Oaths of Strasbourg
Oaths of Strasbourg (multiple texts) Also known as Sacramenta Argentariae (Latin), les serments de Strasbourg (Modern French), die Straßburger Eide (Modern German) Language medieval Latin, Old French, Old High German Manuscript(s) include BNF, Cod. Lat. 9768 (Nithard's De dissensionibus filiorum Ludovici pii) Subject pledges of allegiance and cooperation between Louis the German and Charles the Bald, rulers of East and West Francia respectively
The Oaths of Strasbourg were several historical documents which included mutual pledges of allegiance between Louis the German (d. 876), ruler of East Francia, and his (half-)brother Charles the Bald (d. 877), ruler of West Francia. The several pledges were spoken at a strategic meeting in 842 at Strasbourg, with the brothers' assembled armies in attendance and participating in the ceremonies. In addition to their promised allegiance to the other, Louis and Charles pledged their solidarity to oppose their eldest brother Lothair, ruler of Middle Francia and, nominally, emperor of all the Carolingian Empire Frankish kingdoms as well as Holy Roman Emperor.
The historical nature of the meeting is made more remarkable by the additional, separate pledges that were scripted for the monarchs' armies – in their respective vernaculars – to the effect that, for each "soldier": should their own lord-king unilaterally break the oath just pledged (to the other king), then, each "soldier of the oath" promises not to help his master against the abused other monarch. The version used by Louis is often considered the oldest known specimen of French.
Sources and contents
A chief source for the meeting is Nithard's De dissensionibus filiorum Ludovici pii (On the Dissensions of the Sons of Louis the Pious), which is preserved in a single manuscript from the 10th or 11th century (Cod. Lat. 9768 in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris). The text of the oaths is on folios 12b2-13b1.
According to Nithard's version, both kings first made the same preamble speech, which was a detailed complaint against Lothair. Each king then swore his individual oath in front of their assembled armies, not in Latin nor in his own language, but in the vernacular of the other's kingdom. Finally, the armies swore separate pledges in their respective languages.
Historical and linguistic significance
The text is significant to both linguists and historians. Linguistically, the text is the oldest document written in Old French and in a Romance language. The documents also shed light on a significant period in the history of the Carolingian-Frankish empire. Historians have long used the coexistence of these bilingual documents to illustrate their theory that, by 842, the empire had begun splitting into separate proto-countries and developing with different languages and customs.
However, others of late have come to favour a different hypothesis: that the Frankish Kingdom comprised several regna (loosely translated as kingdoms) that since ancient times had maintained different customs and dialects. Supporting this theory they note that both Charlemagne and Louis the Pious sent their sons to be raised in the respective regna which they were designated to inherit, in order to better enlist the support of the local populus by becoming familiar with them and their customs.
Below, the text in Latin is marked in red; the Old French text in blue; the Old High German text in green. English is in the default black.
The transcriptions are slightly corrected, with abbreviations written out.
The image to the right is a scan of the original text. In the transcription below, two asterisks mark the beginning and end of the text visible in this scan.
Original text English translation
[Latin:] Ergo xvi kal. marcii Lodhuvicus et Karolus in civitate que olim Argentaria vocabatur, nunc autem Strazburg vulgo dicitur, convenerunt et sacramenta que subter notata sunt, Lodhuvicus romana, Karolus vero teudisca lingua, juraverunt. Ac sic, ante sacramentum circumfusam plebem, alter teudisca, alter romana lingua, alloquuti sunt. Lodhuvicus autem, quia major natu, prior exorsus sic coepit:
So, Louis and Charles met on the 16th day before the kalends of March (14 February) in the town that used to be called Argentaria but which is commonly now known as Strazburg, and they swore the oaths given below, Louis in Romance and Charles in German. But before swearing the oaths, they made speeches in German and Romance. Being the elder, Louis began, as follows:
“Quotiens Lodharius me et hunc fratrum meum, post obitum patris nostri, insectando usque ad internecionem delere conatus sit nostis. Cum autem nec fraternitas nec christianitas nec quodlibet ingenium, salva justicia, ut pax inter nos esset, adjuvare posset, tandem coacti rem ad juditium omnipotentis Dei detulimus, ut suo nutu quid cuique deberetur contenti essemus.
“In quo nos, sicut nostis, per misericordiam Dei victores extitimus, is autem victus una cum suis quo valuit secessit. Hinc vero, fraterno amore correpti nec non et super populum christianum conpassi, persequi atque delere illos noluimus, sed hactenus, sicut et antea, ut saltem deinde cuique sua justicia cederetur mandavimus.
“At ille post haec non contentus judicio divino, sed hostili manu iterum et me et hunc fratrem meum persequi non cessat, insuper et populum nostrum incendiis, rapinis cedibusque devastat. Quamobrem nunc, necessitate coacti, convenimus et, quoniam vos de nostra stabili fide ac firma fraternitate dubitare credimus, hoc sacramentum inter nos in conspectu vestro jurare decrevimus.
