Sunday, February 20, 2011

History of the Saxon War IX: "The story of the conversion of the Saxons, enforced by the sword, is a brutally clear and stark one." John Hines

From John Hines' The Conversion of the Old Saxons, found in The Continental Saxons From Migration to the Period of the Tenth Century, Green and Siegmund, eds.
The conversion of the Continental Saxons in the late eighth century stands out as an extraordinarily well defined flashpoint in European early medieval history . . . . While recognition of the vital place political methods and political motives held in the advance of Christianity in medieval Europe is commonplace, the Saxon case is so pure an example of this as to be paradoxically both extreme and typical at the same time (cf. Fletcher 1997:258, in a slightly different context: "Saxony may be the exception which proves the rule"). In the course and aftermath of the capitulation of the Saxons one can observe a thoroughly efficient replacement and reform of previous communal institutions: a cultural revolution, designed to make Saxonia an obedient and profitable part of the Carolingian empire.
[p. 299]

The first Saxon capitulary, probably of the mid-70-'s, ferociously compelling Christian observance and outlawing paganism, offers some remarkable views of alleged pagan ritual practices. Divination and soothsaying (divinos et sortilegos) are condemned (para 23) ... The cremation of the dead is condemned as a pagan practice ... Three known deities are named -- for renunciation -- in a baptismal formula of the ninth century: Wodan, Thunaer and Saxnot. Woden/Odinn and Thunor/Thorr to given them their Old English and Norse names, are highly familiar, and were evidently major deities of the pre-Christian Angl0-Saxson religion (Hines 1997; Turville-Petre 1964). Saxnot, 'companion of the Saxons', is clearly specific to the Saxons, althought of sufficient antiquity to be included in Old English form, Saxneat, at the head of the geneology of the relatively minor East Saxon royal dynasty.
[p. 303]

What then do we know of Widukind and his supporters? The sources offer no direct testimony as to his policies of motivation, setting aside the Revised Annals' presumably fictional and certainly derogatory allusions to the selfish self-interest of a criminal. There is, however, just enough additional information to allow us to make political sense of Widukind. A crucial point appears to be that he could act with a refuge in Scandinavia -- and thus presumably with the connivance and support of the Danish king. Widukind was thus fighting to be part of one politico-religious system -- non-Christian and north Germanic -- rather than another, the Carolingian empire. As represented in both Saxonia and Scandinavia, this preferred system was socially less rigidly hierarchical than the Frankish one, and this would very plausibly be one of its attractions to Widukind. Loyalty to, or a preference for, that which was traditional and familiar whould not be ruled out either, as long as there was, or appeared to be, real scope for this choice. What we do not see here is any evidence of the more sophisticated political strategy whereby Christianity may be accepted, but leaders would prefer to accept it from a distant source, not an overbearing neighbor. (cf. Mayr-Hrting 1994:5-9). Sources such as Einhard's Vita Karoli scorn the Danish king Godfred's apparent ambition to emulat eCharlemagne, and certainly in terms of any idea of wresting Chalemagne's empire from hiim it would have been absurd (Einhard, XIV). But a Danihs king and the Frankish emperor were more closely comparable than one might thinkg. The strenght, capacity and ambitions of the Scandinavians were to be made manifest, in the course of the following century, in a vast Viking 'empire', albeit one that was only haphazardly organized or co-ordinated in political terms.

A cult of warfare and violence, focussed primarily on the Gods Óðinn and Þórr, became central to Viking ideology and motivation. In this context, it is difficult not to bleieve that Widukind, the leader of pagan resistance, was more than simply a secular nationalist or regional if not personal freedom fighter but a religious leader of some sort -- perhaps taking on some ofthe familiar characteristics of the traditionalist 'prophet' emerging to lead resistance to imminent Christianity.
[p. 306]

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