Eleventh-century Vikings at the Two Towers?

At the time of writing, which at current rates is something like three weeks behind appearance here, when at work I am mainly doing copy-editing of a certain book that it would be tactless of me to identify, given what I’m about to say and what I think of its chances of actually emerging. However, it has set me on a hunt, because it mentions as an unreferenced throwaway that the city of Lugo, in Galicia, north-west Spain, was sacked by Vikings in the early eleventh century. Now, I will confess, it was news to me that the Vikings were anywhere near Spain then, but it transpires that actually Norse sea-raiding was The Genuine Problem at that time and there was certainly enough of it to become a cliché in relic translation narratives and so on. However, sacking a whole city? There are books that ought to mention this and they don’t. However, Richard Fletcher’s St James’s Catapult, so much more than an incomprehensible title, does find a quote from Sampiro’s Chronicle suggesting that Lugo was threatened and also says that Tuy was sacked, which we apparently deduce from episcopal vacancy and which is associated with a serious raid of 1015-1016; this association appears to go back to Ramón Menéndez Pidal’s La España del Cid but Fletcher was suitably cautious so I guess no-one actually says straight out that the vacancy was the fault of Vikings.1 I will check Sampiro, but I think this bit has to come out, or at least be heavily modified. That wasn’t actually what I was going to talk about.

The ruins of a tower at Catoira, Galicia

The ruins of a tower at Catoira, Galicia

While searching the web for something that included Lugo in the relevant destructions, I found this, a write-up of a visit to a place in Galicia called Catoira. Here stand the Torres de Oeste, ‘Towers of the West’, which are alas two opposite ends of a ruined castle through which a road has been driven. Before that mishap this place Catoira apparently did pretty well using this fortress to hold off Viking attacks, and indeed English ones hundreds of years later, and every year the town has a festival celebrating this.

Longboats in Catoira harbour for the annual festival

Longboats in Catoira harbour for the annual festival

As for the post title, the site whose pictures I’m cheerfully linking to here reckons that either Tolkien or Tolkien’s illustrators had seen the pair of towers divided, so iconic are they. I have no idea if Tolkien ever went to Galicia, though certainly some of the Lord of the Rings names are familiar from my work (Frodo, as far as I’m concerned, was a Bishop of Barcelona, 862-90, pro-Carolingian, property reclaimer and first bishop of the see to strike coin, height and hairiness unrecorded), but it is certainly a nice idea. You can picture this as a suitable illustration quite easily:

The Two Torres de Oeste at Catoira, Galicia

The Two Torres de Oeste at Catoira, Galicia


1. Referencing Richard A. Fletcher, St James’s Catapult: the life and times of Diego Gelmírez of Santiago de Compostela (Oxford 1984), online at LIBRO, last modified 16 August 2000 as of 17 October 2009, p. 23 & nn. 52 & 53, and Ramón Menéndez Pidal, La España del Cid (Madrid 1934), 2 vols, transl. H. Sutherland as The Cid and his Spain (London 1934).

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27 responses to “Eleventh-century Vikings at the Two Towers?

  1. Nitpickery here:
    Tolkien mentions somewhere that the Two Towers are actually meant to be Minas Tirith and Minas Ithil/Morgul: the opposing fortresses that guarded the Anduin.

  2. Jonathan Grove

    For a contemporary Scandinavian allusion to ‘viking’ raids this far south in the early C11th, you might be interested in taking a look at the skaldic poem Víkingarvísur (the title is editorial), attributed to the Icelandic court poet Sigvatr Thórdarson. The poem is only transmitted in written sources that originated in the C13th, but it is apparently an early C11th panegyric on the young Óláfr Haraldsson’s expeditionary career as a warrior in the Baltic, Frisia, England, Normandy, Aquitaine and Spain in the years up to 1015. Óláfr, like others of his compatriots, raided extensively: Scandinavian predation at this time was not fixed solely on England. The poem (edited by Christine Fell in the festschrift for Gabriel Turville-Petre published in 1981) documents various place-names from Óláfr’s itinerary, many of which have not been securely identified. Included are 3 stanzas apparently referring to Óláfr’s activities in NW Spain, which name destinations such as Gríslupollar (?Castropol, in Asturia), a place called Fetlafjördr, and Seljupollar (?Sil [Lat. Cilenorum aqua], now Guardia). Some of the Spanish evidence for Norse plundering in this region was gathered by the Norwegian scholar Oscar Albert Johnsen in his 1916 account of Óláfr’s early career. Liesbeth van Houts and Judith Jesch have had something to say on the Norse poem and some of the more southerly raids to which it alludes, but, to my knowledge, the nature and extent of late Viking-age Scandinavian activities in Iberia has not been adequately examined (it sounds like the sources may not allow us to reach a better understanding of what was going on). In fact, as Judith Jesch has pointed out on several occasions, the range of Scandinavian raiding in the early C11th in general has still not been fully documented and examined. Her new edition of Víkingarvísur is expected in 2010/11, as part of the ongoing Skaldic Editing Project (http://skaldic.arts.usyd.edu.au/db.php).

