Tag: Charlemagne

The Viking Siege of Paris (885-886)

The Siege of Paris of 885–886 was part of a Viking raid on the Seine, in the Kingdom of the West Franks. The siege was the most important event of the reign of Charles the Fat, and a turning point in the fortunes of the Carolingian dynasty and the history of France.

It also proved to the Franks the strategic importance of Paris, at a time when it also was one of the largest cities in France. The siege is the subject of an eyewitness account in the Latin poem Bella Parisiacae urbis of Abbo Cernuus.

With hundreds of ships, and possibly tens of thousands of men, the Vikings arrived outside Paris in late November 885, at first demanding tribute. This was denied by Odo, Count of Paris, despite the fact that he could assemble only a couple of hundred soldiers to defend the city. The Vikings attacked with a variety of siege engines, but failed to break through the city walls after some days of intense attacks. The siege was upheld after the initial attacks, but without any significant offence for months after the attack. As the siege went on, most of the Vikings left Paris to pillage further upriver. The Vikings made a final unsuccessful attempt to take the city during the summer, and in October, Charles the Fat arrived with his army.

To the frustration of the Parisians who had fought for a long time to defend the city, Charles stopped short of attacking the Viking besiegers, and instead allowed them to sail further up the Seine to raid Burgundy (which was in revolt), as well as promising a payment of 700 livres (257 kg) of silver. Odo, highly critical of this, tried his best to defy the promises of Charles, and when Charles died in 888, Odo was elected the first non-Carolingian king of the Franks.

Although the Vikings had attacked parts of Francia previously, they reached Paris for the first time in 845, eventually sacking the city. They attacked Paris three times more in the 860s, leaving only when they had acquired sufficient loot or bribes. In 864, by the Edict of Pistres, bridges were ordered built across the Seine at Pîtres and in Paris, where two were built, one on each side of the Île de la Cité. These would serve admirably in the siege of 885. The chief ruler in the region around Paris (the Île-de-France) was the duke of Francia (who was also count of Paris), who controlled the lands between the Seine and Loire.Odo,

Originally this was Robert the Strong, margrave of Neustria and missus dominicus for the Loire Valley. He began fortifying the capital and fought the Norsemen continuously until his death in battle against them at Brissarthe. Although his son Odo succeeded him, royal power declined. However, Paris continued to be fortified but due to local rather than royal initiative.

Meanwhile, West Francia suffered under a series of short-reigning kings after the death of Charles the Bald in 877. This situation prevailed until 884, when Charles the Fat, already King of Germany and Italy, became king, and hopes were raised of a reunification of Charlemagne’s empire. It had been thought that the Franks had gained an upper hand against the Vikings after the victory of Louis III at the Battle of Saucourt in 881, but in 885, a year after the succession of Charles, the Vikings launched their most massive attack on Paris yet.

Charles the Fat.

Danish Vikings under Sigfred and Sinric sailed towards West Francia again in 885, having raided the north-eastern parts of the country before. Sigfred demanded a bribe from Charles, but was refused, and promptly led 700 ships up the Seine, carrying perhaps as many as 30,000 or 40,000 men. The number, the largest ever recorded for a Viking fleet in contemporary sources, originates from Abbo Cernuus.

Although an eyewitness, there is general agreement among historians that Abbo’s numbers are “a gross exaggeration,” with Abbo being “in a class of his own as an exaggerator.” Historian C. W. Previté-Orton has instead put the number of ships at 300, and John Norris at “some 300.” Although the Franks tried to block the Vikings from sailing up the Seine, the Vikings eventually managed to reach Paris.

Paris at this time was a town on an island, known today as Île de la Cité. Its strategic importance came from the ability to block ships’ passage with its two low-lying foot bridges, one of wood and one of stone. Not even the shallow Viking ships could pass Paris because of the bridges. Odo, Count of Paris prepared for the arrival of the Vikings by fortifying the bridgehead with two towers guarding each bridge.

He was low on men, having no more than 200 men-at-arms available (also according to Abbo Cernuus), but led a joint defence with Gozlin, Bishop of Paris (the first “fighting bishop” in medieval literature), and had the aid of his brother, Robert, two counts and a marquis.

Paris – Ile de la Cité, clearly showing the island where the City was situated during the 9th Century.

The Vikings arrived in Paris on 24 or 25 November 885, initially asking for tribute from the Franks. When this was denied, they began a siege. On 26 November the Danes attacked the northeast tower with ballistae, mangonels, and catapults. They were repulsed by a mixture of hot wax and pitch.

All Viking attacks that day were repulsed, and during the night the Parisians constructed another storey on the tower. On 27 November the Viking attack included mining, battering rams, and fire, but to no avail. Bishop Gozlin entered the fray with a bow and an axe. He planted a cross on the outer defences and exhorted the people.

His brother Ebles also joined the fighting. The Vikings withdrew after the failed initial attacks and built a camp on the right side of the river bank, using stone as construction material. While preparing for new attacks, the Vikings also started constructing additional siege engines. In a renewed assault, they shot a thousand grenades against the city, sent a ship for the bridge, and made a land attack with three groups.

The forces surrounded the bridgehead tower, possibly mainly aiming to bring down the river obstacle. While they tried setting fire to the bridge, they also attacked the city itself with siege engines.

For two months the Vikings maintained the siege, making trenches and provisioning themselves off the land. In January 886 they tried to fill the river shallows with debris, plant matter, and the bodies of dead animals and dead prisoners to try to get around the tower. They continued this for two days. On the third day they set three ships alight and guided them towards the wooden bridge.

The burning ships sank before they could set the bridge on fire, but the wooden construction was nonetheless weakened. On 6 February, rains caused the debris-filled river to overflow and the bridge supports to give way. The bridge gone, the northeast tower was now isolated with only twelve defenders inside. The Vikings asked the twelve to surrender, but they refused, and were all subsequently killed.

The Vikings left a force around Paris, but many ventured further to pillage Le Mans, Chartres, Evreux and into the Loire. Odo successfully slipped some men through Norse lines to go to Italy and plead with Charles to come to their aid. Henry, Count of Saxony, Charles’ chief man in Germany, marched to Paris. Weakened by marching during the winter, Henry’s soldiers made only one abortive attack in February before retreating.

The besieged forces sallied forth and to obtain supplies. Morale of the besiegers was low and Sigfred asked for sixty pounds of silver. He left the siege in April. Another Viking leader, Rollo, stayed behind with his men. In May, disease began to spread in the Parisian ranks and Gozlin died. Odo then slipped through Viking-controlled territory to petition Charles for support; Charles consented.

Rollo, (Clive Standen) as depicted in the History Channels hit TV series ‘Vikings’.

Odo fought his way back into Paris and Charles and Henry of Saxony marched northward. Henry died after he fell into the Viking ditches, where he was captured and killed.

