Tag: Europe

‘Agricultural revolution’ in Anglo-Saxon England sheds new light on medieval land use

Researchers from the University of Leicester are shedding new light on how an ‘agricultural revolution’ in Anglo-Saxon England fueled the growth of towns and markets as part of a new project investigating medieval farming habits.

The project, titled ‘Feeding Anglo-Saxon England (FeedSax): The Bioarchaeology of an Agricultural Revolution’, which is funded by the European Research Council, is led by the University of Oxford working with colleagues from the University of Leicester.

The period between c 800 – 1200 AD saw dramatic changes in farming practices across large parts of Europe, enabling an increase in cereal production so great that it has been described as an ‘agricultural revolution’.

This ‘cerealisation’ allowed post-Roman populations not only to recover, but to boom, fueling the growth of towns and markets.

In England, this meant that many regions became more densely populated than ever before.

To operate a more productive but costly system of farming, peasants had to share expensive resources such as teams of oxen and mouldboard ploughs see header image), and cultivate extensive and unenclosed ‘open fields’ communally.

The project aims to understand when, where and how this ‘mouldboard plough package’ originated and spread, by generating the first direct evidence of medieval land use and cultivation regimes from excavated plant remains and animal bones, using a range of scientific methods.

Dr Richard Thomas, Reader and Chair of the Association for Environmental Archaeology from the University of Leicester School of Archaeology and Ancient History said: “We are delighted to be working with the University of Oxford on this exciting project. By using different kinds of archaeological evidence we will try and establish how a revolution in agriculture in Anglo-Saxon England led to a surge in population and fueled the growth of towns and markets.

Artist’s impression of an Anglo Saxon settlement in Hampshire.

“Here at the University of Leicester, we will be studying the stresses and strains on cattle bones from archaeological sites to establish when and where the heavy-plough was introduced. This was a major technological innovation which enabled more land to be brought into cultivation and increased the production of cereal grains.”

Helena Hamerow, Professor of Early Medieval Archaeology from the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Oxford and the project’s Principal Investigator, said: “This project will help us understand how farmers in medieval England were able to grow more food to feed an expanding population sustainably at a time of climatic warming. The spread of the heavy, mouldboard plough – a technology that English farmers adopted from their European neighbours – was a key factor and analysing cattle bones will enable us to trace its spread.”

Three key innovations made the increase in yields during the period possible:

  • widespread adoption of the mouldboard plough, which enabled farmers to cultivate heavier, more fertile soils;
  • crop rotation, e.g. planting with winter wheat followed by spring barley;
  • extensification of cultivation, whereby fertility was maintained by short fallow periods during which sheep grazed on the stubble, rather than by intensive manuring

In order to improve efficiency and share resources, people had to live in close proximity, leading to the formation of the nucleated villages, set amid extensive arrays of strip fields that can still be seen in many parts of the countryside today.

The Medieval mouldboard plough.

In this way, innovations in farming transformed large parts of the England’s landscape and with it, its social geography.

As part of the project, a suite of over 400 radiocarbon dates on charred cereals, bones and pollen cores will make it possible to locate the origins and spread of open fields in time and space.

Patterns emerging from these bioarchaeological data will then be compared with the evidence from excavated farms to explore the inter-relationship between arable production, stock management and settlement forms.

Analysis of crop stable isotopes in preserved cereal grains will enable the team to assess the degree to which productivity was boosted by manuring.

Weed flora will also reveal the extent to which fields were manured and tilled, as well as providing evidence of sowing times and crop rotation.

The lower limb bones of cattle will be examined for pathologies caused by pulling a heavy plough. Pollen data will reveal the changing impact of cereal farming on the medieval landscape and will be used to produce the first national model of early medieval land use.

The project number for the research is: AdG741751.

Hengist and Horsa and the Anglo-Saxon invasion of England

Anglo-Saxon Invasion of England.
The brothers in Edward Parrott’s Pageant of British History (1909).

According to early sources, Hengist and Horsa arrived in England at Ebbsfleet on the Isle of Thanet. For a time, they served as mercenaries for Vortigern, King of the Britons, but later they turned against him (English accounts have them betraying him in the Night of the Long Knives). Horsa was killed fighting the Britons, but Hengist successfully conquered Kent, becoming the forefather of its kings.

A figure named Hengest, who may be identifiable with the leader of British legend, appears in the Finnsburg Fragment and in Beowulf.

Legends of horse-associated founding brothers are attested among other Germanic peoples and appear in other Indo-European cultures. As a result, scholars have theorized a pan-Germanic mythological origin for Hengist and Horsa, stemming originally from divine twins found in Proto-Indo-European religion. Other scholars, including J. R. R. Tolkien, have argued for a historical basis for Hengist and Horsa.

The Old English names Hengest [hendʒest] and Horsa [horsɑ] mean “stallion” and “horse” respectively.

The original Old English word for a horse was eoh. Eoh derives from the Proto-Indo-European base *ekwo, hence Latin equus which gave rise to the modern English words equine and equestrian. Hors is derived from the Proto-Indo-European base *kurs, to run, which also gave rise to hurry, carry and current (the last two as borrowings from French).

Hors eventually replaced eoh, fitting a pattern elsewhere in Germanic languages where the original names of sacred animals are abandoned in favour of adjectives; for example, the word bear. While the Ecclesiastical History and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle refer to the brother as Horsa, in the History of the Britons his name is simply Hors. It has been suggested that Horsa may be a pet form of a compound name with the first element “horse”.

Alternatively, it has also been suggested that these may have been given names or status titles within their tribe. It is possible that the tribe had horses as a totem animal, perhaps even sailing with ships emblazoned with horse figureheads. By tradition the brothers arrived with a banner of a white horse, which is preserved to this day as the emblem of Kent.

