Published: 06:00, 02 March 2021
| Updated: 10:42, 02 March 2021
Longships around the coast and the din of battle horns were familiar sights and sounds for the people of Kent some 1,100 years ago.
Due to the geography on the eastern edge of England, the county was a target for Viking raiders and the plunder on offer was all too tempting to resist.
The wealth of the Kingdom of Kent stemmed from Canterbury becoming established as the home of the Christian church in England, after St Augustine brought Christianity to these shores in 597.
Ferocious raids and pillaging blighted Kentish residents in the 9th and 10th centuries but this often bloody and dark period in history helped shape England for hundreds of years to follow.
The word Viking was an Old Norse word meaning to "pirate raid" and although most Saxons referred to the invaders as Danes, they came from across Scandanavia – mostly Norway and Sweden as well as Denmark.
However, for many Vikings the opportunity to raid and plunder was a means to pay and settle for their families and settlements which were growing as many Norse and Danes were farmers looking for more fruitful lands to live off instead of the harsh conditions of their native homelands.
Even after being targeted by the Vikings, Kent remained largely wealthy and prosperous largely thanks to a combination of the county's geography and the presence of the church making it a focus for trade and culture.
Very little archaeological evidence of the Vikings has been found in Kent but historic texts record extensive raids with one of the first major incidents taking place on Sheppey in 835.
Attacks had been going on for the previous decades with the earliest records placing Danes in Kent as early as the 750s.
Thomas of Elmham, a monk at the Abbey of St Augustines in the 1400s, records Vikings pillaging the nunnery at Minster in Thanet in 753.
The Saxon chronicles report landings and raids stepping up throughout the 9th century.
Rochester, Canterbury and monasteries which were often located on exposed coastal sites were targeted over the following decades by Vikings. Armies were visitors for more than 150 years from the first raids.
The minsters and monasteries were considered soft targets as the nuns and monks were often unarmed and the keepers of treasures, silver and valuable texts.
In 804, nuns from Lyminge were granted refuge inside the city walls in Canterbury due to the marauding hordes of Viking raiders.
A peasant army was raised in 811 to try to ward off encamped invaders on the Isle of Sheppey.
Viking forces set up defences along the northern coast and often spent winters camped on both Sheppey and the Isle of Thanet – at the time cut off from the mainland by the Wantsum Channel which was some two miles wide in parts and protected at each end by the Roman forts of Richborough and Reculver.
Further campaigns were recorded between 841 and 865 across Kent including in Romney Marsh while there were battles at Rochester in 842 and Canterbury and Sandwich in 851 and Thanet in 853.
The fortified cities of Canterbury and Rochester still had their Roman walls as layers of defence and were laid under siege by returning Viking armies throughout the mid-9th century, including the Great Heathen Army led by the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok from 865.
Despite the invaders being offered "Danegeld" – coin in exchange for peace – the Viking raiders decimated the east of the county after spending that winter in Thanet.
Rochester was surrounded twice in 842 and again in 885 - on that occasion it was relieved by an army led by King Alfred of Wessex to defeat the invaders.
Alfred successfully united much of the kingdoms and shires of southern England by 892. He repelled the Vikings camped in Kent after a treaty was agreed with the Norse leader Guthrum which granted Vikings land in East Anglia and along the east coast.
But there were many other Viking factions and clans waiting to seek out the county's riches and that year saw Kent plunged into chaos and turmoil as war and destruction loomed.
The great warrior Haesten – anyone familiar with the Netflix series The Last Kingdom based on Bernard Cornwell's novels will know that name – had mustered a huge force in northern France and that same year sailed more than 250 ships from Boulogne landing on the marshes near Appledore – between Ashford and Rye.
Some 10,000 warriors and their families landed and the soldiers raided the nearby St Rumwold's Church in Bonnington. The chronicles record all those inside were killed.
A further 80 ships landed at Milton Regis, near Sittingbourne, in the north that year.
Alfred's army, defending the unified Kent and Wessex crown, was set up between the two Viking forces.
The exact location has never been firmly established but historians believe it was Maidstone given the Saxons had established a crossing over the River Medway there and the hillside position of the present-day town centre provided a strategic advantage.
Haesten set up a fort at Appledore and as word reached of the influence he was gaining in the area, Guthrum's forces in East Anglia joined in the fight against Alfred.
The centre of Viking power in Kent was established at Seleberhtes Cert, now known as Great Chart near Ashford.
The raids continued for another four years until the Viking forces retreated back to East Anglia or northern France at the turn of the 10th century.
Descendants returned more than 150 years later with a soldier named Duke William of Normandy in command in 1066 landing near Hastings – and the rest, they say, is history.
Turning back to the Vikings, it is well-established that forces took control of much of Thanet during the 9th and 10th centuries.
But even these arrivals are contested as the "first arrival" of Vikings on Kentish shores.
Brothers Hengist and Horsa from the Jutland region of Denmark arrived in 449AD as both an invitation and the start of an entirely new settlement and period in English history.
Visitors to Pegwell Bay on the south Thanet coast will be greeted with a replica Viking longship, which forms as a testament to this chapter in Viking Kent.