That summer, the Danes made a final attempt to take the city, but were repulsed. The imperial army arrived in October and scattered the Vikings. Charles encircled Rollo and his army and set up a camp at Montmartre. However, Charles had no intention of fighting. He allowed the Vikings to sail up the Seine to ravage Burgundy, which was in revolt. When the Vikings withdrew from France the next spring, he gave them 700 livres (pounds) of silver as promised, amounting to approximately 257 kg.

Aftermath

The Parisians and Odo refused to let the Vikings down the Seine, and the invaders had to drag their boats overland to the Marne in order to leave the country. When Charles died in 888, the French elected Odo as their king. Odo’s brother was later elected king as well. Throughout the next century the Robertians, descendants of Robert the Strong, fought the Carolingians for the French throne. Their duchy (Francia) gave its name to the Kingdom of France and the Carolingian Empire was never again reconstituted.

References

The Frankish Empire

Expansion of the Frankish Empire AD 768-811

The Franks (Latin: Franci or gens Francorum) were a collection of Germanic peoples that originated in the lands between the Lower and Middle Rhine in the 3rd century AD and eventually formed a large empire dominating much of western and central Europe during the Middle Ages.

During ancient times some Franks raided Roman territory, while other Frankish tribes joined the Roman troops of Gaul. The Salian Franks lived on Roman-held soil between the Rhine, Scheldt, Meuse, and Somme rivers in what is now Northern France, Belgium and the central and southern part of the Netherlands. The kingdom was acknowledged by the Romans after 357 AD.

They became a powerful ally of Rome, providing many imperial generals, and integrated remarkably well into Roman society, speaking Latin fluently, obtaining Roman citizenship, and being often promoted by the emperors to consular ranks (including senators) for their competence.

Following the collapse of Rome in the West, the Frankish tribes were united under the Merovingians, who succeeded in conquering most of Gaul in the 6th century, which greatly increased their power. The Merovingian dynasty, descendants of the Salians, founded one of the French monarchies that would absorb large parts of the Western Roman Empire. The Frankish state consolidated its hold over the majority of western Europe by the end of the 8th century, developing into the Carolingian Empire.

With the coronation of their ruler Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III in 800 AD, he and his successors were recognised as legitimate successors to the emperors of the Western Roman Empire. As such, the Carolingian Empire gradually came to be seen in the West as a continuation of the ancient Roman Empire. This empire would give rise to several successor states, including France, the Holy Roman Empire and Burgundy, though the Frankish identity remained most closely identified with France.

After the death of Charlemagne, his only adult surviving son became Emperor and King Louis the Pious. Following Louis the Pious’s death however, accordingly with Frankish culture and law that demanded equality among all living male adult heirs, the Frankish Empire was now split between Louis’ three sons.

This led to the creation of independent Kingdoms, which would later become known as the Kingdom of France, the Holy Roman Empire (itself evolving eventually into the German States, and then Germany), the Low Countries (which would later break-up into the Kingdom of Belgium, Kingdom of the Netherlands, and Luxembourg), Switzerland, and the northern Italian city-states that would later become part of the Kingdom of Italy.

In the Middle Ages, the term Frank was used in the east as a synonym for western European, as the Franks were then rulers of most of Western Europe.

Frankish arms and Grave Goods from the Merovingian Period.

The name Franci was originally socio-political. To the Romans, Celts, and Suebi, the Franks must have seemed alike: they looked the same and spoke the same language, so that Franci became the name by which the people were known. Within a few centuries it had eclipsed the names of the original tribes, though the older names have survived in some place-names, such as Hesse, which originates from the Chatti tribe.

Following the precedents of Edward Gibbon and Jacob Grimm, the name of the Franks has been linked with the word frank in English. It has been suggested that the meaning of “free” was adopted because, after the conquest of Gaul, only Franks were free of taxation. It is traditionally assumed that Frank comes from the Germanic word for “javelin” (such as in Old English franca or Old Norse frakka). There is also another theory that suggests that Frank comes from the Latin word francisca meaning “throwing axe”. Words in other Germanic languages meaning “fierce”, “bold” or “insolent” (German frech, Middle Dutch vrac, Old English frǣc and Old Norwegian frakkr), may also be significant.

Eumenius addressed the Franks in the matter of the execution of Frankish prisoners in the circus at Trier by Constantine I in 306 and certain other measures: Ubi nunc est illa ferocia? Ubi semper infida mobilitas? (“Where now is that ferocity of yours? Where is that ever untrustworthy fickleness?”). Feroces was used often to describe the Franks.

Contemporary definitions of Frankish ethnicity vary both by period and point of view. A formulary written by Marculf about 700 AD described a continuation of national identities within a mixed population when it stated that “all the peoples who dwell [in the official’s province], Franks, Romans, Burgundians and those of other nations, live … according to their law and their custom.” Writing in 2009, Professor Christopher Wickham pointed out that “the word ‘Frankish’ quickly ceased to have an exclusive ethnic connotation. North of the River Loire everyone seems to have been considered a Frank by the mid-7th century at the latest; Romani were essentially the inhabitants of Aquitaine after that”.

The Franks AD 400-600

Two early sources that describe the origin of the Franks are a 7th-century work known as the Chronicle of Fredegar and the anonymous Liber Historiae Francorum, written a century later.

The author of the Chronicle of Fredegar claimed that the Franks came originally from Troy and quoted the works of Vergil and Hieronymous, and the Franks are mentioned in those works, by Hieronymous. The chronicle describes Priam as a Frankish king whose people migrated to Macedonia after the fall of Troy. In Macedonia, the Franks then divided. The European Franks reached Francia under King Francio, just as Romulus went to Rome. Another branch, under King Turchot, became the Turks. Fredegar stated that Theudemer, named king of the Franks by Gregory, was descended from Priam, Friga and Francio.

Another work, the Gesta, described how 12,000 Trojans, led by Priam and Antenor, sailed from Troy to the River Don in Russia and on to Pannonia, which is on the River Danube, settling near the Sea of Azov. There they founded a city called Sicambria. The Trojans joined the Roman army in accomplishing the task of driving their enemies into the marshes of Mæotis, for which they received the name of Franks (meaning “savage”).

A decade later the Romans killed Priam and drove away Marcomer and Sunno, the sons of Priam and Antenor, and the other Franks.

The major primary sources on the early Franks include the Panegyrici Latini, Ammianus Marcellinus, Claudian, Zosimus, Sidonius Apollinaris and Gregory of Tours. The Franks are first mentioned in the Augustan History, a collection of biographies of the Roman emperors. The Life of Aurelian, which was possibly written by Vopiscus, mentions that in 328, Frankish raiders (possibly Ripuarians) were captured by the 6th Legion stationed at Mainz. As a result of this incident, 700 Franks were killed and 300 were sold into slavery. Frankish incursions over the Rhine became so frequent that the Romans began to settle the Franks on their borders in order to control them. In 288 the emperor Maximian defeated the Salian Franks, Chamavi, Frisians and other Germans living along the Rhine and moved them to Germania inferior to provide manpower and prevent the settlement of other Germanic tribes.

