In the year 843 AD the old Frankish Empire was divided. The Treaty of Verdun granted Louis the German, son of Louis the Pious, all the Frankish territory east of the Rhine River. This was the nucleus of the Holy Roman Empire and modern Germany, but back then it was little more than Francia Orientalis, the Eastern part of the Frankish Empire.
Louis the Pious, depiction from 831, in de laudibus sanctae crucis, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana
Eastern Frankish History until 919 AD:
Already a year earlier, in 842 AD, Louis and his brother Charles the Bald swore not to attack each other, and not to aid the third son of Louis the Pious, Lothair. The Oaths of Strasbourg are of special significance because they not oblige the kings’ soldiers to disobey their master if he should break the oath, but also because they provide some of the earliest specimen of Old French and Old High German, the forerunners of the modern German and French languages. By addressing the armies in their native tongues Louis and Charles made sure, everyone understood what was being said:
In godes minna ind in thes christiânes folches ind unsêr bêdhero gehaltnissî, fon thesemo dage frammordes, sô fram sô mir got gewizci indi mahd furgibit, sô haldih thesan mînan bruodher, sôso man mit rehtu sînan bruodher scal, in thiu thaz er mig sô sama duo, indi mit Ludheren in nohheiniu thing ne gegango, the mînan willon imo ce scadhen werdhên.”
For the love of God and Christendom and the salvation of us both, from this day on, as God will give me the wisdom and power, I shall protect this brother of mine, as one ought to protect one's brother, so that he may do the same for me, and I shall never go along with Lothair in anything that, by my will, would harm him [Louis].
Pro Deo amur et pro christian poblo et nostro comun salvament, d'ist di in avant, in quant Deus savir et podir me dunat, si salvarai eo cist meon fradre Karlo, et in adjudha et in cadhuna cosa si cum om per dreit son fradra salvar dift, in o quid il mi altresi fazet; et ab Ludher nul plaid nunquam prindrai qui meon vol cist meon fradre Karlo in damno sit.
For the love of God and for Christendom and our common salvation, from this day onwards, as God will give me the wisdom and power, I shall protect this brother of mine Charles, with aid or anything else, as one ought to protect one's brother, so that he may do the same for me, and I shall never knowingly make any covenant with Lothair that would harm this brother of mine Charles.
The grandsons of Charlemagne indeed could not afford inner-dynastic quarrels as they had plenty of foreign enemies to fight against. Worse for Louis, most of his kingdom was borderland which only recently had been conquered. Consequently it was rather underdeveloped compared to the west or Italy, with only a few cities. Ferocious and warlike people dwelled beyond these borders, like the Vikings, the Slavs, and most dangerous of all, the Magyars. They permanently threatened and raided Eastern Frankish territory.
The Treaty of Verdun
However the peace between the east and west of the Frankish realm did not last long. When the common enemy Lothair died in 855, Charles and Louis openly engaged in conflict with each other. The situation became worse after Lothair II, Lothair’s son, also had died leaving his realm without ruler. Louis prevailed securing most of Lothair’s land, Lotharingia, the forerunner of modern Lorraine which would become object of Franco-German rivalry for many centuries to come. The Treaty of Meersen confirmed the new division, while Louis II, another son of Lothair, gained Italy.
The complicated struggle for power among the Carolingians greatly reduced their influence all over Europe, although Louis the German clearly got the better of it. In 875 he was crowned Emperor by the Pope since he was the most powerful remaining Carolingian. Louis also divided his kingdom among his three sons before his death in 876.
Charles the Bald wasted no time attacking the divided east, but died in 877 already, leaving the west in agony. Meanwhile in the east, two of the three sons had died and the remaining son Charles the Fat united the eastern kingdom again. Moreover, the weakened western nobles offered Charles the western crown as well, and so that realm of Charlemagne was for once reunited under Charles the Fat in 885.
