To encourage Scandinavian envoys to accept baptism, Frankish emperor Louis the Pious gave the newly baptized a fine, white baptismal garment. In addition, Frankish nobles, who acted as the baptismal candidates' sponsors, handed out other rich gifts.

Such generosity naturally attracted many envoys, with awkward results. On one occasion (probably apocryphal), related by a ninth-century German named Notker, 50 potential converts arrived, and since there was not enough new cloth for so many garments, the sponsors made some from old clothing. The solution wasn't acceptable to one elderly recipient.

"I've gone through this ablutions business about 20 times already, and I've always been rigged out before with a splendid white suit," he protested. "This old sack makes me feel more like a pig-farmer than a soldier!"

The story illustrates one motive for Vikings' becoming Christians, but hardly the most compelling. In fact, the motives for conversion were complex, and they changed over three centuries of missionary work.

Gospel of wealth and success


Such "converts" as the elderly man above did little to advance the cause of Christianity. One Frankish archbishop complained that many converts reverted to pagan ways and were behaving "like typical Northmen." Still, ninth-century Scandinavians who visited Christian Europe as raiders, settlers, merchants, or envoys must have been impressed by the enormous wealth and elaborate rituals of Frankish and British churches. So when Viking leaders came to terms with Christian rulers, they normally accepted baptism.

Unconverted Viking kings, however, were still fascinated with Christian wealth. In the 800s, missionaries were encouraged by pagan kings to work in the trading centers Hedeby, Ribe, and Birka, ...

Subscriber Access OnlyYou have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Already a CT subscriber? for full digital access.