In 292 Constantius, the father of Constantine I defeated the Franks who had settled at the mouth of the Rhine. These were moved to the nearby region of Toxandria. Eumenius mentions Constantius as having “killed, expelled, captured [and] kidnapped” the Franks who had settled there and others who had crossed the Rhine, using the term nationes Franciae for the first time.

Detail of the Tabula Peutingeriana, showing Francia at the top.

The Salians, who eventually became the Merovingians, were first mentioned by Ammianus Marcellinus, who described Julian‘s defeat of “the first Franks of all, those whom custom has called the Salians,” in 358. He promoted them to the status of fœderati within the Empire. The 5th century Notitia Dignitatum lists their soldiers as Salii. Jordanes, in Getica mentions the Riparii as auxiliaries of Flavius Aetius during the Battle of Châlons in 451: “Hi enim affuerunt auxiliares: Franci, Sarmatae, Armoriciani, Liticiani, Burgundiones, Saxones, Riparii, Olibriones …”  The Riparii may not have been the Ripuarian Franks, as they do not appear for certain under that name until their final subjugation by Clovis I.

The Franks are mentioned in the Tabula Peutingeriana, an atlas of Roman roads. It is a 13th-century copy of a 4th or 5th century document that reflects information from the 3rd century. The Romans knew the shape of Europe, but their knowledge is not evident from the map, which was only a practical guide to the roads to be followed from point to point.

In the middle Rhine region of the map, the word Francia is close to a misspelling of Bructeri. Beyond Mainz is Suevia, the country of the Suebi, and beyond that is Alamannia, the country of the Alamanni. Four tribes at the mouth of the Rhine are depicted: the Chauci, the Amsivarii (‘Ems dwellers’), the Cherusci and the Chamavi, followed by qui et Pranci (‘who are also Franks’). The Tabula was probably based on the Orbis Pictus, a map of twenty years’ labour commissioned by Augustus and then kept by the Roman’s treasury department for the assessment of taxes. It did not survive as such. Information about the imperial divisions of Gaul probably derives from it.

Claudius Ptolemy‘s two maps of Germany portrayed Germania Inferior on the left bank of the Rhine, which was populated by Germanics, including those who had occupied the region before the Romans, and Magna Germania on the other side of the river, which acted as the Roman frontier. Tensions between the Empire and the Franks existed because of this artificial division: the Franks saw no reason why they should be kept from settling on either side of the river and eventually they convinced the Emperors to allow this to happen.

The topography of the mouth of the Rhine was even more troubling: the Rhine divided far inland into a fan of outlets, in which there was a significant settlement area, the island of Batavia. The Romans diverted the Rhine into the Yssel through a canal, which emptied into an inland lagoon. After the construction of the canal, Batavia was left under Roman jurisdiction, although it was settled by Germanics.

Ptolemy’s maps reflect generally the same tribal names as the Tabula Peutingeriana, except that the Tabula does not mention the Sicambri. This difference suggests that, in the few decades between the Ptolemaic map and the Tabula, the Sicambri were absorbed by the Franks.

Ripuarians

Approximate location of the original Frankish tribes in the 3rd century.

According to the ancient writers, the Franks emerged at the first half of the 3rd century from a number of earlier, smaller Germanic groups: the Sicambri, Chamavi, Bructeri, Chatti, Chattuarii, Ampsivarii, Tencteri and the Ubii, who inhabited the Rhine valley from the Yssel (which flows from the Rhine) between Lacus Flevo, (later the Zuiderzee now the IJsselmeer) and Mainz.

The Romans held Lacus Flevo and all the marsh and riverland to the south. The Frankish confederation probably began to coalesce in the 210s, north of the Roman province called Germania Inferior which had been settled earlier by Celticised Germanic immigrants, known to Julius Caesar as the Belgae (among them, the notable Tungri). Along the Rhine itself were a number of cities constituting the interface between Roman and Germanic civilisation. Germanics who settled south of the Rhine without Roman authority were punished.

Franks interested in reoccupying the Roman-controlled left bank of the Rhine marauded these Romans to the south by land and sea using the tactics of forced marches and surprise attacks. During the 3rd century, the Franks attempted to appropriate Batavia to the south of Lacus Flevo. This time the Romans allowed them to stay, settling them in Toxandria (near modern Antwerp), where they became an independent maritime power known as the Salians, or “maritime people”.

Other Franks, from Mainz to Duisburg, raided across the Rhine and at some point acquired the name Ripuarians, or “river people”. Both groups remained politically distinct until Clovis, a Salian and a member of the Merovingian dynasty, unified Francia.

Salians

The Franks were described in Roman texts both as allies (laeti) and enemies (dediticii). About the year 260 one group of Franks penetrated as far as Tarragona in present-day Spain, where they plagued the region for about a decade before they were subdued and expelled by the Romans. In 287 or 288, the Roman Caesar Maximian forced the Salian leader Genobaud and his people to surrender without a fight. Maximian then forced the Salians in Toxandria (the present Low Countries) to accept imperial authority, but was not able to follow on this success by reconquering Britain.

Some decades later, the Salian Franks controlled the River Scheldt and were disrupting transport links to Britain in the English Channel. Although Roman forces managed to pacifiy them, they failed to expel the Franks, who continued to be feared as pirates at least until 358, when, according to the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus, Julian the Apostate allowed the Franks to settle as foederati in Toxandria. By the end of the 5th century, the Salian Franks had largely moved to a territory (what is now the Netherlands south of the Rhine, Belgium, and northern France), where they formed a kingdom that eventually gave rise to the Merovingian dynasty.

Merovingian kingdom (481–751)

Numerous small Frankish kingdoms existed during the 5th century around Cologne, Tournai, Le Mans, Cambrai and elsewhere. The kingdom of Tournai eventually came to dominate its neighbours, probably because of its association with Aegidius, the magister militum of northern Gaul. A Frankish king, Childeric I, fought with Aegidius in 463: historians have assumed that Childeric and his son Clovis I were both commanders of the Roman military in the Province of Belgica Secunda and were subordinate to the magister militum.

The Seal Ring of Childeric I.

Clovis later turned against the Roman commanders, defeated Syagrius in 486 or 487 and then had the Frankish king Chararic imprisoned and executed. A few years later, he killed Ragnachar, the Frankish king of Cambrai, and his brothers. By the 490s, he had conquered all the Frankish kingdoms to the west of the River Maas except for the Ripuarian Franks and was in a position to make the city of Paris his capital. He became the first king of all Franks in 509, after he had conquered Cologne. After conquering the Kingdom of Soissons and expelling the Visigoths from southern Gaul at the Battle of Vouillé, he established Frankish hegemony over most of Gaul, excluding Burgundy, Provence and Brittany, which were eventually absorbed by his successors.

