Vikings in Asselt

Were there ever Vikings in Asselt?

Two years ago, I wrote an essay on ‘Croats and Vikings’. This was a search term that appeared in my stats one day and made me curious because it referred to a connection I had not considered. The next weeks I enjoyed researching and writing that story even if there were many “if’s and maybe’s”. In all, the idea seemed so obscure, I convinced myself nobody would ever read this article. And by the end of 2017, the views took it to eleventh-best. Not bad, but not incredible, either. Things changed the following summer. The Croatian football team got through to the World Cup finals and at the same time, the views soared through the roof. It became the best-viewed piece of 2018!

This anecdote serves as an explanation of why I’m encouraged to write another article based only on a search key. This year’s winner is “Danish Vikings in Asselt and Dorestad”. You may know of Dorestad and its Viking chieftain Rorik? Otherwise, you will find the basic stories in The Archive. The link between Scandinavians and Asselt is new to me and this essay results from my research so far! First, it explores the historical context and geography in the region and then zooms in on the possibility of Asselt as a Viking site.

Vikings in the Low Countries?

The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg together form the ‘Low Countries’ during the Middle Ages. They were (and still are) the delta for two large rivers: the Meuse and the Rhine. The coastline therefore comprised of marshy wetlands with few inhabitants. Still, there were rich abbeys in Egmond and Rijnsburg near the sea. Southwards along the coast was the prosperous settlement of Walcheren, and further inland, along the rivers, were the thriving trade towns of Dorestad and Tiel.1 Some claim the Vikings never set foot in the Low Countries.2 But this is difficult to believe, if one considers the Vikings’ tactics of raiding rich abbeys and towns.

Plenty of medieval sources directly connect the Vikings to events and people in the region. The downside is that the circumstantial archaeological evidence found so far does not corroborate with any of these sources. There are objects from circular ramparts3 and coin hoards in the north.4 But one can’t confirm they have been owned by a Viking. Nor does the ship in Tiel confirm that Vikings built it in the typical Scandinavian style (with English timber!)5 It at least suggests trade between locals and Vikings, or locals and merchants in contact with the Scandinavians. One stronger piece of evidence is the layer of ash found in the ground near Zutphen. It dates back to 881, the same year that the Vikings attacked the town.6

Vikings in the Meuse-Rhineland

The village of Asselt still exists today, right next to the river Meuse, in the southern province of Limburg. The river Rhine is a 12 hours’ hike away in Germany. For the longest time, Limburg is the border region in the Meuse-Rhineland. In 870, Charles ‘the Bald’ and his brother Louis ‘the German’ signed the Treaty of Meerssen here. This settled their dispute over the land they inherited from their nephew Lothair II. The treaty did not stop them from raiding each other’s land, however. Eventually, Charles put a Viking vassal in charge of the Low Countries. His name is Rorik and he ruled the region until 873. By 877, Charles and Louis died, and Rorik disappeared from the sources.

Meuse in Limburg (Source: Flickr / Bert Kaufmann)

At the same time, a Danish chieftain called Godfred ‘the Younger’7 and his kinsman Sigfred sailed to England. Here, Alfred the Great and Guthrum already divided the country into an Anglo-Saxon and Danelaw part. And either Guthrum or Alfred the Great’s impressive defences persuaded Godfred to go elsewhere. The Dane sailed for the continent and set up camp in Ghent in 879. The next two years, he moved further inland. He led harsh attacks in the Meuse-Rhineland area, but Louis III stopped him at the battle of Saucourt. Afterwards, Godfred set up camp near Ascloa.

This is around the year 882. Charles ‘the Fat’ succeeded his father Louis the German. He besieged Godfred’s camp, but settled for peace when he was about to be victorious.8 Godfred converted to Christianity and agreed to be Charles’ vassal. He also married the daughter of Lothair II (that nephew). The new Duke of Frisia most likely had to refrain the Vikings from further attacks, but he did not do much about it. The raids continued and eventually, enemies within the Frankish political scene murdered him in 885.9

Vikings in Asselt

The Annals of Fulda (AF) is the most important source on the Siege of Ascloa in 882. Essentially, the question is: where is Ascloa (AscolohaHaslao10 or Haslo11)?

The siege takes place after the attack on Maastricht and the AF describe it as 14 militaria from Xanten in Germany.12 Van der Tuuk argues that Asselt in Limburg is the most likely solution for Ascloa. It is about 14 hours on foot from Xanten, and he backs this up with further textual evidence. Apparently, the bishop of Utrecht exchanged gifts with an abbey called Assclon near Roermond. We also know about Asselt from Carolingian sources and it is thought to have been the royal domain of Lothair II.13 Professor Holwerda, director of the Royal Museum of Antiquities, led the excavation near the Rose Chapel in Asselt in the 1920s. He believed he had found a Carolingian palts, and a Viking rampart.14

However, recent evaluations of the site, lead scholars to believe that Holwerda has been wrong about the Viking rampart. The alleged defence system is probably a sixteenth-century structure used by the Dutch during the 80-year war against the Spanish. They found very few Viking objects in the area, although one is the famous Viking sword from Wessem (a village a short distance south from Asselt).15 But not the amounts of evidence one would expect from a campsite.

