The Saxon Wars: prologue

In the last post we looked at Saxon society, insofar as a non-written culture can be explored. In this post I’ll examine relations between Saxons and Franks. For reasons both cultural and geographic, there was always friction between the two peoples, and the historical record is filled with skirmishes. But don’t forget that war is always more interesting than peace, and stories about goodwill between Saxon and Frank weren’t recorded. Nonetheless it does become apparent that there was no love lost across the Rhine.

The Liber Historiae Francorum (the anonymous Book of the Franks) recounts a Saxon “rebellion” in 555, and the Merovingian King Chlotar’s subsequent expedition to levy Frankish punishment. What is not clear is what the Saxons were rebelling against. About fifteen years later “King Chilperic went with his brother with an army against the Saxons…” Around the year 623 the Saxon Bertoald and King Dagobert I of Austrasia fought to a standstill, until Dagobert’s father arrived with another army which tipped the scales. The king then “devastated the entire land of the Saxons and killed their people. He did not leave alive there any man who stood taller than his sword which is called a long sword.”1.Liber Historiae Francorum, trans. Bachrach, pp. 69, 78, 97-99.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Liber Historiae Francorum, trans. Bachrach, pp. 69, 78, 97-99.

Frankish travelogue: Saxony

“The appearance of the country differs considerably in different parts; but in general it is covered either by bristling forests or by foul swamps.”1.Tacitus, Germania, bk. 5, p.104

Thus did the late first century Roman historian and ethnographer Tacitus describe the country of what we (and he, for that matter) call Germany. The part of Germany called Saxony occupied the northeast portion of the country, east of the Rhine, south of the North Sea, to the southern hills. One of the tribes that occupied this area became known as Saxons, around the time of the fall of the Western Roman Empire. We know the Saxons as one of the three tribes who began crossing that sea and invading Britain, along with the Angles and the Jutes, those the Venerable Bede called “the three most formidable races of Germany.”2.Bede, Ecclesiastical History, bk. I, ch. 15, p. 63.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Tacitus, Germania, bk. 5, p.104
2. Bede, Ecclesiastical History, bk. I, ch. 15, p. 63.

A thatched roof over one’s head

Uncovering the lives of the common folk throughout history is never easy. While we may never know what the common man and woman was thinking in the eighth century, we do have some little information about how they lived. We’ve looked at food and drink, and now let’s look at their home sweet homes.

First let’s get the obvious out of the way – they built with what was available, which meant wood, and wood doesn’t last long unless it is preserved under unusual natural circumstances. Add that fact to the lamentable dearth of documentation that refers, in any way, to the life of the masses, and you’re going to come up short of everything you might want to know. But there is enough to catch a glimpse of an early medieval village through the fog of an otherwise dark age…

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For want of a nail…

Horses have been an integral component of civilization’s progress for at least five thousand years, and it is only in our modern, Western, industrial and post-industrial age that the horse has become an object solely of sport and play. In the eighth century the horse was an essential element of agriculture, war, and social status. Let’s start our survey with a look at what the law codes had to say about horses.

The Salic Law contains four chapters specific to horses. These include “On Mounting a Horse Without the Consent of Its Owner,” which called for a massive fine of 30 solidi. There was also “Concerning the Theft of Horses and Mares,” “On Skinning a Dead Horse Without the Consent of Its Owner,” and “Concerning Stolen Horses.” Other chapters mention horses in the context of other offenses against animals.1.Laws of the Salian Franks, pp.85, 99, 125, and 205.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Laws of the Salian Franks, pp.85, 99, 125, and 205.

Eternal Jerusalem

When medieval Europe was young, Jerusalem was already ancient. As laborers laid the first stones of the great pyramid of Giza, fifty generations of Jerusalemites had come and gone. After another twenty-five centuries a rustic carpenter’s son started throwing tables around at the Jewish temple located on the city’s high ground. Then another eight centuries or so went by, before a son was born to an usurper king in Europe, who would go on to found the empire that would bear his name.

Jerusalem occupied a special place in the minds and souls of eighth century Europeans. Constantinople was the other great eastern city known (if any would have been known), it was regarded more as the seat of the ‘other’ Christian empire, the palace that gave orders to popes. A rival power.

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