Clovis I divided his realm between his four sons, who united to defeat Burgundy in 534. Internecine feuding occurred during the reigns of the brothers Sigebert I and Chilperic I, which was largely fuelled by the rivalry of their queens, Brunhilda and Fredegunda, and which continued during the reigns of their sons and their grandsons. Three distinct subkingdoms emerged: Austrasia, Neustria and Burgundy, each of which developed independently and sought to exert influence over the others. The influence of the Arnulfing clan of Austrasia ensured that the centre of political gravity in the kingdom gradually shifted eastwards to the Rhineland.

The Frankish realm was reunited in 613 by Chlothar II, the son of Chilperic, who granted his nobles the Edict of Paris in an effort to reduce corruption and reassert his authority. Following the military successes of his son and successor Dagobert I, royal authority rapidly declined under a series of kings, traditionally known as les rois fainéants. After the Battle of Tertry in 687, each mayor of the palace, who had formerly been the king’s chief household official, effectively held power until in 751, with the approval of the Pope and the nobility, Pepin the Short deposed the last Merovingian king Childeric III and had himself crowned. This inaugurated a new dynasty, the Carolingians.

Carolingian empire (751–843)

The Frankish Kingdoms.

The unification achieved by the Merovingians ensured the continuation of what has become known as the Carolingian Renaissance. The Carolingian Empire was beset by internecine warfare, but the combination of Frankish rule and Roman Christianity ensured that it was fundamentally united. Frankish government and culture depended very much upon each ruler and his aims and so each region of the empire developed differently. Although a ruler’s aims depended upon the political alliances of his family, the leading families of Francia shared the same basic beliefs and ideas of government, which had both Roman and Germanic roots.

The sons of Louis the Pious fought a civil war after Louis’ death, which ended when the Frankish lands were divided between them. Charles the Bald was given West Francia, which would later become France, Louis the German received the eastern lands, which would later become Germany and Lothair I was given Middle Francia, which consisted of Lotharingia, Provence and Northern Italy. Middle Francia was not united, and by the next generation it had disintegrated into smaller lordships, which West Francia and East Francia fought for control over.

Military

Participation in the Roman army

Germanic peoples, including those tribes in the Rhine delta that later became the Franks, are known to have served in the Roman army since the days of Julius Caesar. After the Roman administration collapsed in Gaul in the 260s, the armies under the Germanic Batavian Postumus revolted and proclaimed him emperor and then restored order. From then on, Germanic soldiers in the Roman army, most notably Franks, were promoted from the ranks.

A few decades later, the Menapian Carausius created a Batavian–British rump state on Roman soil that was supported by Frankish soldiers and raiders. Frankish soldiers such as Magnentius, Silvanus and Arbitio held command positions in the Roman army during the mid 4th century. From the narrative of Ammianus Marcellinus it is evident that both Frankish and Alamannic tribal armies were organised along Roman lines.

After the invasion of Chlodio, the Roman armies at the Rhine border became a Frankish “franchise” and Franks were known to levy Roman-like troops that were supported by a Roman-like armour and weapons industry. This lasted at least till the days of the scholar Procopius (c. AD 500 – c. AD 565), more than a century after the demise of the Western Roman Empire, who wrote describing the former Rhine army as still in operation with legions of the style of their forefathers during Roman times.

The Franks under the Merovingians melded Germanic custom with Romanised organisation and several important tactical innovations. Before their conquest of Gaul, the Franks fought primarily as a tribe, unless they were part of a Roman military unit fighting in conjunction with other imperial units.

Military practices of the early Franks

The primary sources for Frankish military custom and armament are Ammianus Marcellinus, Agathias and Procopius, the latter two Eastern Roman historians writing about Frankish intervention in the Gothic War.

Writing of 539, Procopius says:

At this time the Franks, hearing that both the Goths and Romans had suffered severely by the war … forgetting for the moment their oaths and treaties … (for this nation in matters of trust is the most treacherous in the world), they straightway gathered to the number of one hundred thousand under the leadership of Theudebert I and marched into Italy: they had a small body of cavalry about their leader, and these were the only ones armed with spears, while all the rest were foot soldiers having neither bows nor spears, but each man carried a sword and shield and one axe. Now the iron head of this weapon was thick and exceedingly sharp on both sides, while the wooden handle was very short. And they are accustomed always to throw these axes at a signal in the first charge and thus to shatter the shields of the enemy and kill the men.

His contemporary, Agathias, who based his own writings upon the tropes laid down by Procopius, says:

The military equipment of this people [the Franks] is very simple … They do not know the use of the coat of mail or greaves and the majority leave the head uncovered, only a few wear the helmet. They have their chests bare and backs naked to the loins, they cover their thighs with either leather or linen. They do not serve on horseback except in very rare cases. Fighting on foot is both habitual and a national custom and they are proficient in this. At the hip they wear a sword and on the left side their shield is attached. They have neither bows nor slings, no missile weapons except the double edged axe and the angon which they use most often. The angons are spears which are neither very short nor very long. They can be used, if necessary, for throwing like a javelin, and also in hand to hand combat.

While the above quotations have been used as a statement of the military practices of the Frankish nation in the 6th century and have even been extrapolated to the entire period preceding Charles Martel‘s reforms (early mid-8th century), post-Second World War historiography has emphasised the inherited Roman characteristics of the Frankish military from the date of the beginning of the conquest of Gaul.

The Byzantine authors present several contradictions and difficulties. Procopius denies the Franks the use of the spear while Agathias makes it one of their primary weapons. They agree that the Franks were primarily infantrymen, threw axes and carried a sword and shield. Both writers also contradict the authority of Gallic authors of the same general time period (Sidonius Apollinaris and Gregory of Tours) and the archaeological evidence.

The Lex Ribuaria, the early 7th century legal code of the Rhineland or Ripuarian Franks, specifies the values of various goods when paying a wergild in kind; whereas a spear and shield were worth only two solidi, a sword and scabbard were valued at seven, a helmet at six, and a “metal tunic” at twelve. Scramasaxes and arrowheads are numerous in Frankish graves even though the Byzantine historians do not assign them to the Franks.

The frontispiece of Gregory’s Historia Francorum.

The evidence of Gregory and of the Lex Salica implies that the early Franks were a cavalry people. In fact, some modern historians have hypothesised that the Franks possessed so numerous a body of horses that they could use them to plough fields and thus were agriculturally technologically advanced over their neighbours. The Lex Ribuaria specifies that a mare’s value was the same as that of an ox or of a shield and spear, two solidi and a stallion seven or the same as a sword and scabbard, which suggests that horses were relatively common. Perhaps the Byzantine writers considered the Frankish horse to be insignificant relative to the Greek cavalry, which is probably accurate.