Banner of the County of Kent, England.

Ecclesiastical History of the English People

In his 8th century Ecclesiastical History, Bede records that the first chieftains among the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes in England were said to have been Hengist and Horsa. He relates that Horsa was killed in battle against the Britons and was thereafter buried in East Kent, where at the time of writing a monument still stood to him. According to Bede, Hengist and Horsa were the sons of Wictgils, son of Witta, son of Wecta, son of Woden.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

The 9th century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in the year 449 Hengist and Horsa were invited to Britain by Vortigern to assist his forces in fighting the Picts. They landed at Eopwinesfleot (Ebbsfleet), and went on to defeat the Picts wherever they fought them. Hengist and Horsa sent word home to Germany describing “the worthlessness of the Britons, and the richness of the land” and asked for assistance.

Their request was granted and support arrived. Afterward, more people arrived in Britain from “the three powers of Germany; the Old Saxons, the Angles, and the Jutes”. The Saxons populated Essex, Sussex, and Wessex; the Jutes Kent, the Isle of Wight, and part of Hampshire; and the Angles East Anglia, Mercia, and Northumbria (leaving their original homeland, Angeln, deserted). These forces were led by the brothers Hengist and Horsa, sons of Wihtgils, son of Witta, son of Wecta, son of Woden.

A Mosaic of Vortigern in battle.

In the entry for the year 455 the Chronicle details that Hengist and Horsa fought with Vortigern at Aylesford and that Horsa died there. Hengist took control of the kingdom with his son Esc. In 457, Hengist and Esc fought against British forces in Crayford “and there slew four thousand men”. The Britons left the land of Kent and fled to London. In 465, Hengest and Esc fought again at the Battle of Wippedesfleot, probably near Ebbsfleet, and slew twelve British leaders. In the year 473, the final entry in the Chronicle mentioning Hengist or Horsa, Hengist and Esc are recorded as having taken “immense booty” and the Britons having “fled from the English like fire”.

History of the Britons

The 9th century History of the Britons, attributed to the Briton Nennius, records that, during the reign of Vortigern in Britain, three vessels that had been exiled from Germany arrived in Britain, commanded by Hengist and Horsa. The narrative then gives a genealogy of the two: Hengist and Horsa were sons of Guictglis, son of Guicta, son of Guechta, son of Vouden, son of Frealof, son of Fredulf, son of Finn, son of Foleguald, son of Geta. Geta was said to be the son of a god, yet “not of the omnipotent God and our Lord Jesus Christ,” but rather “the offspring of one of their idols, and whom, blinded by some demon, they worshipped according to the custom of the heathen.” In 447 AD, Vortigern received Hengist and Horsa “as friends” and gave to the brothers the Isle of Thanet.

Computer generated image of the Anglo-Saxon ship found at Sutton Hoo.

After the Saxons had lived on Thanet for “some time” Vortigern promised them supplies of clothing and other provisions on condition that they assist him in fighting the enemies of his country. As the Saxons increased in number the Britons became unable to keep their agreement, and so told them their assistance was no longer needed and they should go home.

Vortigern allowed Hengist to send for more of his countrymen to come over to fight for him. Messengers were sent to “Scythia“, where “a number” of warriors were selected, and, with sixteen ships, the messengers returned. With the men came Hengist’s beautiful daughter. Hengist prepared a feast, inviting Vortigern, Vortigern’s officers, and Ceretic, his translator. Prior to the feast, Hengist enjoined his daughter to serve the guests plenty of wine and ale so that they would become drunk. At the feast Vortigern became enamored with her and promised Hengist whatever he liked in exchange for her betrothal. Hengist, having “consulted with the Elders who attended him of the Angle race,” demanded Kent. Without the knowledge of the then-ruler of Kent, Vortigern agreed.

Hengist’s daughter was given to Vortigern, who slept with her and deeply loved her. Hengist told him that he would now be both his father and adviser and that he would know no defeat with his counsel, “for the people of my country are strong, warlike, and robust.” With Vortigern’s approval, Hengist would send for his son and his brother to fight against the Scots and those who dwelt near the wall. Vortigern agreed and Ochta and Ebissa arrived with 40 ships, sailed around the land of the Picts, conquered “many regions,” and assaulted the Orkney Islands. Hengist continued to send for more ships from his country, so that some islands where his people had previously dwelt are now free of inhabitants.

Anglo-Saxons in battle with the Picts.

Vortigern had meanwhile incurred the wrath of Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre (by taking his own daughter for a wife and having a son by her) and had gone into hiding at the advice of his counsel. But at length his son Vortimer engaged Hengist and Horsa and their men in battle, drove them back to Thanet and there enclosed them and beset them on the western flank. The war waxed and waned; the Saxons repeatedly gained ground and were repeatedly driven back. Vortimer attacked the Saxons four times: first enclosing the Saxons in Thanet, secondly fighting at the river Derwent, the third time at Epsford, where both Horsa and Vortigern’s son Catigern died, and lastly “near the stone on the shore of the Gallic sea,” where the Saxons were defeated and fled to their ships.

After a “short interval” Vortimer died and the Saxons became established, “assisted by foreign pagans.” Hengist convened his forces and sent to Vortigern an offer of peace. Vortigern accepted, and Hengist prepared a feast to bring together the British and Saxon leaders. However, he instructed his men to conceal knives beneath their feet. At the right moment, Hengist shouted nima der sexa (get your knives) and his men massacred the unsuspecting Britons. However, they spared Vortigern, who ransomed himself by giving the Saxons Essex, Sussex, Middlesex, and other unnamed districts.

