reaching Paris which bought him off with gold. Ragnar went on to attack Northumbria, but his luck deserted him and King Aella defeated the Viking host and killed their king.
Revenge was a major part of Viking culture, and one of the motives for the invasion of Northumbria by Ragnar’s sons Ivar the Boneless, King of Dublin, and his half-brothers Halfdan the Wide-Grasper and Ubbi was their desire to avenge their father. The riches of a city with major religious foundations and the treasures they housed attracted them too.
Northumbria at this time was weakened by civil war between rival kings Aella and Osbert. The Vikings in 866 were easily able to walk into York, securing their occupation by utilising the still strong Roman walls as the basis of a Viking fort.
The following year their hand was strengthened further when the erstwhile enemies Aella and Osbert united to try to drive them out of York, but both perished in storming the fortress on March 21 867. Aella may in fact have died shortly after the battle, horrifically tortured by his captors and with an eagle ritually carved into his back. The Vikings were to hold the city of Jorvik until 954.
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