Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The Franks - part 2: Role of the Church and Organisation of the Army

Originally published in Slingshot, issue 274, January 2011 / the magazine of the Society of Ancients

Illustration from the Stuttgart Psalter


Why start off this instalment with the role of the church, you may wonder. The answer is that its literate elite provided the backbone for the administrative framework of the Carolingian Empire, and bishops were valuable members of the Carolingian establishment.  When Charlemagne's father, Pippin III, had become maior domus in 741 AD, he entrusted the administrative duties to the clerics of his chapel. After having become king in 751 AD, he replaced the lay clerk who had directed the Merovingian royal administration, with a clerical chancellor (cancellarius), one of the notaries of his now royal chapel.  This move would have decisive consequences, as from this date until the end of the thirteenth century laymen were largely excluded from the direction of the royal administration.

The important secular role of the church is also illustrated by the fact that, in times of war, bishops and abbots were required to provide defined quotas of men (homines), arms, gear, food and clothing.  If they did not deliver, heavy fines were imposed.  Taking into account that Charlemagne organised over 30 military campaigns during his reign, it is clear that the church was heavily involved in the Frankish war-machine.  The abbeys of St. Gall and Corbie, for instance, were well-known for their production of high-quality swords and shields.

The Role of the Church

Rise to power
When in 392 AD Emperor Theodosius the Great
proclaimed the Christian faith the official state religion of the Roman Empire, in the same breath outlawing all other religions, the future of the church in Europe looked very bright.  When in 495 AD the Synod of Rome confirmed the pope as the official representative of Christ on earth, the future position of the pope looked even brighter.
In Frankish society the church had developed into the centre of literacy and education par excellence. As a result, it had established itself as a major political and social power in Western Europe and had virtually become the nervous system of Frankish society and its day-to-day organisation.
By the time Pope Leo III (d. 816 AD) had cut all ties with the Roman Emperor in Constantinople and had crowned Charlemagne emperor in 800 AD, the church became such an integrated element of Frankish society that Charlemagne almost ruled his empire as a royal theocracy.  Later kings and emperors did not easily relinquish the authority that Charlemagne had gained over the church.  Here lay the root of the great struggles between emperors and popes that were to follow in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
No weapons and no more sex
Men of the church were no longer a
llowed to bear arms, to do battle or to accompany the army except to serve the prince as military chaplains.  Clerics were forbidden to keep pack hounds and to hunt. They were to avoid living in the house of a woman and they were to wear clothes that distinguished them from the laity, including a casula, a simple outer garment, similar to the one worn by monks.  Monks who fornicated would be imprisoned and unworthy nuns would have their heads shaved. 
The authority of bishops over the clergy was restored.  As too many itinerant priests and religious traipsed across the land, these were henceforth to be attached to the jurisdiction of a bishop.  Parish priests were obliged to meet
with their bishop at least once a year.
Quality control
Although we often g
et the impression that the Christian faith had been widely accepted among the Frankish population and that everyday life was deeply tinged by religion, nothing is farther from the truth. The Frankish nobility in the Picardie and the Champagne, the heartland of the Frankish empire, did not convert to Christianity until the beginning of the seventh century, under the influence of missionaries from Ireland and Aquitaine. As a result, a hundred years later, many priests were only half-literate, hardly knew the Bible, could not recite prayers correctly and barely understood Latin. The situation was so dramatic that in 744 AD Pippin III and his co-ruler and brother Carloman decided to get some discipline into the clerical ranks and initiated a drastic reform. For a start, clerics were obliged to lead a life worthy of their function. Unfaithful priests, licentious deacons and lesser clerics were deprived of their status.
In 803 AD Charlemagne decided to introduce examination questions (interrogationes examinationi) to boost the intellectual quality of the clerical order in his realm.  These questions all had to be answered correctly before a priest was allowed to be ordained and covered very basic issues such as:
Contents of the Christian Faith 
  • Knowledge and understanding of the Creed and the Holy Father
  • Knowledge of the Canon
  • Knowledge of the Gospel
  • Knowledge of the rites of penitence, baptism, the hour of death etc.

Moreover, Charlemagne entrusted Ealhwine, or Alcuin of York together with Theodulf of Orléans, to produce a new an error-free version of the Vulgate, which ultimately became the definitive and officially promulgated Latin
version of the Bible in the Roman Catholic Church.

