Charlemagne’s way of raising troops

Charlemagne-liege-1The four excerpts below, three from capitularies and the fourth a letter to an abbot, show some of the regulations and methods used by Charlemagne to raise soldiers for his armies in the early ninth century. The first capitulary, which was sent to Italian officials in 801, is from the Capitulare Italicum. It sets out some regulations regarding men who refuse to serve in the army, and deserters.

If any free man, out of contempt for our command, shall have presumed to remain at home when the others go to war, let him know that he ought to pay the full hari bannum according to the law of the Franks, – that is, sixty solidi. Likewise, also, for contempt of single capitularies which we have promulgated by our royal authority, – that is, any one who shall have broken the peace decreed for the churches of God, widows, orphans, wards, and the weak shall pay the fine of sixty solidi.

If any one shall have shown himself so contumacious or haughty as to leave the army and return home without the command or permission of the king, – that is, if he is guilty of what we call in the German language herisliz, – he himself, as a criminal, shall incur the peril of losing his life, and his property shall be confiscated for our treasury.

The second capitulary is from the Capitulare missorum de exercitu promovendo. The capitulary, which was issued in 808, describes the military obligations of landowners.

Every free man who has four mansi [each mansi equals about 135 acres] of his own property, or as a benefice from any one, shall equip himself and go to the army, either with his lord, if the lord goes, or with his count. He who has three mansi of his own property shall be joined to a man who has one mansus, and shall aid him so that he may serve for both. He who has only two mansi of his own property shall be joined to another who likewise has two mansi, and one of them, with the aid of the other, shall go to the army. He who has only one mansus of his own shall be joined to one of three men who have the same and shall aid him, and the latter shall go alone; the three who have aided him shall remain at home.

The third capitulary is from the Capitulare Aquisgranense. It gives details on supplying armies.

Concerning going to the army: the count in his county under penalty of the ban, and each man under penalty of sixty solidi, shall go to the army, so that they come to the appointed muster at that place where it is ordered. And the count himself shall see in what manner they are prepared; that is, each one shall have a lance, shield, bow with two strings, and twelve arrows. And the bishops, counts, and abbots shall oversee their own men and shall come on the day of the appointed muster and there show how they are prepared.

The equipments of the king shall be carried in carts, also the equipments of the bishops, counts, abbots, and nobles of the king; flour, wine, pork, and victuals in abundance, mills, adzes, axes, augers, slings, and men who know how to use these well. And the marshals of the king shall add stones for these on twenty beasts of burden, if there is need. And each one shall be prepared for the army and shall have plenty of all utensils. And each count shall save two parts of the fodder in his county for the army’s use, and he shall maintain good bridges and good boats.

The fourth item is a letter from Charlemagne to an abbot summoning him for military service

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Charles, serene and august, crowned by God great and pacific Emperor, and by God’s mercy King of the Franks and the Lombards, to Fulrad the Abbot:

Be it known to you that we have decided to hold our general assembly for this year in the eastern part of Saxony, on the river Bode, at the place which is called Strassfurt. Wherefore we do command thee that thou come to this place with thy full quota of men, well armed and equipped, on the fifteenth day before the Kalends of July, which is seven days before the feast of St. John the Baptist. Then shaft thou come to the aforesaid place, with thy men ready, so that thou canst go in military array in any direction whither our command shall send thee.

Thou shaft have arms and gear, and warlike instruments, and food and clothing. Each horseman shall have a shield, lance, sword, dagger, bow, and quivers with arrows. In the carts ye shall have implements of divers kinds: axes, planes, augers, boards, spades, iron shovels, and other tools of which an army has need. In the carts you must also have supplies of food for three months, dating from the time of the assembly, and arms and clothing for a half year. We order you to attend carefully to all these things so that you may proceed peacefully to the aforesaid place. For through whatever part of our realm your journey shall take you, you shall not presume to take anything but fodder, food, and water. Let the men of each one of your vassals march along with the carts and horsemen, and let the leader always be with them until they reach the aforesaid place, so that the absence of a lord may not give to his men an opportunity of doing evil . . . .

These sections are from Readings in European History, edited by James Harvey Robinson (Boston, 1904)

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