The Viking Challenge (780 AD to 900 AD)

•     780 AD          The Norse period in Orkney lasted from 780 AD to around 1500 AD. The date 780 AD does not refer to any special event, but few archaeological finds go further back.1

•     782 AD          Sometime before 782 AD Constantine, son of Fergus became King of the Picts north of Mounth. On the Death of Black Talorgan, in 782 AD Constantine extended his power over most of the Southern Picts.2 It is likely that Talorgan, son of Drostan was the Black Talorgan. The Mounth usually refers to the range of Mountains that extends eastward from the spine of Britain and reaches to the sea between Aberdeen and Stonehaven. The Irish Annals, refered to Black Taolargg (or Talorgan) as King of the Picts ‘this side of the Mounth’, viewed the mountain from the west.3

•     786 AD          First Viking Raids known.4

•     787 AD          The first recorded appearance of Vikings in England.5

•     789 AD          Constantine, son of Fergus, one of the greatest Pictish Kings defeats Conall son of Taidg in a battle among Picts.6 As a result Constantine extended his power over all Picts.7

•     June 8, 793          Vikings raid the Lindifarne monastery.8

•     794 AD          Viking raids begin in North Eastern Scotland and last until about 1150.9

•     795 AD          The monastery at Iona is plundered by the Vikings.10

•     800 AD         About 800 AD the first period of Norse colonization of Orkney begins.11 Today Orkney is well known for its Scandinavian heritage, but the exact mechanisms by which the Norsemen became established in the Islands are unclear. Though some researchers have suggested that the Picts living in Orkney were conquered, there is considerable archeological evidence that suggests the Norsemen and the Picts lived relatively peacefully together in Orkney, and that the Picts gradually became absorbed into the Norse population. The truth is probably a mixture of both, but we will never know for sure. In the past it has been suggested that quite different Norse house styles and goods can be shown to replace old Pictish dwellings on several sites (e.g. Buckquoy in Birsay). However, in other places, the two house styles appear to have been more similar and at first the material goods of the people often retain the traditional, Pictish styles suggesting a more gradual blending.12

•     800 AD          The first Norse grave finds reach back to about 800 AD. This indicates it is possible that Norse raiders used the islands as a base. During most of the 8th Century, Pictish Orkney seems to have been a stable, rather complacent province of Pictland, until lightening struck with the sudden appearance of the Vikings and their superior maritime technology. The mainland Picts seem to have been more interested in horses than in ships, and in changed circumstances, the Orkney Picts may have felt under threat. In old Russia, the Slavs invited the Swedes known as the Rus, to help them thru a critical period. The same thing may have happened in Orkney. It is possible to imagine Norse sailors being invited as mercenaries for general protection and staying on to be the new military aristocracy. They may have married local women which might explain the blending of Norse and native (Orcadian-Pictish) culture.13

•     802 AD           Vikings plunder Ionia.14

•     806 AD           Vikings plunder Ionia and kill 68 monks.15

•     807 AD           Conall was probably a Scottish rather than a Pictish King who ruled over the western part of Pictland. He was finally defeated and killed by Connal son of Aed in 807 AD in Kintyre.16

•     809 AD          Constantine son of Fergus was a ruler of Dalriada, as was Castintin son of Uurguist. They were kings of the Picts.17 Constantine became King of Dalriada as a result of the death defeat of resignation of Conall mac Aed in either 809 or 810 AD.18 Unlike Oengus, son of Fergus, Constantine was recognized as King of Dalriada by the Scots themselves.19

•     820 AD          Constantine died around 820 AD, having ruled for between 35 and 45 years. Constantine and his brother Oengus II styled themselves as Kings of Fortren. The Irish Annals refer to their army as the men of Fortren.20

•     820 AD          Oengus II, King of Dariada, Constantine’s successor, appeared in Pictland as as Unuist, son of Uurguist. His son Eoganan (or Uen), ruled over both Picts and Scots till he died in 839 AD. These Kings appear to have been of Dalriadic origin, though they ruled Pictland from Fortenviot, inside Pictish Territory.21

•     839 AD          Vikings invade the Pictish heartland of Fortriu. Tribute was paid to the Vikings.22 Two sons of the Pictish king Oengus died in that battle23

