More wine!

When I started this post I figured it would be something quick and easy, find a few references to wine in the sources, but in the end, as with so many areas of daily life in the 8th century, be forced to say, “but that’s all we know.”

I underestimated the place of wine in the lives of the great and the good. By a lot. While the church required wine for the sacrament of the Eucharist, wine infused virtually every area of society.

Wine was in their laws. The lex Salica imposes fines for thefts great and small:

“Chapter 23: If anyone reaps the harvest of another’s vineyard in theft, he shall be liable to pay six hundred denarii. [Which was the same fine for knocking out a tooth.]
Chapter 24: And if from there he carries off the wine to his house in a cart and there unloads it, he shall be liable to pay eighteen hundred denarii in addition to return of the material stolen [or its value] plus a payment for the time its use was lost. [Which is the same fine for a blow “so that the brain shows and the three bones over the brain protrude.”]1.The Salic Laws, Drew, LVII.

Read moreMore wine!

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. The Salic Laws, Drew, LVII.

December 25th, 8th century style

First of all, it wasn’t called Christmas. That name didn’t come into usage until the 11th century, when someone mentioned “Christ’s Mass,” but in Old English. Instead the day was more definitively, if probably inaccurately, referred to as “the Lord’s birthday.”1.King renders this more accurately than Scholz, who uses “Christmas.” While the Bible has nothing to say about the date in question, in the 4th century the church had decided on December 25 as Christ’s birthday.

I am sure everyone with an interest in ancient and/or religious history has heard how the church co-opted pagan festivals, places, and rituals to reinforce Christian doctrine. Even without the scholarly backup, it seems inconceivable to me that Christmas was not originally a solstice festival. I certainly wait for the days to start getting longer again, and I have electric lights! The church could make the solstice celebration a holiday (holy day), and the populace would continue to enjoy their mid-winter festival, but with a new focus. They could continue to celebrate the fact that the days would be getting longer (Paris gets only just over eight hours of daylight on the solstice, assuming it’s not too cloudy), as long as they also attended Christ’s mass.

Read moreDecember 25th, 8th century style

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. King renders this more accurately than Scholz, who uses “Christmas.”

Two Halves Of a Kingdom – Neustria

Neustria was the other of the two “halves” of Francia (Austrasia being the other) that Charles Martel finally consolidated into something close to a cohesive whole by 721.

Neustria, meaning something like “new western lands,” as opposed to eastern Austrasia, was bordered on the north by the English channel, to the west by Brittany, to the south by river Loire, and to the east by much fuzzier boundaries. The kingdom of Burgundy was absorbed by the Neustrian kings early in the 7th century.

Neustria and Austrasia fought each other for most of the Merovingian centuries. Occasionally they would unite under a king for a time, but inevitably the Frankish inheritance rules broke the realms apart again. Finally in 687 Pippin of Herstal1.Pippin was of Austrasian descent, as were his descendents, Pepin and Charlemagne. defeated the Neustrian king at the battle of Tertry. After that the two kingdoms were ruled as one, while still subject to division in support of co-rulers. We can get some idea of how 7th century kings thought the various regions compared to each other from Fredegar, who says, “All the Austrasian magnates, the bishops and all the warriors of Sigebert, swore with hands raised that after Dagobert’s death Neustria and Burgundy united should belong to Clovis while Austrasia, which had the same population and extent of territory, should be entirely Sigebert’s.”2.Fredegar, Fourth Book, 76

Read moreTwo Halves Of a Kingdom – Neustria

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Pippin was of Austrasian descent, as were his descendents, Pepin and Charlemagne.
2. Fredegar, Fourth Book, 76

Bertrada of Laon – Not Mother of the Year

Bertrada of Laon is one of the very few women of the century about whom we can know anything more than just a name and a marital disposition. But from what we can see of her, particularly one series of events late in her life, she must have been a formidable lady.

She was born sometime between 710 and 727, in Laon, France, of noble parents. After that, we get nothing until she reappears as the wife of Pepin about 741, and the details immediately get fuzzy. No one is sure if she was Pepin’s first or second wife. In fact, it is hard to be sure just what a wife was back then, as the line between wife and concubine was not well defined. Also fuzzy were the rules on who could marry whom, based on how closely they were related. Always a problem when the 1% keep marrying each other.

Read moreBertrada of Laon – Not Mother of the Year

To Depose A King, Part Two

By 750, nine years after his father’s death, Pepin’s grasp of Francia was strong, but not ironclad. He and his brother Carloman had reinstated the Merovingian kingship in 743 with the elevation of Childeric III, probably as a way to validate and legitimize their rule of the kingdom. They had quashed the various rebellions that had erupted once Martel left the scene. When Carloman decided to abdicate his rule in Austrasia in 746, Pepin was left in sole control, but there were rumblings through the land.

Pepin’s first son Charles (Charlemagne) had been born around 747 or 748, but he was illegitimate, as Pepin did not marry Bertrada until 749. Although Carloman had abdicated his share of the realm, he and Pepin had first agreed that Carloman’s son Drogo would eventually hold authority in his stead. This meant that there was a potential power struggle ahead, once Drogo claimed Austrasia. In addition there was the problem of Grifo, Pepin and Carloman’s half-brother who had been granted some territory on the death of Martel, but had been pushed out. Grifo was still around and making trouble, and even allied himself with Waifar of Aquitaine.

Read moreTo Depose A King, Part Two