Merovingian military

Composition and development

The Frankish military establishment incorporated many of the pre-existing Roman institutions in Gaul, especially during and after the conquests of Clovis I in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. Frankish military strategy revolved around the holding and taking of fortified centres (castra) and in general these centres were held by garrisons of milities or laeti, who were former Roman mercenaries of Germanic origin. Throughout Gaul, the descendants of Roman soldiers continued to wear their uniforms and perform their ceremonial duties.

Merovingian Cavalry Nobleman V-VII Century.

Immediately beneath the Frankish king in the military hierarchy were the leudes, his sworn followers, who were generally ‘old soldiers’ in service away from court. Some historians have gone to the length of relating their oath-making to the later development of feudalism. The king had an elite bodyguard called the truste. Members of the truste often served in centannae, garrison settlements that were established for military and police purposes. The day-to-day bodyguard of the king was made up of antrustiones (senior soldiers who were aristocrats in military service) and pueri (junior soldiers and not aristocrats). All high-ranking men had pueri.

The Frankish military was not composed solely of Franks and Gallo-Romans, but also contained Saxons, Alans, Taifals and Alemanni. After the conquest of Burgundy (534), the well-organised military institutions of that kingdom were integrated into the Frankish realm. Chief among these was the standing army under the command of the Patrician of Burgundy.

In the late 6th century, during the wars instigated by Fredegund and Brunhilda, the Merovingian monarchs introduced a new element into their militaries: the local levy. A levy consisted of all the able-bodied men of a district who were required to report for military service when called upon, similar to conscription. The local levy applied only to a city and its environs. Initially only in certain cities in western Gaul, in Neustria and Aquitaine, did the kings possess the right or power to call up the levy. The commanders of the local levies were always different from the commanders of the urban garrisons. Often the former were commanded by the counts of the districts. A much rarer occurrence was the general levy, which applied to the entire kingdom and included peasants (pauperes and inferiores). General levies could also be made within the still-pagan trans-Rhenish stem duchies on the orders of a monarch. The Saxons, Alemanni and Thuringii all had the institution of the levy and the Frankish monarchs could depend upon their levies until the mid-7th century, when the stem dukes began to sever their ties to the monarchy. Radulf of Thuringia called up the levy for a war against Sigebert III in 640.

Soon the local levy spread to Austrasia and the less Romanised regions of Gaul. On an intermediate level, the kings began calling up territorial levies from the regions of Austrasia (which did not have major cities of Roman origin). However, all the forms of the levy gradually disappeared in the course of the 7th century after the reign of Dagobert I. Under the so-called rois fainéants, the levies disappeared by mid-century in Austrasia and later in Burgundy and Neustria. Only in Aquitaine, which was fast becoming independent of the central Frankish monarchy, did complex military institutions persist into the 8th century. In the final half of the 7th century and first half of the 8th in Merovingian Gaul, the chief military actors became the lay and ecclesiastical magnates with their bands of armed followers called retainers. The other aspects of the Merovingian military, mostly Roman in origin or innovations of powerful kings, disappeared from the scene by the 8th century.

Strategy, tactics and equipment

Merovingian armies used coats of mail, helmets, shields, lances, swords, bows and arrows and war horses. The armament of private armies resembled those of the Gallo-Roman potentiatores of the late Empire. A strong element of Alanic cavalry settled in Armorica influenced the fighting style of the Bretons down into the 12th century. Local urban levies could be reasonably well-armed and even mounted, but the more general levies were composed of pauperes and inferiores, who were mostly farmers by trade and carried ineffective weapons, such as farming implements. The peoples east of the Rhine – Franks, Saxons and even Wends – who were sometimes called upon to serve, wore rudimentary armour and carried weapons such as spears and axes. Few of these men were mounted.

Arms and Armour of a Carolingian Horseman 8-9th Centuries.

Merovingian society had a militarised nature. The Franks called annual meetings every Marchfeld (1 March), when the king and his nobles assembled in large open fields and determined their targets for the next campaigning season. The meetings were a show of strength on behalf of the monarch and a way for him to retain loyalty among his troops. In their civil wars, the Merovingian kings concentrated on the holding of fortified places and the use of siege engines. In wars waged against external foes, the objective was typically the acquisition of booty or the enforcement of tribute. Only in the lands beyond the Rhine did the Merovingians seek to extend political control over their neighbours.

Tactically, the Merovingians borrowed heavily from the Romans, especially regarding siege warfare. Their battle tactics were highly flexible and were designed to meet the specific circumstances of a battle. The tactic of subterfuge was employed endlessly. Cavalry formed a large segment of an army, but troops readily dismounted to fight on foot. The Merovingians were capable of raising naval forces: the naval campaign waged against the Danes by Theuderic I in 515 involved ocean-worthy ships and rivercraft were used on the Loire, Rhône and Rhine.

Culture

Language

In a modern linguistic context, the language of the early Franks is variously called “Old Frankish” or “Old Franconian” and refers to the West Germanic dialects of the Franks prior to the advent of the Second Germanic consonant shift, which took place between 600 and 700 CE. After this consonant shift the Frankish dialect diverges, with the dialects which would become modern Dutch not undergoing the consonantal shift, while all others did so to varying degrees and thereby became part of the larger German dialectal domain.

The Frankish language has not been directly attested, apart from a minute amount of runic inscriptions found within contemporary Frankish territory such as the Bergakker inscription. The distinction between Old Dutch and Old Frankish is largely negligible, with Old Dutch (also called Old Low Franconian) being the term used to differentiate between the affected and non-affected variants following the aforementioned Second Germanic consonant shift.

A significant amount of Old Frankish vocabulary has been reconstructed by examining early Germanic loanwords found in Old French as well as through comparative reconstruction through Dutch. The influence of Old Frankish on contemporary Gallo-Roman vocabulary and phonology, have long been questions of scholarly debate. Frankish influence is thought to include the designations of the four cardinal directions: nord “north”, sud “south”, est “east” and ouest “west” and at least an additional 1000 stem words.

Art and architecture

The pinnacle of Carolingian architecture: the palatine chapel at Aachen, Germany.

Early Frankish art and architecture belongs to a phase known as Migration Period art, which has left very few remains. The later period is called Carolingian art, or, especially in architecture, pre-Romanesque. Very little Merovingian architecture has been preserved. The earliest churches seem to have been timber-built, with larger examples being of a basilica type. The most completely surviving example, a baptistery in Poitiers, is a building with three apses of a Gallo-Roman style. A number of small baptistries can be seen in Southern France: as these fell out of fashion, they were not updated and have subsequently survived as they were.