•     840 AD          Papay (Papa Westray) was an important Christian Center in late Pictish times. It may also have been the site of Orkney’s first bishopric. Around the year 840 AD, when quite a young man, the Irish St Findan was captured by Vikings, but he managed to escape from them during a stopover in Orkney, probably in South Wick, between Papay and the Holm. He made it ashore and met the men who came to his aid and took them to a bishop whose seat was nearby. (Papa Westray?) St Findan stayed with him for two years. Norwegian sources also mention an early Bishop in Orkney.24 The Norsemen must have considered the entire Island a church estate as they called it Papey (Papa Westray). The same name was given by the Norsemen to islands in Shetland as well as to Papa Stronsey. The Norsemen seem to have left these islands alone for some time, as no pagan graves have yet been found on them. Thus, at the time of St Findan’s stay with the bishop, Orkney may already have been a Norse territory. The placenames support the idea that there was no early Norse takeover in Papay. The place name pattern is unusual for Orkney. As Dr. Hugh Marwick points out, there are no names ening in –garth, -ston, -by, or -bister. Nor do we find any name derived from varda or viti for beacon. No tradition of a beacon is remembered and perhaps there never was one. The island may not have had a strategic enough location, or as a religious community it might have been exempt. Though the Norse settlement may have been late in coming, the Farm Holland points to the Island being part of the Earl’s Administration system from at least the 11th Century. The Farm Holland lies at the center of the fertile agricultural area, with easy access to a landing place for boats. The place names Nouster and Skennist also point in that direction. Nouster is derived from naustar-the plural form of naust meaning boatshed or commonly in Orkney a berth on the beach. At Skennist, we can still find a row of seven boat nousts. Skennist derives from skeida-naust skeid meaning a large warship, a fast-sailing long ship.25

•     841-2 AD          Kenneth son of Alpin founds his kingdom.26 Kenneth mac Alpin was also known as Cinaed mac Alpin.27

•     843-4 AD          Kenneth mac Alpin becomes King of the Picts.28 Nothing is known of his father Alpin, and it is likely that Kenneth fought his way from an obsure background to gain control of the Picts and Scots.29

•     848-9 AD          The Danes laid waste to Pictiva, as far as Clunie and Dunkeld.30

•     858 AD          The Irish Annals record Kenneth mac Alpin’s death in 858 AD, having ruled 16 years. That would place his accession in 841 or 842 AD. The Brechin Chronicle states Kenneth mac Alpin ‘ruled Pictivia’ for 16 years and that before he came to Pictivia (antequam veniret Pictaviam), he held the kingdom of Dalriada for 2 years. It may have taken Kenneth (Cinioch, Ciniod, Kinat) about 8 years to reunite Dalriada and all the provinces of the Picts by either diplomatic means or on the field of battle. Reportedly, Kenneth invaded ‘Saxonia’ six times, burnt Dunbar, to the ground and also captured Melrose. Military activity in the seventh year of his rein seems to have been concentrated in the South East, perhaps south of the Forth.31

•     860 AD          Norse earldom established in Orkney and Shetland.32

•     860s AD        Thorstein the Red of Caithness and Sutherland raids the northeast of Scotland, and the Earls of Orkney raid from Orkney by sea.33

•     865-66 AD    In the third year of Constantine, son of Kenneth, Amlaebh (Olaf) and his people laid waste to Pictiva.34

•     866 AD          Battle of Fortrenn-King Olaf of Dublin, in alliance with the Scotish Vikings, defeated the Picts and took hostages.35 The event is recorded in the Irish Annals. ‘Amlaebh and Anisle went to Fortrenn with the Galls (foreigners) of Erin and Alban, and laid waste all Cruithentuaith, and carried off hostages.’36

•     870 AD         The Vikings storm Dumbarton Castle.37

•     871 AD          The Irish Annals record that in 871 AD ‘Amlaebh and Imar came again from Alban to Athcliath (Dublin), having a great number of prisioners, both Britons, Albans and Saxons.’ The Brechin Chronicle’ goes on to record another attack in the third year of Constantine’s rein, in which Amlaebh is defeated by Constantine.38

•     872-882 AD          Harald I Fairhair completes conquest of his western districts at the battle of Harfrsfjord according to medieval historians. (Modern historians place the battle 10 years later.) Harald’s conquests and taxation system led many chiefs and their followers to emigrate to the British Isles.39

•     871 AD          King of Norway, King Harald I Fairhair of Norway went to Orkney to settle with the Vikings living there once and for all. These Vikings would raid in Norway during the summer and use Shetland and Orkney as their winter base. King Harald was accompanied by his friend Rognvald, Earl of More in Western Norway and Father of Hrolf, the first Duke of Normandy, and ancestor to William the Conqueror. Harald gave Rognvald the Earldom in compensation for the loss of a son during the campaign against the Orkney Vikings40

•     871 AD          Rognvald turns over the Earlship of Orkney over to his brother Sigurd I (871-882 AD).41 Sigurd I forms an alliance with Thorstein the Red. They conquered all of Caithness and large parts of Moray and Ross. Sigurd I defeats Maelbrighte of Ross by treachery, but dies as a result of an infected leg. Some claim this happened around 905 AD42 not 882 AD.43

•     876 AD          At Dollar, in the fourteenth year of the rein (876-77 AD) of Constantine there was a battle between the Danes and the Scots. This was recorded in the Irish Annals as between the Picts and the Dugalls (black foreigners). The final entry in the ‘Brechin Chronicle’ for this rein records the Norse plundering in Pictiva for a whole year.44

