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The Raids Of The Sea-Rovers
by [?]

While Central and Southern Europe was actively engaged in wars by land, Scandinavia, that nest of pirates, was as actively engaged in wars by sea, sending its armed galleys far to the south, to plunder and burn wherever they could find footing on shore. Not content with plundering the coasts, they made their way up the streams, and often suddenly appeared far inland before an alarm could be given. Wherever they went, heaps of the dead and the smoking ruins of habitations marked their ruthless course. They did not hesitate to attack fortified cities, several of which fell into their hands and were destroyed. They always fought on foot, but such was their strength, boldness, and activity that the heavy-armed cavalry of France and Germany seemed unable to endure their assault, and was frequently put to flight. If defeated, or in danger of defeat, they hastened back to their ships, from which they rarely ventured far and rowed away with such speed that pursuit was in vain. For a long period they kept the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of Europe in such terror that prayers were publicly read in the churches for deliverance from them, and the sight of their dragon beaked ships filled the land with terror.

In 845 a party of them assailed and took Paris, from which they were bought off by the cowardly and ineffective method of ransom, seven thousand pounds of silver being paid them. In 853 another expedition, led by a leader named Hasting, one of the most dreaded of the Norsemen, again took Paris, marched into Burgundy, laying waste the country as he advanced, and finally took Tours, to which city much treasure had been carried for safe-keeping. Charles the Bald, who had bought off the former expedition with silver, bought off this one with gold, offering the bold adventurer a bribe of six hundred and eighty-five pounds of the precious metal, to which he added a ton and a half of silver, to leave the country.

From France, Hasting set sail for Italy, where his ferocity was aided by a cunning which gives us a deeper insight into his character. Rome, a famous but mystical city to the northern pagans, whose imaginations invested it with untold wealth and splendor, was the proposed goal of the enterprising Norseman, who hoped to make himself fabulously wealthy from its plunder. With a hundred ships, filled with hardy Norse pirates, he swept through the Strait of Gibraltar and along the coasts of Spain and France, plundering as he went till he reached the harbor of Lucca, Italy.

As to where and what Rome was, the unlettered heathen had but the dimmest conception. Here before him lay what seemed a great and rich city, strongly fortified and thickly peopled. This must be Rome, he told himself; behind those lofty walls lay the wealth which he so earnestly craved; but how could it be obtained? Assault on those strong fortifications would waste time, and perhaps end in defeat. If the city could be won by stratagem, so much the better for himself and his men.

The shrewd Norseman quickly devised a promising plan within the depths of his astute brain. It was the Christmas season, and the inhabitants were engaged in the celebration of the Christmas festival, though, doubtless, sorely troubled in mind by that swarm of strange-shaped vessels in their harbor, with their stalwart crews of blue-eyed plunderers.

Word was sent to the authorities of the city that the fleet had come thither from no hostile intent, and that all the mariners wished was to obtain the favor of an honorable burial-place for their chieftain, who had just died. If the citizens would grant them this, they would engage to depart after the funeral without injury to their courteous and benevolent friends. The message–probably not expressed in quite the above phrase–was received in good faith by the unsuspecting Lombards, who were glad enough to get rid of their dangerous visitors on such cheap terms, and gratified to learn that these fierce pagans wished Christian burial for their chief. Word was accordingly sent to the ships that the authorities granted their request, and were pleased with the opportunity to oblige the mourning crews.