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Widukind (c. 925 - after 973):

The Battle of Lechfeld, 955, from Deeds of the Saxons, or Three Books of Annals

The Battle of Lechfeld was a series of military engagements over the course of three days from 10–12 August 955 in which the Kingdom of Germany, led by King Otto I the Great, annihilated the Hungarian army led by Harka Bulcsú and the chieftains Lél and Súr. With the German victory, further invasions by the Magyars into Latin Europe were ended.

The Hungarians invaded the Duchy of Bavaria in late June or early July 955 with 8,000–10,000 horse archers, infantry, and siege engines, intending to draw the main German army, under Otto I, into battle in the open field and destroy it. ... The German heavy cavalry defeated the lightly armed and armored Hungarians in close combat, but the latter retreated in good order. Otto I did not pursue, returning to Augsburg for the night and sending out messengers to order all local German forces to hold the river crossings in Eastern Bavaria and prevent the Hungarians from returning to their homeland. On 11 and 12 August, the Hungarian defeat was transformed into disaster, as heavy rainfall and flooding slowed the retreating Hungarians and allowed German troops to hunt them down and kill them all. The Hungarian leaders were captured, taken to Augsburg and hanged.

The German victory preserved the Kingdom of Germany and halted nomad incursions into Western Europe for good. Otto I was proclaimed emperor and father of the fatherland by his army after the victory and he went on to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 962 largely on the basis of his strengthened position after the Battle of Lechfeld. [Wikipedia]


[p 389] Returning to Saxony about the Kalends of July [July 1, 955] he met some envoys of the Hungarians; who though they claimed to be visiting him by reason of their ancient fealty and favor, were really, as it seemed to many, spying out the outcome of the civil war. He kept them with him for sevt-ral days, and then sent them back with some trifling gifts; and during this time he heard from his [p. 390] brother, the duke of Bavaria, through some envoys, to this effect: "Behold, the Hungarians are infiltrating across your borders in scattered groups, and are planning to wage war upon you". When he heard this the king began to march against his enemies, just as if he had sustained no hard­ship in the war just concluded, taking with him only a few of his Saxons, for the reason that we was still waging war on the Slays. When the camp was set up in the vicinity of Augsburg there marched into it an army of both Franks and Bavarians; Duke Conrad also came into the camp with a large band of horsemen, and at his coming the soldiers' morale was improved, for they thought that now the battle would not be long delayed. For he was by nature of a bold temperament, and what is rare among bold men, was a man of sound judgment, and while both on foot and on horseback he was an invincible fighter, when he went out against the enemy, he was also beloved by his comrades both at home and in the field. And so from the ranks of each army, the other army could be seen not fpr away. After a fast had been observed in the camp the order was given that on the following day [Aug. 9] all should be ready for battle. Arising at early dawn, after the pax had been [p. 391] tendered and received, and after each one had sworn with an oath to devote himself, first to his leader, and then to his companion-in-arms, they marched out of the camp with banners flying, in number about eight legions. The army was led through difficult and rugged terrain, not to give the enemy a chance to attack their ranks with arrows, of which they make very good use, and took advantage of the cover afforded by some trees. The first, second, and third legions were composed of Bavarians, and were led by the officers of Duke Henry; for he himself was not with the army because he had been struck down by a malady of the body which later on killed him. The Franks made up the fourth legion, whose leader and commander was Duke Conrad. In the fifth legion, which was the largest, and which was called the Royal Legion, was the king himself, orotected by thousands of soldiers chosen from the whole army, and guarded by agile youth; in front of him was borne the Angel in whose power is victory, and he was surrounded by a dense column of soldiery. The sixth and seventh legions were made up of Suabians, whose leader was Burdhard who married the daughter of the king's brother. In the eighth legion were a thousand chosen soldiers, men skilled in arms [p. 392] rather than men who trusted to good fortune; in this legion also were all the field packs and the baggage trains, as being the safest place, since this legion constituted the rear ranks. But the affair turned out otherwise than had been expected; for the Hungarians did not delay but crossed the Lech River and surrounded our army and began to harass the rear legion with their arrows; they made an attack with great noise and fury, and while some of our men were slain or taken, they captured our baggage trains and compelled the rest of the soldiers of that legion to flee. In the same manner they attacked the seventh and sixth legions, and after very many men had been slain, forced them to flee. When intelligence of this was brought to the king, that the battle was going adversely, and that behind him even the rearmost ranks were in danger, he sent the duke with the fourth legion, who recovered the prisoners, snatched up the booty, and broke up the ranks of the enemy. When these mercenary ranks of the enemy had been destroyed on all sides, Duke Conrad returned to the king bearing the standards of victory; and this was the more wonderful because whereas slow-moving, veteran soldiers are accustomed to victory and its glory, he had won the victory with a new army, and one that was almost ignorant [p.393] of warfare.


While these things were going on in Bavaria, a different sort of battle was being waged by Count Theodoric against the barbarians. For on one occasion he tried to capture a certain one of their cities and followed his adversaries right up to the entrance to the gates, forced them behind the walls, then captured and burnt the barbican, and all those who were outside the walls were captur,- ed or slain. After the fire had burnt out, he returned and half of the army crossed over a marsh which was near the city, whereupon the Slays, observing that our men were com-oressed into a narrow soace on account of the difficulty of the terrain, and_ that we did not have any military sun-olies nor way of escape, turned around and fell upon our rear ranks with great clamor. Upwards of fifty of they were slain, and our men made a lamentable flight.

Source: Widukind (c. 925 - after 973): The Battle of Lechfeld, 955, from Deeds of the Saxons, or Three Books of Annals, trans. Raymund F. Wood, The Three Books of the Deeds of the Saxons, unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1949, pp. 389-393.

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© Paul Halsall, January 2023
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