7 Historical Events that took place in the 10th Century

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The 10th century saw the Byzantine Empire at its most powerful economically and militarily, but that didn’t stop neighboring Empires and dynasties from arising to challenge. Meanwhile, Vikings made their presence felt on multiple fronts in Europe and elsewhere, while in Asia, China would be reunited and a 300-year ruling dynasty would be born. In this article, we will look at 7 major events that took place during the 10th Century (900s AD).

1. The Viking Rollo and the founding of Normandy (911)

First leader of Normandy, Rollo
Viking ruler Rollo.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

After years of successful Viking raids in West Francia (modern-day western France), the 911 siege of Chartres by Rollo and his men proved pivotal for both sides. The Frankish defense, led by the Duke of Burgundy, repelled the Viking forces, aided in part by a mob of charging peasants. The Norsemen attempted to flee but were unable to board their ships in time and were chased down by the arriving cavalry led by West Frankish King Charles the Simple. In this key moment, Rollo’s forces slaughtered their own livestock and stacked the bodies to form a makeshift defensive wall, which intimidated the pursuing horses and men. At a stand-off, the King decided to open negotiations. Rollo was granted the County of Rouen, known today as Normandy, named after the Norsemen, which would go on to make a significant stamp on European history over the coming centuries.

2. Battle of Langshan Jiang (919)

Wuyue King of the 10th Century
Statue of Qian Liu, King of Wuyue.
Credit: Marcushsu // CC BY-SA 3.0

During the uncertainty of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period of China, in which the country was splintered between warring rulers for much of the tenth century, the two states of Wuyue and Wu came to war on a river in 919, known as the Battle of Langshan Jiang. Comprising of some 500 dragon boats on each side, it was a significant battle for the tactics and technology used. The Wuyue side positioned their fleet upwind and scattered ashes at the Wu, hampering their ability to see, before throwing beans on the decks of their ships, causing them to slip and fall. Disorientated, the Wuyue then set fire to the Wu ships using a type of flameflower, in what is the first recorded use of gunpowder in battle. By the end of the devastation, 400 of the enemy’s fleet were burned, 7000 prisoners were taken, and the river’s water ran red with Wu blood.

3. The peak of the Bulgarian Empire (927)

Radziwill Letopis Simeon The Great negotiating
Radziwiłł Letopis showing Byzantine Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos negotiating with Simeon the Great, c. 924.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Under Simeon the Great, the First Bulgarian Empire came to dominate the Balkans in Europe and proved a major thorn in the side of the Byzantine Empire. Simeon achieved multiple victories over the Byzantines, provoked when the Emperor refused to pay tribute to Bulgaria from 913, and compounded by Simeon’s own ambition to forge an Empire of his own that included Constantinople. At the Battle of Anchialus in 917, the outnumbered Bulgarian’s annihilated their opponents in one of the biggest and bloodiest battles of the era – Bulgaria’s greatest military victory and possibly Byzantine’s biggest defeat. The Bulgarian’s followed this up by expanding throughout the Balkan region, reaching its Golden Age around 927 at Simeon’s death, with the Empire a dominant military force in Europe.

4. Kingdom of England becomes a unified state (927)

Map of the British Isles in the early 10th Century
The British Isles in the early 10th Century before unification.
Credit: Ikonact // CC BY-SA 3.0

At the end of Roman rule in the fifth century, Britain was split into seven separate Anglo-Saxon nations, who ruled for around five centuries. However, from the eighth century, raiding Vikings took large portions of the country. As a reaction to their common enemy, the Anglo-Saxons unified under Alfred the Great, naming him King of the Anglo-Saxons, and warring to drive the Danes away. In 927, under his grandson Athelstan, the last remaining Viking hold of York was conquered, thus unifying England for the first time, with Athelstan recognized today as the first King of England. Before the century was out, the Danes would reconquer portions of the country, but the established Kingdom of England continued to exist right through to 1707 when it unified with Scotland to form modern-day Great Britain.

5. The Kievan Rus conquer the Khazars (969)

Alleged site of Atil
A brick on the alleged site of the capital of Khazaria, Atil.
Credit: Axelode // CC BY-SA 4.0

An important point of the ancient Silk Road, the Khazar Khaganate controlled a large region in modern-day south-western Russia for around three centuries. They were a powerful force in the region, halting the expansions of nearby Muslim states and Byzantine Empire. Possibly to signify their independence from Christian and Muslim neighbors, the Khazars adopted Judaism as their national religion. However, the rise of the Kievan Rus, and frayed alliances with the Byzantines, ultimately led to the destruction of the Khazars around 969. Following a decade of wars that saw their key fortresses fall, the Grand Prince of Rus, Svyatoslav I, finally took the Khazar capital of Atil in 969, forcing them into subjugation, swallowing them into Kievan Rus expansion, and bringing their kingdom to an end.

6. Song dynasty reunites China (979)

First Emperor of the Song Dynasty, Taizu who ruled in the 10th century
Emperor Taizu of Song.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The Song dynasty was one of many warring states during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, which spanned most of the tenth century following the fall of the Tang dynasty in 907. Following the discontent of troops at the ruling Emperor, Zhao Kuangyin, a general who rose from the ranks of a soldier, was selected as the new ruler with no resistance from the displaced. He renamed the dynasty Song and took for himself the name Emperor Taizu. Over the next 16 years, he sought to bring an end to the splintered nation, conquering first the smaller states in the south, before taking on the most powerful in the north, and re-enforced his military strength with political and economic reform and stability. His reign would ultimately lead to the reunification of China in 979, and the Song dynasty would go on to rule China for over 300 years.

7. Erik the Red colonizes Greenland (985-986)

Erik the Red, 10th Century Norse explorer
Norse Explorer, Erik the Red.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

After killing a rival in a dispute in 982, Erik the Red was forced into exile from Iceland, taking his men and ships and sailing westward. He was aiming for land that another Norseman discovered and unsuccessfully attempted to colonize four years previous, and his attempts would prove far more successful. During his three-year exile, Erik explored Greenland, and when he was allowed to return to Iceland around 985, he gathered followers and returned to colonize around 985-986. Three settlements were successfully established, totaling some 5000 inhabitants, with Erik the Red sitting as a wealthy and powerful chieftain. The colonies were important in early exploration, chronicled in the Erik the Red’s saga, and Erik’s own son Leif Erikson would later go on to sail further west and be the first European to set foot on the North American continent.

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