Germanus of Auxerre was acclaimed as commander of the British forces. By praying, singing hallelujah and crying to God, the Saxons were driven to the sea. Germanus then prayed for three days and nights at Vortigern’s castle and fire fell from heaven and engulfed the castle. Vortigern, Hengist’s daughter, Vortigern’s other wives, and all other inhabitants burned to death. Potential alternate fates for Vortigern are provided. However, the Saxons continued to increase in numbers, and after Hengist died his son Ochta succeeded him.

300s B.C. Celts in Britain. A.D 449 the Anglo-Saxon Invasion of England. 55 B.C–A.D.409. Roman Occupation. A.D.878. King Alfred the Great defeated the Vikings.

History of the Kings of Britain

Vortigern and Rowena, by William Hamilton (1793).

In his pseudo-historical twelfth century work The History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth adapted and greatly expanded the account in the History of the Britons. Hengist and Horsa appear in books 6 and 8:

Book 6

Geoffrey records that three brigantines or long galleys arrived in Kent, full of armed men and commanded by two brothers, Hengist and Horsa. Vortigern was then staying at Dorobernia (Canterbury), and ordered that the “tall strangers” be received peacefully and brought to him. When Vortigern saw the company, he immediately observed that the brothers “excelled all the rest both in nobility and in gracefulness of person.” He asked what country they had come from and why they had come to his kingdom. Hengist (“whose years and wisdom entitled him to precedence”) replied that they had left their homeland of Saxony to offer their services to Vortigern or some other prince, as part of a Saxon custom in which, when the country became overpopulated, able young men were chosen by lot to seek their fortunes in other lands. Hengist and Horsa were made generals over the exiles, as befitted their noble birth.

Vortigern was aggrieved when he learned that the strangers were pagans, but nonetheless rejoiced at their arrival, since he was surrounded by enemies. He asked Hengist and Horsa if they would help him in his wars, offering them land and “other possessions.” They accepted the offer, settled on an agreement, and stayed with Vortigern at his court. Soon after, the Picts came from Alba with an immense army and attacked the northern parts of Vortigern’s kingdom. In the ensuing battle “there was little occasion for the Britons to exert themselves, for the Saxons fought so bravely, that the enemy, formerly victorious, were speedily put to flight.”

In gratitude Vortigern increased the rewards he has promised to the brothers. Hengist was given “large possessions of lands in Lindsey for the subsistence of himself and his fellow-soldiers.” A “man of experience and subtilty,” Hengist told Vortigern that his enemies assailed him from every quarter, and that his subjects wished to depose him and make Aurelius Ambrosius king. He asked the king to allow him to send word to Saxony for more soldiers. Vortigern agreed, adding that Hengist could invite over whom he pleases and that “you shall have no refusal from me in whatever you shall desire.”

Ambrosius Aurelianus was a war leader of the Romano-British who won an important battle against the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th century, according to Gildas. He also appeared independently in the legends of the Britons, beginning with the 9th-century Historia Brittonum.

Hengist bowed low in thanks, and made a further request, that he be made a consul or prince, as befitted his birth. Vortigern responded that it was not in his power to do this, reasoning that Hengist was a foreign pagan and would not be accepted by the British lords. Hengist asked instead for leave to build a fortress on a piece of land small enough that it could be encircled by a leather thong. Vortigern granted this and ordered Hengist to invite more Saxons.

After executing Vortigern’s orders, Hengist took a bull’s hide and made it into a single thong, which he used to encircle a carefully-chosen rocky place (perhaps at Caistor in Lindsey). Here he built the castle of Kaercorrei, or in Saxon Thancastre: “thong castle.”

The messengers returned from Germany with eighteen ships full of the best soldiers they could get, as well as Hengist’s beautiful daughter Rowena. Hengist invited Vortigern to see his new castle and the newly arrived soldiers. A banquet was held in Thancastre, at which Vortigern drunkenly asked Hengist to let him marry Rowena. Horsa and the men all agreed that Hengist should allow the marriage, on the condition that Vortigern gave him Kent.

Vortigern and Rowena were immediately married and Hengist was given Kent. The king was delighted with his new wife, but he incurred the hatred of his nobles and of his three sons.

Rowena as depicted in popular mythology.

As his new father-in-law, Hengist made further demands of Vortigern:

As I am your father, I claim the right of being your counsellor: do not therefore slight my advice, since it is to my countrymen you must owe the conquest of all your enemies. Let us invite over my son Octa, and his brother Ebissa, who are brave soldiers, and give them the countries that are in the northern parts of Britain, by the wall, between Deira and Alba. For they will hinder the inroads of the barbarians, and so you shall enjoy peace on the other side of the Humber.

Vortigern agreed. Upon receiving the invitation, Octa, Ebissa, and another lord, Cherdich, immediately left for Britain with three hundred ships. Vortigern received them kindly, and gave them ample gifts. With their assistance, Vortigern defeated his enemies in every engagement.

All the while Hengist continued inviting over yet more ships, adding to his numbers daily. Witnessing this, the Britons tried to get Vortigern to banish the Saxons, but on account of his wife he would not. Consequently, his subjects turned against him and took his son Vortimer for their king.

The Saxons and the Britons, led by Vortimer, met in four battles. In the second, Horsa and Vortimer’s brother, Catigern, slew one another. By the fourth battle, the Saxons had fled to Thanet, where Vortimer besieged them. When the Saxons could no longer bear the British onslaughts, they sent out Vortigern to ask his son to allow them safe passage back to Germany. While discussions were taking place, the Saxons boarded their ships and left, leaving their wives and children behind.

Angles Saxona Warriors in Battle.

