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European Kingdoms

Central Europe


Saxon March (Saxony)
AD 775 - c.832

The Saxon March was formed in AD 775 out of the great swathe of territory which was controlled by the Saxons in what is now northern Germany (a 'march' being a border territory, just like that of Mercia in England). Following the gradual fading and collapse of the Roman empire, the Saxons had become relatively important in the region.

Their tribal collective (and territory) was probably swelled by the absorption of other tribes, such as the Germanic Chauci, the Cherusci who were so important in AD 9, and lesser tribes such as the Angrivarii, Dulgubnii, and Warini. Together they formed a large coalition in the territory between modern Berlin and the northern Frisian coast in what became known to émigré Saxons as Old Saxony.

However, unlike the similar Bavarian confederation, the Saxons were not politically united. Their independent edhelingi (nobles) lived on rural lands in forest clearings while they dominated the frilingi (freemen), lazzi (half-free), and unfree members of Saxon society. Raids into the rich Frankish kingdom were commonplace, often triggering punitive expeditions by Charlemagne between 772-804, with each one biting a little deeper into the heart of Old Saxony and doing yet more damage in the way of massacres, Christian conversions, and deportations.

The formal creation of the Saxon March in 775 was a Frankish attempt to place some framework of order on the region, as well as perhaps officially defining its borders. Internally, though, all it did was rally resistance against the Franks under a single leadership and a degree of unity.

Widukind (Withukund or Wittekind, sometimes nicknamed 'the Great') succeeded longer than any other leader in holding together a majority of Saxon chieftains in armed resistance against the Franks. Ultimately, internal feuding led to his capitulation, and around twenty years later the Saxons would finally be subdued, although only ever to an extent. Their territory and numbers were simply too large to entirely control from outside.


(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Oxford History of England: The English Settlements, J N L Meyers, from The Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton, from Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians 751-987, R McKitterick (1983), from The Anglo-Saxon Age c.400-1042, D J V Fisher, from The Ethnology of Germany Part 3: The Migration of the Saxons, Henry H Howorth (Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol 7, 1878), from The History of the Franks, Volume II, Gregory of Tours (O M Dalton, Trans, 1967), from Wulf and Eadwacer, from From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, Thomas F X Noble, from the Codex Gothanus, Lupus Servatus (commissioned by Eberhard of Friuli), from Res Gestae, Ammianus Marcellinus, and from External Links: The Latin Library, and the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, and the Medieval Sourcebook: Gregory of Tours (539-594): History of the Franks: Books I-X (Fordham University), and Encyclopaedia Britannica.)

fl c.777 - 785

Widukind / Withukund 'the Great'

Son of Wernicke. Chief leader in 'Old Saxony'.

777 - 778

Widukind is first mentioned by the Frankish Annals when he fails to attend Charlemagne's court at Paderborn alongside his fellow Saxon nobles. Instead he is visiting one 'Sigfred, king of the Danes' - probably Sigurd, son of the present king.

In 778, and despite their peace agreement of 775, the Angrivarii invade the Frankish Rhineland while Charlemagne is busy in the south, dealing with events in Iberia, although this appears to be their last direct involvement in affairs.

Charlemagne unified all the Frankish states under one ruler and created an empire which stretched deep into modern Germany, something the Romans had never managed - but this vast domain was too big to endure long as a single entity after his death


The Annalista Saxo records that Charlemagne establishes the bishoprics of Bremen, Halberstadt, Hildesheim, Verden, Paderborn, Minden, Münster, and Osnabrück in Saxony.

782 - 784

The Saxon Wars begin against the Carolingian empire when Widukind succeeds (probably after some years of trying) in securing the support of the other Saxon nobles in throwing off Frankish domination. His eventual victory is one of Charlemagne's toughest conquests, taking a total of twenty-seven years.

The fighting, by all accounts, is brutal, with little restraint or humanity being shown by either side. Saxon paganism, toughness, and ruthlessness perhaps foreshadows the future ferocity of their northern cousins, the Vikings. The mass execution of Saxons at Verdun in 782 has to be one of Charlemagne's darkest hours.


The Saxons have secured help from the Frisians, but even so Charlemagne drives Widukind and his forces back into the heartland of their territory. Widukind and his colleague or co-leader, Abo, are forced into a surrender in return for clemency and accepting Christianity.

Charlemagne at Paderborn
Charlemagne received the surrender of the Saxons at Paderborn in 785 after two hard years of fighting against a people who were determined to retain their independence

Both are baptised at Attigny along with many of their people, although Widukind is imprisoned in a monastery for the rest of his life. Even so, he later becomes an almost mythological hero figure to many Germanic rulers, including the Saxon Ottonians and Billungs, and Matilda, wife to Henry I of England, all of whom claim him as an ancestor.

fl c.785 - 811

Abo / Abi

Successor to or colleague of Widukind. 'Count' in 811.

791 - 804

Pepin of Italy marches a Lombard army into the Drava valley to ravage Pannonia, with Duke Eric of Friuli assisting him. This strike is a diversionary tactic so that Charlemagne is able to take his own forces along the Danube into Avar territory. He suffers the loss of most of his army's horses to an equine epidemic during the summer of 791, and some of his more recently-acquired subjects rebel.

In 792 Charlemagne breaks off from his campaign to handle such a revolt by the Saxons, but Pepin and Eric continue to attack the Avars, taking their capital twice. The Avars are forced to submit in 796. The Saxon revolt, however, rumbles on until 803/4.

804 - c.832

The Saxon Wars come to an end with the Carolingian empire annexing the Saxons state (and it virtually is a state by now). The Franks now move northwards, finding themselves on the border with the Danes, who immediately respond to their threat by erecting defensive works.

Map of the Frankish Empire in AD 800
The Frankish empire under the command of the Carolingian king, Charlemagne, greatly expanded its borders eastwards (click or tap on map to view full sized)

In Saxony itself the Frankish local territorial administration unit, the pagus (which itself is a descendant of Roman organisation) is presumably introduced only after a certain degree of internal stability is achieved following the peace of 803/4.

The '-gau' suffix which is applied to the names of local administrative units appears in imperial diplomas from the mid-ninth century. It is unlikely that this is a purely Saxon term as it is used in relation to pagi which are located in all of the original German provinces. The first duke of an official duchy of Saxony is appointed no later than 832.

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