    • That’s very informative, thankyou!

      • As Jonny Grove says, there’s still a topic out there for someone to delve into. In the meantime, and while you are still waiting for my edition of the poem (which probably won’t solve these problems…), there are a few additional comments in my paper ‘Vikings on the European Continent in the late Viking Age’ in Jonathan Adams and Katherine Holman (eds), Scandinavia and Europe 800-1350 (2004).

  3. Muy interesante, creo que anteriormente ya habia dejado este enlace, no lo recuerdo bien.

    http://tematico.asturias.es/cultura/ridea/ConsultaBoletines/PDFs/026-02.PDF

    Espero sea de su interés, un saludo cordial.

  4. Jonathan Grove

    Those last references are particularly helpful to dolts like me who need plenty of help to find their way around the nooks of Iberian history — only the first item appears in Mariano González Campo’s ‘Bibliographia Normanno-Hispanica’, published in Saga-Book 26 (2002), which is my main navigational aid for this particular nook. I’d be /really/ interested indeed if you or any of your readers know of any more recent bits and pieces that help illuminate Scandinavian activities in this area in the C11th and early C12th (apart from Romero’s Historia de los Vikingos en España).

  5. Yes. Vikings are cool. We the Galician celebrate today that they were a real pain in the past :-) Kind of masochistic people we are. Well, several appointments that could have some interest for other readers like myself:

    1) Tui, by the Minho river, is an episcopal see established in 572 by the Suevi king Miro. It was sacked and destructed by Norsemen in the last quartet of the 10th century. They killed many, and took the bishop Viliulfus and some others for ransom, being the city abandoned after that. As a result, its see was incorporated into Santiago from 1024 for some time, before the city was reestablished in a higher and stronger place. A royal charter from 1024 copied in the Tumbo A of Santiago (published, ISBN 8474928702) reads: “Post non longum uero tempus, crescentibus hominibus peccatis, gens Leodemanorum pars maritima est dissipata et, quoniam Tudensis sedis ultima pre omnibus sedibus et infima erat, eius episcopus qui ibi morabatur cum omnibus suis ab ipsis inimicis captiuus ductus est; et alios occiderunt, alios uendiderunt necnon et ipsam ciuitatem ad nichilum reduxerunt, que plurimis annis uidua atque lugubris permansit.”. In fact, the Torres de Oeste were build some time after this attack in what was the island of Honesti, as defence of the sea way into Santiago: “Adicimus eciam huic Loco Sancto insula uocitatam Oneste … in qua insula nos postea ciuitatem edificauimus mire magnitudinis compositam ad defendendam ipsius apostoli patriam”. So, yes, the city was abandoned after de attack, and the bishopric was vacant for a century due to the Norsemen. This happens during the fourth large scale Viking expedition in Galicia, when under one Gundered they killed the bishop-soldier-really-big-nobleman Sisenand of Iria; only after three years they were defeated by the count Gundisalvo Santioni, when they pretended to embark back home. This expedition is mentioned in a large number Galician chronicles and scriptures:

    “Eo tempore C naues Normanorum in Gallaeciam uenerunt … incursionem Normanorum, ac Frandensium praedarum” [So they where a hundred ships of Normans and Flemings (!)] (Chronica Iriense, in España Sagrada XX, p. 602, 605)

