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. 

808 AD

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 home.

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

809 AD

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, he departed.

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 matters.

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.

810 AD

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.

Click here to return to Charlemagne: Translated Sources