Battle on the Raxa

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Battle on the Raxa
Date 16 October 955
Location uncertain, probably on the Recknitz or Elde rivers
Result German victory
Belligerents
Kingdom of Germany
Rani
Obodrites and allied Slavs
Commanders and leaders
Otto I of Germany Nako
Stoigniew

The Battle on the Raxa river (German: Schlacht an der Raxa) was fought on 16 October 955 over control of the Billung march (in present-day Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, northeast Germany) between the forces of Otto I of Germany allied with the Rani tribe on one side, and the Obotrite federation under Nako and his brother Stoigniew (Stoinef, Stoinneg, Stoinegin, Ztoignav) with their allied and tributary Slav neighbours on the other. The Raxa river is identified with either the Recknitz or the Elde river. The German victory over the Slavs followed up on the August victory at the Lechfeld over the Magyars and marked the high point of Otto's reign. A thirty-year peace followed, only ending with the Slavic revolt in 983.

Background[edit]

While King Otto was distracted by his campaigns against the Magyars, his vassals Wichmann the Younger and his brother Egbert the One-Eyed instigated a Slav revolt in the Billung March. The Obotrites invaded Saxony and sacked the Cocarescemians' settlement, killing the men of arms-bearing age and carrying off the women and children into slavery. According to Widukind of Corvey, in the aftermath of Lechfeld, Otto pressed hard into Slav territory, where Wichmann and Egbert had sought refuge. Otto razed the Slav population centres and soon had encircled them; he offered to spare his enemies if they would surrender. A Slav embassy came to an assembly Otto held in Saxony and offered to pay annual tribute in return for being allowed self-government; "otherwise," they said, they would "fight for their liberty."[1] Reuter argues that this is indicative of a change in German governing practice: a change from overlordship, which the Slavs were willing to accept, to lordship, which the Slavs protested.

Dendrodates reveal that in the context of the Saxon-Obodrite conflict, the Slavs in present-day northeast Germany started to built lots of forts - only few forts were built before. A second phase of extensive fort construction occurred in the 980s, in the context of the great uprising of 983.[2]

Contemporary accounts[edit]

The course of the battle is described in Widukind of Corvey's chronicle Rerum gestarum Saxonicarum lib. III c. LIII-LV[3] and, in less detail, in Thietmar of Merseburg's Chronicon lib. II.12.[4] Short mentions of the battle are recorded in the respective paragraphs about the year 955 in the continuation of the annals of Prüm Abbey[5] and the annals of St. Gallen Abbey.[6]

Location[edit]

With respect to the site of the battle, the sources remain extremely vague. According to Widukind of Corvey, the battlefield was the swampy valley of a river named Raxa, which in literature is identified either as the Recknitz or Elde river.[7]

Battle[edit]

According to Timothy Reuter, Otto I's army of the day was drawn from every regnum (duchy) of the German kingdom, even Bohemia.[1] According to Widukind of Corvey, who gave the only surviving detailed record of the battle itself, Otto I's campaign came to a halt at the bank of the Raxa river, where the Obodrites and their allies, led by Stoigniew (Stoinef), had taken a defensive position on the opposite embankment. Otto's margrave Gero, together with the allied tribe of the Ruani - most probably the earliest mention of the Rani[8] - secretly moved to a distinct part of the river to build three bridges, while a feint assault by the remaining forces distracted Stoigniew's army. Stoigniew realized too late that Otto's forces were already crossing the river on another side, and the ensuing encounter was won by the latter.

The fate of Stoigniew is described by both Widukind of Corvey and Thietmar of Merseburg. While both agree that he was decapitated, their accounts on how that happened differ: Widukind says that during the battle, Stoigniew was chased into a wood, run down and killed by a soldier named Hosed, who was handsomely rewarded after presenting Otto with Stoigniew's severed head.[9] Thietmar of Merseburg says that the captured Stoigniew, whom he calls Stoinneg, was decapitated by Otto. After the battle, according to Widukind, Stoinegin's head was raised on a pole and seven hundred of captured Slavs were executed before sundown.[10]

The annals of St. Gallen also report the violent death of Stoigniew, whom they name Ztoignav, but do not detail how he had died. They do however date the battle to the day of their patron, Saint Gall - i.e. 16 October.

