It happened today - March 28, 2016

On this date in the Dark Ages, specifically March 28 of 845 AD, the Vikings attacked Paris. And you wouldn’t have wanted to be there because it worked.

Some 5,000 very scary and pungent men in 120 ships under the command of Ragnar, very possibly Ragnar Lodbrok or “Hairy Breeches,” infuriated at Charles the Bald not wanting them to sack the abbey of St. Denis, beat his men, hanged a bunch of them and went after Paris.

They took it, sacked it, and only left after Charles paid them a big ransom. Which is about what you’d expect for those days, the Dark Ages and the scarcely less dismal Middle Ages.

If so, you’d be mistaken. Paris was attacked by the Vikings again in 885-86, or by Norsemen or if you prefer the Normans, because these were the ancestors of William the Conqueror celebrated in Asterix et Les Normands which I might add is a sidesplittingly funny classic. But that siege failed. And nobody attacked Paris again until the mid-14th century when in the course of a regrettably failed revolt by the Estates General under Etienne Martel against unchecked royal power, the King of Navarre briefly invested Paris.

As Regine Pernoud put it in her eye-opening book Those Terrible Middle Ages (originally Pour en finir avec le moyen age) “if we compare that with what has happened in Paris from 1789 to our own day, it is unnecessary to dwell on the total number of successive revolutions, attacks, foreign occupations…”

Exactly. The Viking attack in 845 was pretty bad and the one in 885-86 was no party either. Mind you Viking camps could get pretty rowdy but, again, you wouldn’t want to be there. But this habitual denigration of the period in Western history where the university, hospital and Parliament arose, in favour of modernity with its concentration camps, rap music and processed cheese, can obscure the fact that in a great many ways life was better then including, surprisingly, often being more peaceful.