The union broke apart soon. The Frankish Kingdom was too exhausted and too weak to fend off the foreign enemies overrunning the borders. By 887 Arnulf of Carinthia was crowned King of the East, although Charles was still alive. But unlike Charles, Arnulf actually had proven himself a competent warrior. In the west, Odo of Paris gained the power. Arnulf was very concerned with the affairs in the west and neglected the eastern defenses. His successors would bitterly pay for this...
In 899, Arnulf died, but his son was very young and thus King Louis the Child (as he was aptly called) was a mere figurehead for the real power behind the throne, Arch-Bishop Hatto of Mainz. By this time, the Magyars raided deep into German and even Italian territory. Frankish military suffered several severe defeats and the kingdom again seemed to be in agony.
Consequently, the German nobles had enough of the Carolingians. Louis the Child died early as many of his ancestors had before and German nobility made no effort to install another descendant of Charlemagne. Instead they elected one of their mightiest Dukes, Conrad of Franconia for king in 911. The election marked the first step on the way to powerful Stem-Duchies which would dominate the coming centuries, but it also began the tradition of royal elections.
Unfortunately Conrad had learned little. He constantly overruled the Dukes of the Stem-Duchies, failed to defend the land against the Magyars and Danes, saw whole armies of his vassals destroyed, and even lost Lotharingia to Charles the Simple. Moreover he fell ill and never really recovered. Having suffered worst at the hands of the Magyars, Arnulf the Evil of Bavaria was the most prominent of Conrad’s enemies and almost openly hostile towards him. The kingdom was on the verge of breaking again.
Realizing that his kingship had ended in utter failure, Conrad convinced his brother not to succeed him as king, and he never founded a dynasty. He died in 918. Henry the Fowler of Saxonia succeeded him. He and his sons, known as the Ottonians, should lead the German kingdom to glory again. But that is a story for another preview.
843: Treaty of Verdun and Partition of the Frankish Empire, Louis the German King of Eastern Franica 855: Death of Lothair I. of Middle Francia (Lotharingia), war between Eastern and Western Francia over Lotharingia 870: Treaty of Meersen and Partition of Lotharingia 875: Louis the German crowned Emperor by the Pope 876: Death of Louis the German and Partition of the Eastern Frankish Empire 880: Treaty of Ribemont and Lotharingia falling to Eastern Francia 881: beginning Magyars raiding deep into Eastern Francia 882: Reunification of Eastern Francia under Charles the Fat 885: Reunification of the whole Frankish Empire 887: Arnulf of Carinthia seizing the throne of Eastern Francia 896: Arnulf of Carinthia crowned Emperor 906: Battle of Preßburg, great defeat against the Magyars 910: Battles of Lechfeld and Neuching, defeat and victory against the Magyars 911: Death of Louis the Child, last of the Carolingians, Conrad I elected King 917: deepest Magyar raid, Basel destroyed 926: massive castle building programme to fortify Eastern Francia 929: Battle of Lenzen, Slavic uprising in the eastern borderlands crushed by Saxon cavalry 936: Otto I elected King
Empire or Kingdom? Roman, or Frankish, or even German? On Terminology. In fact, all these labels are somewhat correct and incorrect at the same time. Louis II for example was called "the German" and he was King of Eastern Francia and Roman Emperor. It is true that the language of High Old German was spoken by most of the warriors in Eastern Francia, in contrast to the Old French predominant in the western part. Indeed Eastern Francia was to become the nucleus of the Regnum Teutonicum, and it is difficult to assess when its inhabitants started to think of themselves as Germans. In the 10th century the terms teutonicus and theodisc appear more frequently and synonymous. This seems to have been a time of transition. The most famous sentence on that is the notorious quote of Otto of Freising writing about the reign of Henry I: exhinc quidam post Francorum Regnum supputant Teutonicorum.
