An Increase In Violence In The Tenth-Century Europe Essay Sample

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Violence, Europe, Politics, Germany, Muslim, Islam, Power, Time

Pages: 8

Words: 2200

Published: 2020/09/11

The Tenth Century Is One of the Darkest Pages in Human History

Presently, the humankind can boast the never-before-reached height of civilization marked by progress and a peaceful coexistence. However, centuries ago, Medieval Europe was far from a safe place to inhabit by local peoples. The pendulum of war was swinging to and fro after the collapse of the Roman Empire had created a dangerous territorial vacuum to fill. Back and forth was the possession of lands going around the time since they were changing hands multiple times in what were bloody and violent clashes of nations for regional supremacy and economic benefits. Apart from locals trying to find resolution to their territorial disputes, foreign intruders would lay claims to separate portions of fertile soil or ravage the coastline in search of easy prey like the possessions of monasteries or poorly fortified towns and settlements. Poor was whoever proved unable to avoid contact with violence and havoc spreading warriors.
Of all major instances of violence, the raids and incursions of the Vikings, the Magyars, and Saracen Muslims are the most outrageous in the scope of violence unleashed by brute and ruthless intruders giving the concept of violence a whole new coloring. However, foreign migrants were not the sole source of aggression and brutality as may be seen in the case of Germany and France, in which the persecution of ethnic minorities or the presence and activity of local armed groups contributed to an increase in the rates of violence in the 10th century AD. The points is that both migrating folks and local authorities gaining the characteristic of feudalism are to blame for the unprecedented amount of violence that caused massive mortality and destruction.

The Underlying Reasons of Brutality Proliferation

Collins (n.p.) notes that the early 10th century brought about turmoil and violence. Ordinary people witnessed all efficient forms of government going to rack and ruin at the time, which in part sent their lives into chaos and fear (Collins n.p.). There being no apt government, people must have had no one to repel intruders the way an effective power elite would have repelled. Failing effective administrative and political bodies, violence went largely unopposed. According to Collins (n.p.), Vikings embarked on raids with perfect impunity. The Hungarians, otherwise known as Magyars, used to strike fear into the hearts of people inhabiting Germany with their raids reaching as far south as Italy after them crossing the Alps. Saracen Muslims buccaneers were keeping the Italian coastline in the state of constant fear making plundering raids on the region hunting for slaves.
Kidner, Bucur, Mathisen, McKee, and Weeks (264) suggest that the Vikings from the North, the Muslims from the southwest, and the Magyars from the southeast were populations arriving in three migratory waves that had as harsh and bloody an effect on the northern Europe as the Carolingian warfare did in its time. The consequences of the war were still to be felt in the 10th century. To make matter significantly worse, the migratory waves accompanied by economic desolation were reasons violence increased in the then poorly protected and disintegrated region (Kidner et al. 264).
There were actual reasons like internal political and military weakness of Europe that allowed the migrating barbaric groups to resort to open violence, without being repulsed. Collins (n.p.) argues that central government breakdown meant West Europeans had nothing else to do other than adapt to living terrorized by local nobles who differed little from desperadoes if at all. So lived people in France in particular. The reason for region to become this violent is that Western Europe observed the disintegration of the empire founded by Charlemagne a century before. The crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire as from 800 AD with the blessing of Pope Leo III, the monarch succeeded in unifying the lion’s share of West European lands under his rule.
Upon the death of Charlemagne in 814, Louis the Pious, his sole surviving son, fell heir to the throne. Before dying, Louis divided his empire between his male offspring, which caused the decomposition of the government in the latter half of the 9th century. The whole West European region split into smaller administrative units led by power brokers engaging in protracting conflict with each other. The already catastrophic chaos was at its worst in France gradually evolving into genuine feudal turmoil. In the circumstances, Europe was left exposed and much to the mercy of the Saracens, the Vikings, and the Magyars at later stages. Continental Europe was easy to destabilize by the raiding Scandinavians, as were England, Scotland, and Ireland.

The Extent to which Hostile Foreign Interventionists Customarily Practiced Violence. The Range of Presumed Crimes

Analyzing the impact of Viking raiders on Irish and English churches over the period between 900 and 1300, Alfred Smith (16) states that there are records of Scandinavian raiders applying torture to elicit information from prisoners on the hidden treasure of monasteries, which was the case in the course of their incursion into Britain. Though not recorded in the bulk of the Icelandic or Old Norse literature, such as family sagas usually abounding with social brutality, these documented accounts, according to Smyth, indicate the scope of savagery done by the Vikings. It should be borne in mind that Iceland of the 12th and 13th century, or at a time sagas were composed, was a lot more different place than France and Britain of the 9th and 10th century were (qtd. in Tracy 109).
According to the History of Jihad against the Italians in Rome and Sicily (n.p.), Taormina, one of remaining hotbeds of Christian resistance fell into the hands of besieging Muslim troops in 902. In the wake of seizure, the town was committed to fire and citizens exterminated. Similar destiny awaited Rometta situated on the mountains to the west of Messina being the last stronghold to fall. In the timeframe between 938 and 940, Muslims from Africa, or Saracens, laid waste to the wide swaths of southwestern Sicily inasmuch as there was nothing left they could pillage. Besides citizens’ being killed in cities offering resistance, boys and women were usually sold for slaves. It could also be that the most handsome boys and women were dispatched to Africa as comfort slaves to please the subjugators and their brothers in faith. Violence concerned religious buildings just as well, with churches mostly reduced to a pile of ruins or converted into Mosques.

