Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Poetry corner - Das Ludwigslied

Looking for a historical battle for Hail Caesar to use my Dark Ages armies with I struggled to find an engagement with any real detail outside of the English speaking world. No surprise perhaps; but I did eventually pull up the battle of Saucourt En Vimeu of 881ad. Moreover this battle is supported (to a point) by a rare piece of narrative poetry from the ninth century.

However, on the net at least, it was only available translated to German so with the aid of Babel Fish, I made a stab at the job myself. Thereafter I polished it up and summarised it as best I could. The translation is at times literal, and not always clear, but then it is third hand at least, and with only a little tinkering on my part:

I know a king: Ludwig is his name, [who] serves God with whole heart. I am certain, he it him will be worth. He [already] lost the father in recent years, but received it immediately replacement: The gentleman took care of its and became its educator.

Ludwig, a pious man, had lost his father but became king in his stead.

Here he transferred a crew, [imperious] attendants, to him [gave him] in the franc country the throne. Still for a long time he may enjoy of these gifts! - It divided the rule soon with Karl man, its brother, the sum of the joys. When was carried out, God wanted to examine it,

Ludwig divided rule of the empire with his brother

Whether it would be able to exist young [still] on years, dangers. He let heaths come over lake, in order to remind the people of the francs of its sins because of. The one were lost immediately, the others [to the eternal welfare] were chosen. Hard punishment had to now suffer, who had lived up to then in sins.

Heaven knows? Sounds like travails upon the people

That before times a thief, began too chamfered: thus it saved and became still another good humans. The one was a cheat, the other one a robber, third lived without each control. But also it freed itself from this fault by penalty. - The king was in the distance, which was realm from confusions shaken.

Whilst the cat’s away, the mice will play; Raiders or corrupt leaders ravage the lands
Fully anger was there the holy Christ. Blows, the realm had to pay for! But God was [also] fully pitying, it knew the dangerous situation completely, and so it ordered Ludwig, without riding a hesitating there: " Ludwig, my king, help you to mean people! The Normannen harassed." it so much;

Raiders from the North come, God sends Ludwig to sort them out

There Ludwig answered: " [Sire], I will do, if death does not prevent me from it, everything, what you commandest." It was recommended, raised that war banners to its God and ridden against the Normannen in the franc country. There thanked God, which had expected it.

Ludwig accedes to god’s wishes and raises the army

All spoke: "[Sire], we wait [already so] for a long time for [you]." In a loud voice however Ludwig said to that to property: " You, you [close] friends my combat companions! God sent and ordered themselves me, if it were you an assistance to fight here

Ludwig’s troops swear fealty and he answers with loyalty to god’s cause

Not to preserve me, until I would save you. Now it is my desire that all follow me, which in God grace. Our terrestrial it is limited after the will of the holy Christ. If it wants our death, then it has in addition power. Who achieves God will courageously here,

If god wants us to die so be it, save me only if I save you first

That I will be worth it, if he gets over living the fight. It remains for its relatives however in the fight, [I repay it]. Whereupon it took the sign and the Speer. Courageously it rode [all in front]. He wanted to speak a clear language with his enemies. After not all too-long time it pushed on the Normannen.

Ludwig makes a clear statement of intent by leading the army against the Norse.

It praised God; now he is to see, what he wished! Boldly the king blew up in front, a holy song on the lips, and all fell with “Kyrie eleison [Christ have Mercy]”. The singing was [hardly] [faded], there raved already the battle loosely. The blood seemed by the cheeks, gladly hunted there the Francs.
The king leads a charge? The battle is disordered, which seems to favour the Franks

It fenced each warrior, but none as Ludwig, so courageously and so boldly? it was innate it. , Pierced he, the other perforated he. [He challenged] without break its enemies indeed bitter drink. Always blows over its life! –

Ludwig fought personally, and was the better of each man. He attacks mercilessly, and is personally unharmed

God omnipotence is praised: Ludwig became winner. Owing to also all holy ones! Its fight became the victory assign. You however, Ludwig, Heil, you our king, in the fight fully luck! - It always was to the place, where its assistance necessary was. God the gentleman always receives it in its grace!

Clearly, Ludwig wins.

After such a piece of propaganda a couple of points can be added, firstly that whilst the poem records the king as Ludwig (and probably therefore, Ludwig the third) History appears to record Louis the Younger as victor at the battle; and the Name of the brother, Karl - who elsewhere is recorded as dying in the battle, is a strong match to Loius' in the Carolingian French - Carloman. Ludwig may therefore be a Germanising of Loius, but I have to sit on the fence a little, not being a specialist on early Medieval German history.

Secondly, the casualties for the battle are recorded as around 5,000 Vikings. This is a suspiciously high number, and yet the lowest quote made. I would guess at 1-2,000 being more accurate, perhaps from an army of the hailed size; though it is not impossible a mounted army could have slaughtered the Vikings if it fell to pursuit, which again the tenor of part of the poem suggests. Also unmentioned in the poem is the fact that Ludwig lost his son in the engagement.

So what does this suggest? Well with limited additional information it seems reasonable to conclude that although a pitched battle, the Franks caught the Vikings on ground that favoured their mounted forces. It would be expected for a Carolingian king of this period to have fought mounted with his ‘imperious attendants’ and so an energetic charge would appear to have broke the Viking lines. As is often the case on close inspection the Northmen are a great threat to their foes, but prove entirely mortal in a real fight, intimidation was their forte! They fall into a rabble in combat and are picked off. What part Carolingian foot troops would have had in this is pure speculation, but it seems plausible their involvement would have been limited.

How will this translate to the wargames table? We shall see…


  1. Great post and a very stirring poem! I've not heard of this battle, I'll be checking back to your blog with interest!!

  2. You're confusing tow kings and two battles. The Battle of Thimeon near Charleroi was fought in February 880. The victorious king was the German Louis the Younger, whose (illegitimate) son, Hugh, was killed in action. The number of slain Vikings was set at 5000. The Battle of Saucourt-en-Vimeu on August 3, 881 was won by Louis III, a French king, and the death toll here is set at 8,000 Vikings. Ironically, the German poem "Das Ludwigslied" celebrates the victory of the French king, not the German king!