Pagan rituals
In the Lowlands and in Germany the Sunday had already replaced the Thursday (Thor’s day) as the traditional day of rest.  On Sundays labour was strictly forbidden and only activities for the army, food transports and burials were allowed.  However, especially in the Germanic parts of the empire old habits died slowly, not only in newly conquered parts, such as Saxonia, where paganism still was the standard creed.  Though the worship of holy trees, groves and wells were officially forbidden, pagan sacred sites were still much frequented places.  To speed up the process of Christianization, holy trees were cut down and small chapels or statues of saints were erected in their place.   
Furthermore, pagan rituals and popular superstitions were condemned, such as the wearing of amulets, augury, and animal sacrifices.  In spite of several centuries of missionary work, however, the Christian faith did not really replace the old Germanic religious practices in the Lowlands and in large parts of Germany, until the rise of the mendicant orders in the thirteenth century AD.  

Pope Gregory the Great
Organisation and funding
Pope Greg
ory the Great (590-604 AD) had taken the first step towards papal control of the church outside of Italy, by sending a mission of Benedictine monks to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons.  The pattern of church government established in England would become standard in the church: priests were supervised by bishops, bishops by archbishops, and archbishops by the pope.
The pope's clerical and secular authority was further enlarged by Gregory's successors.  With the onset of feudalism the secular power of the pope was gradually restrained and by the late ninth century AD, the church fell more and more under the control of secular lords and kings.  Charlemagne massively expanded the clerical structure and created numerous new bishoprics, whose bishops were basically appointed by the king. Pippin III and Charlemagne also introduced so-called Imperial Abbeys or Reichsabteien, whose abbots reported directly to the king and not to the pope.  This concept of parts of the empire being answerable directly to the emperor would be adopted by the later Holy Roman Empire and survive until Napoleonic times.
Churches and monasteries were funded by private donations and tithes that were levied on those with possessions, large or small.  Pippin III had introduced double-tithes (nona et decima) for those whose lived or worked on tenures owned by the church.  On the countryside, where money was not so widely used, dependent peasants often paid their annual tithes in the form of e.g. poultry, small livestock, gardening utensils, tools, staves, planks, shingles and linen.  Furthermore, they were obliged to help out during the harvest period, thresh grain and carry out long-distance transports for their lords.  In terms of taxes and other levies, the church was not only on the receiving end.  Some abbeys and convents had to provide the army with weapons and supplies, and offered their serfs as militia for the army.  Moreover, they
were obliged to provide dona annualia (annual donations), which is just a nice expression for having to pay taxes.

Schools, hostels and hospitals
arlemagne took important steps towards a system of formalised education. Monasteries and bishoprics were ordered to establish schools attached to their churches, which were visited by the children of the ruling classes, often already as of the age of five or six.  The role of such educated men was to serve in the royal administration, centrally or locally.  Later Charlemagne even encouraged bishops to establish rural schools in villages and hamlets “in complete charity”, so that some local peasants could have their children be taught to read and write. Priests were not supposed to require anything for their services, other than some “small kindness offered by the parents.”  When the educated children returned home it was hoped that they would teach the prayers that they had learned at school to their relatives and neighbours.

In a questionnaire of 803 AD Charlemagne recalled that parents were supposed to send their children to school. Throughout his reign, Charlemagne repeated in capitularies, instructions to his missi (royal envoys) and interventions at church councils, that clerics and monks should be well educated and that laymen should at least know the rudiments of their faith.  The bishops also hammered at these instructions at the diocesan level.  In exchange for the (double) tithes that the clergy received, monasteries were officially obliged to accommodate and feed travellers, pilgrims and the poor and needy, who were housed in specially built guest-houses or hostels (hospitalia).  There were hostels for the rich (counts, abbots, bishops) and for the poor.  As the Latin word already suggests, these hospitalia gradually developed into hospitals, which formerly towns had been required to provide.

Churches and monasteries were also legal no-man’s land for criminals, run-away serfs and accused freemen. To prevent abuse, however, Charlemagne ordered in 779 AD that asylum should be limited and could not be offered once the courtly procedures against the accused had started.  Inventories were made of the books in the possession of the many monasteries in the Frankish Empire.  These were filed in catalogues and so-called desiderata-lists (lists of essential books) were drawn up.  A uniform text was introduced for the celebration of Mass and uniform rules were introduced for monastic orders.  Parish priests were from now on obliged to give sermons on Sundays and public holidays and all Christians should be able to recite the Our Father by heart.

Murbach Abbey, Alsace

The Role of the Monasteries

According to canon law, abbeys should have a minimum of twelve monks or nuns, headed by an abbot or abbess. Priories were to be headed by a prior or prioress and had no abbot/abbess, either while the required number of twelve monks/nuns had not yet been reached, or for some other reason.

Monks, as a rule, were laymen.  As of the seventh century, abbots were normally ordained and deacons, if not priests, though from the eighth century onwards, the number of lay-abbots grew again as a result of the expanding feudal system.