The Violence of Foreign Intruders Forces the Hand of European Lords

At this conjuncture, European lords had no other choice left but to go as far as to annihilate the offenders in a brutal way. Tellenbach (16) notes that Christian armies and princes of the 9th and 10th century were primarily concerned with the protection of churches and the peace of Christians. The only effective way to achieve both was being on the offensive. Military operations resulted in the brutal extermination of Norse groups in France as well as violent conflicts in Ireland and England. Magyars and Saracens in Italy and the territory north of the Alps became the subjects of brutal campaigns. German armies carried out numerous campaigns on hostile territories along the eastern border and the Danish frontier (Tellenbach 17). Hence, Europeans unleashed brutality during annihilation military campaigns in response to the previous offense inflicted by the migratory ethnic groups.
While the prevalent part of Spain was in Muslim bondage in the 10th century, small-sized Christian enclaves, or states within states, rose against the caliphate starting what came to be referred to as Reconquista, the eight-hundred-year process of liberation, by which Christians reclaimed the Iberian Peninsula. The brutal fight against Muslims intensified in the 10th century resulted in the formation of catholic Spain in the late 15th century (Collins n.p.). Hence, while the rest of Europe was resisting the onslaught of pirates and raiders, the surviving Spanish islands of Christianity were fighting Muslims in efforts to achieve independence and establish Christianity in the region.

Violence and Brutality Put on Display by European Kingdoms and Fragmented Feudal States. Local Lords Gain Monopoly on Violence

Caruba (n.p.) suggests that violence was nothing out of the ordinary in the 900s. With no actual authority present at the time, large swaths of lands depended heavily on the regional nobility in the issue of enforcing whatever was considered law. Collins (n.p.) argues that there was an extraordinary nature of brutality in the 10th century. Just as ordinary people were used to assaulting one another, so too were clans involved in bloody inter-clan conflicts. What was widespread was the duty of payback, which of itself means violence was on the increase. Battles of the 10th century were horrific close hand-to-hand combats, with axes and other items of lethal weaponry used in the process oftentimes leaving battle participants mortally wounded (qtd. in Caruba n.p.).
Besides the above-mentioned intruders, European societies and local social groups were themselves violent. Riley-Smith (3) states that French society of the 10th century AD was exceedingly brutal. The enjoyment of plunder and the necessity to wage wars were dominating the country for too long while the Carolingian Empire was in the process of expansion or while France was in the thick of feud with migrating intruders. There came a point where the imperial growth halted and warriors became engaged in the defense of the country (Riley-Smith 3). At the turn of the century, the final years of the 10th century and the beginning of the 11th century the situation was changing for local fighters. According to Riley-Smith (3), the number of invaders came falling intensely after 1000. Rather than disband, local armed forces switched the focus of their attention over to the residents of villages. Citadels were mushrooming in France around the time. Castle-based warrior groups were unwilling to change their living standards that consisted in pillaging. The fragmentation of the political power in the state was a contributory factor in the thriving of unrestrained anarchic brutality produced the success of the Carolingian military mechanism (Riley-Smith 3).
Brown (99) suggests that west Francia bragged two outstanding innovations, such as castles and knights made in the decades around the turn of the first millennium. The emergence of knights was in parallel with the rise in complaints about knightly brutality. There is said to have been a connection between political power and violence. Frankish aristocracy power was always dependent on the ability of wielding authority; however, Carolingian kings used to coopt and contain this power. During the tenth century, magnates in the Frankish kingdom gaining political and social power found themselves in position to apply power at their discretion without the fear of being held accountable to kings. The political order established by the Carolingians shattered. Therefore, local lords along with their entourage acted in their best interests controlling income, land, and men by use of force. The Peace of God councils, monastic and clerical texts vindicate an increase in violence now practiced by local lords during the concluding decades of the 10th century (Brown 100).
Waldman and Mason (778) note that German warriors embarked on a military campaign called Drang nach Osten, or the drive to the east, in 928 being still in progress in 948 under Otto I. Elbe-Saale, the territory of Sorbs, and a number of Slavic lands were seized. As with the Saxon wars conducted by Charlemagne, the motive of pagan’s conversion was central in the campaign. Campaigns conducted on Obodrite and Polabian lands were both violent and bloody seeing that the resistance local population showed was fierce enough to force Germans into the use of force and brutality. So violent was the carnage that whole tribes underwent complete annihilation. Reviving paganism preached by priests responsible for the fomentation of the rebellion was in part a driving force of the resistance.
Contrary to unprecedented violence, locals made Germans quit the Obodrite and Polabian lands in the late 10th century preserving sovereignty for the following century. As for Sorbian territory, there was a lesser degree of resistance offered locally. The tenth-century annexation of the region galvanized the assimilation of the local populace into the political and social system of the German Empire (Waldman and Mason 778). Obviously, this campaign marks one of the first times Germans had used religious conversion as a pretext for war against foreign nations. Undoubted is the fact that Germans had no business trespassing on the territorial sovereignty of a foreign states, much less using violence and exterminating local population. With that in mind, an increase in violence characteristic of the 10th century was not only used in self-defense, but also directed against foreign nations.