    “Nos omnes qui sumus habitantes in sub Urbe civitatis Lucensis … pactum vel placitum facimus uobis Patri Domino Hermenegildo Episcopo, siue nos monachos ipsius sedis & infanzones qui uestros comintatos obtinemus … & faciamus nostras casas in quo reponamos ganatum & nostrum atonitum & simus ibidem habitantes & dimicantes contra seuientem gentem Lothomanorum” [Hermegildo was bishop of Lugo from 951 to 985; through this pact he tried to attract his clients into the walls of the city; as long as I know, Lugo was never taken by the Northmen] (in España Sagrada XXXX, p. 402-403)

    “et post mortem domni Gutier adimpleuit inde seruitium et obedientiam ad filium suum domnum Munionem usque ad dies Lormanorum. et ab ipsis diebus erexerunt alios parentes et miserunt ipsa kasa in contentione” [dies Lormanorum, so the expedition represented a landmark in local history] (Tumbo of Sobrado, doc. of the year 992)

    “usquequo peccato pepediente uenerunt gentes lotimanorum in ipsam terram et uastauerunt sic ipsam ecclesiam, sicut et alias conuicinas eiusdem, sicut et sacerdotes sui captiuitate ducti et gladio trucidati sunt, ipsasque scripturas ipsius ecclesie de ignibus concremauerunt usquequo non remansit ibidem nisi petre ignibus ustulate.” [in reference to the church of Santa Eulalia of Curtis] (Tumbo of Sobrado, doc. of the year 995)

    “Notum hic omnibus facio, qualiter in tempore avii nostri Veremundi Rex rebellaverunt illi Comites Galleciae Suarius Gundemariz, ceterosque Comites eius complices … iterum habuit Comes Rudericus Romaniz surprinus ipsius Suarius Gundemariz Consilio agitato cum Vascones Galleciae … Tunc uero coadunauit seipse Comes cum omnes suos Barones, & cum Gens Leodomanorum, & cerrauit ipsa penna, & pressit ea per fortia & cremauit & solauit ea.” [King Bermudo/Vermundo II reigned in Galicia from 982, and in Leon from 985, and till 999; so, at least part of the Northmen of the expedition stayed in Galicia, maybe forever, acting as soldiers of fortune; here, they participate in the attack on a group of Basque marauders settled near the city of Lugo.] (Charter from Lugo, in España Sagrada XXXX, p. 410-411)

    Other documents from the monasteries of Celanova and Xuvia relates XIth century incursions, but no one like this one. Sorry for the extension.

    • Oh, no problem, this is excellent, not least because I just went and chased up a source for this and it was none of these ones :-) Of course Tuy and Santiago fight over their respective metropolitan claims in subsequent centuries to the point that any evidence about Tuy ceasing to be from Santiago has to be looked at very suspiciously! But the rest is all good stuff. Thankyou very much. I especially love that ‘dies lormannorum’ bit from Sobrado; it reminds me of charters from Barcelona after the sack of 985 which refer to that as ‘dies quod Barcinona interiit’

      One question, which if necessary I can answer myself, but: what is the actual source that is being quoted in the España Sagrada here?

      Nos omnes qui sumus habitantes in sub Urbe civitatis Lucensis … pactum vel placitum facimus uobis Patri Domino Hermenegildo Episcopo, siue nos monachos ipsius sedis & infanzones qui uestros comintatos obtinemus….

      It bothers me because of the use of the term ‘infanzones’: that seems very early for this word to be in use to me, though I don’t know this material well enough to be sure of that. Is this a later bishop’s life? And how much later, if so? It certainly seems that the Vikings become incorporated into Galician and Portuguese folklore as a kind of disaster that might plausibly have befallen people of the recent past very quickly, in any case. So your masochism has long roots :-)

      • En el reino Astur-Leonés y en Castilla se usó el término infanzón al menos desde el siglo X. Según Valdeavellano los caballeros de linaje noble mas antiguo se llamaron infantiones o infanzones.
        En el fuero de Castrojeriz ya se usó en 974.
        Tendria equivalencia a los Catanes y Valvasares italianos.

        Escuela de genealogia heráldica y nobiliaria.

        Parece ser según Don Ángel Barrios Garcia que el término hidalgo al igual que infanzón surgió en la cornisa cantábrica; aunque hidalgo que sustituye a infanzón englobó a un grupo mas amplio de gente quizás a los boni homine.