Production centres
Monasteries were mostly located near cities, benefiting from a system of land and water communication that since Antiquity had served each major settlement.  They were more than just centres of prayer and religious contemplation. Abbeys had a landed patrimony that, from the moment of their foundation, was usually endowed with production centres.  These had already been exploited by peasants who were often, but not necessarily, slaves that had been given with it.  Their abbots were respected and powerful officials who worked for the king.  This, in combination with the presence of workshops and a skilled workforce, mills and natural resources such as saltpans or –mines, made monasteries into flourishing economic centres.

A good example of this is St. Riquier Abbey, about 40 km west of Amiens in the French Picardie. With its cooperage, mill, tannery, bakery, presses, forge and cobblers it attracted other artisans, who settled in its direct vicinity.  Thus, the area around the monastery rapidly developed into a suburban settlement, which according to a census of 831 AD counted 2,500 houses (many of them workshops) and 7,000 inhabitants. 

The practice of
commendation, by which the revenues of the community were handed over to a lay lord in return for his protection, had traditionally been an expedient for kings and emperors of rewarding their warriors with rich abbeys. During the Carolingian period the custom grew of granting these as regular heritable fiefs or benefices.

Abbots were subject to episcopal oversight, but the exorbitant claims and exactions of bishops often created a repugnance to episcopal control and as of the 6th C. more and more religious houses were made responsible to the Pope alone.  The power of the abbot was paternal but absolute, limited however by the canon law.  Obedience was seen a path to that perfection and it was a sacred duty to execute the abbot’s orders.  Even to act without his explicit orders was sometimes considered a transgression.

When a vacancy occurred, the bishop of the diocese chose the abbot out of the monks of the monastery.  The right of election, however, was transferred by jurisdiction to the monks themselves, reserving to the bishop the confirmation of the election and the benediction of the new abbot.  The abbot had to be 25 years of age and a monk of the house, unless no suitable candidate was available.  In some exceptional cases an abbot was allowed to name his own successor. The election was for life.

In abbeys exempt from the bishop’s jurisdiction, the confirmation and benediction of the new abbot was conferred to the pope, and the abbey was taxed with expenses of the new abbot’s journey to Rome.  Concerning the appointments of abbots in imperial abbeys, the emperor had the last word.

The abbot was treated with the utmost reverence by the brethren of the house.  When he appeared either in church or chapter all present rose and bowed.  His letters were received kneeling, as were those of the pope and king.  No monk might sit in his presence or leave without his permission, reflecting the hierarchical etiquette of society. The highest place in church and at table was assigned to him.  The rule of St. Benedict appointed him a separate table, but the Council of Aachen in 817 AD decreed that the abbot should dine in the refectory and be content of the ordinary fare of the monks.  These ordinances, however, were generally ineffectual to secure strictness of diet.

Arms, Armour and the Army
Although relatively little is known about the composition an equipment of the Carolingian army, a large number of recent studies have been able to shed some light on the topic.  One of the important conclusions that can be drawn is that Carolingian ivories and manuscript illuminations are a more reliable guide to contemporary armament than has hitherto been believed. 

According to Frankish custom, adulthood started at the age of twelve, at which age a Frank was handed his first weapons. Children of nobility would play with (toy) weapons from an early age, be introduced to hard riding and hard living and from puberty train with javelin, bow and sword.  Once a person was considered fit enough to actively take part in battle, he could be recruited to join the army.  In spite of the frequent military campaigns that were organised in the eighth and ninth centuries, there was no such thing as a standing army.  Only in the Marches, or frontal provinces, the defences were manned by wacta (“guards”), who were full-time local warriors. These were in fact military colonies organised in scarae (”bands”) or excariti /scariti homines.  There must also have been a small band of mounted professional soldiers gathered directly around the king, acting as a kind of Praetorian Guard and which probably consisted of young warriors living in or near the palace.

Whereas the nobles, in view of the spoils that were to be gained, were usually very motivated to go to war, the man-in-the-field was normally reluctant to leave his family, animals and crops.  For these people it was essential that they could tend to their harvests.  As a result, desertions (herisliz – “army breach”) were a common phenomenon, which was punishable by death.

Since Charlemagne realised that he could not subject everyone to conscription without paralyzing his government and disrupting the economy, obligatory personal military service was restricted in 807 AD to the owners of 3 family plots, or manses (appr. 40 hectares) or more.  In 808 AD the call was reduced to owners of 4 manses.  The lesser land-owners must group together and send one man at the common cost of 4 manses.

Pledge of fealty to the king

Army service
ry free adult male, except for clerics, was to serve in the army for a certain period each year under the royal bannus or summons, unless he had sworn before witnesses that he was invalid and hence unable to do so.  This type of obligatory military service was called ostis and ran from May to the start of the winter-period.
Local counts and bishops called up the men for service, while royal vassals, both lay and ecclesiastical, dispatched persons who lived on their domains.  Those who arrived late on the campus maii were deprived of their rations of meat and wine for as many days as they had arrived late.

