Abbo Cernuus

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Abbo Cernuus ("the Crooked"), Abbo Parisiensis, or Abbo of Saint-Germain was a Neustrian Benedictine monk and poet of the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris. He was born about the middle of the ninth century.

Abbo was present at the Siege of Paris by the Vikings in 885–886. He was the only eyewitness who wrote a description of it, in Latin verse, with an account of subsequent events to 896, the so-called De bellis Parisiacæ urbis or Bella Parisiacæ urbis ("Wars of the City of Paris"). Abbo also left some sermons for the instruction of clerics in Paris and Poitiers (Patrologia Latina, CXXXII).


Though coming from one of the most prominent ecclesiastical centres of ninth-century Francia the monk Abbo is unusually obscure for an individual responsible for a source such as the De bellis.[1] The little that we do know is gleaned from this work, with very little corroboratory evidence from elsewhere. Though we know he was a Neustrian we do not know his political agenda or affiliations, as he contradicts his own "views" throughout the work. As a result, historians have often speculated that the De bellis was "refined" at a later date by a separate editor.

Abbo can be viewed as a source for the collapse of Carolingian hegemony in 887–88. He regarded Odo as the legitimate successor of Charles the Fat in West Francia after Charles' death (888) and does not seem to have regarded the deposition of East Francia as binding on West Francia.[2] Abbo also regards the empire as Frankish and he himself, though a Neustrian and Parisian, as Frankish as well. He does not present a united West Francia as a more basic political unit than the empire and is therefore seen by some historians as refuting the hypothesis that regional identities led to the breakup of the empire within Abbo's lifetime.[3]

We have no definitive date for Abbo's death, though it has been assumed to be later than 922. Around that year Bishop Fulrad of Paris endeavored to publish a selection of Abbo's sermons. If the bishop was willing to publish his sermons while Abbo was still alive, why did he choose not to endorse the De bellis?[4]

De bellis Parisiacæ urbis[edit]

The Wars of the City of Paris was written in the 890s. The poem itself narrates events taking place over an eleven-year period from 885 to 896. It was first composed circa 890 and later extended up to 896. The entire poem consists of 1,393 lines in three books: 660 lines in the first book, 618 in the second, and 115 in the third. Throughout the poem Abbo employs a dactylic hexameter, though with the occasional fault. This metre helps to underpin the epic nature of the poem, a conscious aim of Abbo.[4] The purpose of the work was both scholarly and hortative, warning future generations of the Viking menace.[5] Its polemic literary style (sometimes called the "hermeneutic style") is typical of its period and place, though it is studded with "obscure Grecisms."[5] It has usually received negative criticism from historians, or even been viewed as a contemporary parody of the hermeneutic style.[5]

A detailed and political work, it has been underused by historians of the late Carolingians.[6] It may have been written at the bequest or insistence of Odo of France, who appears as the hero and "future king" (rex futurus) in the poem.[2] The poet views Odo through the lens of the 890s. He praises Odo as "the noblest" of the city of Paris, more so than Askericus or Joscelin.[2] Abbo also presents the Emperor Charles III, whom he refers to as basileus Francorum ("emperor of the Franks"), in a positive light.[7] The poem stresses the magnitude and diversity of the united Frankish empire. Significantly, he places no blame on the emperor for the siege of Paris nor for the subsequent harrying of Burgundy, which he actually considered to be appropriate for the Burgundians' refusal to aid the city.[8] Abbo even warns the Neustrians not to use "the purple to keep warm", a reference to overreliance on imperial protection, purple being an imperial colour.[9] The term basileus is likewise a distinctly Byzantine term.

Overall the De bellis seems less concerned with historical accuracy than with theology, preferring to ask why Paris was besieged by the Vikings and to speculate on the spiritual battle that "must" have occurred. Since this theme is most prominent in Book III, it has been treated with neglect by historians of the period. Henri Waquet even chose to omit it from his edition of the work entirely.[10]



  1. ^ Dass, 1.
  2. ^ a b c MacLean, 57.
  3. ^ MacLean, 64.
  4. ^ a b Dass, 2.
  5. ^ a b c MacLean, 55.
  6. ^ MacLean, 56.
  7. ^ MacLean, 58.
  8. ^ MacLean, 60.
  9. ^ MacLean, 59.
  10. ^ Waquet, 1.

Primary sources[edit]

  • Abbo, Bella Parisiacae Urbis
    • ed. and tr. Nirmal Dass, Viking Attacks on Paris: The "Bella Parisiacae Urbis" of Abbo of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Dallas Medieval Texts and Translations 7. Leuven: Peeters, 2007.[1]
    • ed. and tr. Anton Pauels, Abbo von Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Bella Parisiacae Urbis, Buch I. Frankfurt, 1984. With German translation.
    • ed. Henri Waquet, Abbon. Le siège de Paris par les Normands. Poème du IXe siècle. Paris, 1942 (first edition), 1964 (second edition, with French translation). This edition omits the Third Book.
    • ed. Paul von Winterfeld, Abbonis Bella Parisiacae Urbis. MGH Poetae Latini aevi Carolini IV. Berlin 1899. 72-122.

Secondary sources[edit]

  • Adams, Anthony; Rigg, A.G. (2004). "A Verse Translation of Abbo of St. Germain's Bella Parisiacae urbis". Journal of Medieval Latin. 14: 1–68. doi:10.1484/J.JML.2.304214.
  • MacLean, Simon. Kingship and Politics in the Late Ninth Century: Charles the Fat and the end of the Carolingian Empire. Cambridge University Press: 2003.

Further reading[edit]

  • Lendinara, Patrizia. "The Third Book of the Bella Parisiacae Urbis by Abbo of Saint-Germain-des-Prés and its Old English gloss." Anglo-Saxon England 15 (1986): 73-89.

External links[edit]