Charlemagne gets played

In the spring of 777 a group of Arab emissaries from northern Spain arrived at Paderborn, Germany to meet with the Frankish King Charles. They had traveled more than a thousand miles, but it was worth it, for they had a proposal of continental scope to put forth. If Charles would raise his armies and march to Spain, he would be granted dominion over all of the lands from the Pyrenees to the Ebro river, if he could defend them against the depredations of the last of the Umayyad emirs, the merciless ‘Abd al-Rahman of Cordova. For a variety of reasons, thoughts of an easy conquest uppermost, Charles agreed. The word went forth throughout the realm to prepare for war.1.All of this is detailed more fully in my previous post.

No details reach us concerning the specific preparations that were undertaken for this particular expedition. The groundwork must have been immense, for the Spanish expedition was one of the larger armies Charles organized. “How big was it?” is, of course, the obvious question, and one to which much thought has been given. To no satisfactory result, it must be said. The sources give ridiculous numbers, in the hundreds of thousands, and must be taken as the rhetorical equivalent of “larger than you can imagine.”

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. All of this is detailed more fully in my previous post.

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 of exchange 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, heading for the de facto capital of northern Aquitaine.

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Francia travelogue – Septimania

Today the French Mediterranean coast is known for soft sandy beaches and elegant resorts. Thirteen centuries ago the region was on the brink of years of battle and bloodshed.

Septimania was a vaguely rectangular region that ran from the French southwest Mediterranean coast to the northeast for perhaps 150 miles, and from the sea to about fifty miles inland. It was bounded by the Pyrenees, the Mediterranean, and the river Rhone to the east. First named for the Roman seventh legion who settled there, the region included one of the first Roman roads in Gaul, the Via Domitia, that ran from Italy to Spain. The Via Aquitania split off from that and ran to Bordeaux. The towns of Narbonne and Agde were ports and trading sites in Roman times, and salt was extracted from around Narbonne. The province remained more Roman than Rome as the barbarians closed around the mother city in the fourth and fifth centuries. Finally in 462 the Romans handed it to the Visigoths.

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