Failure to attend a general call to arms in times of war (lantweri - “defence of the country”) was punishable by death. Failure to obey the less critical bannus could lead to a crippling fine called the heribannus (“army summons”), the size of which depended on the individual’s wealth, usually 60 solidi (the value of 20 mares or 30 cows), or 3 pounds expressed in gold, silver or bronze utensils. Other potential
payments were in coats of mail, clothing, horses, oxen, cows or other livestock.

Troop assemblies
e ruler had to assemble his magnates and their complete troops each year in a rather laborious procedure.  As of 755 AD these assemblies were delayed from the month of March to May to ensure sufficient new grass for horse fodder.  The month of May lent its name to the location where the troops were mustered: the campus maii (the Mayfield).  Its location depended on the circumstances and envoys were sent around the empire to inform the magnates of the exact time and place. For different campaigns different armies were summoned for different purposes, including different tribes and peoples within the empire.  Army assemblies were also a demonstration of power in the face of the enemy.

Recruits were trained in battle formations in army camps.  Milites (cavalry) would practice with lances against a dummy or against a quintain, a pole with a turning cross-piece that normally had a target on one end and a bag of sand on the other.

Required equipment
the capitularies of Charlemagne Carolingian the required minimum military equipment is described in detail. You shall come with arms and gear and all warlike equipment of clothing and victuals. Every horseman shall have shield, lance, sword, dagger, a bow and a quiver full of arrows. On your carts you have ready spades, axes, picks and iron pointed stakes, and all other things needed for the host. The rations shall be for three months, whereas clothing and weapons shall suffice for six months.”

In the Aachen capitulary issued in 802-803 AD, it is also stated that no soldier should carry a cudgel (baculum), but rather a bow.  This provision is presumably related to those free peasants that had no rich lords to decently equip them.  Infantry (homines) were not required to be as heavily armed as the cavalry.  They were to be equipped (according to the capitulary of in 802 AD) with lance, shield, bow with two strings and twelve arrows,
breastplate and a helmet.

The military elite wore a linen shirt and long breeches, often worn to the ankles and tied to the waist by a dr
awstring. The lower legs were usually cross-gartered with leather belts.  When leg-gartering went out of fashion in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, wool or linen chausses became fashionable and were worn over the breeches.  A knee-length tunic was worn over the shirt and adorned with embroidered and different coloured border and panels.  Normal soldiers wore similar garments, but of a lesser quality.  

There was no such thing as a uniform, and since soldiers were conscripted from all peoples in the realm, there were great differences in appearance.  Gascon skirmishers, for instance, are known to have worn a short round mantle, puff sleeves, baggy trousers and spurred boots.

Composition of the Army
he estimations about the size of the conscripted Carolingian army vary greatly between 30,000 and 100,000 men. Some scholars are of the opinion that the Carolingian army consisted of only 3,000 cavalry (of which 500-800 heavily armed) and 6,000-10,000 foot soldiers.  Whereas this number may be correct for a number of military campaigns, as a total number of available troops, however, this number is so low that it seems very unlikely.
Frankish soldiers, Stuttgart psalter
In his “War in the Middle Ages”, Philippe Contamine favours the high number of 100,000 (of which around 35,000 were horsemen).  He bases this number on a statistical survey, which reveals that there were at least 200 palatia (royal estates), 600 fisci (estates directly dependent of the king), 500 abbates (estates owned by a monastery, of which 200 directly depended on the king), 189 civitates or bishoprics, of which 140 at least were castra of real importance, as well as some 1,500 human settlements where royal authority was exercised directly.  This, in combination with the number of 700 pagi (districts), of which 500 had a count at their head, and the fact that Charlemagne could rely on a total of 1,800 direct vassals, is a strong indication that between 800 and 840 AD the empire could provide some 35,000 well-equipped horsemen, to whom should be added a vast mass of soldiers and auxiliaries, perhaps some 100,000 men.

It is very likely, however, that since troops were conscripted on an annual basis, the size and composition of the army varied from campaign to campaign, and that from these large potential resources only a fraction was actually raised for military expeditions.  Different tribes provided different types of troops.  After the conquest of new territories in the north and the east, the Saxons and the Slavs were used to form units of stolid infantry, the Visigoths and the Lombards were typical
providers of cavalry.
rolingian cavalry was heavily influenced by the Langobards, who after the conquest of Italy in 774 AD were absorbed into the Carolingian military system, and by the Visigoths of southern France. Though cavalry constituted a very important element, it would never become a dominant feature of Frankish troops.  Cavalry were organised in scarae and subdivided into cunei of 50-100 men. Each scara and each cuneus had its own banner.  Even though Frankish cavalry were not particularly effective horse-archers, apart from a horse, each horseman was required to possess a bow and several quivers of arrows in addition to a shield, lance, sword and scramasax (a sturdy short sword with a single-edged blade, varying in length from 40 to 80 cm).  As the cost of cavalry equipment was very high, only the king and the regional leaders, secular or ecclesiastical, could afford to support armed horsemen (see pricelist below).