Jewelery (such as brooches), weapons (including swords with decorative hilts) and clothing (such as capes and sandals) have been found in a number of grave sites. The grave of Queen Aregund, discovered in 1959, and the Treasure of Gourdon, which was deposited soon after 524, are notable examples. The few Merovingian illuminated manuscripts that have survived, such as the Gelasian Sacramentary, contain a great deal of zoomorphic representations. Such Frankish objects show a greater use of the style and motifs of Late Antiquity and a lesser degree of skill and sophistication in design and manufacture than comparable works from the British Isles. So little has survived, however, that the best quality of work from this period may not be represented.

The objects produced by the main centres of the Carolingian Renaissance, which represent a transformation from that of the earlier period, have survived in far greater quantity. The arts were lavishly funded and encouraged by Charlemagne, using imported artists where necessary, and Carolingian developments were decisive for the future course of Western art. Carolingian illuminated manuscripts and ivory plaques, which have survived in reasonable numbers, approached those of Constantinople in quality. The main surviving monument of Carolingian architecture is the Palatine Chapel in Aachen, which is an impressive and confident adaptation of San Vitale, Ravenna — from where some of the pillars were brought. Many other important buildings existed, such as the monasteries of Centula or St Gall, or the old Cologne Cathedral, since rebuilt. These large structures and complexes made frequent use of towers.

Religion

A sizeable portion of the Frankish aristocracy quickly followed Clovis in converting to Christianity (the Frankish church of the Merovingians). The conversion of all under Frankish rule required a considerable amount of time and effort.

Paganism

Drawing of golden bees or flies that was discovered in the tomb of Childeric I.

Echoes of Frankish paganism can be found in the primary sources, but their meaning is not always clear. Interpretations by modern scholars differ greatly, but it is likely that Frankish paganism shared most of the characteristics of other varieties of Germanic paganism. The mythology of the Franks was probably a form of Germanic polytheism. It was highly ritualistic. Many daily activities centred around the multiple deities, chiefest of which may have been the Quinotaur, a water-god from whom the Merovingians were reputed to have derived their ancestry. Most of their gods were linked with local cult centres and their sacred character and power were associated with specific regions, outside of which they were neither worshipped nor feared. Most of the gods were “worldly”, possessing form and having connections with specific objects, in contrast to the God of Christianity.

Frankish paganism has been observed in the burial site of Childeric I, where the king’s body was found covered in a cloth decorated with numerous bees. There is a likely connection with the bees to the traditional Frankish weapon, the angon (meaning “sting”), from its distinctive spearhead. It is possible that the fleur-de-lis is derived from the angon.

Christianity

Baptism of Clovis by Paul Dubois, 1896, at the side of the Abbey of Saint- Remi, in Reims.

Some Franks, like the 4th century usurper Silvanus, converted early to Christianity. In 496, Clovis I, who had married a Burgundian Catholic named Clotilda in 493, was baptised by Saint Remi after a decisive victory over the Alemanni at the Battle of Tolbiac. According to Gregory of Tours, over three thousand of his soldiers were baptised with him. Clovis’ conversion had a profound effect on the course of European history, for at the time the Franks were the only major Christianised Germanic tribe without a predominantly Arian aristocracy and this led to a naturally amicable relationship between the Catholic Church and the increasingly powerful Franks.

Though many of the Frankish aristocracy quickly followed Clovis in converting to Christianity, the conversion of all his subjects was only achieved after considerable effort and, in some regions, a period of over two centuries. The Chronicle of St. Denis relates that, following Clovis’ conversion, a number of pagans who were unhappy with this turn of events rallied around Ragnachar, who had played an important role in Clovis’ initial rise to power. Though the text remains unclear as to the precise pretext, Clovis had Ragnachar executed. Remaining pockets of resistance were overcome region by region, primarily due to the work of an expanding network of monasteries.

 

Gelasian Sacramentary, c. 750.

The Merovingian Church was shaped by both internal and external forces. It had to come to terms with an established Gallo-Roman hierarchy that resisted changes to its culture, Christianise pagan sensibilities and suppress their expression, provide a new theological basis for Merovingian forms of kingship deeply rooted in pagan Germanic tradition and accommodate Irish and Anglo-Saxon missionary activities and papal requirements. The Carolingian reformation of monasticism and church-state relations was the culmination of the Frankish Church.

The increasingly wealthy Merovingian elite endowed many monasteries, including that of the Irish missionary Columbanus. The 5th, 6th and 7th centuries saw two major waves of hermitism in the Frankish world, which led to legislation requiring that all monks and hermits follow the Rule of St Benedict. The Church sometimes had an uneasy relationship with the Merovingian kings, whose claim to rule depended on a mystique of royal descent and who tended to revert to the polygamy of their pagan ancestors. Rome encouraged the Franks to slowly replace the Gallican Rite with the Roman rite. When the mayors took over, the Church was supportive and an Emperor crowned by the Pope was much more to their liking.

Laws

As with other Germanic peoples, the laws of the Franks were memorised by “rachimburgs”, who were analogous to the lawspeakers of Scandinavia. By the 6th century, when these laws first appeared in written form, two basic legal subdivisions existed: Salian Franks were subject to Salic law and Ripuarian Franks to Ripuarian law. Gallo-Romans south of the River Loire and clergy remained subject to traditional Roman law. Germanic law was overwhelmingly concerned with the protection of individuals and less concerned with protecting the interests of the state. According to Michel Rouche, “Frankish judges devoted as much care to a case involving the theft of a dog as Roman judges did to cases involving the fiscal responsibility of curiales, or municipal councilors”.

Legacy

The term Frank has been used by many of the Eastern Orthodox and Muslim neighbours of medieval Latin Christendom (and beyond, such as in Asia) as a general synonym for a European from Western and Central Europe, areas that followed the Latin rites of Christianity under the authority of the Pope in Rome. Another term with similar use was Latins.

Modern historians often refer to Christians following the Latin rites in the eastern Mediterranean as Franks or Latins, regardless of their country of origin, whereas they use the words Rhomaios and Rûmi (“Roman”) for Orthodox Christians. On a number of Greek islands, Catholics are still referred to as Φράγκοι (Frangoi) or “Franks”, for instance on Syros, where they are called Φραγκοσυριανός (Frangosyrianos). The period of Crusader rule in Greek lands is known to this day as the Frangokratia (“rule of the Franks”). Latin Christians living in the Middle East (particularly in the Levant) are known as Franco-Levantines.

During the Mongol Empire in the 13-14th centuries, the Mongols used the term “Franks” to designate Europeans. The term Frangistan (“Land of the Franks”) was used by Muslims to refer to Christian Europe and was commonly used over several centuries in Iran and the Ottoman Empire.

The Chinese called the Portuguese Folangji 佛郎機 (“Franks”) in the 1520s at the Battle of Tunmen and Battle of Xicaowan. Some other varieties of Mandarin Chinese pronounced the characters as Fah-lan-ki.

