A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance

Author: Abbo

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World History


The Northmen in the Country of the Franks

Sources—(a) Annales Bertiniani ["Annals of St. Bertin"]. Text in Monumenta Germaniœ Historica Scriptores (Pertz ed.), Vol. I., pp. 439–454.

(b) Abbonis Monachi S. Germani Parisiensis, De Bellis Parisiacœ Urbis, et Odonis Comitis, post Regis, adversus Northmannos urbem ipsam obsidentes, sub Carolo Crasso Imp. ac Rege Francorum [Abbo’s "Wars of Count Odo with the Northmen in the Reign of Charles the Fat"]. Text in Bouquet, Recueil des Historiens des Gaules et de la France, Vol. VIII., pp. 4–26.

(c) Chronique de Saint-Denys d’après Dudo et Guillaume de Jumièges ["Chronicle of St. Denys based on Dudo and William of Jumièges"], Vol. III., p. 105.


843. Pirates of the Northmen’s race came to Nantes, killed the bishop and many of the clergy and laymen, both men and women, and pillaged the city. Thence they set out to plunder the lands of lower Aquitaine. At length they arrived at a certain island1 and carried materials thither from the mainland to build themselves houses; and they settled there for the winter, as if that were to be their permanent dwelling-place.

844. The Northmen ascended the Garonne as far as Toulouse and pillaged the lands along both banks with impunity. Some, after leaving this region went into Galicia1 and perished, part of them by the attacks of the cross-bowmen who had come to resist them, part by being overwhelmed by a storm at sea. But others of them went farther into Spain and engaged in long and desperate combats with the Saracens; defeated in the end, they withdrew.

The Northmen bought off at Paris

845. The Northmen with a hundred ships entered the Seine on the twentieth of March and, after ravaging first one bank and then the other, came without meeting any resistance to Paris. Charles2 resolved to hold out against them; but seeing the impossibility of gaining a victory, he made with them a certain agreement and by a gift of 7,000 livres he bought them off from advancing farther and persuaded them to return.

Euric, king of the Northmen, advanced, with six hundred vessels, along the course of the River Elbe to attack Louis of Germany.3 The Saxons prepared to meet him, gave battle, and with the aid of our Lord Jesus Christ won the victory.

The Northmen returned [from Paris] down the Seine and coming to the ocean pillaged, destroyed, and burned all the regions along the coast.

846. The Danish pirates landed in Frisia.4 They were able to force from the people whatever contributions they wished and, being victors in battle, they remained masters of almost the entire province.

847. The Northmen made their appearance in the part of Gaul inhabited by the Britons5 and won three victories. Noménoé,6 although defeated, at length succeeded in buying them off with presents and getting them out of his country.

The burning of Tours

853–854. The Danish pirates, making their way into the country eastward from the city of Nantes, arrived without opposition, November eighth, before Tours. This they burned, together with the church of St. Martin and the neighboring places. But that incursion had been foreseen with certainty and the body of St. Martin had been removed to Cormery, a monastery of that church, and from there to the city of Orleans. The pirates went on to the chateau of Blois1 and burned it, proposing then to proceed to Orleans and destroy that city in the same fashion. But Agius, bishop of Orleans, and Burchard, bishop of Chartres,2 had gathered soldiers and ships to meet them; so they abandoned their design and returned to the lower Loire, though the following year [855] they ascended it anew to the city of Angers.3

855. They left their ships behind and undertook to go overland to the city of Poitiers;4 but the Aquitanians came to meet them and defeated them, so that not more than 300 escaped.

Orleans pillaged

856. On the eighteenth of April, the Danish pirates came to the city of Orleans, pillaged it, and went away without meeting opposition. Other Danish pirates came into the Seine about the middle of August and, after plundering and mining the towns on the two banks of the river, and even the monasteries and villages farther back, came to a well located place near the Seine called Jeufosse, and, there quietly passed the winter.

859. The Danish pirates having made a long sea-voyage (for they had sailed between Spain and Africa) entered the Rhone, where they pillaged many cities and monasteries and established themselves on the island called Camargue. . . . They devastated everything before them as far as the city Of Valence.1 Then after ravaging all these regions they returned to the island where they had fixed their habitation. Thence they went on toward Italy, capturing and plundering Pisa and other cities.