Stirrups were not widely used in Europe before 800 AD and were most probably later adopted from the Avars and Magyars.  Lack of stirrups was not a major problem in horse-battles, as the form of the wood-framed saddles, with a raised back and front, provided riders with a pretty solid seat.  Stirrups are mainly important to reduce fatigue on long distances.  For those of you who have never been on horseback: riding a cantering horse without stirrups is a smarting experience, especially for men, unless you firmly brace your legs against the impact of the horse’s back.  The more fluid rhythm of the gallop, however, permits you to sit down comfortably.  As horses do not have enough stamina to gallop for a long period of time, the canter is much more frequently used gait. Hence riding over longer distances without stirrups (but with carefully braced legs!) is a tiring experience and nothing for untrained horsemen.

Heavy cavalry would attack with their shields facing the enemy and their spears across the horse’s body to make stabbing attacks.  Leaning over and wielding a sword on horseback in fights with infantry while holding a shield, however, would have been a wobbly affair without stirrups, in spite of the long spatha.  Therefore, if a horseman had lost his spear and had run out of arrows, he would probably have had to dismount to fight effectively against infantry.

Carolingian cavalry, library of St. Gall

Around 8
00 AD the Barb horse was introduced from the Barbary Coast in North Africa.  This was a sturdier race than the original Roman horse and exported in quantity to Spain with the Moorish invasion.  The Barb horse is an extremely tough race, 14 to 15 hands high, able to live on small quantities of poor food.  It is docile, courageous with a long but refined head, a straight face and long, strong legs.  It occurs in different colours, varying from dark bay, brown, chestnut to black and gray.  In Spain it was crossed with the native Spanish horses and gave rise to the Andalusian. 
In the seventeenth century King Charles II imported the Barb horse to England, where it was used to improve the speed and stamina of the early English racehorses and thus became the
forerunner of the Thoroughbred.

Equipment costs
UK reade
rs that are still familiar with their pre-1971 monetary system may find it interesting to note that the Carolingian monetary system was based on the pound of silver (libra, or L), which was divided in 20 solidi (s) and 240 denarii (d). Only denarii (deniers) were in circulation.  The other denominations were just used as nominal counting units.  Offa, King of Mercia (d. 796 AD) and a diplomatic relation of Charlemagne’s, introduced the Carolingian system in England and produced the first English silver pennies.  This system survived until the UK went metric on Decimal Day (15th February 1971).  Below an eighth 
century pricelist of various items. The prices may mean more when we compare them to the cost of other items: an ordinary riding horse would cost 3 solidi, a cow on average 2 solidi.
  • Helmet (galea): 6-7 solidi
  • Sword (spatha, 90 cm): 3 solidi
  • Richly decorated scabbard: 4 solidi
  • Greaves: 6 solidi
  • Lance+shield: 2 solidi
  • War-horse: 12 solidi (cf. ordinary riding horse: 3 solidi)
  • Cuirass or mail shirt: 12 solidi
  • Full equipment for cavalry: 40-45 solidi 
Until 805 AD a shield, lance, long and short swords were required of all cavalrymen, but not armour. As of 805 AD, however, a cuirass (brunia, or byrnie) had become compulsory, if a man did not want to lose both his status and the estates which accompanied it.
Scramasax and replica, Alamannen Museum Weingarten

Swords and scramasaxes
The sword was an expensive weapon, which came at the price of an ordinary riding horse. Its manufacture made the greatest demands on available technology and it was an essential item of equipment for the nobility.  The quality of Frankish swords was widely known to be superior to that of others, apart from Muslim swords. Many monasteries, such as St. Gall, were involved in the production of these swords.
As true welding was unknown, rods of iron were twisted together, flattened, soft-soldered and then ground down. This so-called pattern-welding was not the same technique as that used in the “damascened” blades of the Middle East. Some pattern-welded blades had harder, more carbonised metal at the centre than at the edges.  In others the reverse was true.

It is not confirmed that pattern-welded blades were stronger than those that were single-forged. However, it seems to have been easier for early medieval smiths to make good quality slag-free iron in small strips.  A really fine sword with modest decoration probably took at least 200 man-hours to make.  Its forging required 100 to 150 kg of charcoal. These costly weapons were kept rust-free in scabbards with oil-soaked fur or hair.  As swords were so expensive, only cavalry were required to have swords: a longsword spat(h)a and a sax or scramasax (semispatum).