Built in 1949, the ship was sailed from Denmark to Thanet to commemorate the 1,500th anniversary of the first Danes recorded to have arrived in England.
The brothers were invited by the King Vortigern – King of the Britons in Kent – to help ward off raiding Picts and landed at Ypwinesfleot – the tiny hamlet of Ebbsfleet near Pegwell Bay.
After defeating the Picts and fighting alongside Vortigern, the Dane brothers turned on their Kentish hosts in a bid to colonise the land and expand for their Germanic tribes – including Saxons, Angles and Jutes.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that in 455, Horsa and Hengist defeated Vortigern in battle at Ægelesthrep – thought to be present-day Aylesford. Horsa was killed in the fighting and Hengist assumed the crown.
Another battle at Crecganford – believed to be Crayford – followed in 456 and forced the Britons to flee Kent for their London stronghold.
The Jutes settled and Kent became known as Cantware in the language brought by the folk who followed Horsa and Hengist to England's shores.
The name derived from the Roman name for Kent, Cantiaca, the Latin version given to the Celtic tribe Cantii which occupied the land when Julius Caesar first arrived in Britain in 55BC. The name Cantii came from the old Brittonic word Cantium, meaning "corner of land" or "land on the edge" reflecting the geographical location in south east England.
While Kent is a derivation of Cantware, the Roman and early Saxon name for Kent bears and even more direct reflection in the name of the kingdom's main settlement – Cantwareburh.
Literally meaning the "fortress of the people of Kent" from "burh" meaning fortress and "Cantware" meaning dwellers of Kent in Old Saxon, it has since taken on a modernised version – Canterbury.
The name is just one example of many things the earliest Viking settlers brought from their homeland leading to the Saxon era of England.
It is open to debate whether Hengist and Horsa were technically Vikings – but to use the definition of pirate raiders from Denmark just like their successors were 300 years later, they are as much Vikings as they are Jutes or Saxons.
The fact they settled and remained meant they were known as Jutes rather than Vikings.
But in all senses of the meaning of the Old Norse word, they were certainly "going viking" by raiding and driving out their hosts in the 450s after turning on Vortigern.
The ship Hugin at Pegwell Bay, which sailed to Thanet, even helped to give the name to one of the area's most popular beaches.
Contrary to its name, Viking Bay in Broadstairs had nothing to do with the real Vikings and only took on the name after the replica longship landed there as part of the commemoration of Hengist and Horsa's arrival.
A 32-mile cycle and walking route around Thanet is named the Viking Trail.
Newsreel footage produced by British Pathe captures the celebrations as 'Kent Welcomes Viking Invaders'
The history books speak again of vicious Viking raids in the late 10th century from about 980 onwards.
Again, Thanet bore the first brunt of the Viking attacks and was devastated with the monastery at Minster again targeted having been rebuilt following the raids a century earlier.
The armies led by the fearsome Cnut pillaged and plundered Kent for the following three decades.
Canterbury was sacked in 1011 and the Archbishop Alphege captured and taken prisoner to Greenwich and he was murdered before becoming a martyr after his death the following year.
The parish of St Alphege in Whitstable tells the story of how the archbishop had refused to give up Canterbury to the Viking raiders.
Alphege became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1006 and had been a central figure in converting a Dane raider, Olaf, to Christianity following earlier raids.
But when the Vikings returned five years later, the city was pillaged and the cathedral set alight.
To end the siege and release Alphege, the Vikings demanded a ransom in silver and treasures to leave the city alone which was raised but the Vikings demanded more and took the Archbishop to Greenwich.
Alphege refused to pay any more saying the people of Canterbury would not give up a penny and he was kept prisoner.
During a drunken feast in April 1012, a band of Viking warrior pelted Alphege with ox bones before felling him with an axe as he refused to give up the Kentish people.
His body was returned down the Thames to Whitstable in 1023 where he was transported and buried at Canterbury Cathedral. He was made a saint by Pope Gregory in 1078.
The story is depicted through a series of 12th century stained-glass windows and a 15th century statue of Alphege in the cathedral. A church bearing his name is dedicated to him in the centre of Whitstable.
An interpretation of the Saxon cathedral in Canterbury features in the popular video game Assassins Creed Valhalla, released before Christmas.
Playing as the fearsome drengr (warrior) Eivor, the game allows players to roam across the county as part of a conquest seeking an alliance with the kingdom for their own settlement.
Locations such as the Roman fortification of Rochester feature with part of the story seeing Eivor and his allies assault the fortress as well as carrying out raids with your own raiding crew to Reculver and Tonbridge monasteries.
A small fishing village on the south coast – Folcastun – features in part of the storyline and there is another mission at the fortress of Dover.
The main story of the conquest of Kent culminates in Canterbury as Eivor is tasked with infiltrating the city and the cathedral – and true to Viking form, there is plenty of loot to be had.
The inclusion of the Kent storyline and the depiction of the cathedral came as a surprise to staff when the game was released.
Cnut's raiders were eventually defeated in 1017 and his army departed Kent.
The Saxon and Viking period ends following the Norman Conquest in 1066 which heralds in new laws and customs.