The years 808 to 810 from the Annals of the Kingdom of the Franks
These annals constitute what is unquestionably the most important single source for the political and military history of the reign of Charlemagne. They are known as the Annales regni Francorum, and in English they are sometimes referred to as the Royal Frankish Annals. The work itself covers the years 741 to 829, and is a compilation of at least three different authors. The section below details an invasion by the Danish king, Godfred, and other events in the years 808 to 810.
The winter at this time was extremely mild and unhealthy. And at the beginning of spring the emperor proceeded to Nijmegen, where he spent the period of the Lenten fast and celebrated holy Easter before returning to Aachen again.
And since it was reported that Godfred, king of the
Danes, had crossed into the territory of the Abodrites with an army, he sent
his son Charles to the Elbe with a strong force of Franks and Saxons and
orders to resist the insane king should he attempt an attack upon the
frontiers of Saxony. But after Godfred had maintained camp on the coast for
some time and also attacked and captured by force of arms a number of the
Slavs' castella, he returned home. His force had suffered heavy casualties,
for although he had driven out Thrasco, dux of the Abodrites, who despaired
of the people's loyalty, had captured another
dux. Godelaib, by treachery and
hanged him from a gallows, and had made two thirds of the Abodrites his
tributaries, he had yet lost the best and most fearless of his soldiers and
with them his brother's son, Reginold, who was killed together with a great
many of the primores of the Danes at the siege of a certain fortress
[oppidum]. Moreover, the emperor's son Charles threw a bridge
across the Elbe and with all the speed he could muster moved the army he
commanded across it against the Linones and Smeldingi, who had also defected
to king Godfred. He laid waste their fields far and wide and then recrossed
the river, returning to Saxony with his army unscathed.
With Godfred on the aforesaid expedition were the Slavs who are called Wiltzites; they had joined his forces voluntarily out of the ancient enmity which existed between them and the Abodrites. When he went back to his kingdom they returned to their homes also, with the booty which they had been able to seize from the Abodrites.
Before Godfred returned home, however, he destroyed the
trading-place on the seacoast which was called Reric in the Danes' tongue
and conferred great benefit on his kingdom through the payment of tolls. He
transported the merchants from there, had his fleet set sail and arrived
with his entire army at the port called Sliesthorp [Schleswig]. Staying
there for some time, he decided to protect the frontier-area of his kingdem
facing Saxony with a rampart in such a way that a protective bulwark, broken
by a single gateway through which wagons and horsemen could be let out and
admitted, would form a border from the gulf on the eastern seaboard which
they call Ostersalt [the Baltic] along the entire length of the northern
bank of the river Eider as far as the western ocean. Once he had apportioned
the work among the dures of his troops, he returned
Meanwhile, the king of the Northumbrians, from the
island of Britain, Eardwulf by name, came to the emperor while he was still
at Nijmegen; he had been driven from his kingdom and native land. After
explaining the matter which had brought him, he set out for Rome; and on his
return from there he was conducted back into his kingdom by legates of the
Roman pontiff and the lord emperor. Leo III presided over the Roman church
at this time; and the legate whom he sent to Britain was the deacon Ealdwulf,
who came from Britain and was a Saxon by race. With him, sent by the
emperor, travelled two abbots, Rotfrid the notary and Nanthar of St Omer.
After having his legates build two castella on the
river Elbe and posting garrisons in these against the incursions of the
Slavs, the emperor wintered at Aachen, where he celebrated both the Lord's
birthday and holy Easter. And the count of the years changed to
A fleet dispatched from Constantinople sailed first to
Dalmatia and then to Venetia. And while it was wintering there, a section of
it attacked the island of Comacchio; defeated and forced to flee when it
joined battle with the garrison stationed there, it retreated to Venetia.
But when the dux who commanded the fleet, a man called Paul, endeavoured to
negotiate with the lord Pippin, king of Italy, about establishing peace
between Franks and Greeks - acting as if he had been charged to do this -
all his initiatives were impeded by Willeri and Beatus, the dukes of
Venetia, who even concocted plots against him. Recognising their treachery,
In the western regions the lord king Louis entered
Spain with an army and besieged the city of Tortosa, which lies on the bank
of the river Ebro. After devoting some time to its reduction, he realised
that it could not be captured so swiftly, lifted the siege and returned to
Aquitaine with his army unscathed.
After Eardwulf, king of the Northumbrians, had been conducted back into his kingdom and the papal and imperial legates had begun their return journey, one of them, the deacon Ealdwulf, was captured by pirates and taken by them to Britain. The others made the crossing safely. Ealdwulf returned to Rome after he was ransomed by one of king Cenwulf's homines.
In Tuscany the maritime city of Fopulonia was pillaged
by Greeks called Orobiotae. Also, Moors from Spain landed in Corsica and
plundered a certain city on the Holy Saturday of Easter itself, leaving
nothing in it but the bishop and a few old and infirm people.
Meanwhile Godfred, king of the Danes, sent word by some
merchants that he had heard that the emperor was angry with him because he
had led an army against the Abodrites the year before and avenged the
injuries done him. He added that he wished to clear himself of what was
alleged against him; the first breach of the treaty had originated with
them. He asked, further, that a meeting of his counts and the emperor's
should take place beyond the Elbe, near the frontier of his kingdom, where
what had been done on both sides could be brought up between the parties and
matters which it would be appropriate to put right could be detailed. The
emperor did not reject this request and the conference with the primores of
the Danes was held across the Elbe in the place called Badenfliot [probably
Beidenfleth]. Many matters were brought up and detailed on both sides, but
when they separated the business was left entirely unsettled. However,
Thrasco, dux of the Abodrites, after he had given his son as a hostage to
Godfred as the king required, gathered a force of his countrymen together
and, with help from the Saxons, attacked his neighbours, the Wiltzites; he
laid their territory waste with fire and sword and returned home with
immense booty. Then, with further aid from the Saxons, more than before, he
captured the greatest civitas of the Smeldingi. By these successes he forced
all those who had defected from him to become his allies again.
