Faux Pas

How a Brilliant Military Maneuver Conquered the Wrong City

You may not hear a lot about him today, but in the 9th century, Hastein was a rising star in the Viking community. The chieftain made his name with raids in the Frankish Empire, carefully avoiding Scotland, as Vikings had been warned to do. In joint operations with Sweden’s King Björn Ironside, Hastein raided countries throughout the Mediterranean. His reputation as a formidable military strategist was well known.

Hastein, circa A.D. 859

It was during one of these raids that Hastein came up with a daring and brilliant plan to raid the most powerful city in the known world. By conquering Rome, his reputation as the greatest of Vikings would be assured. 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, pretending to be near death. 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 leaped from his stretcher, brandished his sword, and led his men on a raid of the city.

As they swept through the city streets, Hastein’s men slapped their chieftain on the back, congratulating him for his brilliant strategy. In no time at all, the city was pillaged. Only then did they realize their mistake.

The plan may have been brilliant, but their ability to read a map was not. Instead of sacking Rome, they had just raided the city of Luna — about 250 miles north of their intended target.

This is what happens when the guy in charge refuses to stop to ask for directions.


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