Vikings invaded and took part in raids for more than the spoils of silver they would gain from them, an archaeologist has said.
Steve Ashby, of the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, says the lure of the exotic world beyond the horizon, and the opportunity to get noticed by their peers and superiors during raids, was as of as much importance as the treasures they would return with.
In a study published in the journal Archaeological Dialogues, Ashby was looking to find out what specifically would have driven Vikings to take part in risky ventures and why there was a spike in aggressive raids towards the end of the eighth century.
"I wanted to try to discover what would make a young chieftain invest in the time and resources for such a risky venture. And what were the motives of his crew?" he said.
Previously, researchers have looked at the environmental, technological and political drivers that led to the Viking Age. But Ashby said there must have been further enticement beyond riches – rewards from violent raids could not just have been to do with portable wealth.
"The cause of the Viking Age is one of our longest-lived debates ... Recent discussions have focused on the macro level, with little consideration of the individual gains to be made by raiding. This paper argues that rewards consisted in more than portable wealth," Ashby wrote.
The collection of Anglo-Saxon, Frankish, and Celtic metalwork likely served as reminders of successful attacks, providing enticement to partake in future raids and a call-to-arms for future invasions.
He said raiding would have provided an opportunity for violence where individuals could be noticed by their peers and superiors, allowing them to build reputations for courage, skill and battle acumen – as well as wealth accumulation.
The social capital gained would have been as important as the monetary gains, Ashby argues.
"In the flexible hierarchies of the Viking Age, those who took advantage of opportunities to enhance their social capital stood to gain significantly," he wrote. "The lure of the raid was thus more than booty; it was about winning and preserving power through the enchantment of travel and the doing of deeds. This provides an important correction to models that focus on the need for portable wealth; the act of acquiring silver was as important as the silver itself.
"The lure of the exotic, of the world beyond the horizon, was an important factor. Classic anthropology has shown that the mystique of the exotic is a powerful force, and something that leaders and people of influence often use to prop up their power base. It is not difficult to see how this would have worked in the Viking Age."