The victorious Vortimer was poisoned by Rowena, and Vortigern returned to the throne. At his wife’s request he invited Hengist back to Britain, but instructed him to bring only a small retinue. Hengist, knowing Vortimer to be dead, instead raised an army of 300,000 men. When Vortigern caught word of the imminent arrival of the vast Saxon fleet, he resolved to fight them. Rowena alerted her father of this, who, after considering various strategies, resolved to make a show of peace and sent ambassadors to Vortigern.

The ambassadors informed Vortigern that Hengist had only brought so many men because he did not know of Vortimer’s death and feared further attacks from him. Now that there was no threat, Vortigern could choose from among the men the ones he wished to return to Germany. Vortigern was greatly pleased by these tidings, and arranged to meet Hengist on the first of May at the monastery of Ambrius.

Before the meeting, Hengist ordered his soldiers to carry long daggers beneath their clothing. At the signal Nemet oure Saxas (get your knives), the Saxons fell upon the unsuspecting Britons and massacred them, while Hengist held Vortigern by his cloak. 460 British barons and consuls were killed, as well as some Saxons whom the Britons beat to death with club and stones. Vortigern was held captive and threatened with death until he resigned control of Britain’s chief cities to Hengist. Once free, he fled to Cambria.

Book 8

In Cambria, Merlin prophesied to Vortigern that the brothers Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon, who had fled to Armorica as children after Vortigern killed their brother and father, would return to have their revenge and defeat the Saxons. They arrived the next day, and, after rallying the dispersed Britons, Aurelius was proclaimed king. Aurelius marched into Cambria and burned Vortigern alive in his tower, before setting his sights upon the Saxons.

Merlin, the mythological sorcerer of Avalon.

Hengist was struck by terror at the news of Vortigern’s death and fled with his army beyond the Humber. He took courage at the approach of Aurelius and selected the bravest among his men to defend. Hengist told these chosen men not to be afraid of Aurelius, for he had brought less than 10,000 Armorican Britons (the native Britons were hardly worth taking into account), while there were 200,000 Saxons. Hengist and his men advanced towards Aurelius in a field called Maisbeli (probably Ballifield, near Sheffield), intending to take the Britons by surprise, but Aurelius anticipated them.

As they marched to meet the Saxons, Eldol, Duke of Gloucester told Aurelius that he greatly wished to meet Hengist in combat, noting that “one of the two of us should die before we parted.” He explained that he had been at the Treachery of the Long Knives, but had escaped when God threw him a stake to defend himself with, making him the only Briton present to survive. Meanwhile, Hengist was placing his troops into formation, giving directions, and walking through the lines of troops, “the more to spirit them up.”

With the armies in formation, battle began between the Britons and Saxons, both sides shedding “no small loss of blood.” Eldol focused on attempting to find Hengist, but had no opportunity to fight him. “By the especial favour of God,” the Britons took the upper hand, and the Saxons withdrew and made for Kaerconan (Conisbrough). Aurelius pursued them, killing or enslaving any Saxon he met on the way. Realizing Kaerconan would not hold against Aurelius, Hengist stopped outside the town and ordered his men to make a stand, “for he knew that his whole security now lay in his sword.”

Celtic Warriors.

Aurelius reached Hengist, and a “most furious” fight ensued, with the Saxons maintaining their ground despite heavy losses. They came close to winning before a detachment of horses from the Armorican Britons arrived. When Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall arrived, Eldol knew the day was won and grabbed Hengist’s helmet, dragging him into the British ranks. The Saxons fled. Hengist’s son Octa retreated to York and his kinsman Eosa to Alclud (Dumbarton).

Three days after the battle, Aurelius called together a council of principal officers to decide what would be done with Hengist. Eldol’s brother Eldad, Bishop of Gloucester, said:

Though all should be unanimous for setting him at liberty, yet would I cut him to pieces. The prophet Samuel is my warrant, who, when he had Agag, king of Amalek, in his power, hewed him in pieces, saying, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. Do therefore the same to Hengist, who is a second Agag.

Consequently, Eldol drew Hengist out of the city and cut off his head. Aurelius, “who showed moderation in all his conduct,” arranged for him to be buried and for a mound to be raised over his corpse, according to the custom of pagans. Octa and Eosa surrendered to Aurelius, who granted them the country bordering Scotland and made a firm covenant with them.

Prose Edda

Hengist is briefly mentioned in Prologue, the first book of the Prose Edda, written by the Icelander Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century. In Prologue, a euhemerized account of Germanic history is given, including that Woden put three of his sons in charge of Saxony. The ruler of eastern Saxony was Veggdegg, one of whose sons was Vitrgils, the father of Vitta, the father of Hengist.

Horse-head gables

On farmhouses in Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein, horse-head gables were referred to as “Hengst und Hors” as late as around 1875. Rudolf Simek notes that these horse heads gables can still be seen today, and says that the horse-head gables confirm that Hengist and Horsa were originally considered mythological, horse-shaped beings. Martin Litchfield West comments that the horse heads may have been remnants of pagan religious practices in the area.

A gable in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
Coat of arms of Spornitz, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

Theories

Finnsburg Fragment and Beowulf

A Hengest appears in line 34 of the Finnsburg Fragment, which describes the legendary Battle of Finnsburg. In Beowulf, a scop recites a composition summarizing the Finnsburg events, including information not provided in the fragment. Hengest is mentioned in lines 1082 and 1091.

Some scholars have proposed that the figure mentioned in both of these references is one and the same as the Hengist of the Hengist and Horsa accounts, though Horsa is not mentioned in either source. In his work Finn and Hengest, Tolkien argued that Hengist was a historical figure, and that Hengist came to Britain after the events recorded in the Finnsburg Fragment and Beowulf. Patrick Sims-Williams is more skeptical of the account, suggesting that Bede’s Canterbury source, which he relied on for his account of Hengist and Horsa in the Ecclesiastical History, had confused two separate traditions.