In February 2019, archaeologists completed their work on the Grensmaasproject in Limburg that included thoroughly excavating the river and its banks. They found a significant amount of metal objects, weaponry, that dated back to the Viking Age. This was not near Asselt, though, but further south near a place called Elsloo. Therefore, researchers now think Ascloa might be Elsloo after all.16It’s a shame that this news has been kept low profile thus far.

References


  1. Nelleke IJssennagger, Central because Liminal: Frisia in a Viking Age North Sea World. Thesis. (Groningen: Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, 2017).
    See also the informative video on YouTube.
    For Egmond, see: Luit van der Tuuk, Vikingen: Noormannen in de Lage Landen. (Utrecht: Uitgeverij Omnibroek, 2016), pp. 191–192. [Transl. Vikings: Northmen in the Low Countries.]
    For Rijnsburg, see: Canon van Katwijk, ‘Rinasburg.’ Last Accessed 22 June 2019. 
  2. The most outspoken web site is by Delehaye on his web site Noviomagus. A lot is said on these pages about the ‘fake information’ by scholars that Vikings came to the Low Countries and attacked Dorestad. It is true there is no conclusive evidence, but the rest of this article will show there is enough reason to believe there was contact between the Vikings and the locals during the Viking Age.  ↩
  3. Letty ten Harkel, ‘A Viking Age Landscape of Defence in the Low Countries: The ringwalburgen in the Dutch Province of Zeeland.’ In: Landscapes of Defence in Early Medieval Europe.Edited by John Baker, Stuart Brookes and Andrew Reynolds (Turnhout: Brepols, 2013), pp. 229, 231 [pp. 223–260].  ↩
  4. Nelleke IJssennagger (2017), pp. 19–20.  ↩
  5. The Navis I Project, ’Archaeologie in Tiel 5.’ Last Accessed 22 June 2019. [Dutch language]  ↩
  6. Archaeologie op de Kaart, ‘Zutphen – De archaeologische sporen van een Vikingaanval.’ Last Accessed 19 June 2019. [Transl: Archaeology on the Map, ‘Zutphen – The archaeological traces of a Viking attack’]  ↩
  7. Reinard Maarleveld, ‘Vikings in the Low Countries.’ The Viking Network | Viking.no. Published 14 August 2004. Last Accessed 22 June 2019.  ↩
  8. Simon MacLean, Kingship and Politics in the Late Ninth Century. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 30–37.  ↩
  9. Janet L. Nelson, ’The Frankish Empire.’ In: The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings edited by Peter Sawyer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 35 [pp. 19–47].  ↩
  10. For the years from the Annals Bertini see: Anonymous, The Annals of St–Bertin. Translated and annotated by Janet L. Nelson (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991).
    Luit van der Tuuk, ‘Attacks.’ Gjallar. Last Accessed 22 June 2019. http://gjallar.nl/aanvallen.html.  ↩
  11. For the Chronicon by Regino of Prüm, see: Simon MacLean (transl., anno.), History and politics in late Carolingian and Ottonian Europe: the Chronicle of Regino of Prüm and Adalbert of Magdeburg (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2003).
    Luit van der Tuuk, ‘Sources.’ Gjallar. Last Accessed 22 June 2019. http://gjallar.nl/bronnen.html. [Dutch Language]  ↩
  12. For the AF, see: Anonymous, The Annals of Fulda. Translated and annotated by Timothy Reuter. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992), pp. 92.
    Luit van der Tuuk, ‘Sources.’ Gjallar. Last Accessed 22 June 2019. http://gjallar.nl/bronnen.html. [Dutch language]  ↩
  13. Luit van der Tuuk, Vikingen: Noormannen in de Lage Landen. (Utrecht: Uitgeverij Omnibroek, 2016), pp. 203. [Transl. Vikings: Northmen in the Low Countries] [Dutch language]  ↩
  14. Leo Verhart, ‘Geen Noormannen te bekennen. De archeologische bewijzen voor hun aanwezigheid bij het Dionysiuskerkje in Asselt.’ In: Spiegel van Roermond (2019), [pp. 59–79]. [Transl. No Norman in sight. Archaeological evidence for their presence near the Dionysiuschapel in Asselt.]  ↩
  15. Henk Stoepker, ‘Evaluatie en synthese van het sinds 1995 in Limburg uitgevoerde archeologische onderzoek met betrekking tot de Middeleeuwen en Nieuwe Tijd.’ Archaeological Research Report, 2007. [Transl. Evaluation and synthesis of the archaeological research conducted in Limburg since 1995 regarding the Middle Ages and the New Time.]  ↩
  16. Elsloo.info, ‘Maas geeft geheimen prijs.’ Last Accessed 22 June 2019. [Transl. Meuse gives away secrets].
    1Limburg, ‘L1 Radio: Veel wapentuig uit tijd Vikingen uit de Maas gehaald.’ Published 03 July 2018. Last Accessed 22 June 2019. [Transl. Much weaponry from the Viking Age found in the Meuse].  ↩

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