The Kingship was that of Eastern Francia, the part Louis the German inherited from Louis the Pious. The Pope still used his authority to crown a Roman Emperor. The Carolingian idea of a restoration of the Roman Empire was still very much alive and Louis the German when crowned Imperator Augustus Romanorum continued that policy. The Eastern Roman Emperor Basil I formally protested and demanded that Louis had to restrict himself being Imperator Francorum. Louis answered that Francia was his by the right of blood, while the Franks were chosen by the Roman people to protect them. He further argued that the Greeks (the usual name given to the Eastern Roman in times of conflict) had abandoned the city and people of Rome. They had even given up the Latin language, which Louis still spoke well, and thus Louis took the liberty of correcting some translation mistakes of Basil’s letter.
The Imperium Romanum claimed so vigorously compassed not only Francia but also Italy.
Geostrategic position and south-eastern policy of the Eastern Frankish Kings
For about a hundred years, until the Ottonians, Eastern Frankish kings were mostly preoccupied with affairs in the west, as much as leading Charlemagne’s old empire to a short-lived reunion. The east was often neglected as there was no fatal threat to the King, despite frequent raids and border troubles with numerous but unorganized Slavic tribes. By the time Louis the German ascended the throne the mighty steppe people of the Avars had not been heard of for more than 20 years and the Pannonian plain seemed calm. It remained calm for most of the 9th century, but with the Magyar expansion a mortal enemy arose to the Eastern Franks. The Kings however did not act much and the brunt of the defense rested upon the local Dukes and Margraves, foremost the Duke of Bavaria. The kings’ eventual actions against the Magyars proved ineffective and sometimes outright disastrous. The Magyar menace and the preoccupation with the west finally meant that Frankish Kings did not engage in Balkan politics as much as their predecessors did.
Italy however was a different matter. With Rome being the center of western Christianity and seat of the Pope crowning the Roman Emperor, Frankish Kings had an obligation at least to visit Rome from time to time. Due to the general weakness of the kingship the military involvement in Italian affairs was limited. The Pope was actually quite happy about it and began building power on his own, while the Lombard principalities also profited. But when the Frankish Kings decided to go to Italy they did so in force and usually acted against the Muslim presence.
The end of the Carolingian dynasty marked the beginning of an effective defensive policy, including the massive fortification of border territory and an increasing militarization of the population. Otto the Great then would be able to go on the offense.
Eastern Frankish Society
Still relatively undeveloped, Eastern Francia had few big cities, virtually all of them in west, in old Roman territory. The city dwellers prided themselves and indeed greatly contributed to the Frankish economy, but in its essence Eastern Francia based on an agrarian economy and society.
The vast majority of the Kingdom’s population was hard working peasants. Once, most if not all of them were free men, but in the later Carolingian era, most had already lost their freedom and their land. Bound to a noble lord, they barely had enough for themselves. It was not a terribly bad life though, on the contrary: life-expectancy was rather good if one survived childhood, and the nutrition was simple and one-sided, but sufficient. However the peasants absolutely depended on the success of their harvests and owned little property or money. The frequent raids consequently greatly harmed the peasantry, and ultimately the whole Frankish economy. Furthermore, since being away from home could mean crop failure, the peasants had little interest in doing military service; many were even too poor for it.
At the other end of the society were the nobles, both secular and ecclesial. Most of them also lived in the country supported by their peasants. Despite great wealth, life was not easy for them either. Especially the secular nobles lived and died by the sword, be it in wars, feuds, or simple bar-brawls. Constantly threatened by political intrigues, feuds, raiders, life expectancy was not great. One has to remember that the practice of ransoming was still in its infancy, and chivalry for that matter did not even exist. However the result of this lifestyle was a fearsome warrior, but one who was as fearsome to his enemies as to his subjects. Ecclesial nobles were frequently engaged in military affairs as well, and were seen almost as often on the battlefield as their secular counterparts.
Some kind of middle class was virtually non-existent, safe for a few free peasants and city dwellers. This is one reason why heavy disciplined infantry, akin to the ancient Greek hoplites or Flemish militia, was virtually non-existent either - the social basis for such citizen infantry was missing.
The Eastern Frankish Military up to the beginning of the 10th century saw little development and was very similar to that of Charlemagne’s times.
