Following the dissolution of the Frankish Empire into three successor states in 843, Western Europe suffered from civil wars and invasions from Vikings from the North, and Muslim raiders from the south. Among these attacks was the sacking of Rome in 846, by Arab pirates. These events were recorded in the Annals of Xanten.
844 – Pope Gregory [IV] departed this world and Pope Sergius followed in his place. Count Bernhard was killed by Charles. Pepin, king of Aquitaine, together with his son and the son of Bernhard, routed the army of Charles, and there fell the abbot Hugo. At the same time King Louis advanced with his army against the Wends, one of whose kings, Gestimus by name, was killed; the rest came to Louis and pledged him their fidelity, which, however, they broke as soon as he was gone. Thereafter Lothar, Louis, and Charles came together for council in Diedenhofen, and after a conference they went their several ways in peace.
845 – Twice in the canton of Worms there was an earthquake; the first in the night following Palm Sunday, the second in the holy night of Christ’s Resurrection. In the same year the heathen broke in upon the Christians at many points, but more than twelve thousand of them were killed by the Frisians. Another party of invaders devastated Gaul; of these more than six hundred men perished. Yet, owing to his indolence, Charles agreed to give them many thousand pounds of gold and silver if they would leave Gaul, and this they did. Nevertheless the cloisters of most of the saints were destroyed and many of the Christians were led away captive.
After this had taken place King Louis once more led a force against the Wends. When the heathen had learned this they sent ambassadors, as well as gifts and hostages, to Saxony, and asked for peace. Louis then granted peace and returned home from Saxony. Thereafter the robbers were afflicted by a terrible pestilence, during which the chief sinner among them, by the name of Reginheri, who had plundered the Christians and the holy places, was struck down by the hand of God. They then took counsel and threw lots to determine from which of their gods they should seek safety; but the lots did not fall out happily, and on the advice of one of their Christian prisoners that they should cast their lot before the God of the Christians, they did so, and the lot fell happily. Then their king, by the name of Rorik, together with all the heathen people, refrained from meat and drink for fourteen days, when the plague ceased, and they sent back all their Christian prisoners to their country.
846 – According to their custom, the Northmen plundered The Northmen eastern and western Frisia and burned the town again in Frisia Of Dordrecht, with two other villages, before the eyes of Lothar, who was then in the castle of Nimwegen, but could not punish the crime. The Northmen, with their boats filled with immense booty, including both men and goods, re turned to their own country.
In the same year Louis sent an expedition from Saxony against the Wends across the Elbe. He personally, however, went with his army against the Bohemians, whom we call Beuwinitha, but with great risk. . . . Charles advanced against the Britons, but accomplished nothing.
At this same time, as no one can mention or hear without great sadness, the mother of all churches, the basilica of the apostle Peter [in Rome], was taken and plundered by the Moors, or Saracens, who had already occupied the region of Beneventum. The Saracens, moreover, slaughtered all the Christians whom they found outside the walls of Rome, either within or without this church. They also carried men and women away prisoners. They tore down, among many others, the altar of the blessed Peter, and their crimes from day to day bring sorrow to Christians. Pope Sergius departed life this year.
847 – After the death of Sergius no mention of the apostolic see has come in any way to our ears. Rabanus [Maurus], master and abbot of Fulda, was solemnly chosen archbishop as the successor of Bishop Otger, who had died. Moreover, the Northmen here and there plundered the Christians and engaged in a battle with the counts Sigir and Liuthar. They continued up the Rhine as far as Dordrecht, and nine miles farther to Meginhard, when they turned back, having taken their booty.
848 – On the fourth of February, towards evening, it lightened and there was thunder heard. The heathen, as was their custom, inflicted injury on the Christians. In the same year King Louis held an assembly of the people near Mainz. At this synod a heresy was brought forward by a few monks in regard to predestination. These were convicted and beaten, to their shame, before all the people. They were sent back to Gaul whence they had come, and, thanks be to God, the condition of the Church remained uninjured.
849 – While king Louis was ill, his army of Bavaria took its way against the Bohemians. Many of these were killed and the remainder withdrew, much humiliated, into their own country. The heathen from the North wrought havoc in Christendom as usual and grew greater in strength; but it is painful to say more of this matter.
850 – On January 1st of that season, in the octave of the Lord, towards evening, a great deal of thunder was heard and a mighty flash of lightning seen; and an overflow of water afflicted the human race during this winter. In the following summer an all too great heat of the sun burned the earth. Leo, pope of the apostolic see, an extraordinary man, built a fortification around the church of St. Peter the apostle. The Moors, however, devastated here and there the coast towns in Italy. The Norman Rorik, brother of the above-mentioned younger Heriold, who earlier had fled dis honored from Lothair, again took Dordrecht and did much evil treacherously to the Christians. In the same year so great a peace existed between the two brothers-Emperor Lothair and King Louis-that they spent many days together in Osning [Westphalia] and there hunted, so that many were astonished thereat; and they went each his way in peace.
851 – The bodies of certain saints were sent from Rome to Saxony-that of Alexander, one of seven brethren, and those of Romanus and Emerentiana. In the same year the very noble Empress, Irmingard by name, wife of the Emperor Lothair, departed this world. The Normans inflicted much harm in Frisia and about the Rhine. A mighty army of them collected by the River Elbe against the Saxons, and some of the Saxon towns were besieged, others burned, and most terribly did they oppress thc Christians. A meeting of our kings took place on the Maas [Meuse].
852 – The steel of the heathen glistened; excessive heat; a famine followed. There was not fodder enough for the animals. The pasturage for the swine was more than sufficient.
853 – A great famine in Saxony, so that many were forced to live on horse meat.
854 – The Northmen burn the Church of St. Martin of Tours. The Normans, in addition to the very many evils which they were everywhere inflicting upon the Christians, burned the church of St. Martin, bishop at Tours of Tours, where his body rests.
855 – In the spring Louis, the eastern king, sent his son of the same name to Aquitaine to obtain possession of the heritage of his uncle Pepin.
856 – The Normans again chose a king of the same name as the preceding one, and related to him, and the Danes made a fresh incursion by sea, with renewed forces, against the Christians.
857 – A great sickness prevailed among the people. This produced a terrible foulness, so that the limbs were separated from the body even before death came.
858 – Louis, the eastern king, held an assembly of the people of his territory in Worms.
859 – On the first of January, as the early Mass was being said, a single earthquake occurred in Worms and a triple one in Mainz before daybreak.
860 – On the fifth of February thunder was heard. The king returned from Gaul after the whole empire had gone to destruction, and was in no way bettered.
861 – The holy bishop Luitbert piously furnished the cloister which is called the Freckenhorst with many relics of the saints, namely, of the martyrs Boniface and Maximus, and of the confessors Eonius and Antonius, and added a portion of the manger of the Lord and of His grave, and likewise of the dust of the Lord’s feet as He ascended to heaven. In this year the winter was long and the above-mentioned kings again had a secret consultation on the island near Coblenz, and they laid waste everything round about.
This translation is from Readings in European History, by James Harvey Robinson (Boston, 1904).