  6. Yes, but the evidence for those later raids, even if they are on a smaller scale, may be even more interesting in some respects, particularly if we’re interested in questions about the nature of Scandinavian predation at the end of the Viking Age… Has all the local documentary evidence of the C11th raids been assimilated and processed in modern scholarship?

  7. My apologies for the delay: I was out for some days.

    Acute appreciation on the probably interested document from Santiago. I don’t pretend to argue, but during the large gap of time that goes from 1002 till 1071 there is no mention of a bishop of Tui in the Galician or Portuguese documentation… And this is a very relevant fact, since the mention of earlier or later bishops of Tui is a constant in any type of charters. Searching in the documentation included in the Corpus Documentale Latinum Gallaeciae (a partial corpus on medieval Latin documents, mainly from Galicia: http://corpus.cirp.es/codolga/; requires previous inscription, but they haven’t bother me in the three years I’ve been using it :-) for the string ‘TUDENS*’ I found the bishop Didacus in 899; Bradericus from 912 to 924; Hermoygius in 942; Wiliulfus from 952 to 977; Baltarius in 982; and again Wiliulf -or another one- from 985 to 1002. Then, after seventy years we have Georgius in 1071 and 1072, and Audericus from 1073… So the fact, as it is shown -or not shown- in the charters of the time, is that there is no bishop in Tui from 1002 till 1071. The city could be destroyed by Al-Mansur when he marched over Santiago in 997, or by the Norsemen as indicated by the document from Santiago, or by the successive action of both.

    España Sagrada do not always cites where were located the edited documents at the time; I think this is the case, also :-(

    About the word infanzon ‘lesser nobleman’, it’s present in Galicia and in the west of the peninsula from an earlier date than in Aragon or Catalonia (cf. CODOLGA): ‘infanzonibus vel ex villanis’ (copy, from San Millán de la Cogolla, dated in 873); ‘tam de rege quam de infanzone’ (original?, from Leon, 904); ‘confirmatores infanzones:’ (copy?, from Lalín in Galicia, 956); ‘nostras magnificentias que dedimus per nostros infanzones … meos infanzones’ (copy, from Sobrado, in Galicia, 966); ‘suo infanzone nomine Nausti… domno Sonna cum suos abbates et fratres et suorum infanzones’ (copy, from Celanova in Galicia, 982); etc… I think that the chartularies from the monasteries of Sobrado and Celanova are considered genuine and reliable; or at least, I haven’t read the contrary statement. Anyway, the word, maybe of Suevic better than Gothic origin -I assume it’s not used in the Codex Iudicum!-, is related to the French infanterie, from the proto-Germanic *fanþjōn ‘infantryman’.

    I totally agree with your on the Norsemen becoming some kind of local misty folklore; I think that their depiction in the Historia Compostellana (12th c.) and in the Chronicle of Iria (11 or 12th c.) is rather grey, while it permeates the vivid, vibrant confrontation of the two most important lineages of Galicia, represented by bishops Sisenand of Iria and Rudesind of Mondoñedo: “Ad obitum Regis, Sisnandus solvitur & in uespere natalis Domini ad Beati Iacobum uenit, indutus armis & thorace & nescimus utrum ante altare orationem fecerit, an non: Sed tracto ense uiolenter entrauit dormitorium ubi Rudesindus episcopus cum aliis dominis & senioribus dormiens iacebat: sed cum spiculo ensis coopertorium in parte leuaret Rudesindus Episcopus uir sanctus expergefactus & timidus, maledixit ei dicens: Qui gladio operabitur, gladio peribit: & eleuatus abiit ad Monasterium suum Cella novae, & ibi quieuit usque ad obitum suum. Tunc Sisnandus tumidus & eleuatus ad propriam rediit sedem, & cum ibi moraretur, die mediante XL dominica, ecce ante eum uenerunt nuntii dicentes quod Normani & Frandenses & gens multa inimicorum uenien de Iuncariis uolentes ire ad Iriam, quoscumque homines & mulieres in itinere inueniebant, ducebant captos, & terram uastabant & praedabant. Quo audito Episcopus Sisnandus, ut infanus armis indutus, cucurrit post eos usque in Fornelos, & intrans per medias acies cedidit” (C. Iriense, 11); “Cumque Normani ex portu qui Juncarie dicitur uenientes & Iriam tendentes, partes istas depraedarentur, idem Sisnandus a Ciuitate exiit & sui exercitus robore circumuallatus in die mediantis Quadragesima, usque ad praedium quod dicitur Fornellos, eos est insecutus: ubi pugnam aggresionis acerrimae cum eis incipiens, sanctisimi Rodesindi maledictionis saggitta percussus casu interuininente occissus est iiii kalendas Aprilis Era MVI” (Historia Compostellana, I.II.6).