“Non qualibet iniqua cupiditate illecti hoc agimus, sed ut certiores, si Deus nobis vestro adjutorio quietem dederit, de communi profectu simus. Si autem, quod absit, sacramentum quod fratri meo juravero violare praesumpsero, a subditione mea necnon et a juramento quod mihi jurastis *unumquemque vestrum absolvo”
“Let it be known how many times Lothair has — since our father died — attempted to destroy me and this brother of mine, committing massacres in his pursuit of us. But since neither brotherhood nor Christianity nor any natural inclination, save justice, has been able to bring peace between us, we have been forced to take the matter to the judgement of almighty God, so that we may accept whatever His will is.
“The result was, as you all know, that by the Grace of God we came out as victors, and that he, defeated, went back to his people where he was stronger. But then, motivated by brotherly love and compassion for Christendom, we decided not to pursue and destroy them; instead, until now, we have asked him at least to submit to justice as in the past.
“But he, despite this, not content with God's judgement, does not cease to come after me and this brother of mine with his armies. Moreover, he is devastating our people by burning, pillaging and murdering. That is why we now, driven by necessity, are having this meeting, and, since we believe that you doubt our firm faith and brotherhood, we shall swear this oath between us before all of you.
“This act is not in bad faith, but simply so that, if God gives us peace thanks to your help, we may be certain that a common benefit will come of it. Should I — God forbid — break the oath which I am about to swear to my brother, I release you from my sovereignty over you and from the oath that you have all sworn to me.”
Cumque Karolus haec eadem verba romana lingua perorasset, Lodhuvicus, quoniam major natu erat, prior haec deinde se servaturum testatus est:
Once Charles had finished off the speech with the same words in Romance, Louis, since he was the elder, then swore allegiance first:
[Old French:] “Pro Deo amur et pro christian poblo et nostro comun salvament, d'ist di in avant, in quant Deus savir et podir me dunat, si salvarai eo cist meon fradre Karlo, et in adjudha et in cadhuna cosa si cum om per dreit son fradra salvar dift, in o quid il mi altresi fazet; et ab Ludher nul plaid nunquam prindrai qui meon vol cist meon fradre Karlo in damno sit.”
“For the love of God and for Christendom and our common salvation, from this day onwards, as God will give me the wisdom and power, I shall protect this brother of mine Charles, with aid or anything else, as one ought to protect one's brother, so that he may do the same for me, and I shall never knowingly make any covenant with Lothair that would harm this brother of mine Charles.”
[Latin:] Quod cum Lodhuvicus explesset, Karolus teudisca lingua sic hec eadem verba testatus est:
When Louis had finished, Charles swore with the very same words in the German vernacular:
[Old High German:]“In godes minna ind in thes christiânes folches ind unsêr bêdhero gehaltnissî, fon thesemo dage frammordes, sô fram sô mir got gewizci indi mahd furgibit, sô haldih thesan mînan bruodher, sôso man mit rehtu sînan bruodher scal, in thiu thaz er mig sô sama duo, indi mit Ludheren in nohheiniu thing ne gegango, the mînan willon imo ce scadhen werdhên.”
“For the love of God and Christendom and the salvation of us both, from this day on, as God will give me the wisdom and power, I shall protect this brother of mine, as one ought to protect one's brother, so that he may do the same for me, and I shall never go along with Lothair in anything that, by my will, would harm him [Louis].”
[Latin:] Sacramentum autem quod utrorumque populus, quique propria lingua, testatus est, romana lingua sic se habet:
The oath that each of the two peoples (i.e. the assembled armies) then swore in their respective languages is, in Romance, as follows:
[Old French:] “Si Lodhuwigs sagrament que son fradre Karlo jurat, conservat, et Karlus meos sendra, de sua part, non lostanit, si io returnar non l'int pois, ne io, ne seuls cui eo returnar int pois, in nulla adjudha contra Lodhuvvigs nun li iv er.”
“If Louis keeps the oath that he has sworn to his brother Charles, and Charles, my lord, on the other hand breaks it, and if I cannot dissuade him from it — neither I nor anyone that I can dissuade from it — then I shall not help him in any way against Louis.”
[Latin:] Teudisca autem lingua:*
And in the German vernacular:
[Old High German:] "Oba Karl then eid, then er sînemo bruodher Ludhuwîge gesuor, geleistit, indi Ludhuwîg mîn hêrro then er imo gesuor forbrihchit, ob ih inan es irwenden ne mag: noh ih noh thero nohhein, then ih es irwenden mag, widhar Karlo imo ce follusti ne wirdhit."
“If Charles keeps the oath that he has sworn to his brother Louis, and Louis, my lord, on the other hand breaks the oath he has sworn, and if I cannot dissuade him from it — neither I nor anyone that I can dissuade from it — then I shall not follow him against Charles.”
[Latin:] Quibus peractis Lodhuwicus Reno tenus per Spiram et Karolus iuxta Vuasagum per Vuîzzûnburg Vuarmatiam iter direxit.
The following is the Romance vernacular part in its original manuscript form and a raw transcription:
- Goldberg, Eric J. (2006). Struggle for Empire: Kingship and Conflict under Louis the German, 817–876. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.
- Hartmann, Wilfried (2004). Ludwig der Deutsche und seine Zeit. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.
- Hartmann, Wilfried (2002). Ludwig der Deutsche. Darmstadt: Primus.
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