Frankish Milites, Golden Psalter of St.Gallen, 9th century The Heavy Cavalry
The iron fist of the Frankish Kings were the Milites. Miles (plural: Milites) was the term for a heavy cavalryman. These warriors usually came from the aristocracy or its retainers, and were bound to their lords to serve them in war. Although they would become the well-known knights in shining armour, they were not yet the brave defenders of Christendom who set out to save Virgins. On the contrary, they loved to plunder, frequently engaged in highly violent feuds, and showed little respect to the church. It is not surprising that the early Frankish Milites were almost as feared as Viking or Magyar raiders by their own population.
However, as savage as they may seem, they were highly disciplined warriors on the battlefield, capable of studying and executing complex tactical maneuvers. There is, after all, good reason why this type of warrior was so successful for several centuries. Beside their discipline, their equipment was allowed great flexibility. Heavier armoured than most of their opposition, they could break many battle lines with their strong charge. Still they were mobile enough to outmaneuver heavier enemies, if necessary. A good commander could defeat the ferocious Vikings, the elusive Slavs, the swift Magyars, and the armoured Greeks alike.
The quality of the Frankish equipment itself was top-notch: especially their swords were extremely valuable and sought for items. In order to avoid proliferation to potential enemy Charlemagne already had to ban the export of military gear, and it was renewed by Charles the Bald. Nevertheless swords of the most famous smiths like Ulfberht were found in Scandinavia, thus implying the ban was circumvented.
Ulfberht-Sword and modern reconstruction
The greatest weakness of the Frankish military was the lack of high quality support. There was a general levy and the Carolingian kings clearly wanted everyone who could afford military equipment to do military service. This included especially those who had a horse, or had enough land to buy one. As Caballarii, these horsemen were expected to fight in the army, while the poor footmen were expected to do guard duty in field camps, bridges, and cause-ways across bogs, or to do scouting. The scouts were called Exploratores. The other did not have a special term, but they frequently appear as Pauperes (poor men) or Minores (minors). Those people who were too poor for any military service were grouped together with a Royal Adiutorium and had to send one of the group with the financial support of the others.
While this all sounded very nice in theory, in praxis the kings had real big trouble of actually raising any notable force. The free-men themselves were extremely reluctant going to war, as it often meant their financial ruin, not to mention the actual dangers of a war…; and the magnates who were obliged to equip and send men to the armies were even more reluctant providing their force to the king, as it weakened them militarily and economically, giving strength to the central power of the king.
The armament was rather simple in case of the footmen. Bows and spears dominated the field for the footmen, who probably only had a Seax as sidearm. The horsemen probably also could afford a long sword and some armour, albeit mostly organic armour. The primary means of personal defense however was a big round shield for all of the Carolingian army.
Strategy, Tactics, and Record
Charlemagne and Pippin in Counsel, 10th century copy of an original from 829-836 manuscript for Eberhard of Friaul Although military command and control was not as sophisticated as it was in the Eastern Roman Empire, it should not be underestimated either. The Consilium Regis, the advisory staff of the king, carefully planned campaigns on the basis of known topographic and ethnographic data. Intelligence gathering and scouting beginning in winter thus usually preceded Carolingian campaigns, which were executed in summer. Planning was always sub silentio, in secrecy and subordinated commanders were only given as much information as was necessary for them to fulfill their given task.
In battle, the Frankish army could perform complicated maneuvers, although usually simplicity in tactics was preferred. The heavy cavalry charged multiple times, while others would flank the enemy and then charge. Timing was crucial in such operations. Meanwhile, the levied infantry covered possible routs of retreat (not only of the own troops, but if possible they blocked the enemy’s retreat as well), but it seldom had an important task in battle, because the levy was not reliable enough.
On the battlefield, separated contingents communicated via flags or standards and possibly trumpets of some kind.