The Mediterranean Lingua Franca (or “Frankish language”) was a pidgin first spoken by 11th century European Christians and Muslims in Mediterranean ports that remained in use until the 19th century.

Examples of derived words include:

  • Frangos (Φράγκος) in Greek
  • Frëng in Albanian
  • Frenk in Turkish
  • al-Faranj, Afranj and Firinjīyah in Arabic
  • Farang, Farangī in Persian, Faranji in Tajik.
  • Ferengi or Faranji in some Turkic languages
  • Feringhi or Firang in Hindi and Urdu (derived from Persian)
  • Phirangee in some other Indian languages
  • Parangiar in Tamil
  • Parangi in Malayalam; in Sinhala, the word refers specifically to Portuguese people
  • Barang in Khmer
  • Feringgi in Malay
  • Folangji or Fah-lan-ki (佛郎機) and Fulang in Chinese
  • Farang (ฝรั่ง) in Thai.
  • Pirang (“blonde”), Perangai (“temperament/al”) in Bahasa Indonesia

In the Thai usage, the word can refer to any European person. When the presence of US soldiers during the Vietnam War placed Thai people in contact with African Americans, they (and people of African ancestry in general) came to be called Farang dam (“Black Farang”, ฝรั่งดำ). Such words sometimes also connote things, plants or creatures introduced by Europeans/Franks. For example, in Khmer, môn barang, literally “French Chicken”, refers to a turkey and in Thai, Farang is the name both for Europeans and for the guava fruit, introduced by Portuguese traders over 400 years ago. In contemporary Israel, the Yiddish word פרענק (Frenk) has, by a curious etymological development, come to refer to Mizrahi Jews and carries a strong pejorative connotation.

Some linguists (among them Drs. Jan Tent and Paul Geraghty) have suggested that the Samoan and generic Polynesian term for Europeans, Palagi (pronounced Puh-LANG-ee) or Papalagi, might also be cognate, possibly a loan term gathered by early contact between Pacific islanders and Malays.

References

  • Fredegar
    • Fredegarius; John Michael Wallace-Hadrill (1981) [1960]. Fredegarii chronicorum liber quartus cum continuationibus (in Latin and English). Greenwood Press.
    • Unknown (1973). Liber Historiae Francorum. Translated by Bachrach, Bernard S. Coronado Press.
    • Woodruff, Jane Ellen; Fredegar (1987). The Historia Epitomata (third book) of the Chronicle of Fredegar: an annotated translation and historical analysis of interpolated material. Thesis (Ph.D.). University of Nebraska.

Secrets of the Viking Sword

The Viking Age sword (also Viking sword) or Carolingian sword is the type of sword prevalent in Western and Northern Europe during the Early Middle Ages.

The Viking Age or Carolingian-era developed in the 8th century from the Merovingian sword (more specifically, the Frankish production of swords in the 6th to 7th century, itself derived from the Roman spatha) and during the 11th to 12th century in turn gave rise to the knightly sword of the Romanesque period.

Although popularly called “Viking sword”, this type of sword was produced in the Frankish Empire during the Carolingian era. The association of the name “Viking” with these swords is due to the disappearance of grave goods in Christian Francia in the 8th century, due to which the bulk of sword blades of Frankish manufacture of this period were found in pagan burials of Viking Age Scandinavia, imported by trade, ransom payment or looting, while continental European finds are mostly limited to stray finds in riverbeds.

Swords of the 8th to 10th centuries are also termed “Carolingian swords”, while swords of the late Viking Age and the beginning High Middle Ages (late 10th to early 12th centuries) blend into the category of Norman swords or the early development of the knightly sword.

During the reign of Charlemagne, the price of a sword (a spata, or longsword) with scabbard was set at seven solidi (totaling about 1.3k USD) (Lex Ribuaria). Swords were still comparatively costly weapons, although not as exclusive as during the Merovingian period, and in Charlemagne’s capitularies, only members of the cavalry, who could afford to own and maintain a warhorse, were required to be equipped with swords. Regino’s Chronicle suggests that by the end of the 9th century, the sword was seen as the principal weapon of the cavalry.

The sword gradually replaced the sax during the late 8th to early 9th century. Because grave goods were no longer deposited in Francia in the 8th century, continental finds are mostly limited to stray finds in riverbeds (where anaerobic conditions favoured the preservation of the steel), and most extant examples of Carolingian swords are from graves from northern or eastern cultures where pagan burial customs were still in effect.

Pattern welding fell out of use in the 9th century, as higher quality steel became available. Better steel also allowed the production of narrower blades, and the swords of the 9th century have more pronounced tapering than their 8th-century predecessors, shifting the point of balance towards the hilt. Coupland (1990) proposes that this development may have accelerated the disappearance of the sax, as the sword was now available for swift striking, while the migration-period spatha was mostly used to deliver heavy blows aimed at damaging shields or armour. The improved morphology combined maneuverability and weight in a single weapon, rendering the sax redundant.

The Frankish swords often had pommels shaped in a series of three or five rounded lobes. This was a native Frankish development which did not exist prior to the 8th century, and the design is frequently represented in the pictorial art of the period, e.g. in the Stuttgart Psalter, Utrecht Psalter, Lothar Gospels and Bern Psychomachia manuscripts, as well as in the wall frescoes in the church in Mals, South Tyrol. Likewise, the custom of inlaid inscriptions in the blades is Frankish innovation dating to the reign of Charlemagne, notably in the Ulfberht group of blades, but continued into the high medieval period and peaking in popularity in the 12th century. While blade inscriptions become more common over the Viking Age, the custom of hilt decorations in precious metals, inherited from the Merovingian sword and widespread during the 8th and 9th centuries, is in decline over the course of the 10th century. Most swords made in the later 10th century in what was now the Holy Roman Empire, while still conforming to the “Viking sword” type morphologically, have plain steel hilts.

Frankish Ulfberht blade

There are very few references to Carolingian-era sword production, apart from a reference to emundatores vel politores present in the workshops of the Abbey of Saint Gall. Two men sharpening swords, one using a grindstone the other a file, are shown in the Utrecht Psalter (fol. 35v).

The distribution of Frankish blades throughout Scandinavia and as far east as Volga Bulgaria attest to the considerable importance of Frankish arms exports, even though Carolingian kings attempted to prevent the export of weapons to potential enemies; in 864, Charles the Bald set the death penalty on selling weapons to the Vikings. Ibn Fadlan in the 10th century notes explicitly that the Volga Vikings carried Frankish swords. The Saracens raiding Camargue in 869 demanded 150 swords as ransom for archbishop Rotland of Arles.