•     882 AD          Sigurd I turns the Earldom over to his son Guttorn (882-883 AD) who dies after one year.45 Others place the year of this event at 905-906 AD.46

•     883 AD          Hallad becomes Earl of Orkney. He abdicates about two years later.47

•     885 AD          The Siege of Paris by the Vikings occurs.48

•     885 AD          Rognvald’s son Einar, becomes Earl of Orkney. He ruled till 910 AD. He was also known as Tor-Einar. He revenged the murder of his father by sacrificing to Odin, the culprit Halfdan, son of King Harald Fairhair of Norway. The Sinclairs claim to be descended from him “…because his descendants assumed the name of Sinclair when Prince Henry became Jarl of Orkney.”49

•     889-900 AD          The Norse laid waste to Pictiva during the reign of Donald son of Constantine. There was a battle at Innisibsolian between the Danes and the Scots, and another at Donottar.50

•     890 AD          Vikings storm Donnottar Castle.51

•     900 AD          It appears Maes Howe (Maeshowe) may have been modified by the Norse. There is evidence that the bank surrounding the site may have been rebuilt in the 9th Century. Perhaps, the site was used by a Norse Chieftain as a burial site.52

•     900 AD          King Donald slain at Dunfoeder. (Dunnottar Castle)53


  1. 780 AD-The Islands of Orkney, Liv Kjorsvik Schei, 2000, page 19. 

  2. 782 AD-The Age of the Picts, W. A. Cummins, 1995, reprinted by Barnes & Noble Books, 1998, page 105. 

  3. 782 AD-The Age of the Picts, W. A. Cummins, 1995, reprinted by Barnes & Noble Books, 1998, page 101. 

  4. 786 AD-Battles Fought in England, Scotland and Wales, compiled by Peter R. Hamilton-Leggett (www.argonet.co.uk/users/hamleg/bat.html-12/4/01). 

  5. 787 AD-Battles Fought in England, Scotland and Wales, compiled by Peter R. Hamilton-Leggett (www.argonet.co.uk/users/hamleg/bat.html-12/4/01). 

  6. 789 AD-The Age of the Picts, W. A. Cummins, 1995, reprinted by Barnes & Noble Books, 1998, page 102. 

  7. 789 AD-The Age of the Picts, W. A. Cummins, 1995, reprinted by Barnes & Noble Books, 1998, page 108. 

  8. 793 AD-Ancient Scotland, Stewart Ross 1991, Barnes & Noble, 1998, page 173. 

  9. 794 AD-Grampian Battlefields (The Historic Battles of Northeast Scotland from 84 AD to 1745), Peter Marren, Mercat Press, 1993, 1998, page 33. 

  10. 795 AD-The Picts and the Scots, Lloyd And Jenny Laing, © 1993, published with corrections 1994, Reprinted 1994, 1995, page 49. 

  11. 800 AD-A Timeline of Early Orcadian History, www.orkneyjar.com/history/timeline.htm, 6/18/01. 

  12. 800 AD-Orkney, A Historical Guide, © Caroline Wickham Jones, 1998, page 112. 

  13. 800 AD-The Islands of Orkney, Liv Kjorsvik Schei, 2000, page 19. 

  14. 802 AD-The Picts and the Scots, Lloyd And Jenny Laing, © 1993, published with corrections 1994, Reprinted 1994, 1995, page 49. 

  15. 806 AD-The Picts and the Scots, Lloyd And Jenny Laing, © 1993, published with corrections 1994, Reprinted 1994, 1995, page 49. The Age of the Picts, W. A. Cummins, 1995, reprinted by Barnes & Noble Books, 1998, page 104. 

  16. 807 AD-The Age of the Picts, W. A. Cummins, 1995, reprinted by Barnes & Noble Books, 1998, page 102. 

  17. 809 AD-The Picts and the Scots, Lloyd And Jenny Laing, © 1993, published with corrections 1994, Reprinted 1994, 1995, page 18. 

  18. 809 AD-The Age of the Picts, W. A. Cummins, 1995, reprinted by Barnes & Noble Books, 1998, page 105. 

  19. 809 AD-The Age of the Picts, W. A. Cummins, 1995, reprinted by Barnes & Noble Books, 1998, page 106. 

  20. 820 AD-The Age of the Picts, W. A. Cummins, 1995, reprinted by Barnes & Noble Books, 1998, pages 102, 107. 

  21. 820 AD-The Picts and the Scots, Lloyd And Jenny Laing, © 1993, published with corrections 1994, Reprinted 1994, 1995, page 18. 

  22. 839 AD-Grampian Battlefields (The Historic Battles of Northeast Scotland from 84 AD to 1745), Peter Marren, Mercat Press, 1993, 1998, page 34. 

