Fachbereich Geschichtswissenschaft

Vikings, Rapine, and the Decline of the Carolingians

My current book project combines the study of kingship, politics, warfare, and law to explore the transformation of the Frankish military under the late Carolingian dynasty. This transformation involved a shift in military organization from one focused on maintaining distant frontiers to one that defended the heartlands of the Carolingian empire. Two interrelated developments drove this momentous change in the nature of warfare: recurring fighting among rival Carolingians and invasions of Scandinavian ”viking” warbands. I argue that the stationing of Frankish troops for long periods of time between the Loire and Rhine rivers to defend that region from foreign invaders had a profound and destabilizing impact on late Carolingian politics.

In particular, the militarization of Francia during the ninth century created new challenges for the organization, feeding, and billeting of soldiers and their horses. The result was a growing lack of discipline among Frankish troops, who frequently requisitioned supplies from the common people, robbed and abused them, and committed acts of sexual violence against women. In their legal decrees (capitularies), the late Carolingians repeatedly sought to address this crisis of illegal requisitions by soldiers, a crime that they called “rapine” (rapina). Rapina was the Roman legal category for violent theft, especially committed by soldiers against civilians. The late Carolingians’ inability to correct the problem of rapine committed by troops in the heartlands of their empire increasingly undermined the authority of their dynasty in the eyes of the Church and people. This disillusionment played an important role in the decision of leading churchmen to abandon the Carolingian dynasty when Charles the Fat died without heir in 888.