Great Strategy. Bad Geography.


When it came to big names in the Viking community, Hastein was certainly a rising star. This 9th century chieftain made his name with raids in the Frankish Empire (notably avoiding Scotland, as Vikings had been warned to do) and joint efforts with Sweden’s King Björn Ironside to raid countries in the Mediterranean. It was during one of these raids that Hastein came up with a daring and brilliant plan to raid Rome — a quest that would be sure to make him the greatest of all vikings. His plan would have succeeded splendidly, except for one small detail….

The year was 859. Hastein and his men approached the gates to the city. Instead of brandishing swords, they came as humble penitents. Hastein lay on a stretcher, apparently near death, and his men pleaded with the city’s guards to give them entry so Hastein could make his peace with God. Hastein had seen the error of his ways, he said, and he wanted to convert to Christianity before he died.

The city leaders were in a quandary. Hastein was a well-known stacker of cities, but their Christian duty mandated that they give a dying man a chance to repent of his sins and receive forgiveness. Relenting to their spiritual obligations, the city leaders ordered the gates opened.

Hastein’s men carried their leader to the church, where he was baptized and received the sacraments. Then, to the surprise of almost no one, Hastein leapt from his stretcher, brandished his sword, and led his men on a raid of the city.

It was a brilliant plan, except for one small detail: they weren’t in Rome. They were in the city of Luna — about 250 miles north of their intended target.

Although a brilliant military strategist, when it came to navigation, Hastein was just too hasty.

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