Did Charlemagne kill hundreds of Saxon men, women and children in a field?

Jan 2013
4
Did Charlemagne ever have his soldiers put to death by sword, hundreds of Saxon men, women and children, in a field, when they refused to be baptized?

I read that years ago, in more than one place, and have often cited it as fact.

Today I cannot find where such a thing happened. Charlemagne did forcibly convert the Saxons to Christianity. At one point the penalty for refusing to be baptized was death. There was an incident where he had 4500 male warriors who had taken part in a revolt and then surrendered beheaded in a field, specifically for treason. This took place at Verdun and became legend. Religion and national identity seem to have been hopelessly confused in the minds of both sides, and Charlemagne's strategy of attacking Saxon religion backfired.

I am looking for anything about hundreds of people who included women and children rounded up in a field, told to be baptized, and then put to death when they refused.

Thanks!

Yours,
Dora Smith
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
Did Charlemagne ever have his soldiers put to death by sword, hundreds of Saxon men, women and children, in a field, when they refused to be baptized?

I read that years ago, in more than one place, and have often cited it as fact.

Today I cannot find where such a thing happened. Charlemagne did forcibly convert the Saxons to Christianity. At one point the penalty for refusing to be baptized was death. There was an incident where he had 4500 male warriors who had taken part in a revolt and then surrendered beheaded in a field, specifically for treason. This took place at Verdun and became legend. Religion and national identity seem to have been hopelessly confused in the minds of both sides, and Charlemagne's strategy of attacking Saxon religion backfired.

I am looking for anything about hundreds of people who included women and children rounded up in a field, told to be baptized, and then put to death when they refused.

Thanks!

Yours,
Dora Smith
I don't know of any case where it was reported Chalemagne slaughtered women oe children, or even that he sold them in slavery. Since the incidence with the 4500 Saxon warriors being executed is widely repeated, I kind of doubt any such incidence with women and children existed, or it too would have been wildly reported to.

The Saxon were often pirates and engaged in raids, much like the later Vikings. The pagan religion didn't exactly promote peaceful behaviour among the Saxons, Charlemagne might have felt that converting the Saxons was important for the safety of his empire. I don't think Charlemagne began forcible conversions until after the Saxons killed the priest and missionaries he had left. As I said, Saxons were not exactly a peace loving people.

The conversion of the Saxons was important in making the Saxons part of the growing new civilization in Europe. Had they remained outside and unconverted, they might have become as destructive as the Vikings would be later. As it turns out, just a 100 years the Saxons were leading the defense of Europe against the Magyars, ancenstors of modern Hungarians, and by defeating them resulting in the Hungarians inclusion in European society. Had neither the Saxons nor the Hungarians been converted, they would have remained outside European society.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,485
Dispargum
Some of the accounts of the Verden Massacre (in Germany, not Verdun in France) say 4,500 Saxons without reference to who they were (men, women, children?) Other interpretations insist these 4,500 were all warriors, ie, men. It looks like someone read 4,500 Saxons and just assumed they were a cross section of Saxon society representing both sexes and all ages. I think the modern concensus is that they were all military aged men.
 

Dreamhunter

Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
7,482
Malaysia
One warlike tribe massacring another, a neighbouring one. Wonder what wud hv happened if the Vikings had met the Franks in the same era of history, and if the Franks wud hv had it in them to submit & civilise the Vikings.
 
Jan 2013
4
Thanks!

It did occur to me that maybe someone interpreted the story too widely.

Honestly, I really doubt that failure to convert the Saxons by force would have kept them from integrating into the new world order at a later time. In fact, much of the war was on account of the treatment they got from Charlemagne.

I think that the Saxons' religions showed signs of admixture with Roman and Christian religion. Those missionaries were very aggressive and lack of war would not have slowed down their efforts. All over the Germanic world people were drawn to the Christian mythology. And it seems like trade would have drawn them in. Celtic culture didn't need World War III to spread, and it spread via the trade routes!

The Frisians were pirates of the North sea region in their time. So were the Vikings, and no group was ever a greater nuisance or threat to stability. Neither group was forcibly converted through war. Vikings settled down and mingled with the local populations, setting up a mighty trade empire. The Frisians became traders!
 
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johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,686
Cornwall
I wouldn't get too outraged. It's not as if massacres weren't pretty common anytime before the modern era (and sometimes after).

Because of his saintly reputation, thanks to contemporary writers, there's a tendency to think he was an all round good guy.

But as Machiavelli said about King Ferdinand - you don't make massive empires without being ruthless and cruel. Or something like that
 

Dreamhunter

Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
7,482
Malaysia
One warlike tribe massacring another, a neighbouring one. Wonder what wud hv happened if the Vikings had met the Franks in the same era of history, and if the Franks wud hv had it in them to submit & civilise the Vikings.
LOL. Only now I remember, yep, the Vikings did meet the Franks. They in fact interacted between them, and the Normans were the result of that interaction.
 

Theodoric

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
2,931
Yötebory Sveriya
LOL. Only now I remember, yep, the Vikings did meet the Franks. They in fact interacted between them, and the Normans were the result of that interaction.
It's actually fairly fascinating the effect the Viking raids through Europe had.

In short, the Vikings took their longships down the unfortified rivers, into the lakes (they were small enough to carry over land), and raided many villages and poorly defended estates. This resulted in a large change in culture, more fortifications, and heavily armed knights. They began fortifying the rivers as well. One of the initiatives that they took was granting Rollo the Country of Rouen, and then later he acquired the Duchy of Normandy which, expanded the number of counties he had lordship over.

The knights eventually realized they could flex their muscles themselves, and became a threat to the people as great or greater than the Vikings. This is where the idea of chivalry and chivalrous heroes came in (like Lancelot, an English hero imported from the Normans), but the largest initiative was the crusades - essentially sending all of these knights to become another country's problems; and for the potential benefit of the Church.

So raiders from Scandinavia plundering the coast of France caused one of the largest of the medieval wars way down in Jerusalem, the Levant, and Anatolia.