The scramasax could perhaps be best compared to a machete and was widely used by Saxons, Franks and Langobards (who originally also had Saxon roots).  It came in many varieties and ranged from 40 cm for infantry to 80 cm for cavalry.  It had a large single-edged blade and a horn or wooden hilt.  With the narrow scramasax, both the edge and the back were curved towards the tip, whereas the broad sax had a long hilt.

The long sax often had multiple fullers and grooves and a pattern-welded blade with a long hilt.  The edge was generally straight or curved, while the back curved gently, or with a sharp angle towards the tip.

Though shields were the cheapest, they were also the most essential piece of defensive equipment available to any Carolingian soldier. Their low price suggests that shields were wooden and did not have a very long life-span. Hence, armies on campaign were usually accompanied by scuta vendetes (shield sellers).

Charlemagne ordered royal stewards (iudices) to ensure that shield makers were resident in every district.  Charters of Louis the Pious (d. 840 AD) and Louis the German (d. 876 AD) reveal that some monasteries were to send shields, lances and horses to the treasury every year.

The monasteries of St. Gall and Corbie had workshops where scutarii produced shields.  Contemporary sources show that both foot soldiers and horsemen carried a shield, as prescribed in the capitulary of 802 AD.  Though written sources give no indication as to the size, shape or construction of Frankish shields, miniatures and ivories consistently portray a single type of shield for both infantry and cavalry: round and concave and about 80 cm in diameter, thus protecting the body from the neck to the thighs.

As of the eighth century, most Frankish shields appear to have had a pointed onion-shaped sugarloaf boss, which suggests that shields were also thrust forward against an attacker.  Many of them were decorated with a series of radial arcs, which was a typical Germanic decoration feature.  It may be that the radial arcs depicted in many manuscripts represent metal strips, riveted to the wooden shields for extra strength and protection.  Most shields also seem to have had a distinct metal rim, also fastened with rivets.  Similar metal mounts have been found in the Swedish boat-graves of Valsgarde, where the shields were also reinforced with iron bands riveted to the surface.  Some smaller sized eighth-century shields have been preserved.  All of these are wooden and one of them was covered on both sides with leather.  Shields were held by a wooden or iron grip running across the centre of the rear of the boss and were also fitted with a carrying strap, enabling it to be slung across the shoulder when required.

The l
ancea was used as a thrusting weapon, not as a javelin.  As of the eighth-century, spears were often flanged with large horizontal lugs or wings beneath the blades, not so much to stop the point from penetrating too deep into the victim, as is often suggested, but rather to parry cuts by other weapons, almost as in fencing.

In this context, to protect the shaft from sideways cuts, languets extended from the blade some way down the shaft.  Lugs and languets are irrelevant to the later couched style of lance handling and therefore disappeared on
cavalry spears over time.
Unfortunately, archaeology has not furnished us with any helmets datable to the ninth century, nor are any eighth-century specimens known.  It is likely that some helmets were of the spangenhelm type, as these were current in Europe in the third to seventh century AD and fairly easy to produce. Coupland points out that during the ninth century, one-piece conical helmets were most probably not worn on the Continent. 
Frankish soldier, Stuttgart psalter

He argues that the characteristic standard Carolingian helmet developed from a type of late Roman cavalry helmet. It had a cap that tapers towards a projecting neck-guard, with an obvious rim encircling the entire helmet. The rim appears to rise to a point at the forehead, where (often) a button marks the intersection with a band running across the apex. As this button does not appear to be a standard feature of every single helmet of this type it is assumed that it is just a piece of decoration. Coupland states that the band running across the apex of the helmet may form part of a crest, which some sources depict bearing a plume as well.

The artistic interpretation of this type of helmet on Plate B1 in Nicolle’s “The Age of Charlemagne” differs greatly from the helmet described by Coupland and is severely criticized by Matthew Bennett in his review of this work in Slingshot issue 118 (March 1985).  Apparently this has not prevented Nicolle from using a similar illustration of this helmet (Plate B again) in his “The Carolingian Cavalryman” published twenty years later (2005).  The neck was protected with a separate halsberga or neck-guard. This would have either been a thick leather covering
hiding the neck and the ears, or a mail curtain hanging from the helm. 

Bows were among the cheapest of Frankish weapons and a regular piece of equipment of both Frankish infantry an
d cavalry, though the lance remained the basic Frankish weapon.  Foot archers were required to carry a spare string and 12 arrows.  A very small number of arrowheads have been found in excavations, all made of iron, some of them barbed, others rhomboid.  Contemporary illustrations show they had feathered flights.