Despite the respectable capabilities of the Eastern Frankish army, its operational record is rather poor in the later 9th and early 10th century, albeit not as poor as that of its western counterpart. The overall leadership was simply not good enough. Deeply involved in western affairs, few kings realized how dangerous the east could become until it was too late. With the absence of any overall strategy during the time of Louis the Child and the complete failure of Conrad’s policy, Eastern Frankish military was plunged into campaigns it could not win. Its inherent weaknesses then became all the more apparent as they were exploited by the enemies, but especially the Magyars. It was not until the military underwent reform and evolution under the Ottonians that it could effectively defend the land.
Example: The Battle of Preßburg (Bratislava): We know very little about details of military campaigns, often we only know the result. Even in case of some better documented battles, we lack details. The Battle of Preßburg, fought in 907 near modern Bratislava, is no exception, although it was very important.
With the support of Louis the Child, or rather Arch-Bishop Hatto, Luitpold of Bavaria organized a counter attack against the Magyars. Three large divisions of primarily Bavarian and Moravian soldiers advanced to Preßburg, one on the norther shore of the Danube, one on the southern shore and one came in ships on the river itself. The Magyars perhaps attacked surprisingly and picked the divisions one by one. First the southern troops under Arch-Bishop Ditmar of Salzburg were assaulted, then the northern one. The slaughter was on for several days and the enveloped troops of Luitpold apparently could not warn each other, so the ship-board force was also taken by surprise. At the end of the day, Margrave Luitpold, Arch-Bishop Ditmar, Bishop Otto of Freising, Bishop Zacharias of Seben, and 19, possibly even 35 counts and abbots lay dead on the field, along with the vast majority of their troops.
The battle meant a severe blow for Bavarian nobility, as most of them had died. It also demonstrated once more how dangerous the highly mobile Magyar armies were to the rather slow Frankish forces. Yet, in the long run, the battle had a positive effect. The Eastern Frankish lords, who can be called Germans by that time, would reform their armies, especially the Dukes of Bavaria and Saxonia. Luitpold’s son, Arnulf the Evil was particularly radical in his measures, thus earning his not-so-nice epithet, but he somehow managed to defend his actually defenseless country in the coming years.
Banners and Characters
The cavalry banner.
The banner of infantry.
The banner of the levy.
The banner of missile troops.
The closest advisors of the king form the Consilium Regis. Many of them are high nobles, secular as well as ecclesial, who insist on accompanying the king in battle and protecting him with their life. Of course they also work as some kind of general’s staff on campaign, planning and often executing plans. Their high social status means they are not only well educated in the theoretical affairs of war, but also deadly warriors when engaging in close combat. Only the best equipment is good enough for them, but only if lavishly decorated so that everyone can see this is the leading elite of the king. Their swords are almost works of art and are often named, revered objects of a warrior spirit, although the lance is most vital for the charge. Furthermore, the heavy multi-layered body-armour and the helmets not only protect very well, they are also deliberately designed to emulate classical style, since ancient Roman fashion was extremely en-vogue. This is especially true for these elite nobles, whose most favourite read is Vegetius.
Scarae are squadrons of cavalry capable of independent operations on their own without support of the rest of the army, although they can be part of the main battle line as well. The king has his own squadron, the Scara Sua, the most effective and fearsome of them all. They are the best cavalry force in the kingdom, hand-picked from battle-hardened Milites who have proven themselves already. It can be a great burden, as members of the Scara Sua are almost always on campaign, and probably never see their homes again until too old for fighting. This is all the more reason for the service in the Scara Sua being the highest honour a warrior can get.
The Scara Sua is a most splendidly looking unit of the whole army, albeit not as lavishly decorated as the highest nobles. However, the sheer amount of armour, the dense array of lances and the blinking swords instills fear upon most enemies even before the charge begins. And once the horses thunder, few if any can withstand this Scara's assault.
The Milites are the iron fist of the Frankish kings. These professional cavalry soldiers train for war all their life and are ever ready to execute their lords’ will. Heavily armed and armoured they can break almost any resistance with devastating charges and easily outmaneuver what they cannot break. Be it the swift Magyar horse-archer, the elusive Slavic warrior, the ferocious Viking raider, or the heavy-armoured Greek, all of them fell before the Frankish Miles.