  23. 820 AD-The Picts and the Scots, Lloyd And Jenny Laing, © 1993, published with corrections 1994, Reprinted 1994, 1995, page 18. 

  24. 840AD-The Islands of Orkney, Liv Kjorsvik Schei, 2000, pages 89-90. 

  25. 840AD-The Islands of Orkney, Liv Kjorsvik Schei, 2000, pages 90-91. 

  26. 841-2 AD-The Age of the Picts, W. A. Cummins, 1995, reprinted by Barnes & Noble Books, 1998, page 107. 

  27. 841-2 AD-Scotland, The Story of a Nation, ©Magnus Magnusson, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000-page 40. 

  28. 843-4 AD-The Picts and the Scots, Lloyd And Jenny Laing, © 1993, published with corrections 1994, Reprinted 1994, 1995, page 17. 

  29. 843-4 AD-The Picts and the Scots, Lloyd And Jenny Laing, © 1993, published with corrections 1994, Reprinted 1994, 1995, pages 17,18. 

  30. 848-9 AD-The Age of the Picts, W. A. Cummins, 1995, reprinted by Barnes & Noble Books, 1998, page 141. 

  31. 858 AD-The Age of the Picts, W. A. Cummins, 1995, reprinted by Barnes & Noble Books, 1998, pages 107-109. 

  32. 860 AD-Scotland, The Story of a Nation, ©Magnus Magnusson, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000, page 693. 

  33. 860s AD-Grampian Battlefields (The Historic Battles of Northeast Scotland from 84 AD to 1745), Peter Marren, Mercat Press, 1993, 1998, pages 34-35. 

  34. 865-66 AD-The Age of the Picts, W. A. Cummins, 1995, reprinted by Barnes & Noble Books, 1998, page 141. 

  35. 866 AD-Grampian Battlefields (The Historic Battles of Northeast Scotland from 84 AD to 1745), Peter Marren, Mercat Press, 1993, 1998, page 34. 

  36. 866 AD-The Age of the Picts, W. A. Cummins, 1995, reprinted by Barnes & Noble Books, 1998, page 141. 

  37. 870 AD-Scotland, The Story of a Nation, ©Magnus Magnusson, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000, page 693. 

  38. 871 AD-The Age of the Picts, W. A. Cummins, 1995, reprinted by Barnes & Noble Books, 1998, page 141. 

  39. 872-882 AD-Robert the Bruce’s Rivals: The Comyns, 1212-1314 Alan Young, Tuckwell Press, 1997, Vol IV page 898. The Islands of Orkney, Liv Kjorsvik Schei, 2000, page 20. 

  40. 871 AD-The Islands of Orkney, Liv Kjorsvik Schei, 2000, page 20.)

    •     871 AD          King of Norway, King Harald I Fairhair of Norway establishes Earldom in Orkney: Rognvald becomes the first Earl of Orkney about 871 AD. Rognvald was the father of Rollo-1st Duke of Normandy, an ancestor of the St. Clairs of Normandy and a cousin of William the Conqueror. ((871 AD-Earls of Orkney, http://clansinclairusa.org.htm, 6/18/01. 

  41. 871 AD-Earls of Orkney, http://clansinclairusa.org.htm, 6/18/01. 

  42. 871 AD-A Timeline of Early Orcadian History, www.orkneyjar.com/history/timeline.htm, 6/18/01. 

  43. 871 AD-Earls of Orkney, http://clansinclairusa.org.htm, 6/18/01. 

  44. 876 AD-The Age of the Picts, W. A. Cummins, 1995, reprinted by Barnes & Noble Books, 1998, page 142. 

  45. 882 AD-Earls of Orkney, http://clansinclairusa.org.htm, 6/18/01. 

  46. 882 AD-A Timeline of Early Orcadian History, www.orkneyjar.com/history/timeline.htm, 6/18/01. 

  47. 883 AD-Earls of Orkney, http://clansinclairusa.org.htm, 6/18/01. 

  48. 885 AD-A Timeline of Early Orcadian History, www.orkneyjar.com/history/timeline.htm, 6/18/01. 

  49. 883 AD-Earls of Orkney, http://clansinclairusa.org.htm, 6/18/01. 

  50. 889-900 AD-The Age of the Picts, W. A. Cummins, 1995, reprinted by Barnes & Noble Books, 1998, page 142. 

  51. 890 AD-Scotland, The Story of a Nation, ©Magnus Magnusson, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000, page 693. 

  52. 900 AD-Orkney, A Historical Guide, © Caroline Wickham Jones, 1998, pages 44-46. 

  53. 900 ADGrampian Battlefields (The Historic Battles of Northeast Scotland from 84 AD to 1745), Peter Marren, Mercat Press, 1993, 1998, page 35.