Germanic twin brothers and divine Indo-European horse twins

Several sources attest that the Germanic peoples venerated a divine pair of twin brothers. The earliest reference to this practice derives from Timaeus (c. 345 – c. 250 BC). Timeaus records that the Germanic peoples (whom he refers to as “Celts”) of the North Sea were especially devoted to what he describes as Castor and Pollux. In his work Germania, Tacitus records the veneration of the Alcis, whom he identifies with Castor and Pollux. Germanic legends mention various brothers as founding figures. The 1st or 2nd century historian Cassius Dio cites the brothers Raos and Raptos as the leaders of the Astings. According to Paul the Deacon‘s 8th century History of the Lombards, the Lombards migrated southward from Scandinavia led by Ibur and Aio, while Saxo Grammaticus records in his 12th century Deeds of the Danes that this migration was prompted by Aggi and Ebbi. In related Indo-European cultures, similar traditions are attested, such as the Dioscuri. Scholars have theorized that these divine twins in Indo-European cultures stem from divine twins in prehistoric Proto-Indo-European culture.

Tacitus, in full Publius Cornelius Tacitus, or Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (born ad 56—died c. 120), Roman orator and public official, probably the greatest historian and one of the greatest prose stylists who wrote in the Latin language.

J. P. Mallory comments on the great importance of the horse in Indo-European religion, as exemplified “most obviously” by various mythical brothers appearing in Indo-European legend, including Hengist and Horsa:

Some would maintain that the premier animal of the Indo-European sacrifice and ritual was probably the horse. We have already seen how its embedment in Proto-Indo-European society lies not just in its lexical reconstruction but also in the proliferation of personal names which contain “horse” as an element among the various Indo-European peoples. Furthermore, we witness the importance of the horse in Indo-European rituals and mythology. One of the most obvious examples is the recurrent depiction of twins such as the Indic Asvins “horsemen,” the Greek horsemen Castor and Pollux, the legendary Anglo-Saxon settlers Horsa and Hengist […] or the Irish twins of Macha, born after she had completed a horse race. All of these attest the existence of Indo-European divine twins associated with or represented by horses.

Uffington White Horse

Aerial view of the White Horse Uffington Oxfordshire.

In his 17th century work Monumenta Britannica, John Aubrey ascribes the Uffington White Horse hill figure to Hengist and Horsa, stating that “the White Horse was their Standard at the Conquest of Britain”. However, elsewhere he ascribes the origins of the horse to the pre-Roman Britons, reasoning that the horse resembles certain Iron Age British coins. As a result, advocates of a Saxon origin of the figure debated with those favoring an ancient British origin for three centuries after Aubrey’s findings. In 1995, using optically stimulated luminescence dating, David Miles and Simon Palmer of the Oxford Archaeological Unit assigned the Uffington White Horse to the late Bronze Age.

Aschanes

The Brothers Grimm identified Hengist with Aschanes, mythical first King of the Saxons, in their notes for legend number 413 of their German Legends. Editor and translator Donald Ward, in his commentary on the tale, regards the identification as untenable on linguistic grounds.

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  • West, Martin Litchfield (2007). Indo-European Poetry and Myth. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-928075-4.

 

 

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.

 

hleomæg wesiKs

Sweden hosting this year’s Baltic Sea exercise Northern Coasts

Northern Coasts 2016 participants sail in formation

Sweden will be hosting a total of 16 countries for the 2017 edition of the German Navy-sponsored exercise Northern Coasts 2017.

The international exercise is taking place between September 8 and 21 off Gotland and in the Southern Baltic Sea.

A general goal of the drill is to develop skills in maritime surveillance, anti-surface, anti-air, anti-submarine and mine counter-measures. At a tactical stage, a fictitious but realistic scenario will see participants respond to a multinational crisis in maritime areas.

Northern Coasts is a recurring exercise which has been taking place in the Baltic Sea since 2007. European naval ships will be operating in multiple task groups composed of up to seven ships from different nations.

The previous two editions of the exercise were hosted by Germany in 2015 and Denmark in 2016.

 

Mauno Koivisto, Finland’s last Cold War president – obituary

Mauno Koivisto, who has died aged 93, was Finland’s last Cold War president, serving two six-year terms from 1982 to 1994 and cautiously steering the country out of isolation and into the European Union.

Popularly known as “Manu”, he was once described in the New York Times as a “self-made man who regularly wears darned socks and who conveys the impression of sturdy self-reliance, without the slightest vestige of pomp or show”. He was a great favourite with Finnish voters.

“Finlandisation” was the derogatory term used in the West to describe the country’s Cold War policy of remaining neutral but in reality being highly compliant with the Soviet Union. As a veteran of both the bitter 1939-40 Winter War against the Soviets and the so-called Continuation War of 1941-44, Koivisto understood as well as any the need for Finland to establish a modus vivendi with her huge, volatile neighbour.

He had had his knuckles rapped in 1968 when, as Finland’s prime minister under the long presidency of Urho Kekkonen, his government had condemned the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, earning a thinly veiled piece of sabre-rattling in the Soviet newspaper Izvestia calling for the establishment of Soviet military bases in Finland against a supposed West German threat. The situation only calmed down after a meeting between Kekkonen and the Soviet statesman Alexei Kosygin, followed by a “vacation” trip to Moscow by Koivisto two weeks later.

Under Kekkonen, who had served as Finland’s president from 1956 to 1981, there had been considerable media censorship and limitations on freedom of expression, to the extent that many questioned whether the country could be regarded as a democracy.