Sources[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Reuter (1991), pp. 161–162.
  2. ^ Henning (2011), p. 137.
  3. ^ Widukind Rer. gest. Sax. III: "LIII. Quod scelus imperator ulcisci gestiens, victoria iam de Ungariis patrata, regiones barbarorum hostiliter intravit. Consultum de Saxonibus, qui cum Sclavis conspiraverant, iudicatum est Wichmannum et Ecberhtum pro hostibus publicis habere oportere, caeteris vero parcere, siquidem remeare voluissent ad suos. Aderat et legatio barbarorum tributa socios ex more velle persolvere nuntians, caeterum dominationem regionis velle tenere; hoc pacto pacem velle, alioquin pro libertate armis certare. Imperator ad haec respondit: pacem quidem eis nequaquam negare, sed omnimodis dare non posse, nisi iniuriam perpetratam digno honore ac emendatione purgarent. Omniaque vastando et incendendo per illas regiones duxit exercitum, donec tandem castris positis super Raxam fluvium ad transmeandum paludibus difficillimum ab hostibus circumfunditur. A tergo namque <via> arborum robore obstruitur, eademque armatorum manu vallatur. Ex adverso fluvius fluvioque contigua palus et cum ingenti exercitu Sclavus bellatores et ab opere et ab itinere prohibens. Vexatur autem et aliis incommodis exercitus, morbo pariter ac fame. Dum talia agerentur per plures dies, mittitur ad principem barbarorum, qui dicebatur Stoinef, Gero comes, quatinus imperatori se dedat: amicum per id adepturum, non hostem experturum. LIIII. Erant quippe in Gerone multae artes bonae, bellandi peritia, in rebus civilibus bona consilia, satis eloquentiae, multum scientiae, et qui prudentiam suam opere ostenderet quam ore; in adquirendo strennuitas, in dando largitas et, quod optimum erat, ad cultum divinum bonum studium. Igitur preses super paludem et flumen, cui palus adiacens erat, barbarum salutabat. Cui Sclavus aequalia respondit. Ad quem preses: 'Satis tibi esset, si bellum gereres contra unum nostrum de servis domini mei, et non etiam contra dominum meum regem. Quis tibi exercitus, quae arma, ut talia presumas? Si aliqua vobis virtus adsit, si artes, si audatia, date nobis locum ad vos transeundi, sive nos vobis huc veniendi, et aequato loco fortitudo appareat pugnatoris'. Sclavus barbarico more frendens et multa convicia evomens irrisit Geronem imperatoremque et omnem exercitum, sciens eum multis molestiis aggravatum. Gero ad haec commotus, ut erat animi ardentissimi: „Crastinus“, inquit, „dies declarabit, tu et populus tuus fortes viribus sitis an non. Cras enim nos vobiscum congredientes procul dubio videbitis“. Gero denique, olim licet multis gestis insigniis clarus haberetur, iam tamen magnus ac celebris ubique predicabatur, eo quod Sclavos qui dicuntur Uchri cum magna gloria cepisset. Gero reversus in castra retulit quae audierat. Imperator vero de nocte consurgens iubet sagittis et aliis machinis ad pugnam provocare, et quasi vi flumen paludemque transcendere velle. Sclavi autem hesterna comminatione nichil aliud arbitrati ad pugnam pariter conspiravere, iter totis viribus defendentes. At Gero cum amicis Ruanis miliario ferme uno a castris descendens hoste ignorante tres pontes celeriter construxit et misso nuntio ad imperatorem totum exercitum revocavit. Quo viso barbari et ipsi obviare legionibus contendunt. Pedites barbarorum dum longiorem viam currunt et certamen ineunt, fatigatione dissoluti militibus citius cedunt; nec mora, dum fugae presidium quaerunt, obtruncantur. LV. Stoinef autem colle eminenti cum equitibus eventum