Carolingian quivers sometimes had a domed hood which protected the arrow heads.  Quivers were presumably made of leather or of wood, though no remains have survived.  In the eighth century Alamannic foot-archers used longbows of yew which were taller than a man.  Late-Roman double-convex composite bows were no longer used, except in Italy and southern France and were replaced by simple short flat-bows.
Body Armour
al vassals possessing 12 mansi were required to have a byrnie (Brünne or brunia; also lorica).  This was either a padded leather or textile jerkin with iron rings or lamellar plates sown on, or a mail shirt.  Body armour was very expensive, and its high price (4 swords, or 4 ordinary horses) put it beyond the reach of all but the wealthy.  Common cavalry or infantry were not expected to possess body armour, but churches and monasteries apparently owned stocks of armour from which to equip their milites.  Leg-guards (bagn bergas or ocreae) were also worn. Two types of leg-armour are portayed in pictorial sources, tight scale leggings and greaves.  Hand and arms could be protected by armoured gauntlets (wanti, vambracae or manicae) or armguards (bauga). A capitulary from 803 AD prohibited the sale of armguards, along with the sale of bruniae.
Personal equipment of Charlemagne
Notker of St. Gall provides a detailed description of Frankish armament in his biography of Charlemagne. This depicts the emperor and his entire army as iron men, each clad in iron helmet, cuirass, thigh plates, greaves and gloves, carrying iron-clad shields, swords, spears and riding on iron-clad horses.  As for the latter, Nicolle remarks in his Carolingian Cavalry, p. 30, that Notker’s iron-clad horses probably were iron-coloured greys, not iron-covered animals, as the Franks did not commonly use horse-armour.

As the equipment described by Notker is grander than mentioned in other contemporary texts, some literary freedom should therefore not be excluded:  Then came in sight that man of iron, Charlemagne, topped with his iron helmet, his fists in iron gloves, his iron chest and Platonic shoulders clad in an iron cuirass. An iron spear raised high against the sky he gripped in his left hand, while in his right he held his still unconquered sword. For greater ease of riding other men keep their thighs bare of iron; Charlemagne’s were bound in plates of iron. As for his greaves, like those of all the army, they, too, were made of iron. His shield was all of iron. His horse gleamed iron-coloured and its mettle was as if of iron” (Thorpe, Notker’s biography of Charlemagne, p. 163).  Notker further notes that all the other mounted warriors wore the same armour.
Fortifications and siege weapons
Until the Viking raids in the ninth century AD, the main imperial palaces were unfortified or had symbolic defences.  Smaller royal households (curtes regiae) were sometimes fortified in late Roman manner.  They were normally square with rounded corners, smaller than the Roman limes forts on which they were modelled and had no turrets.  Regular curtes (castella) were built around 20 km apart and the local population was required to maintain/feed the occupants.

In frontier regions such as Saxony, many Frankish citadels were linked with old tribal fortifications in the newly conquered region.  West of the Weser River most were rectangular curtes, but to the east they were generally round, palisaded earthworks like smaller versions of Saxon tribal forts.

Siege weapons were commonly used in the former Roman provinces in the south of France, northern Spain and the whole of Italy. The most well-known siege-weapons were assault-ladders, battering rams, mangonels (onagers), catapults, wooden turrets on wheels and even wall-breakers, which were used for the first time during the siege of Angers in 873 AD.

Silver denier of Charlemagne
Campaigns were well-prepared and spies were widely used.  Routs and supply-dumps were prepared beforehand. Fleets or extensive wagon-trains carried supplies and were often longer than the actual army.

Military carts (basternae) were hooded and drawn by two animals. Openings between boards were closed with pitch and the inside of a cart was lined with leather, so that they could cross waterways without causing damage to the goods transported (flour, wine, salted pork, ham, planes, axes, knives, planes, augers, adzes, picks, shovels, whetstones and slings).  Each cart could transport 12 modii wine or 12 modii of flour, which in 807 AD represented a weight of over 600 kg.  It is therefore likely that, for these heavy cart-loads, horses were already equipped with the horse-collar.  Lighter baggage was carried by pack-horses.  Campaigns were planned long in advance and local authorities along the proposed lines of march were instructed to collect supplies.  Behind the troops marched an “army” of merchants and shield-sellers.

As Frankish warriors or soldiers did not receive pay, but were rewarded in terms of loot and land, discipline was an issue. Riché (Die Welt der Karolinger, p.98) states that Carolingian soldiers were not particularly disciplined in that they regularly sold their weapons to sutlers and drank too much wine.