The Northmen arrive at the city

885. The Northmen came to Paris with 700 sailing ships, not counting those of smaller size which are commonly called barques. At one stretch the Seine was lined with the vessels for more than two leagues, so that one might ask in astonishment in what cavern the river had been swallowed up, since it was not to be seen. The second day after the fleet of the Northmen arrived under the walls of the city, Siegfred, who was then king only in name2 but who was in command of the expedition, came to the dwelling of the illustrious bishop. He bowed his head and said: "Gauzelin, have compassion on yourself and on your flock. We beseech you to listen to us, in order that you may escape death. Allow us only the freedom of the city. We will do no harm and we will see to it that whatever belongs either to you or to Odo shall be strictly respected." Count Odo, who later became king, was then the defender of the city.3 The bishop replied to Siegfred, "Paris has been entrusted to us by the Emperor Charles, who, after God, king and lord of the powerful, rules over almost all the world. He has put it in our care, not at all that the kingdom may be ruined by our misconduct, but that he may keep it and be assured of its peace. If, like us, you had been given the duty of defending these walls, and if you should have done that which you ask us to do, what treatment do you think you would deserve?" Siegfred replied: "I should deserve that my head be cut off and thrown to the dogs. Nevertheless, if you do not listen to my demand, on the morrow our war machines will destroy you with poisoned arrows. You will be the prey of famine and of pestilence and these evils will renew themselves perpetually every year." So saying, he departed and gathered together his comrades.

The attack upon the tower; Fierce fighting; The bravery of Count Odo

In the morning the Northmen, boarding their ships, approached the tower and attacked it.1 They shook it with their engines and stormed it with arrows. The city resounded with clamor, the people were aroused, the bridges trembled. All came together to defend the tower. There Odo, his brother Robert,2 and the Count Ragenar distinguished themselves for bravery; likewise the courageous Abbot Ebolus,3 the nephew of the bishop. A keen arrow wounded the prelate, while at his side the young warrior Frederick was struck by a sword. Frederick died, but the old man, thanks to God, survived. There perished many Franks; after receiving wounds they were lavish of life. At last the enemy withdrew, carrying off their dead. The evening came. The tower had been sorely tried, but its foundations were still solid, as were also the narrow baies which surmounted them. The people spent the night repairing it with boards. By the next day, on the old citadel had been erected a new tower of wood, a half higher than the former one. At sunrise the Danes caught their first glimpse of it. Once more the latter engaged with the Christians in violent combat. On every side arrows sped and blood flowed. With the arrows mingled the stones hurled by slings and war-machines; the air was filled with them. The tower which had been built during the night groaned under the strokes of the darts, the city shook with the struggle, the people ran hither and thither, the bells jangled. The warriors rushed together to defend the tottering tower and to repel the fierce assault. Among these warriors two, a count and an abbot [Ebolus], surpassed all the rest in courage. The former was the redoubtable Odo who never experienced defeat and who continually revived the spirits of the worn-out defenders. He ran along the ramparts and hurled back the enemy. On those who were secreting themselves so as to undermine the tower he poured oil, wax, and pitch, which, being mixed and heated, burned the Danes and tore off their scalps. Some of them died; others threw themselves into the river to escape the awful substance. . . .1

Meanwhile Paris was suffering not only from the sword outside but also from a pestilence within which brought death to many noble men. Within the walls there was not ground in which to bury the dead. . . . Odo, the future king, was sent to Charles, emperor of the Franks,2 to implore help for the stricken city.

Odo’s mission to Emperor Charles the Fat

One day Odo suddenly appeared in splendor in the midst of three bands of warriors. The sun made his armor glisten and greeted him before it illuminated the country around. The Parisians saw their beloved chief at a distance, but the enemy, hoping to prevent his gaining entrance to the tower, crossed the Seine and took up their position on the bank. Nevertheless Odo, his horse at a gallop, got past the Northmen and reached the tower, whose gates Ebolus opened to him. The enemy pursued fiercely the comrades of the count who were trying to keep up with him and get refuge in the tower. [The Danes were defeated in the attack.]

