The war for Aquitaine – final thoughts

It took ten years, two kings of Francia, a duke and a pretender in Aquitaine, multiple betrayals, and numerous scorched earth raids across the countryside, but at last the war for Aquitaine was over.

Perhaps the result was foreordained, given the disparities in resources, organization, and military heritage between Francia and Aquitaine. But this war must have been much more of a match than the Frankish sources let on, for otherwise it wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did.

My biggest historigraphical regret is that we have virtually nothing from the Aquitanian side. There are so many questions I would like answers to:

  • Was Waifar surprised by Pepin’s ultimatum? How much did Waifar ever know about the Frankish intentions?
  • Did Waifar have an over-arching strategy of defense? I believe he wanted to maintain heavily armed fortresses, from which he could strike at the Frankish columns, but (according to the Frankish sources) that never happened.
  • What prompted to Waifar to tear down the walls of his fortresses?
  • Did Waifar have the support of his magnates? Or was he merely first among equals, and the counts acted more or less do as they pleased?
  • What did Remistanius have in mind when he first betrayed Waifar, and then betrayed Pepin two years later? Was the whole thing a ploy from the beginning, was Remistanius feeling snubbed by his new king, or did he suffer an attack of conscience?
  • What did Waifar do during the two-year lull in the fighting?
  • What happened to Waifar at the end? Who betrayed him, and why?
  • Finally, who was the mysterious Hunald who appeared in 769? Waifar’s father, son, or someone completely different?

We will never know the answer to any of these questions.

On the Frankish side, it is true that we have the “winner’s story” from the Frankish sources. Professor Bachrach believes that Pepin both had a strategy he had been developing for several years, and that each year’s battles involved some fairly complex tactical deception.1.Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare, pp.212-242. Was that true, or did Pepin merely act and react as the moment took him?

The sources also portray a fairly monolithic Frankish front during the war, with the notable exceptions of Tassilo and Carloman. Were there other political or military disputes that disrupted the Frankish war effort?Across all of western Europe, what was the economic impact of the war?

The war goes completely unmentioned in the Liber Pontificalis, which is not too surprising, given the Italian-centric focus of those lives. We should note, however, that the pontificate had been a great fan of Eudo, when he was fighting Saracens,2.The classic quote from the life of Gregory II, ch.11, p.8, “as for the three sponges the pontiff had sent them as a blessing the previous year from those provided for use on his own table, at the time the war was beginning Eudes prince of Aquitania had given them to his people to consume in small amounts and of those who had shared in them not one had been injured or killed.” but no doubt threw the Holy See’s support behind a more powerful and important friend in Pepin.

Aquitaine, unlike Saxony or other foes to the east, seems not to have supported a long-simmering rebellion for decades. Once conquered, the region became a part of Francia without further ado. Charlemagne even named his son Louis (known to history as the Pious) as king of Aquitaine in 781, when the lad was just three.

The Basques, who may or may not have been part of the Gascon levies mentioned so frequently during the war, gave Charlemagne one of his bloodiest defeats of his long career, when they ambushed his rearguard during the retreat from Spain in August of 778.

To history the war for Aquitaine merits only the smallest of footnotes. But it must have been a sad and terrible war, when neighbors and former allies fought each other, while, unknowingly, forging France into the state it is today.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare, pp.212-242.
2. The classic quote from the life of Gregory II, ch.11, p.8, “as for the three sponges the pontiff had sent them as a blessing the previous year from those provided for use on his own table, at the time the war was beginning Eudes prince of Aquitania had given them to his people to consume in small amounts and of those who had shared in them not one had been injured or killed.”

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