Size of Viking raiding parties

Not a good omen for whoever is on land ahead of them. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

How many warriors did the Vikings put ashore during raids? The size of the raids grew over time, starting small with fast-strike harassing plunders and growing to the point where the arrival of Vikings constituted a major invasion.

Here are a few guesses, from writers who have some basis for making such guesses.

In The Vikings course from Great Courses, Prof. Kenneth Harl makes the statement that the typical raiding party in early or mid 9th century may have been 10 or 20 ships. At 50 or 60 warriors per ship, this would be somewhere in the range of 500 up to 1,200 warriors.

By the end of the 9th century, the raiders could gather in forces of 100 or 120 ships. He thinks they may have been able to put 5,000 or even 10,000 men ashore. That would mean the longships carried somewhere between 50 and 80 warriors each.

Here is my recap of his guess on size of raids:

  • Early to mid 800s (820-860??) – 500 to 1,000 warriors on 10 to 20 ships
  • Around 900 – 5,000 to 10,000 warriors on 100 to 120 ships

In Vikings: Warriors, Raiders & Masters of the Sea by Rodney Castleden, the author provides his estimates for the size of raids. Here is my recap of his comments:

Raiding parties were around 3 ships or so early on, say about 800 a.d. By the middle of the century, say 850, the raids had 30 or more ships. By 875 the book says hundreds of ships would have landed.

Based on those fleet sizes and my assumption of 30 to 50 warriors per ship, here is my guess on the number of warriors on the raids:

  • 800 – 90 to 150 – 3 ships
  • 850 – 900 to low thousands – 30 ships or more
  • 875 – 3,000 up to maybe 5,000 or 6,000 – “hundreds” of ships

Those two guesses on size of raids sorta’ kinda’ fit together. Keeping in mind both authors are making guesses, those amounts are quite consistent with each other.

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