Terms of peace arranged by Charles

Now came the Emperor Charles, surrounded by soldiers of all nations, even as the sky is adorned with resplendent stars. A great throng, speaking many languages, accompanied him. He established his camp at the foot of the heights of Montmartre, near the tower. He allowed the Northmen to have the country of Sens to plunder;1 and in the spring he gave them 700 pounds of silver on condition that by the month of March they leave France for their own kingdom.2 Then Charles returned, destined to an early death.3


Rollo receives Normandy from Charles the Simple

The king had at first wished to give to Rollo the province of Flanders, but the Norman rejected it as being too marshy. Rollo refused to kiss the foot of Charles when he received from him the duchy of Normandy. "He who receives such a gift," said the bishops to him, "ought to kiss the foot of the king." "Never," replied he, "will I bend the knee to any one, or kiss anybody’s foot." Nevertheless, impelled by the entreaties of the Franks, he ordered one of his warriors to perform the act in his stead. This man seized the foot of the king and lifted it to his lips, kissing it without bending and so causing the king to tumble over backwards. At that there was a loud burst of laughter and a great commotion in the crowd of onlookers. King Charles, Robert, Duke of the Franks,1 the counts and magnates, and the bishops and abbots, bound themselves by the oath of the Catholic faith to Rollo, swearing by their lives and their bodies and by the honor of all the kingdom, that he might hold the land and transmit it to his heirs from generation to generation throughout all time to come. When these things had been satisfactorily performed, the king returned in good spirits into his dominion, and Rollo with Duke Robert set out for Rouen.

Rollo becomes a Christian

In the year of our Lord 912 Rollo was baptized in holy water in the name of the sacred Trinity by Franco, archbishop of Rouen. Duke Robert, who was his godfather, gave to him his name. Rollo devotedly honored God and the Holy Church with his gifts. . . . The pagans, seeing that their chieftain had become a Christian, abandoned their idols, received the name of Christ, and with one accord desired to be baptized. Meanwhile the Norman duke made ready for a splendid wedding and married the daughter of the king [Gisela] according to Christian rites.

His work in Normandy

Rollo gave assurance of security to all those who wished to dwell in his country. The land he divided among his followers, and, as it had been a long time unused, he improved it by the construction of new buildings. It was peopled by the Norman warriors and by immigrants from outside regions. The duke established for his subjects certain inviolable rights and laws, confirmed and published by the will of the leading men, and he compelled all his people to live peaceably together. He rebuilt the churches, which had been entirely ruined; he restored the temples, which had been destroyed by the ravages of the pagans; he repaired and added to the walls and fortifications of the cities; he subdued the Britons who rebelled against him; and with the provisions obtained from them he supplied all the country that had been granted to him.

1 The isle of Rhé, near Rochelle, north of the mouth of the Garonne.

1 Galicia was a province in the extreme northwest of the Spanish peninsula.

2 Charles the Bald, who by the treaty of Verdun in 843, had obtained the western part of the empire built up by Charlemagne [see p. 154].

3 Louis, a half-brother of Charles the Bald, who had received the eastern portion of Charlemagne’s empire by the settlement of 843.

4 Frisia, or Friesland, was the northernmost part of the kingdom of Lothair.

5 That is, in Brittany.

6 Noménoé was a native chief of the Britons. Charles the Bald made many efforts to reduce him to obedience, but with little success. In 848 or 849 he took the title of king. During his brief reign (which ended in 851) he invaded Charles’s dominions and wrought almost as much destruction as did the Northmen themselves.

1 Tours, Blois, and Orleans were all situated within a range of a hundred miles along the lower Loire.

2 Chartres was some eighty miles northwest of Orleans.

3 About midway between Nantes and Tours.

4 Poitiers was about seventy miles southwest of Tours.

1 Valence was on the Rhone, nearly a hundred and fifty miles back from the Mediterranean coast.

2 The Northmen who ravaged France really had no kings, but only military chieftains.

3 Odo, or Eudes, was chosen king by the Frankish nobles and clergy in 888, to succeed the deposed Charles the Fat. He was not of the Carolingian family but a Robertian (son of Robert the Strong), and hence a forerunner of the Capetian line of kings regularly established on the French throne in 987 [see p. 177]. His election to the kingship was due in a large measure to his heroic conduct during the siege of Paris by the Northmen.