rei expectabat. Socios inire fugam cernens fugit et ipse, lucoque quodam cum duobus satellitibus repertus a viro militari, cuius vocabulum erat Hosed, certamine fatigatus armisque nudatus capite caesus est. Satellitum alius vivus captus imperatorique cum capite et spoliis reguli ab eodem milite presentatus est. Ex hoc Hosed clarus et insignis habitus. Merces tam famosi gesti donativum imperiale cum reditu viginti mansuum. Eo die castra hostium invasa, et multi mortales interfecti vel capti, caedesque in multam noctem protrahebatur. Postera luce caput subreguli in campo positum, circaque illud septingenti captivorum capite caesi, eiusque consiliarius oculis erutis lingua est privatus in medioque cadaverum inutilis relictus. Wichmannus vero et Ecberhtus scelerum conscii in Galliam profecti, ad Hugonem ducem fuga elapsi sunt."
  4. ^ Thietmar Chron. II.12 cod. 1: "Dum haec aguntur, ex parte Sclavorum bellum ingruit horridum, hortatu Vigmanni comitis et Ekberhti, ducatu autem Nacconis et Stoinnegui fratris eius. Quos Herimannus dux superare diffidens, regis petivit auxilium. Hic ut erat inpiger, milicia forti aquilonares invadit regiones, malum sepissime, ut scriptura docet, pandentes; ibique Stoingneum, luco absconditum fugientibusque sociis captum, decollari precepit, confratres autem, tanti sceleris auctores, Wigmannum, materterae regis filium, et Ekbertum fugavit." Ibid., cod. 2: "Dum hec aguntur, ex parte Sclavorum bellum ingruit horridum, hortatu Wigmanni comitis et Ecberthi, ducatu autem Nacconis et Stoinnegui fratris eius. Quos Heremannus dux superare diffidens, regis auxilium petivit. Hic ut erat impiger, milicia fortis aquilonales regiones invadit, malum, ut scriptura dicit, sepissime pandentes; ibique Stoinneguum, luco absconditum fugientibusque sociis captum, decollari precepit, confratres autem, tanti sceleris auctores, Wigman num, matertere regis filium, et Ecbertum fugavit."
  5. ^ Prumiensis Chron. a. 955: "Rex inde revertens in Sclavos hostem dirigit, ubi simili potitus victoria vasta illos caede prosternit; Wigmannus expellitur."
  6. ^ Ann. Sangall. mai. a. 955: "Eodem anno Otto rex et filius eius Liutolf in festi vitate sancti Galli pugnaverunt cum Abatarenis, et Vulcis, et Zcirizspanis, et Tolonsenis, et victoriam in eis sumpsit, occiso duce illorum nomine Ztoignavo, et fecit illos tributarios."
  7. ^ Reimann et al. (2011), pp. 49, 52-53.
  8. ^ Reimann et al. (2011), p. 49.
  9. ^ Leyser (1968), p. 14, based on Widukind.
  10. ^ Thompson (1928), p. 489.

Bibliography[edit]

Primary sources
Literature
  • Joachim Henning: Der slawische Siedlungsraum und die ottonische Expansion östlich der Elbe. Ereignisgeschichte – Archäologie – Dendrochronologie. In: Joachim Henning (ed.): Europa im 10. Jahrhundert. Archäologie einer Aufbruchszeit. Internationale Tagung in Vorbereitung der Ausstellung "Otto der Große, Magdeburg und Europa," Mainz 2002, pp. 131–146.
  • Leyser, Karl. "Henry I and the Beginnings of the Saxon Empire." The English Historical Review, Vol. 83, No. 326. (Jan., 1968), pp 1–32.
  • Heike Reimann, Fred Ruchhöft, Cornelia Willich: Rügen im Mittelalter. Eine interdisziplinäre Studie zur mittel­alterlichen Besiedlung auf Rügen (Forschungen zur Geschichte und Kultur des Östlichen Mitteleuropa vol. 36), Stuttgart 2011.
  • Timothy Reuter: Germany in the Early Middle Ages 800–1056. New York: Longman, 1991.
  • James Westfall Thompson: Feudal Germany. 2 vol. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1928.