Note on 885-886 siege of Paris in RTF

I’d like to draw attention to the 885 CE siege of Paris. There are three things I’d like to write a little bit about:

  • Sinric
  • Siege engines/war machines
  • Lead grenades


Throughout my research it was unanimous that a Dane called Sigfred led the siege on Paris in 885, but there was also another name mentioned, Sinric. Some articles stated Sinric was another Dane, others referred to Sigfred as ‘Sigfred the Sinric’, but I could not find the meaning the ‘Sinric’ as a word or byname at all. Other articles do not mention anything about a ‘Sinric’. I made the decision to have Sinric as his own person in this story, though he did have a very minimal part.

Siege Engines/War Machines

In his detailed account of the siege, the monk Abbo (who was present during the siege), alleged that Sigfred threatened bishop Gauzelin, saying “… Nevertheless, if you do not give in to my demand, on the morrow our war machines will destroy you with poisoned arrows.”.

Now, Abbo was apparently known to be quite the exaggerator, and I do doubt that the Norsemen who attacked Paris in 885 CE actually used ‘war machines’. I couldn’t find any other sources mentioning the Norse using siege engines in any other battle. The Norse tended to stay away from sieges, preferring a ‘hit and run’ approach. Mobility was key to their success and dragging along siege engines surely would have slowed them down.

Regardless of this, I was entranced by the idea of the Norse using siege engines and war machines, so I chose to include them in this story anyway. Ballistae, mangonels, catapults and belfries/siege towers were phenomenal machines.

The earliest ballista was invented by the Ancient Greeks, developed from the gastrophetes and oxybeles, around 400 BCE. The gastrophetes, meaning “belly shooter”, was first described by Helon of Alexandria’s Belopoeica in the 1st century CE. The gastrophetes earned its name due to the user having to brace the stock against their belly to draw the weapon. The gastrophetes was the forerunner of the catapult (Heron states in Belopoeica that stand-mounted mechanical artillery such as the katapeltikon was inspired by the earlier hand-held gastrophetes), though it looked and operated much like a crossbow. Unlike Roman and Medieval crossbows, however, the gastrophetes was operated by pointing it to the ground and pushing down on a slider mechanism. The oxybeles was essentially a giant gastrophetes, also invented by the Greeks, a composite bow employing a winch and mounted onto a tripod.

The torsion-powered ballista was borne from these weapons, and used by the Romans after the Greek city-states were absorbed by the Roman Republic in 146 BCE. The Romans continued the development of the ballista and soon became a valued weapon of the Roman Empire, even being employed by Julius Caesar during his conquest of Gaul and his campaigns in Britain. The use of the ballista waned after the fall of the Roman empire, though they were used in the Middle Ages, it faded from use during the advent of the trebuchet and mangonel.

Mangonels, also called traction-trebuchets, are thought to have originated in China, and were described in the Mozi, which was compiled in the 4th century BCE. Around the same time, the Romans created the onager, named due to the ‘kick’ of the weapon. Mangonels and onagers were very similar forms of catapult, though the attachments at the end of the arms differentiated the two; mangonels had a spoon or bucket at the end of the arm, whereas onagers had a sling. Onagers fell out of use in the 6th century after mangonels were brought to the Mediterranean.

Siege towers, known in the Medieval times as belfries, have been in use 11th century BCE by the Babylonians and Assyrians in the ancient Near East, the 4th century BCE in Europe and also in the Far East’s antiquity. They were most effectively used in the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 934-610 BCE or 912-612 BCE. Battering rams can also be traced back to the Assyrians in the 9th century BCE, subsequently used by the Romans and Greeks. The siege of Utica in 204 BCE was on of the first times the Romans began using siege towers. Siege towers and battering rams were used well into the Middles Ages, the siege tower itself eventually evolving into the battery-tower.


Some sources I came across stated that the Danes hurled a thousand lead grenades at the city of Paris. Personally, I chose not to include the grenades in the story, due to not knowing how the Vikings managed to get their hands on so many lead grenades, nor having come across any other instances in which the Danes and Norsemen had used grenades in battle.

Indeed, the Danes may possibly have encountered a form of medieval grenade, as grenades and forms of incendiary weapons having been in use since 660 CE when a man named Kalinkos, (who was either a Greek architect or a Syrian alchemist), invented Greek fire. Not long after the reign of Leo III (717-741 CE), the Byzantines found Greek fire could be thrown in stone and ceramic jars as well as flamethrowers, and in the 9th century, Leo IX of Byzantium described “vases filled with quicklime which were thrown by hand. When broken, the vase would let loose an overpowering odour, which suffocates those who are near.” After a Viking attack on Seville in 844, the emir of Seville ordered the construction of a fleet of warships to be made, fitted with catapults that could hurl incendiary bombs made with naphtha.

Map of 9th century Paris by Sven Rosborn.

Brownworth, Lars, (2014) The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings
Haywood, John, (1995) Historical Atlas of the Vikings
Bradbury, Jim, (1992) The Medieval Siege
Bennet, Bradbury, DeVries, Dickie, Jestice, (2005) Fighting Techniques of the Medieval World: Equipment, Combat Skills and Tactics
Haywood, John, (2016) Northmen: The Viking Saga AD 793-1241
Petersen, Leif Inge Ree, (2013) Siege Warfare and Military Organization in the Successor States (400-800 AD)…

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