Books deemed critical of the Soviets had been banned, along with numerous films including The Manchurian Candidate. Soviet defectors were sent back as a matter of policy; Soviet atrocities were not reported and Finnish nationalist groups were heavily restricted.

A lanky man with a long, craggy face, in his early years as President Koivisto continued the policy of “active neutrality”, including the practice of returning Soviet defectors to the Soviet Union. But at the same time he introduced modest measures of democratisation, refraining from using some of the more authoritarian powers assumed by his predecessor and encouraging parliamentary institutions.

Above all, he charted a new course in foreign policy by cultivating good relations with both East and West, a task made easier by the arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev in the Kremlin in 1985. The two men became close and Koivisto, who was fluent in Russian, helped to broker improved relations between the USSR and the US; in 1990 he hosted a summit meeting between President George HW Bush and the Soviet leader.

President Mauno Koivisto with Queen Elizabeth II

The early 1980s were a period of free-market prosperity in Finland, buoyed up by relatively cheap supplies of Soviet energy and the market in eastern Europe for Finnish consumer and industrial goods that would have been difficult to sell in the West.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, however, created huge structural and political problems. In the early 1990s Finnish unemployment soared to about 14 per cent, the economy plunged into recession and the delicate political balancing act with Moscow began to look shaky as the three neighbouring Baltic republics, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, sought to establish their independence and looked to Finland for support. Suddenly caution seemed to be a luxury Finland could ill afford.

Koivisto worked hard to persuade the West of the urgent need of the Soviet Union (and subsequently of Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States), for external economic support. While he avoided any public support of the Baltic independence movement, its representatives were allowed to work from inside Finland.

Meanwhile, gambling on his continuing good relations with Russia’s leaders, he began the process of leading Finland out of international isolation. When in 1990, after German reunification, he unilaterally renounced the military clauses of the 1947 Paris Treaty, which placed restrictions on Finnish defence forces, there was no official protest from Moscow.

The following year, as the Soviet Union disintegrated, he renounced the 1948 Finnish-Soviet pact, which pledged Finnish military assistance if Russia were attacked from the north and which had hindered Finland’s integration with European security structures. Emboldened by the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1992 Koivisto initiated the process of Finnish accession to the European Union, the final terms of which were agreed on the day he left office. Finland joined the EU in 1995.

The son of a ship’s carpenter, Mauno Henrik Koivisto was born on November 25 1923, in the southern port city of Turku. At the beginning of the Winter War in 1939 he volunteered aged 16 for a field firefighting unit.

During the Continuation War, he served in a reconnaissance detachment operating behind enemy lines. He was awarded the Order of the Cross of Liberty (2nd class) and was promoted to the rank of corporal.

Presidentti Mauno Koivisto 90 vuotta – kuvagalleria vuosien.

After the war, Koivisto joined the Social Democratic Party and graduated from the University of Turku with a degree in Philosophy and a PhD in Sociology. After graduation he became a banker, rising to become managing director of the Helsinki Workers’ Savings Bank from 1959 to 1967.

By this time he had emerged as a key figure among the Social Democrats and he went on to serve as chairman of the board of the Bank of Finland, a position he retained until 1982 and in which he was widely credited as the architect of the country’s prosperity.

He also served twice as prime minister, from 1968 to 1970 and 1979 to 1982, and despite friction over Czechoslovakia, he succeeded in moving cautiously beyond the limited Finno-Soviet sphere, overseeing Finland’s membership of the OECD in 1969 and participation in UN peacekeeping operations.

He also announced that Finland would play host to the 35-nation European Conference on Security and Cooperation that would lead to the Helsinki accords of 1975. However, he backed off from a proposed Nordic Economic Union with other Scandinavian countries for fear of jeopardising Finland’s neutral status.

In his spare time Koivisto liked playing volleyball, whittling and relaxing in a log cabin outside Helsinki that he had largely built himself.

In 1952 he married Tellervo Kankaanranta, who survives him with their daughter.

Mauno Koivisto, born November 25 1923, died May 12 2017  

Original article: The Daily Telegraph.  

 

 

 

Sweden, Finland, and NATO

The German Marshall Fund of the United States, By Christopher S. Chivvis, 30 June 2017

Burden-sharing and NATO’s role in counterterrorism have been at the forefront of discussions about the Alliance in recent months, but as NATO’s relations with Russia continue to trend downward, the issue of Sweden and Finland’s potential membership in the Alliance is likely to gain renewed salience. There are good reasons why both countries may eventually join the Alliance, but under current circumstances the best way forward is still for both countries to continue to draw closer to NATO. Linking their potential accession to the Alliance to Russia’s behavior offers NATO some leverage over Moscow. Additionally, NATO membership is not something that can be achieved overnight and the Alliance needs to be sure that if the pair joins the Alliance, the military requirements for their defense are fully understood and met beforehand.

The Baltic Sea region has received renewed attention in U.S. policy circles due to the deterioration in relations with Russia and broader concerns about the vulnerability of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to Russian aggression. The proximity of these countries to Russian forces in the Western Military District, combined with Russian deployments of advanced weapons systems to Kaliningrad oblast would make it difficult for the United States and NATO to defeat a committed Russian attack on the Baltic Allies without a sustained counteroffensive that could take months or even years.[1]

Kaliningrad Naval Base. Due to its location, Kaliningrad is an important geopolitical region for Russia.

Luckily, changes in U.S. and NATO posture in the region, especially the deployments coming as part of NATO’s enhanced forward presence (EFP) and U.S. rotational forces,  are significantly strengthening regional collective defense by creating tripwires and raising the risks to Russia of any potential adventurism.[2] As the situation evolves, however, there are additional measures that the United States may wish to contemplate when it comes to the region, including further training and exercises, measures to improve situational awareness in the North Sea and along the Greenland, Iceland, and U.K. (GIUK) gap, the development of new weapons systems in areas where U.S. and NATO forces are currently outmatched by Russia, new foreign military sales that would strengthen deterrence, and further changes in posture.