    In fact there are legends about Vikings in Galicia: A bishop of Mondoñedo, Gonzalo by name, would have burned down a Nordic navy through oration -one ship at a time. Of course, also Galicia passed into the folklore of the Norsemen, and the Knytlinga Saga and Saxo Gramaticus mention a man named Galician Ulf after his success in an expedition into Galicia (cf. http://books.google.com/books?id=sOzUxrB7cDQC&pg=PA117&lpg=PA117&dq=%22vascones+gallaeciae%22&source=bl&ots=pGbFg7mRF9&sig=nzbO28uRMU-oqvPaZZZoh2_hDC8&hl=gl&ei=L5QwS7SqPM3LjAeUy_TXAg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CAcQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22vascones%20gallaeciae%22&f=false)

    Again, my apologies for the extension and for the delay, and my recognition for such an interesting blog :-)

    • This is all fascinating stuff. I will try and check that España Sagrada reference myself in the New Year, just in case. Meanwhile you’ve given us the Historia Compostellana reference that Fletcher mentioned so I don’t have to track it down for Jonathan :-)

      The Tuy references are also useful; I think we can understand Fletcher’s caution now, and indeed that of others (forthcoming post). We can see Tuy got badly hurt but we can’t tell which of the possible culprits were responsible or when…

      Thankyou also for the infanzones references, something which perhaps I should have known but which will prevent me from error in the future. Rather than recognising my knowledge I feel we should be thanking you for yours! If we ever wind up at the same conference, make yourself known and I’ll buy you a drink by way of recompense.

      • Thanks a lot to the both of you for supplying such a lot of interesting material! It looks like many of the key texts are referred to in some shape or form in Vicente Almazan’s book, but it also seems clear that this is not the final word: I look forward to hearing more from you in due course (I’m afraid I’m holding on grimly to those tenterhooks to which you refer elsewhere: I even remain unwisely hopeful that there might be more out there than has yet made it into the standard collections and editions). All of this stuff makes me think that someone should organise a seminar on Scandinavian activities overseas in the late Viking Age, across the full breadth of their geographical range: it might be quite enlightening…

        • I’m thinking I ought to assemble a page that links these various posts together, at least!

        • I’ll accept that drink ;-) On the C11th activities, I can find at least these other two documents, both of them with references to past events. The first one includes references to Dornelas, in southern Galicia, some 100 km. from the coast; the second one comes from northern Galicia, by the Ocean shore; in Galicia there’s a lot of non edited material from this same century:

          ‘in portione de genitorio meo domno Oduario, villa vocitata Dornellas; et abuit ipsam villam pater meus ganatam de Pelagio Oduariz quem quem tenebant lordomanes in captivo, et saccavit illum inde pro sua merce, et pro tale actione dedit medietatem de ipsa villa et cadivit mihi in portione cum fratre meo Ovecco Oduariz’ (doc. from the Tumbo de Celanova, 1048)

          ‘et iterum do ad ipso patronis mei sancti Martini, monasterio sancti Iuliani de Mondego in territorio de Nemitos quos fuit de proienie nostra et testarunt illa ad ipso monasterio et tenuerunt illa in uoce ipsius loci et post hoc uenerunt gentes laudomanes in ipsius prouinciis et destructa est ueritas et exaltata est mendacitas et tenuerunt illa homines que non fuerunt ex proienie nostra’ (doc. from the monatery of Xuvia, 1086).

          • More excellent stuff, thankyou. I now have a sneaking suspicion as to the identity of this masked antiquarian, but I have no wish to discourage you by voicing it ;-) Also, not that you could know, but thankyou for not coming up with the one extra document I’ve already written a future post about…

  8. Pingback: From the sources IV: following up the simonists and Vikings « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  9. Pingback: Vikings in Iberia. « VinLand Blog

  10. Pingback: Viking ransoms in Galicia: you heard it here first (wrong) | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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