Carolingian society was profoundly militarised, not only the aristocracy and royalty but also the Church. The west Frankish King Charles the Bald (840–77) has been harshly criticised by contemporaries and some modern historians for what is perceived as his lack of military success against the Viking incursions. It is the contention of this chapter that this judgement is misguided, and has been unconsciously shaped by the militarised mindset of the time. When these blinkers are removed and Charles’ reign re-examined, the king’s resourcefulness, ability and determination in effectively ridding his kingdom of the Scandinavians is revealed.
This chapter aims to show profound changes in the military burial culture between the fourth and early sixth centuries in various regions of the western empire. The focus here is on aspects of the external grave design and the variance of the equipment with weapons and clothing components through the period under consideration. Fundamentally, there is a difference between the standardised burials of the fourth century, which communicate the military affiliation of the deceased indirectly through clothing and gravestones. By contrast, the graves of the fifth and early sixth centuries allude directly to military capacities and a military participation of large parts of the population by furnishing the burial extensively with grading combinations of weaponry, e.g. spatha, shield and lance.
The conclusion to this volume opens by discussing how one uses the definitions of militarisation that have been offered in the past and asks whether there really was a process of militarisation implicit in the change from the Roman to post-Roman periods. It then asks to what extent changes in the evidence refer to straightforward increases or decreases in the level of militarisation rather than the relative importance of martial referents in contemporary politics. On that basis, it develops the argument that we are better off thinking of militarisation in terms of discourses than process. We can employ the checklists given in definitions of militarisation as headings under which we can discuss how the martial or the military was employed in – for example – politics, religious debate or social competition.
Traditionally, it has been the wont of scholars to begin considerations of Anglo-Saxon military history with the arrival of the Vikings at the end of the eighth century, with the long stretch of time before this being repeatedly ignored or generalised. As a result, there are few investigations of the pre-Viking enemy and how that enemy was constructed using the notions of othering and outgroups. This chapter considers this issue, particularly in relation to the Northumbrian and Mercian interactions with the Picts, Welsh, British and, importantly, each other. Overall, this chapter demonstrates that violence and warfare in a militarised society were not simply recorded but were conditioned and presented by ideas of internal identity and group cohesion. This was itself a reflection of the process of militarisation that reinforced the importance of military success in defining a people or kingdom.
The late ninth-century rule of King Alfred the Great of Wessex (r. 871–99) is often seen as a formative period in the development of military institutions in the wider English kingdom that emerged in the tenth and eleventh centuries. This chapter is an attempt to review the limited surviving evidence from Alfred’s reign for military organisation, placing it into the context of the observable evidence for the effects of such military organisation, both immediately after the reign of Alfred and in the generations leading up to the Norman Conquest of 1066. Such ‘dark matter’ may be revealing of a process of militarisation with significant social and political consequences for the organisation of the pre-Conquest English kingdom.
The societies of ancient Europe underwent a continual process of militarisation, and this would come to be a defining characteristic of the early Middle Ages. The process was neither linear nor mono-causal, but it affected society as a whole, encompassing features like the lack of demarcation between the military and civil spheres of the population, the significance attributed to weapons beyond their military function and the wide recognition of martial values. This volume assembles twenty chapters that use both written and archaeological evidence to explore the phenomenon of militarisation and its impact on the development of the societies of early medieval Europe. The interdisciplinary investigations break new ground and will be essential reading for scholars and students of related fields, as well as non-specialists with an interest in early medieval history.
This chapter reconsiders the traditional interpretation whereby the use of ‘warrior’ images on early medieval bronze-foils in post-Roman Western Europe indicates the spread of ‘Germanic’ military ideas. The chapter analyses how the historiographical concept of Gefolgschaft, developed and misused between middle of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in German medieval studies, influenced modern archaeological interpretations of early medieval ‘military’ imagery. The chapter suggests that the persistent and uncritical use of Gefolgschaft has created a tendency among archaeologists to interpret depictions of armed figures as an indicator that the military organisation of Post-Roman Western Europe was allegedly based on ‘heroic’ warfare, aristocratic retinues and non-Christian codes of loyalty. By reconsidering the diversity of the images’ archaeological contexts and by retracing the ideological distortion of Gefolgschaft in the first half of the twentieth century, the chapter argues that the ‘warrior’ images on the embossed foils from Sutton Hoo, Vendel, Valsgärde and other locations cannot be taken as reflections of a uniform ‘Germanic’ military culture.
Shifting the analysis away from questions of ethnicity and identity, this chapter explores the interaction between a professional military force and a largely demilitarised civilian population by focusing on organisational as well as operational aspects in peace time. Soldiers of the field army were separated from the civilians by their very profession as defined by Huntington, especially their corporateness. This worked on many levels: functionally (exclusive occupation with warfare), habitually (clothing, bearing arms), legally (own jurisdiction), perhaps even linguistically (lingua nostra), and also – but not predominantly so – ethnically (Gothus). This multi-level distinction from the civilian world worked especially well in the Italian heartland, where the civilians did not participate in any kind of military action and had little to no contact with the military; the few contacts that occurred only highlighted the stark differences between these two groups. However, the ‘grand strategy’ of Theoderic would require a much stronger interaction between the troops and civilians in the border regions, as he (and his field army) usually exerted very little direct influence there, and thus some degree of militarisation of the civilian population was to be expected.
Lombards and warfare between representation and reality
Greek and Roman authors and migration sagas describe the ancient Lombards as a warrior, proud and valiant people. But in the eighth century they were defeated by the Franks almost without a fight. This difference between historical reality and the representation of ancient sources turns on the fact that the Lombards of the eighth century had only their name in common with those of the first to the sixth centuries. For two centuries in Italy they had fought only small wars and could not therefore oppose the military force of the Franks, experienced in the continuous wars on the eastern border of the kingdom. The sole exception was the duchy of Friuli, the only one that opposed the Franks with weapons. As for the saga, written in Italy in the seventh century, it does not represent historical reality, but is an ideal representation of the values of the aristocracy and the Lombard court.
The perception of religious motives of warfare against non-Christian enemies in ninth-century chronicles
Within the frame of the concept of militarisation during the early Middle Ages, this chapter is focused on the hardly deniable (ideological) Christianisation of warfare by inquiring into the question of whether early medieval wars were perceived as ‘religious’ or ‘holy’ wars (as is often assumed, but more often rejected by modern research for the times before the Crusades). When we define ‘religious war’ as a war not only accompanied by religious actions or/and interpreted in theological terms – which we find throughout the period equally in wars between Christians – but in addition waged for religious motives (and thus only possible for wars against non-Christian enemies), chroniclers of the ninth century do indeed testify to such motives, although rather rarely, as two case studies on the defence of the Viking attacks in the Frankish kingdoms and the very early ‘reconquista’ in the Asturian chronicles demonstrate. In most cases, the religious description and interpretation of warfare against non-Christians does not differ from intra-Christian wars. Every war is religiously permeated, whereas ‘holy war’ is an artificial modern characterisation.