Charlemagne destroys a pagan shrine

In the spring of 772 Charlemagne held the yearly gathering of the great in the town of Worms, on the Rhine river. From there he gathered an army and traveled north, to the Saxon fortress of Eresburg. After taking the fortress he pushed deeper into Saxon territory. He must have had good intelligence or local guides, for he “came to the Irminsul, destroying that sanctuary and carrying off the gold and silver which he found there.”1.RFA, year 772. The Annals, as always so terse, have little else to say about a skirmish that kicked off a war that would last more than thirty years.

What was it that Charlemagne had done? It is difficult to say, exactly. Irminsul is a Germanic word that roughly translates as “large pillar.” Other uses of the word over the centuries indicate a pillar or column, made of stone or wood. In and of itself a trifle, but this Irminsul had great spiritual meaning.

Read more…

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. RFA, year 772.

Arab Spain, the view from inside

Sometime in the second quarter of the 8th century an anonymous (to us, of course, not to himself) churchman in Spain began compiling a chronicle of the last hundred-plus years of his era. He began his chronicle in the year 611 and ended in 754, and hence the text is called The Chronicle of 754. It has also been known as The Mozarabic Chronicle, Chronicle of Isidore of Beja, or The Anonymous Rhyming Chronicle of Cordoba.1.Collins, Arab Conquest, p26. He doesn’t mention if, untranslated, it actually rhymes or not. He covers the secular and ecclesiastical affairs, primarily of Spain, but also the lands between Spain and Constantinople, and beyond.

Like all chronicles the author describes events thematically, such as the reign of an emperor or a series of conquests, that could cover several years, and presents the topics in a more or less chronological order. This does result in some bouncing around, as it becomes necessary to go back to an earlier time once a topic is complete. Rather than simply identify the year, he identifies the era (of the Roman empire), the emperor’s name (the emperor in Constantinople, capital of the eastern Roman empire), and how many years he had been ruling. If he is reporting a new emperor he also includes the age of the world. Thus, “In the era 758, Leo became the seventy-seventh to be crowned emperor of the Romans. He ruled for twenty-four years, 5,944 years having elapsed since the beginning of the world.” (Chapter 71) If the year to be reported is under a current emperor he includes how many years since the beginning of the Muslim (Arab) conquest, and how many years the Muslim ruler had been in power. Thus, “In Leo’s time, in the era 766, in his tenth year as emperor, the one hundred eleventh of the Arabs, and sixth of Hishem…” (Chapter 77) In Wolf’s translation, the only one in English, he also includes the actual year in parentheses.

Read more…

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Collins, Arab Conquest, p26. He doesn’t mention if, untranslated, it actually rhymes or not.

The blood court; Judge Carloman, presiding

In the year 746 Carloman, duke of the eastern Franks and son of Charles Martel, ordered the leaders of the tribe of the Alamanni to gather at a place called Canstatt. They were probably worried at what to expect of the summons, for Carloman and his brother Pepin had defeated them in 742 and 744, and both times the Alamanni had given oaths of fidelity and hostages. But yet again they had broken their oaths, sacrificed their hostages, and rebelled against the Frankish mayor of the palace. What did the Frankish duke want of them now?

Carloman was not a vicious man. Indeed, he was more pious than his brother, and was probably already thinking of a life beyond that of a duke. But that day he had hard choices to make. No longer could the Alamanni rebel against and defy the Frankish order.

Carloman gave a signal, and the slaughter began. “Most of those who had rebelled were put to the sword.”1.Fredegar, Continuations, c29. Thousands would die before the Blood Court of Canstatt was over.

Read more…

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Fredegar, Continuations, c29.

Here comes the hammer

Charles Martel was one of the most extraordinary men of the early medieval period. He rose from illegitimacy 1.which, in truth, was not as big of a deal back then as the term implies today to become a man so powerful he ruled without a king. He consolidated the Frankish realms, beat back a Muslim army of incursion, assisted in the Christianization of Germany, and divided the lands between his sons, just like a king. By his death he had laid the foundations for the Charlemagne’s empire, and, ultimately, Europe itself.

Charles was born in 688, in Austrasia, to Pepin of Herstal and his concubine, Alpaida. While Pepin was Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia, and thus a man of considerable power, Charles’ very existence led Pepin’s wife Plectrude, not unnaturally, to do her best to exclude him (and his full brother Childebrand) from considerations of succession. When Pepin died in December 714 Plectrude actually had Charles imprisoned, rather than risk him ruining her grandson Theudoald’s chances of succeeding to the Mayorship.2.Their son Gromoald had already died.

Read more…

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. which, in truth, was not as big of a deal back then as the term implies today
2. Their son Gromoald had already died.