In this context, the issue of potential Swedish and Finnish membership in the Alliance looms large. Sweden and Finland are already very important NATO partners; both countries are already enhanced opportunity partners (EOP), participate in the NATO response force (NRF), and exercise with the Alliance on a regular basis. From a U.S. perspective, they have  much to offer as strategic partners and military allies in general; as free-market democracies, both countries share the core political values on which NATO has been founded for 70 years. They also have advanced industrial economies with high-tech expertise and capabilities that have military significance in areas such as airpower, cyber, and civilian space. They are well-integrated members of the European Union, an important fact in an era when the EU and NATO need to draw closer together to strengthen cooperation against terrorism and other threats. Furthermore, other Nordic countries — specifically Norway, Denmark, and Iceland — are already NATO members. Finally, and perhaps most importantly from the perspective of the U.S. military, Sweden might serve an important role for basing aircraft in the event of a military crisis in the Baltic Sea region when the United States would need basing outside Russia’s Anti-AccessArea Denial (A2AD) bubble that extends from Kaliningrad and Western Russia over the Eastern Baltic Sea. Sea lanes of communication via the Danish straits might also be important for certain types of operations deeper into the Baltic Sea.

In light of these facts, some commentators have pushed hard for Sweden and Finland to join NATO. It is a consensus view among most experts that membership of one country implies membership of the other, or more specifically, that it would be difficult for Sweden to join the alliance if Finland were not to do the same.[3] The most compelling argument for pursuing NATO membership for the pair now is that waiting to do so could create a situation in which joining NATO creates a major crisis with Russia further down the line. (As one expert put it, join NATO “now while you don’t need to, because the circumstances that will make it necessary will also make it harder.”[4]

From a U.S. perspective, however, there are at least four other issues to consider before pushing hard for Swedish and Finnish membership in the Alliance:

First, membership in NATO is not something that can be achieved overnight. Finland and Sweden would have to undergo a potentially lengthy process of accession, during which the incentives for Russia to attack them would intensify. It would be preferable to ensure that they were well defended against any such attack prior to bringing them into the Alliance.

Second, and relatedly, from a strictly military perspective, bringing Finland into NATO is very different proposition militarily than bringing in a country such as Montenegro, which has no borders with Russia. The challenges involved in defending Finland’s 1,340 km eastern border should not be taken lightly. A credible defense of the Finnish border would likely require significant changes in posture beyond those already contemplated by the Alliance to strengthen deterrence in the Baltic states. Even if such changes were forthcoming, they would take time to implement, further exacerbating the risks from the time lag between proposed accession and Article 5 membership.

Third, adding any additional member comes at the cost of increasing complexity in an organization that is already struggling to achieve consensus on several important issues.  Although this may be a lesser order problem and should not in itself prevent new members from joining the Alliance, it is nevertheless a reality that ought to be weighed in the balance. Russia clearly benefits from lack of unity within NATO and anything that could further decrease unity should be given close examination.

Fourth, when it comes to deterring Russia from further aggression in the region, there may also be some benefit to leaving Swedish and Finnish NATO accession on the table, especially if it can be made clear to Moscow that further aggression will ultimately push the pair into the Alliance. In other words, linking Sweden and Finland’s disposition toward membership in the Alliance to the Kremlin’s future policies may offer the opportunity for some leverage over the Kremlin.

In light of this, the best policy for the time being is to continue to strengthen the political and especially military ties between these countries and NATO. There are several ways to do this: enhanced training and exercises; intensified staff exchanges; deeper cooperation on hybrid war and competition short of conflict, building on the Finnish Center for Excellence; encouraging continued deepening of sub-regional defense cooperation, for example through NORDEFCO (Nordic Defence Cooperation); pressing them for greater contributions to training, policing, and civilian reconstruction in countries where NATO has needs such as Libya and Iraq; involving them deeply in future NATO pooling and sharing programs, for example on tankers; considering missile defense cooperation; examining mechanisms for rapid membership in the event of a crisis.[5]

It is important to recognize that even if Sweden and Finland are outside of NATO, the United States and other NATO members might still come to their assistance in the event they were attacked. The pressure to do so would be less, of course, than if they were Article 5 members of the Alliance, but for strategic reasons pressure would exist none the less. By demonstrating their importance to the United States and their European partners, Sweden and Finland can further increase this dynamic, increasing the chances that NATO Allies would come to their aid in the event of a Baltic crisis. In this case, neither country would go so far as to have Article 5 membership in NATO, but the guarantee could become implicit in the reality of the deepening cooperation. This, in turn, would enhance deterrence.

Circumstances can of course change and eventually both countries may well become members of the Alliance. The current situation, however, in which they are gradually deepening ties in response to the threat they feel from the trajectory on which President Putin has put Russian foreign policy, is optimal. History has shown that it is crucial to bear both political and military factors in mind in considering accession to the Alliance. In the case of this pair, military ties should run ahead of formal political ties. This will avoid a situation in which NATO’s political commitments create military vulnerabilities.


[1] David A. Shlapak and Michael Johnson, Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016.

[2] For details see U.S. Army Europe, “U.S. Army Europe to Increase Presence Across Eastern Europe,” November 4, 2016.

[3] For example see Anna Weislander, “Can They Get Any Closer? The Case for Deepening the Partnerships between Sweden and Finland,” The Atlantic Council, October 12, 2016.

[4] Edward Lucas, “Why NATO Needs Sweden and Finland,” Europe’s Edge May 3, 2016.

