762: Total war

In 762 Pepin broke the back of the Aquitanian resistance. While the war continued for another six or seven years, after 762 it was clear that it was only a matter of time before the final Frankish victory. The campaigns waged by each side during this pivotal year clearly illustrate both the strategy followed by the Franks, as well as the fatal flaw in the Aquitanian leadership.

The previous year Waifar, or more precisely, a couple of his dukes, had launched an unopposed assault into Burgundy, and returned with much plunder. But then king Pepin marched into eastern Aquitaine and burned several major fortresses. Clearly this was not an equation which would work out for Waifar in the long run. Waifar must have been pondering his options, none of them good, when Pepin came over the river in force, with a major siege train. … Read more…

761: Waifar strikes back

As 761 dawned, two rulers faced each other across the Loire. To the north Pepin had delivered his ultimatum the year before, and then backed it up with a lightning strike down the eastern border of Aquitaine, looting the land and returning to Francia with minimal casualties. To the south Waifar was licking his wounds. Despite years of relative peace with which to prepare for a day he must have known was coming, his leadership and army were shoved aside when he refused to accede to Pepin’s demands. The fact that he later apparently caved on all counts could not have endeared him to his people or his commanders. He needed to take action, and so he did.

Waiofar in his wickedness started plotting against Pippin, King of the Franks. He made an alliance with Chunibert count of Bourges and Bladinus count of the Auvergne whom in the previous year he had sent with Bishop Bertelannus of Bourges to King Pippin, to the latter’s great indignation. With these and with other counts he secretly moved his entire army to Chalon, and he set fire to the whole region of Autun as far as Chalon. They laid waste the approaches to Chalon and destroyed whatever they found there. They burnt down the royal villa of Mailly. Then they went home with great spoils and plunder, there being no one to stop them. King Pippin was furious when he was told that Waiofar had plundered a large part of his kingdom and had broken his oaths that he had sworn to him.1.Fredegar, ch.42, pp.110-111.Read more…

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Fredegar, ch.42, pp.110-111.

Wanted: Latin translators – no pay, all glory

For a layman there is never enough translated material. There is little more frustrating than jumping to the notes in some scholarly volume, and finding a reference to some obscure source that requires a lifetime of Latin to access. While there is a surprising amount of primary source material available in English, there is much that needs to be done. This is an initial survey of what else from the eighth century needs a translator’s touch: … Read more…

760: Pepin declares war

King Pepin of Francia had waged successful battles of conquest and intimidation ever since he had succeeded (along with his brother Carloman) to the leadership of the realm in 741. He had fought in Lombardy, Saxony, Aquitaine, Bavaria, and Burgundy. He had out-maneuvered family and allies and made himself king, with the help and blessing of the pope. The kingdom had expanded under his rule, the Arabs were in retreat, he was friendly with the Byzantines, his family had solidified their grip on power, and he had no reason to believe the future would hold anything different. His son Charles had already fulfilled delicate diplomatic missions, and no doubt showed great promise as a future leader. By the year 760 Pepin was in his mid-forties, at the height of his powers, and the kingdom was at peace.

In other words, it was time to “‘Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war.”1.Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1. The dogs would be loosed on Aquitaine, the last of the great semi-independent kingdoms once ruled by the Merovingians. But even in the eighth century, a king couldn’t simply ride across the border, not a king devoted to Christendom. A casus belli had to be found. From the abduction of Helen in the dark ages of Greece, to Hitler’s invention of a violated radio post on the Polish border, rulers have always needed a reason to invade first. … Read more…

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1.

Aquitaine tries to rebuild

The Aquitanian defeat in 732 was a crushing blow to the region’s ambitions to true independence. As recently as 718 Duke Odo had challenged Charles Martel directly, with a naked offer of assistance to Martel’s opponents in the Frankish civil war. Martel’s seemingly effortless swatting away of the Duke’s defiance should be seen for what it was: the realization by two unequal opponents just how unequal they are. The final denouement of this confrontation took another forty years to unfold, but the beginnings are clear to see.

Before we attempt to discern too much about what happened in Aquitaine prior to 760, let us bear in mind what Paul Fouracre noted, that “we can find out very little about Aquitaine in the period 675 – 750. Remarkably few charters have survived, and narrative material from the region is equally scarce.”1.Fouracre, Charles Martel, pp.83-84. But we can try. … Read more…

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Fouracre, Charles Martel, pp.83-84.