Hásteinn, Viking chief: between myth and reality

Hásteinn, viking chief, born in 810, is a famous Viking leader who led expeditions throughout the Frankish kingdom, Spain and as far as Italy. He has become an almost legendary character; From the 860s, myth seemed to replace reality with regard to some of his expeditions. The capture of Luna, a town in Italy which has now disappeared, located at the mouth of the Magra, a few kilometers from Carrara in Italy, is thus part of these “Stories”.


The monk-chronicler Raoul Glaber, who wrote around the year 1000, presents Hásteinn as a descendant of Saxons deported by Charlemagne. Indeed, from 799, the Frankish emperor massively displaced the Saxons to replace them by Franks in order to avoid new revolts. Raoul Glaber mentions that the Viking chief was born around 810, in the country of Troyes, in a village called Trancault. Having become a teenager, aged about fifteen, he left his parents and returned to the North. In one of the towns of the Rhine delta, perhaps Dorestadt, which was then an important trading port for the Frisians, he met Danes. These men speak his language; they look like him. He follows them and enlists in a crew. He sails on merchant ships, then as an adult, on longships. His warlike qualities, his courage, his intelligence, the wealth he amassed quickly imposed him as a leader.

The other chroniclers present Hásteinn simply as a Danish chieftain.

Hásteinn appears for the first time in the history of the Viking raids, in 838, during the capture of the city of Amboise. In 841, he seized the city of Nantes, on Saint John's Day, and killed the bishop of the city. In the ten years that followed, he foamed the Loire Valley, then Aquitaine. In 858, he launched a raid against the coasts of the Iberian peninsula and the south-east of the Frankish kingdom; Lisbon suffered thirteen days of plunder; Seville, Porto, Barcelona, ​​Arles, Marseille are attacked.

Taking Luna

Christmas 859, Hásteinn's fleet arrives under the city walls of Luna (in Etruria). The “story” tells that the Danish leader would have made these men who wanted to attack Rome believe that this city was the Eternal City.

The Danes land. The city is strong, well protected and guarded, and Hásteinn understands that he will lose if he attacks and that a siege will have a very uncertain outcome. It is therefore advisable to resort to trickery.

These men and first ask for permission to winter peacefully under the walls, so that they can rest, because they were tested by a long crossing and headwinds when they wanted to return to their country. natal, after being banned from it. Despite themselves, the Lunois who quickly closed all the doors of their city accepted. But, soon, the Vikings showing no aggressiveness, rather friendly relations settled between the two peoples. Commercial exchanges are established, but the gates of the city are always well guarded. Hásteinn then sends his men to tell the city clergy that he is dying. Tired of his life as an adventurer, repenting for the suffering he caused, he asks the priests of Luna to instruct him in the Christian faith in order to be baptized. They believe they see a miracle in this and they eagerly accept. After a few weeks, Hásteinn, feigning illness, was baptized.

Night is coming. In the morning, Hásteinn died. His men, humbly, come to find the clergy of the city. Their leader asked, in his last breath, to be buried in consecrated ground. In addition, he bequeaths a large part of his wealth to the church. Having received the agreement of the priests dazzled by the promised treasures, the remains of the Danish chief, lying in an open coffin, are carried by his men in the choir of Luna Cathedral. Mass begins, followed by all the Viking warriors massed at the back of the building whose doors they have closed. The prayers follow one another. Suddenly, the dead man stands up and, with a sharp blow of his sword, he cuts off the bishop's head. The Vikings utter a formidable battle cry and take out their weapons concealed under their cloak.
The clergy and the faithful are massacred, without their being able to escape. The city is looted. The youngest and most vigorous girls and boys are captured, as slaves.

The death of Robert the Strong

Returning to Frankish territory, Hásteinn re-entered the Loire Valley in 866, after having scoured the Garonne and Charente. In November 866, he attacked Le Mans, but his troops were surprised by those of Count Robert the Strong, who pursued them as far as the church of Brissarthe where they took refuge. Robert le Fort is the son of Count Robert III of Hesbaye, Count of Worms and Oberrheingau. King Charles the Bald (823, 877) entrusted him with a vast command against the Vikings and the Britons. He is count of Tours, Anjou and Blois, he is lay abbot of Noirmoutier and Saint-Martin-de-Tours.

Locked in the church, Hásteinn's men watch over the Franks who settle in front of the building in order to blockade it. It's hot. Robert le Fort's men are tired of the pursuit. Believing the Vikings to be at their mercy, they relax, take off their helmet and breastplate. Hásteinn then tries everything for everything. He gathers his men and tries an exit, by surprise. The Franks rush into battle without taking the time to rearm. Robert the Strong falls mortally wounded and dies. The Franks are at a loss. Hásteinn and his men flee.

Count of Chartres

Hásteinn is getting old. In addition, resistance in the Frankish territory is greater and it suffers several setbacks. The “history” says here that he accepts in 882, in exchange for a new baptism, to become count of Chartres. Ten years later, tired of staying in this city, dreaming of new adventures, he sold his county and, with the sum collected, had eighty longships built, which he fitted out. He leaves with his men to join the great army which, massed in the estuary of the Seine, is preparing to leave on an expedition against Wessex and King Alfred the Great.

From there, the "story" is silent. Hásteinn disappears. No one knows when or where he died.


• Raoul Glaber, Histoires, first volume, translation Mathieu Arnoux, Brepols.
• Michel Dillange, The Counts of Poitou, Dukes of Aquitaine: 778-1204, Geste Editions, History collection.
• Woerhel, Eriamel, Balland, Me, Svein, companion of Hasting, Volume 1 to 5, Assor BD.

Video: 10 Unsolved Viking Mysteries (September 2021).