[5] For more details, see Christopher S. Chivvis, et al., NATO’s Eastern Flank: Emerging Opportunities for Engagement, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2017.

 

Special Forces in Focus: Sweden’s Särskilda operationsgruppen

Swedish Special Forces Särskilda Operationsgruppen.

The Baltic Post, 19 June 2017

Särskilda Operationsgruppen (English: Special Operations Task Group, abbreviated (SOG) is a special forces unit within the Swedish Armed Forces which has been active since 2011. The unit is headquartered at Karlsborg Fortress in Karlsborg, Västra Götaland County.

Särskilda operationsgruppen was formed in 2011 by merging the Special Protection Group (SSG) and the Special Reconnaissance Group (SIG).

The Special Operations Task Group (SOG) answers directly to the Supreme Commander and the Director Special Forces. The unit, combined with the Special Forces Command, comprises the Swedish Armed Forces Special Forces (FM SF). In addition to this, there are several special forces support units (FM SOF). The personnel are specially selected, trained and equipped units for air, sea and land transportation, technical, logistical and medical support. For example: Special Maritime Transportation unit (STE), Special Signals Group (SSE) and the Section for Special Operative Technology (SOT).

SOG consists of two so-called response units (IE). IE1 focuses on combat tasks (Direct Action) and IE2 focuses on intelligence gathering (Special Reconnaissance). The requirements to IE2 are slightly lower than for IE1. In IE2 there are also female intelligence operators.

What most people see of the operators is when they are employed as personal protection for the Supreme Commander or other high-ranking officers of the Swedish Armed Forces when they visit Swedish areas of operation. However, their most frequent usage is during multi-national special operations such as Direct Action, Special Reconnaissance and Military Assistance.

SOG combat operations are of great strategic importance that cannot be accomplished by conventional forces or weapon systems. Combat missions can be to eliminate high-value targets or objects of great importance to the enemy, to conduct complex rescue operations of Swedish personnel held captive or hostage, or to gather time-critical intelligence through action.

Special reconnaissance and intelligence gathering is intended to gather information of great tactical importance about the enemy´s activities, enemy personnel or other bits of information of operational significance.

Special Forces can also be tasked with advising and training foreign military units as part of an international peace-keeping military operation.

The unit maintains a high degree of readiness and can be deployed on short notice within a 6000 km radius of Stockholm and can operate in any environment, for example jungle, desert, mountain/alpine, sub-arctic and urban. The unit is deployed on request by the UN, EU or NATO but must then be sanctioned on a political level.

The unit is lightly equipped for greater mobility, both tactically and strategically. SOG strive for simplicity in planning and execution, and unpredictability through unconventional and flexible methods.

Due to operational security, the unit’s capabilities, equipment, operational methods, previous or on-going operations and the identities of their personnel are classified.

The SOG’s predecessors, the SSG and SIG, participated in operations in the Balkans, Congo, Tchad and the Central African Republic. Swedish special forces has also been continuously deployed in Afghanistan from the beginning of the conflict up until the withdrawal of ISAF forces in 2014. From 2015 a contingent of around 30 operators from the SOG along with its support units has been participating in Operation Inherent Resolve, acting as trainers for Kurdish Peshmerga forces.

Särskilda operationsgruppen on patrol.

Each operator has a broader skill base than regular soldiers and one or two patrol skills at which he or she is exceptionally skilled. A typical SOG team consists of four operators: A team leader, a demolitions expert, a radio operator and a combat medic. Each patrol can be augmented with, EOD technicians, JTAC-specialists or snipers.

Selection is open for Armed Forces members of both sexes who are at least eligible for specialist officer’s training and can only be attempted once unless mitigating circumstances caused the candidate to fail on the first attempt.

The candidates are advised to prepare themselves at least six months prior to the selection course and are invited to attend a pre-selection weekend where they will be tested and advised on their likelihood of success or failure and also where they need to improve.

The selection process takes two weeks and is held once a year. Historically, candidates for SOG´s predecessor, the SSG were sought out by the unit and invited to attempt selection. Selection for SOG however, is advertised on the Armed Forces website and is open for anyone who meets the basic requirements. The part of selection consists of an extremely grueling field exercise, stretching over more than a week, where the candidates are tested on their fitness, field craft and land navigation and the tests are conducted during great stress. The second week consists of psychological tests, similar to those undertaken by fighter pilots. They are also tested for their predisposition for phobias, such as heights and confined spaces. If the candidate is successful, he will begin the basic operator course which lasts for 12 months and is divided into three blocks:

  • Basic combat skills
  • Patrol skills
  • Special skills course

Once completed, the operator will be put in an operational team and can be deployed with the unit.

Personnel applying to join the unit as EOD or JTAC operators undergo the same selection process as the normal operators, but do a shorter 8 month basic operator course, after which they continue with specialist training in the EOD or JTAC function.

Operators train at their own compound at a secret location near Karlsborg, which, among shooting ranges, also features a large multi-story CQB-building, with bullet-absorbing lining in its walls. The building also facilitates helicopter insertions on its roof.

Särskilda Operationsgruppen, Special RECON Unit.

The SOG coat of arms is blazoned thusly: Upon a black shield is a six-pointed star in silver in the upper left corner. It was developed by the Armed Forces Board of Traditions and symbolizes the unit´s ability of un-conventional problem solving, effectiveness of duty and clandestine operations, and the asymmetrically positioned star symbolises asymmetric warfare.

The unit insignia, worn by each operator on the combat uniform consists of a winged Norse dagger (Seax) with an asymmetrically positioned six-pointed star.

Personnel within the Swedish Special Operations Forces, SOG and its support units also wear an olive green beret with a black, embroidered cap badge, the only non-metal cap badge within the Swedish Armed Forces.