Concluding Remarks

Overall, the tenth century is, by far, one of the cruelest periods in the history of human civilization. One of the reasons for violence to be an ordinary element of life in the then European society was the breakdown of the governmental system precipitating local kingdoms into chaos and horror. The countless raids of Vikings terrorizing northern Europe would go unopposed in most cases, as would the incursion of Saracen pirates, brutal Muslims warriors swarming into the Apennine peninsula. Sicily was one the most devastated region subject to economic looting and inhumane violence. Hungarians, aka Magyars were no less courteous to Europeans than any of the two previously mentioned ethnic groups were. The Carolingian war having a debilitating effect on Europe in combination with the migrating ruthless warriors took its toll on the region marking the beginning of the period of intensified violence.
The decomposition of the empire established by Charlemagne a century before rationalizes the inability of local lords and kings to curb the brutality of intruders. The son of Charlemagne, Louis the Pious distributed the lands of the empire between his sons. Power brokers from the now separate states engaged in protracted conflicts facilitating the foreign intrusion of the Saracens, the Vikings, and the Magyars. Scholars analyzing the period between the 10th and 14th century argue that the Vikings used to put their victims to torture especially in the early decades of the period so that they can reveal the whereabouts of hidden monastic treasures. While Icelandic or Old Norse literature does not contain clear references to the brute practice, the literary works of monks reflect the ugly customary practice. Muslim Saracens did not differ much from the Vikings in terms of brutality. Once captured, Italian towns and settlements were burnt to the ground after being looted. Handsome boys and women were most often sent to Africa as comfort slaves or simply sold for slaves.
Europeans could not sit idle watching their brothers in faith maltreated and killed by infidels. Christian princes at the head of armies embarked on retaliatory military operations annihilating Norse groups in France and engaging in violent bloodshed in Ireland and England. Magyars and Saracens in Italy and the territory north of the Alps became the primary targets of military campaigns notoriously known for their brutality in the 10th century. German troops carried out a number of campaigns along the eastern border and the Danish frontier. In Spain, the liberation from Muslims known as Reconquista was gaining critical momentum around the time adding to overall amount of violence unleashed in Europe back then.
It was not only in bloody liberating operations that Europeans were engaged. The hands of belligerent social groups came untied owing to the lack of actual authority in the 10th century and the existence of the not always just laws enforced by local nobility. It opened the floodgates to regional skirmishes and inter-clan battles in the form of hand-to-hand combats involving axes and other lethal weapons inflicting deep gashes on participants and washing the battleground with blood. After the threat posed by migrants started ceasing, local warriors would not abandon their life standards built on looting. Only this time they set sights on villagers engaging in economic pillaging. Both castles and knighthood were in a budding state at the time presenting another social danger and bringing violence now done by Europeans. Since power eventually ended up in the hands of local feudal lords, whether to use violence was at their discretion. The use of force and violence became the instruments of control favored by both lords and their entourage. Germany was a growing ambitious state that also engaged in a feud with people living on Obodrite and Polabian lands. Under the pretence of proselyting heathens they committed what now is called a genocide. Hence, violence of the 10th century that was on the increase was not only practiced by migrating intruders, but also by Europeans themselves in self-defense and by annexing foreign lands.

Works Cited

Brown, Warren C. Violence in Medieval Europe. Pearson Education Limited, 2011. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.
Caruba, Allan. “Spending Time in the Tenth Century.” Canada Free Press. 7 February 2013. n.p. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.
Collins, Paul. The Birth of the West: Rome, Germany, France, and the Creation of Europe in the Tenth Century. New York: Public Affairs, 2013. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.
Kidner, Frank, Bucur, Maria, Mathisen, Ralph, McKee, Sally, and Theodore Weeks. Making Europe. The Story of the West. 2nd ed. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2014. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.
Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading. The Athlone Press, 1993. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.
Tellenbach, Gerd. The church in Western Europe from the Tenth to the Early Twelfth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.
The History of Jihad against the Italians in Rome and Sicily. History of Jihad. n.d. n.p. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.
Tracy, Larissa. Torture and Brutality in Medieval Literature: Negotiations of National Identity. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2012. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.
Waldman, Carl, and Catherine Mason. “Sorbs.” Encyclopedia of European Peoples. The USA: Facts on File, Inc., 2006. 778. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.

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