Dorestad, crossroads of the north

Dorestad was the largest of what are (and were then) called emporia. An emporium was founded by a king or high ruler with the express purpose of facilitating the trade and production of high-status goods. Emporia were always located on large rivers or harbors, in order to enable wares from the interior to be exported, and provide an exceptional port for merchandise to come from abroad. They were very much working class towns, and in general the nobility and the religious avoided making the towns centers of non-economic activity.

Dorestad was located at the junction of the Rhine and Lek rivers, in what is today the Netherlands, and what was then called Frisia. In addition to the obvious advantages that a port on the Rhine provided, there was an old Roman fortress near the site that probably contributed some feeling of security. One disadvantage of Dorestad was that it was located very close to the undefined but fiercely contested border between Frisia and Austrasia. As a result the town changed rulers fairly frequently after its founding in the early seventh century.

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Frankish travelogue – Frisia, under the Lamb

While spiritual battles raged in Frisia, secular affairs were no less intense. King Radbod and Pippin came to some kind of a peace agreement, and Radbod’s daughter Theudesinda married Pippin’s son Grimoald in 711. The new in-laws, however, did not make peace in their hearts. When Pippin fell deathly ill early in 714, “his son Grimoald hastened to visit him and, as he proceeded to prayer in the basilica of St Lambert the Martyr, and as he persisted a long while lying face down in his prayer, he was run through with a sword by a most evil man named Rantgar and he died.”1.Late Merovingian France, Annals of Metz, p.364. Other sources tell us that Rantgar was a Frisian.

Upon Pippin’s death later that year civil war broke out in Francia, and the Neustrian nobility made common cause with Radbod against Pippin’s Austrasian family. Radbod battled and defeated Pippin’s son Charles Martel, but that was Charles’ last defeat in the civil war (and, for that matter, in his life), and Radbod’s plan to recover his lost territory was destroyed. After that most of Frisia was considered a province or county of Francia, but it cannot be said that everything was peaceful.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Late Merovingian France, Annals of Metz, p.364.

Frankish travelogue – Frisia, untamed

Frisia is the area that is today called Holland, part of the Netherlands, but north of the Rhine River. It is flat, marshy, and at the sea land and water blur together, as befits an area also known as the Low Countries. Frisia is notably mentioned in Beowulf, when a bard sings of Finn, the Frisian king, and his battle with the Danes at Finnsburg.1.Heaney, trans., Beowulf, lines 1070-1157.

In the 7th century Frisia was a trading center, particularly the town of Duurstede, south of Utrecht. Duurstede was the port where gathered and traded the merchants of Paris, London, Cologne, and up towards the Danes. Frisian coins have been found near London, and as far south as Lake Constance. As Frankish trading patterns grew the Frisians became a people of interest.2.Geary, Before France and Germany, p.177-78. Not all of the trade was of the most beneficent kind. In 679 Imma, a thegn of the Mercian king, was captured after a battle by another Englishman, who later “sold him to a Frisian in London.”3.Bede, Ecclesiastical History, bk.4, ch.22, p.242.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Heaney, trans., Beowulf, lines 1070-1157.
2. Geary, Before France and Germany, p.177-78.
3. Bede, Ecclesiastical History, bk.4, ch.22, p.242.

Charles in charge

When we last left Charles he had been defeated by the Frisian king Radbod and retreated to the hills of the Eifel, south of Cologne. After that stumble it would have been easy for the Austrasian elite to simply accept the new order of things. But Charles was the oldest male Pippinid, and that family had come to mean something over the decades. Charles himself, if his later career is any indication, must have been an extraordinary personality, and the Austrasian nobility flocked to his banner in the forest. As the Neustrian forces passed by, heading back to Paris after their successful siege of Cologne, he struck.

The Battle of Ambleve was the first of an unbroken string of victories for Charles that lasted until his death twenty-five years later. He used unconventional tactics, such as attacking at noonday, which was traditionally a time of rest, and most famously, a feigned retreat that drew Ragenfrid’s booty-crazed forces into a disorganized dash for loot before he turned and counterattacked. Charles recovered much of the treasure Plectrude had given over to Ragenfrid to relieve the siege of Cologne, but he did not stop with that. He cleaned up opposition by the lesser nobility in the realm as well.

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