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Medieval Sourcebook:
Annals of Xanten, 845-853

The Mid-Ninth century is often taken as the low point of Western European civilization. The Annals of the Abbey of Xanten, (near the mouth of the River Rhine), express the situation.


Twice in the canton of Worms there was an earthquake; the first in the night following Palm Sunday, the second in the holy night of Christ's resurrection. In the same year the heathen broke in upon the Christians at many points, but more than twelve thousand of then were killed by the Frisians. Another party of invaders devastated Gaul; of these more than six hundred men perished. Yet owing to his indolence, Charles [the Bald, the rule of France] agreed to give them many thousands of pounds of gold and silver if they would leave Gaul, and this they did. Nevertheless the cloisters of the most of the saints were destroyed, and many of the Christians were lead away captive.


According to their custom the Northmen plundered eastern and western Frisia and burned down the town of Dordrecht, with two other villages, before the eyes of Lothair [The Emperor], who was then in the castle of Nimwegen, but could not punish the crime. The Northmen, with their boast filled with immense booty, including both men and goods, returned to their own country.

At this same time, as no one can mention or hear without great sadness, the mother of all the churches, the basilica of the apostle Peter, was taken and plundered by the Moors, or Saracens, who had already occupied the region of Beneventum. The Saracens, moreover, slaughtered all the Christians whom they found outside the walls of Rome, either within or without this church. They also carried men and women away prisoners. They tore down, among many others, the altar of the blessed Peter, and their crimes from day to day bring sorrow to Christians. Pope Sergius departed life this year.


After the death of Sergius no mention of the apostolic see has come in any way to our ears.


On the fourth of February, towards evening, it lightened and there was thunder heard. The heathen, as was their custom, inflicted injury on the Christians.


While King Louis [Ludwig, the King of Germany] was ill his army of Bavaria took its way against the Bohemians. Many of these were killed and the remainder withdrew, much humiliated, into their own country. The heathen from the North wrought havoc in Christendom as usual and grew greater in strength, but it is revolting to say more of this matter.


On January 1st of that season, in the octave of the Lord, towards evening, a great deal of thunder was heard and a mighty flash of lightening seen; and an overflow of water afflicted the human race during this winter. In the following summer an all to great heat of the sun burned the earth. Leo, pope of the apostolic see, an extraordinary man, built a fortification round the church of St. Peter. The Moors, however, devastated here and there the coast towns in Italy…


The steel of the heathen glistened; excessive heat; a famine followed. There was not enough fodder for the animals…..


A great famine in Saxony so that many were forced to live on horse meat.

From James Harvey Robinson, ed., Readings in European History: Vol. I: (Boston:: Ginn and co., 1904), 158-161, Reprinted in Leon Bernard and Theodore B. Hodges, eds. Readings in European History, (New York: Macmillan, 1958), 95-96.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall June 1997
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