Carolingian scabbards were made of wood and leather. Scabbard decorations are depicted in several manuscripts (Stuttgart Psalter, Utrecht Psalter, Vivian Bible). A number of miniatures also show the system of suspension of the sword by means of the sword-belt. While the scabbards and belts themselves are almost never preserved, their metal mounts have been found in Scandinavian silver hoards and in Croatian graves. A complete set seems to have included two to three oval or half-oval mounts, one large strap-end, a belt buckle and a trefoil mount. Their arrangement on the sword-belt has been reconstructed by Menghin (1973).

Viking Temple Sword With Scabbard

The seminal study of the topic is due to Jan Petersen (De Norske Vikingsverd, 1919).

Petersen introduced a morphological typology, mostly based on hilt shape. Petersen’s types are identified by capital letters A–Z. Petersen listed a total of 110 specimens found in Norway. Of these, 40 were double-edged, 67 were single-edged and 3 indeterminate.

R. E. M. Wheeler in 1927 introduced a typology combining Petersen’s hilt typology with a blade typology, in nine types labelled I to IX.

Geibig (1991) introduced an additional typology based on blade morphology (types 1–14) and a typology of pommel shapes (types 1–17, with subtypes), focussing on swords of the 8th to 12th centuries found within the boundaries of East Francia (as such including the transitional types between the “Viking” and the “knightly” sword).

Wheeler typology

  • type I: hilt types F, G, M, P, Q, Æ; mid 9th to early 11th centuries; light pommels without lobes
  • type II: hilt types A, B, C, H, I. Norwegian, mid 9th to mid 10th centuries (Norwegian?); heavy, triangular pommels of the type inherited from the Merovingian sword.
  • type III: hilt types D, E, R, S, T, U, V, early 9th to mid 10th centuries (Danish?); various forms of three-lobed pommels.
  • type IV: hilt types K, O, late 8th to mid 10th centuries (Frankish?); pommels with five or seven lobes.
  • type V, hilt type L, mid 9th to late 10th centuries (English); rare “Wallingford Type” pommel, likely a native Anglo-Saxon development.
  • type VI, hilt type L, early 10th to mid 11th centuries (Danish); a derived design with three lobes, likely of Danish origin.
  • type VII: hilt types N, W, X; mid 9th to late 11th centuries; the semi-circular pommel shape typical of the Ottonian period and continued as the “mushroom” pommel in high medieval swords.
  • types VIII and IX, 10th to 13th centuries, development of the high medieval “brazil-nut” or “tea-cosy” pommel types.

The Oakeshott typology is a continuation of Wheeler’s typology to include high medieval swords.

Type D sword hilt with gold wire ornaments, dated c. 750–850, found in the river Meuse near Aalburg, the Netherlands (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden)

Artilength, fuller length, blade width and degree of taper.

  • Type 1 of the late migration period and early Viking Age (8th century) has blade lengths of 70 to 80 cm, with a taper to about 80% of maximum width over 60 cm. The fuller is shallow or absent entirely; these blades are mostly pattern welded, with four or five bands visible on each blade face.
  • Type 2 spans the mid 8th to mid 10th centuries. Slightly longer than type 1, at 74 to 83 cm, the defining characteristic is the more pronounced taper.
  • Type 3 is contemporary with type 2, and of similar length (74 to 85 cm) but has wider blades (52 to 57 mm at the hilt).
  • Type 4 dates to the later Viking Age (mid 10th to mid 11th centuries). They represent a trend towards shorter blades at

the time, at 63 to 76 cm.

  • Type 5 originates in the mid 10th century, and is transitional to the knightly sword of the 11th to 12th centuries. The longest blades of the Viking Age fall into this type, at lengths of 84 to 91 cm. These blades also introduce the 12th-century fashion of sword blade inscriptions of the ME FECIT and IN NOMINE DOMINI type.

An important aspect in the development of the European sword between the early and high medieval periods is the availability of high-quality steel. Migration period as well as early medieval sword blades were primarily produced by the technique of pattern welding, also known as “false Damascus” steel. Blooms of high-quality steel large enough to produce an entire sword blade were only rarely available in Europe at the time, mostly via import from Central Asia, where a crucible steel industry began to establish itself from c. the 8th century. Higher quality swords made after AD 1000 are increasingly likely to have crucible steel blades. The group of Ulfberht swords includes a wide spectrum of steel and production method. One example from a 10th-century grave in Nemilany, Moravia, has a pattern-welded core with welded-on hardened cutting edges. Another example appears to have been made from high-quality hypoeutectoid steel possibly imported from Central Asia.

Notable Examples

  • The Sæbø sword, a 9th-century type C sword found in 1825 in a barrow at Sæbø, Vikøyri, in Norway’s Sogn region. The sword is notable for its blade inscription, which has been interpreted as runic by George Stephens (1867), which would be very exceptional; while Viking Age sword hilts were sometimes incised with runes, inlaid blade inscriptions are, with this possible exception, invariably in the Latin alphabet.
  • One of the heaviest and longest extant swords of the Viking Age is dated to the 9th century and was found in Flå, now kept at Museum of Cultural History, Oslo, at a total length of 102.4 cm and a mass of 1.9 kg.[2]
  • Sword of Saint Stephen: A 10th-century sword of Petersen type T with a walrus-tooth hilt with carved Mammen style ornaments. On display as the coronation sword of Hungarian king Saint Stephen in the Treasury of St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague.
  • Lincoln sword (River Witham sword): A sword dated to the 10th century, with a blade of German/Ottonian manufacture classified as a Petersen type L variant (Evison’s “Wallingford Bridge” type) and hilt fittings added by an Anglo-Saxon craftsman, was recovered from the River Witham opposite Monks Abbey, Lincoln in 1848. Peirce (1990) makes special mention of this sword as “breath-taking”, “one of the most splendid Viking swords extant”. The Lincoln sword is also remarkable for being one of only two known bearing the blade inscription Leutfrit (+ LEUTFRIT), the other being a find from Tatarstan (at the time Volga Bulgaria, now kept in the Historical Museum of Kazan). On the reverse side, the blade is inlaid with a double scroll pattern.
  • The Sword of Essen is a 10th-century sword preserved at Essen Abbey, decorated with gold plating at the close of the 10th century.
  • The Cawood sword, and the closely related Korsoygaden sword, are notable in the context of delineating “Viking Age swords” from derived high medieval types; these swords fit neatly into the “Viking sword” typology, but Oakeshott (1991) considers them derived types dating to the 12th century.

References

  • Alfred Geibig, Beiträge zur morphologischen Entwicklung des Schwertes im Mittelalter (1991).
  • P. Paulsen, Schwertortbänder der Wikingerzeit (1953).
  • Ian G. Peirce, Swords of the Viking Age, 2002.
  • Jan Petersen, De Norske Vikingsverd, 1919 (archive.org).
  • Mechthild Schulze-Dörrlamm, “Schwerter des 10. Jahrhunderts als Herrschaftszeichen der Ottonen”, Jahrbuch des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums 59 (2012) 609–51.

 

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