Other sources, however, state that discipline, control and morale of the Frankish troops were generally high, though this could not be said of the train of merchants and shield-sellers that followed the army. These were widely accused of being drunken, lecherous and prone to telling dirty jokes (Nicolle, The Age of Charlemagne, p.8).  Drunkenness in the army was punished by having to drink only water until “such time that he recognises he has done wrong” (according to capitulary of 811 AD).

Plunder and pillaging was forbidden before enemy territory was reached.  However, the army was allowed to take water, fodder, firewood and straw.  Moreover, peasants inhabiting the area crossed by the army were obliged to feed (fodrum) and provide shelter (gistum) to the passing army, but each soldier was liable for any damages done to a field.  If soldiers stole any grain or goods, a peasant could file a complaint with his lord, who would act as an intermediary.

That was the theory, in any case.  In practice maintaining discipline on the march through friendly territory was probably not always that easy.  Once the army had reached enemy territory, however, the soldiers pillaged without restraint, taking cattle, corn, valuables and slaves.  They burned, killed and destroyed everything.  Only church buildings were spared, as had been strictly ordered by Charlemagne.

When the Avars were defeated and practically annihilated in 790 AD, the loot consisting of gold, silver and garments filled fifteen cart-loads, each drawn by spans of four oxen.  Destructions in Aquitaine, Bretagne, Saxony, Septimania and many other regions were such that the consequences were noticeable for ages afterwards.  Though campaigns normally ended at the start of winter, some campaigns had to be extended, especially when sieges were involved. The siege of Barcelona lasted six months, that of Pavia nine months.

Not much is known about the tactics of the Carolingian armies, apart from the fact that there was a steady
increase in the successful tactical use of cavalry. Infantry were closely associated or attached to cavalry units, comparable to the Roman cohortes equitataeIn various campaigns, e.g. the one in 774 AD against the Langobards, Charlemagne’s armies often attacked along 2 or more axes.  Furthermore, speed and night marches were characteristic, whereas archery was primarily left to foot-soldiers.

Sources and further Reading

  • Annales regni francorum  unde ab a.741 usque ad a. 829 AD qui dicuntur annales laurissenses maiores et Einhardi, ed. F. Kurze, MGH SRG 6 (Hannover 1896)
  • Regesta Chronologico-Diplomatica Karolorum, Die Urkunden sämmtlicher Karolinger, Dr. Johann Friedrich Böhmer, Franz Varrentrapp, Frankfurt am Main, 1833
  • Borst, Arno, Computus, Deutsche Taschenbuch Verlag, München, 1999
  • Braunfels, Wolfgang, Karl der Große, Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Hamburg 1996
  • Contamine, Philippe, War in the Middle Ages, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford 1984
  • Coupland, Simon, Carolingian Arms and Armor in the Ninth Century, in Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies v. 21 (1990)
  • Feffer, Laure-Charlotte, Pierre Forni & Patick Périn, De Clovis à Charlemagne, Les jours de l`Histoire, Casterman 1989
  • Gimpel, Jean, The Medieval Machine, the Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages, Penguin Books, New York, 1977
  • Guisepi, Robert, The Church In The Early Middle Ages, 1992,
  • Grant, Michael, Die Welt des Frühen Mittealters, Jan Thorbecke Verlag, Ostfildern, 2003
  • Hägermann, Dieter, Karl der Grosse, Biographie, List Taschenbuch, 2003
  • Le Jan, Régine, Les Mérovingiens, Que sais-je?, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 2006
  • McKitterick, Rosamund, Charlemagne, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2008
  • Nicolle, David, The Age of Charlemagne, Men-at-Arms Series Nr. 150, Osprey Publishing, 1984
  • Nicolle, David, Carolingian Cavalryman AD 768-987, Warrior Series Nr. 96, Osprey Publishing 2005
  • Périn, Patrick & Pierre Forni, Au temps des royaumes barbares…, La Vie Privée des Hommes, Hachette, Paris, 1984
  • Riché, Pierre, Die Welt der Karolinger, Philipp Reclam jun. Stuttgart, 1999 (original title “La Vie quotidienne dans l’empire Carolingien”, Hachette, 1963)
  • Riché, Pierre, The Carolingians, a Family who forged Europe, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia PA,1993 (original title “Les Carolingiens, une famille qui fit l’Europe”, Hachette, 1983)
  • Silver, Caroline, Guide to the Horses of the World, Elsevier Publishing Projects, Lausanne, 1976
  • Thorpe, Lewis, Einhard and Notker the Stammerer, Two Lives of Charlemagne, Penguin Classics, 1969
  • Trapp, Wolfgang, Kleines Handbuch der Maße, Zahlen, Gewichte und der Zeitrechnung,Philipp Reclam jun. Stuttgart, 2001
  • Verhulst, Adriaan, The Carolingian Economy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2002

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