After all this the emperor returned from the Ardennes
to Aachen and in November held a council on the question of the procession
of the Holy Spirit, an issue first raised by a certain John, a monk of
Jerusalem. In order to settle this matter Bernhar, bishop of Worms, and
Adalhard, abbot of the monastery of Corbie, were sent to Rome, to pope Leo.
There was also discussion at this council about the state of the churches
and the conduct of those who are said to serve God within them, but here too
nothing was settled, because of what was seen as the magnitude of those
The emperor decided, however, in view of the many
reports which had reached him about the bragging and arrogance of the king
of the Danes, that he would build a civitas across the river Elbe and
install a garrison of Franks in it. And after he had gathered men from
throughout Gaul and Germany for this purpose and ordered them, furnished
with arms and the other equipment which they needed for the task, to be
taken to the appointed place through Frisia, Thrasco, dux of the Abodrites,
was treacherously killed by Godfred's homines at the trading-place of Reric.
Neverthless, once the site for the civitas which was to be established had
been confirmed, the emperor put count Egbert in charge of the execution of
the project and com manded him to cross the Elbe and occupy the place. This
lies on the bank of the river Stor and is called Esesfelth [Itzehoe]. Egbert
and the Saxon counts took possession of the place about the middle of March
and began its fortification.
Count Aureolus, who was established in the
frontier-region of Spain and Gaul across the Pyrenees, over against Huesca
and Saragossa, died. And Amrus, governor of Saragossa and Huesca, seized the
area in which he had held authority, posted garrisons in his castella and
sent a legation to the emperor, promising that he intended to surrender
himself and all that he held to him.
An eclipse of the moon occurred on 26 December.
When the emperor's legates reached him, Amrus, the
governor of Saragossa, asked for a conference between himself and the
defenders of the Spanish frontier-region, promising that at this he would
place himself and all that he held under the emperor's dominion. Although
the emperor agreed that this meeting should take place, a variety of matters
arose to prevent its being held. Moors, with a very large fleet which had
been brought together from the whole of Spain, landed first in Sardinia and
then in Corsica; finding no garrison in the latter, they subjected almost
the whole island. Meanwhile, king Pippin, goaded by the perfidy of the
Venetian dukes, waged war, ordering Venetia to be attacked by land and sea.
After Venetia had been subjected and the surrender of its dukes received, he
dispatched the same fleet to devastate the coasts of Dalmatia. But when
Paul, the governor of Cephalonia, approached with an eastern fleet to aid
the Dalmatians, the royal fleet returned home.
Rotrud, the emperor's eldest daughter, died on 6 June.
And while still at Aachen and pondering a campaign
against king Godfred, the emperor was told that a fleet of 200 ships from
Nordmannia had sailed to Frisia, that all the islands off the Frisian coast
had been devastated, that the army was already on the mainland and had
fought three battles with the Frisians, that the victorious Danes had
imposed tribute on the vanquished, that the Frisians had already paid 100
pounds of silver under title of tribute, but that king Godfred was at home.
Such was indeed the situation. So enraged by this news was the emperor that
he sent men out into all the regions far and wide to gather an army and
himself straightway set out from the palace, deciding first to join up with
the fleet and then to cross the river Rhine at the place called Lippeham and
await the troops who had not yet assembled. And while he stayed there for a
time the elephant sent to him by Aaron, rex of the Saracens, suddenly died.
When the troops had finally gathered, he marched as rapidly as possible to
the river Aller, set up camp by its confluence with
the river Weser and awaited the outcome of king Godfred's threats. For that
king, puffed up with the emptiest hopes of victory, was bragging that he
meant to engage the emperor in pitched battle.
But while the emperor maintained his quarters at the
place mentioned, various matters were reported to him: the fleet which had
been devastating Frisia had returned home; king Godfred had been killed by
someone from his retinue; the castellum lying on the river Elbe by the name
of Hohbeck, which contained a garrison of east Saxons and the emperor's
legate, Odo, had been captured by the Wiltzites; his son Pippin, king of
Italy, had departed this life on 8 July; and two legations had arrived from
different parts of the world to make peace, one from Constantinople, the
other from Cordova. After receiving these reports and arranging matters in
Saxony to suit the circumstances of the time, he returned home. There was
such a severe murrain among the cattle on this expedition that it almost
happened that not a single beast was left for such a large army but all
died, to the last head. And it was not only there but throughout all the
provinces subject to the emperor that death raged most savagely against this
type of animal.
Reaching Aachen in October, the emperor received in
audience the legates mentioned and made peace with the emperor Nicephorus
and with Abulaz, rex of Spain. He returned Venetia to Nicephorus and
recovered count Haimric, who had earlier been captured by the Saracens and
was sent back by Abulaz. In this year the sun and the moon were both
eclipsed twice, the sun on 7 June and 30 November, the moon on 21 June and
15 December. The island of Corsica was again devastated by the Moors. Amrus
was driven out of Saragossa by Abd al-Rahman, the son of Abulaz, and forced
to enter Huesca. After the death of Godfred, king of the Danes, Hemming, his
brother's son, succeeded to the kingship and made peace with the emperor.
This text was first translated in Charlemagne: Translated Sources, by P.D. King (Kendal, 1987). We thank Professor King for his permission to include these items.