Three Sources on the Ravages of the Northmen in Frankland, c. 843 - 912
[Ogg Introduction]: Below are a few passages taken from the Annals of St. Bertin,
the poem of Abbo on the siege of Paris, and the Chronicle of St. Denis, which show
something of the character of the Northmen's part in early French history, first as mere
invaders and afterwards as permanent settlers.
From The Annals of St. Bertin,
[Text in Monumenta Germaniae Historica Scriptores, (Pertz ed.), Vol. I, pp.
843 A.D. 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 island [the
isle of Rhé, near La Rochelle, north of the mouth of the Garonne], 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 Galicia [in
Northern Spain] and perished, part of them by the attacks of the crossbowmen 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.
845. then the other, came without meeting any
resistance to Paris. Charles [the Bald] 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. The Saxons prepared to meet him, gave battle, and
with the aid of our Lord Jesus Christ won the victory. The Northmen returned down the
Seine and coming to the ocean pillaged, destroyed, and burned all the regions along the
846. The Danish pirates landed in Frisia. 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
Britons and won three victories. Noménoé [a chief of the Britons], although defeated, at
length succeeded in buying them off with presents and getting them out of his country.
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 château of Blois 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, had gathered soldiers and ships to meet them; so they abandoned their design
and returned to the lower Loire, though the following year  they ascended it anew to
the city of Angers.
855. They left their ships behind and undertook to go overland to the city of
Poitiers; but the Aquitanians came to meet them and defeated them, so that not more than
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 ruining 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. 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.
From 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 las France, Vol.
VIII, pp. 4-26].
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, Siegfried, who was then
king only in name 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. The bishop replied to
Siegfried, "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?" Siegfried 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.
In the morning the Northmen, boarding their ships, approached the tower and attacked it
[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]. 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,
and the Count Ragenar distinguished themselves for bravery; likewise the courageous Abbot
Ebolus, 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 bays
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. . . .
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, to implore help for the stricken city. 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.]
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; 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. Then Charles returned, destined to an early death.
From The Chronicle of St. Denis Based on Dudo and William
of Jumièges [Vol. III, p. 105].
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 anyone, 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, 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.
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.
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.
From: Frederic Austin Ogg, ed., A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents
Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the German Invasions to the
Renaissance, (New York, 1907, reprinted by Cooper Square Publishers (New York), 1972),
Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by
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© Paul Halsall, August 1998