However the Milites are not yet the shining defenders of Christendom who set out to save virgins. Their violent outburst of feuds or even downright plundering causes terror among the very people they shall protect.
The Fideles are the more trusted ones of the Milites, having proven themselves in combat already, and having gained riches through many campaigns. Thus they can afford heavier armour then most Milites.
The primary means of offense is a combination of the so-called winged lance, which could be used to charge, or to fend, even to throw on short distance, and the doubled edged Spatha long-sword. The defense consists of a round shield, an iron helmet, and iron body-armour. Scale armour is most popular, but mail is increasingly used.
The Milites are famed for their skills on horseback, and to be sure, they prefer to charge with their horses anytime. But they are also all-round warriors who would dismount when tactical need demanded it. Indeed one of the most famous victories of heavy Frankish cavalry was won after it had dismounted: the Battle of Tours and Poitier. Equally professional and well trained in combat on foot, dismounted Milites make excellent infantry. Their equipment also aids their efficiency, although it is not as specialized as that of elite infantry units. Dismounted Milites are a rather rare sight unless they besiege a city. Only when confronted with vastly superior cavalry elements, especially horse archers, a Frankish commander orders his Milites to form an infantry shield wall. This happens now and then on the south eastern borders, usually against the Magyars.
Pueri are not exactly children, even though their name correctly marks them as very young. Neither experienced nor very rich yet, these are the most promising young warriors of the kingdom, most of them on a tenure-track to court offices and other honours. They fight in the same style as their older comrades, but their equipment is not as well elaborated and less heavy. The young men did not yet have much opportunity to gain riches as they have not participated in campaign and usually they do not own land yet neither. Nevertheless, lances and swords may be less shining, but still deadly. The mail and scale armour may be lighter, but still protective. And the shield may be less brightly painted, but still firm. The Pueri well deserve their status as Milites, and on the way to become the next generation of the Kingdom's elite.
Caballarii simply means horsemen, but the professional soldiers with their higher social standing were properly addressed as Milites, leaving the Caballarii term for levied horsemen usually. Despite being levied, the Caballarii are somewhat the exception to the rule that levies in the Frankish army are unreliable. They are rich enough to have a horse, they also have enough time to train now and then. Thus they actually form a reliable if not great cavalry force. Essentially armed like the Milites, albeit with weapons of significantly worse quality, they fulfill similar roles. The lighter armour of padded jackets and a simple helmets means less protection but higher mobility. Therefore the Caballarii can be used as light cavalry, especially as there is enough heavy cavalry and a dire need for the light horsemen in the Frankish military.
These are the archers from the lower strata of the society levied into military service. The quality gap between the professional and levied soldiers is far too big by now, so the levy is not very reliable. Not only are levies unwilling to leave their homes for the extended campaigns, they also have hardly time to train much less money to afford good weapons.
The archers are the most basic of all levies and have no real training. They can pepper the enemy with some arrows of a rather simple bow, but that is it. Do not expect them to do anything else.
These are the spearmen from the lower strata of the society levied into military service. Just like in case of the archers, their training and equipment is seriously lacking, although they receive a rudimentary drill on campaign. The spearmen are supposed to protect the archers as long as possible. They are grouped tightly together, but not only due to their drill. It is also the fear and the lack of experience that fosters their will to stay close. However the same fear and lack of experience means they will not hold their position against professional warriors for long. Equipped with the most basic military gear like a spear and a shield, they are vulnerable, but reasonably useful.
Scouting is a vital part of the Frankish military planning on strategic as well as on tactical level. Although naturally rather gathering information than actually fighting, the Exploratores are capable of defending themselves and keep the enemy at a distance. Of course they are seriously outgunned when confronted with massive archery for the short range of their javelins and they are easily dispersed by light horsemen. Still there is no reason to underestimate the scouts.
Spesial Thanks to:
AnthoniusII Rusichi TW team.
DisgruntledGoat for ussing material from "1066 mod".