1 The tower blocked access to the city by the so-called "Great Bridge." which connected the right bank of the Seine with the island on which the city was built. The tower stood on the present site of the Châtelet.

2 In time Robert also became king. He reigned only from 922 to 923.

3 Abbot Ebolus was head of the monastery of St. Germain des Prés.

1 The Northmen were finally compelled to abandon their efforts against the tower. They then retired to the bank of the Seine near the abbey of Saint-Denys and from that place as a center ravaged all the country lying about Paris. In a short time they renewed the attack upon the city itself.

2 Charles the Fat, under whom during the years 885–887 the old empire of Charlemagne was for the last time united under a single sovereign. When Odo went to find him in 886 he was at Metz in Germany. German and Italian affairs interested him more than did those of the Franks.

1 Sens was about a hundred miles southeast of Paris. Charles abandoned the region about Sens to the Northmen to plunder during the winter of 886–887. His very lame excuse for doing this was that the people of the district did net properly recognize his authority and were deserving of such punishment.

2 The twelve month siege of Paris thus brought to an end had many noteworthy results. Chief among these was the increased prestige of Odo as a national leader and of Paris as a national stronghold. Prior to this time Paris had not been a place of importance, even though Clovis had made it his capital. In the period of Charlemagne it was distinctly a minor city and it gained little in prominence under Louis the Pious and Charles the Bald. The great Carolingian capitals were Laon and Compiègne. The siege of 885–886, however, made it apparent that Paris occupied a strategic position, commanding the valley of the Seine, and that the roland city was one of the true bulwarks of the kingdom. Thereafter the place grew rapidly in population and prestige, and when Odo became king (in 888) it was made his capital. As time went on it grew to be the heart of the French kingdom and came to guide the destinies of France as no other city of modern times has guided a nation.

3 He was deposed in 887, largely because of his utter failure to take any active measures to defend the Franks against their Danish enemies. From Paris he went to Germany where he died, January 13, 888, at a small town on the Danube.

4 After the famous siege of Paris in 885–886 the Northmen, or Normans as they may now be called, continued to ravage France just as they had done before that event. In 910 one of their greatest chieftains, RoIlo, appeared before Paris and prepared to take the city. In this project he was unsuccessful, but his warriors caused so much devastation in the surrounding country that Charles the Simple, who was now king, decided to try negotiations. A meeting was held at Saint-Clair-sur-Epte where, in the presence of the Norman warriors and the Frankish magnates, Charles and Rollo entered into the first treaty looking toward a permanent settlement of Northmen on Frankish territory. Rollo promised to desist from his attacks upon Frankland and to become a Christian. Charles agreed to give over to the Normans a region which they in fact already held, with Rouen as its center, and extending from the Epte River on the east to the sea on the west. The arrangement was dictated by good sense and proved a fortunate one for all parties concerned.

1 Robert was Odo’s brother. "Duke of the Franks" was a title, at first purely military, but fast developing to the point where it was to culminate in its bearer becoming the first Capetian king [see p. 177].


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Chicago: Abbo, "The Northmen in the Country of the Franks," A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance in A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance, ed. Frederic Austin Ogg (1878-1951) (New York: American Book Company, 1908), 163–173. Original Sources, accessed September 23, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=HP4GTZEZI3XQKT9.

MLA: Abbo. "The Northmen in the Country of the Franks." A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance, in A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance, edited by Frederic Austin Ogg (1878-1951), New York, American Book Company, 1908, pp. 163–173. Original Sources. 23 Sep. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=HP4GTZEZI3XQKT9.

Harvard: Abbo, 'The Northmen in the Country of the Franks' in A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance. cited in 1908, A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance, ed. , American Book Company, New York, pp.163–173. Original Sources, retrieved 23 September 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=HP4GTZEZI3XQKT9.