The Vikings raided Africa and then took slaves back to Ireland

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

One of the great puzzles of history is why a particular region might suddenly become active and attack another region. Why was Scandinavia not a factor during Roman times but then suddenly a volcano that spewed attacks outward like a volcano throwing out lava? Why did the Vikings suddenly come onto the scene? What had they been doing previously? Why did they attack Africa, rather than the other way around? Why has there never been a time when Sub-Saharan Africa launched attacks against Europe?


Nonetheless, the suggestion that Vikings might have raided along the coast of North Africa and even perhaps captured and enslaved people from this region is supported, to some degree, by other historical and archaeological evidence. Of particular importance in this regard is the fact that medieval Muslim writers also refer to Vikings (Majūs) having raided along the North African coast in the mid-ninth century. For example, the Andalusi geographer Al-Bakrī in his Kitāb al-Masālik wa-al-Mamālik (‘Book of Roads and Kingdoms’), completed c. 1068 but based on earlier materials, records the following:

Majūs [Vikings]—God curse them—landed at Nakūr [Nekor, Morocco], in the year 244 (858–859). They took the city, plundered it, and made its inhabitants slaves, except those who saved themselves by flight. Among their prisoners were Ama al-Raḥmān and Khanūla, daughters of Wakif ibn-Mu’tasim ibn-Ṣāliḥ. [The emir] Muḥammed ransomed them. The Majūs stayed eight days in Nakūr.

The same basic tale is recorded by a number of other writers too, including the tenth-century Andalusi historian Ibn al-Qūṭīya and the later authors Ibn Idhārī and Ibn Khaldūn, and a version also appears in the late ninth-century Christian Chronicle of Alfonso III, where it is related that the ‘Northman pirates… sailed the sea and attacked Nekur, a city in Mauritania, and there they killed a vast number of Muslims.’ Needless to say, the above is of considerable interest in the present context, and the reality of Viking activity in the region of Morocco is further supported by a recent analysis of bones of ancient mice recovered from the Portuguese island of Madeira, located off the coast of Morocco, which indicates that this island was probably visited by Vikings from Scandinavia/northern Germany in the tenth or early eleventh century, at least four centuries before the medieval Portuguese colonisation of the island.

It would thus seem clear that the Vikings were active in the area of Morocco (ancient Mauretania) in the ninth and tenth centuries, just as the Fragmentary Annals claims, and that they moreover undertook a significant raid on the coast of Morocco—at Nakūr/Nekor—in the mid-ninth century that resulted in a significant number of slaves being taken. Indeed, in this light it might well be wondered whether the above raid on Nakūr/Nekor in 859 doesn’t actually underlie the story of a mid-ninth-century North African adventure related in the Fragmentary Annals, as Janet Nelson has suggested. Of course, if the Viking raid on Morocco and the subsequent taking of captives there as described in the FA therefore has a good context in the real events of the ‘Viking Age’ and might even reflect a partially legendarised version of the raid on Nakūr, what then of the claim in the Fragmentary Annals that the North African captives were subsequently carried by the Vikings to Ireland and remained there ‘for a long time’? Certainly, Ann Christys has noted that there is nothing inherently implausible about this final aspect of the FA’s tale, especially given that other elements of the account appear to be historically credible and may derive from one or more real events. However, whilst other more reliable texts also mention Viking raids on the Moroccan coast and slaves being taken by them, none mention what happened to the non-royal prisoners that the Majūs (Vikings) captured in North Africa, only that the Emir of Córdoba ransomed the royal daughters of Wakif ibn-Mu’tasim ibn-Ṣāliḥ who were taken when the inhabitants of Nakūr were enslaved in 859. On the other hand, although external textual support for the final part of the account in the Fragmentary Annals may be lacking, there is nonetheless some archaeological evidence which, whilst not conclusive, is at the very least suggestive.

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