Annales Bertiniani

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Annales Bertiniani, or Annals of St. Bertin, are late Carolingian, Frankish annals that were found in the Abbey of Saint Bertin, Saint-Omer, France, after which they are named. Their account is taken to cover the period 830-82, thus continuing the Royal Frankish Annals (741–829), from which, however, it has circulated independently in only one manuscript. They are available in the Monumenta Germaniæ Historica and in a later French edition taking into account a newly discovered manuscript.[1] The Annals of St. Bertin are one of the principal sources of ninth-century Francia, and are particularly well-informed on events in the West Frankish sphere of Charles the Bald. The Annales Fuldenses are usually read as an East Frankish counterpart to their narrative.

Authorship and manuscripts[edit]

It has been suggested that the annals were first written by scribes in the court of Louis the Pious. There is no doubt that they were later continued as an independent narrative, eventually becoming somewhat emancipated from the Palace since the early 840s, first by Prudentius of Troyes (†861) and thereafter Hincmar of Reims (until 882), on whose lost manuscript their tradition is almost entirely dependent. Moreover, there are strong hints that the original text of the annals underwent at least minor changes under the latter's supervision.[2]


The annals' account is mostly first-hand and includes documents such as papal letters and excerpts from conciliar acts.


The text is characterized by near-annual reports of raids carried out by various Viking bands from Denmark and Scandinavia. During the ninth century, Viking groups sailed up rivers like the Seine, Loire, and Rhine, causing great devastation and plundering loot-laden Carolingian monasteries. This concentration on monastic centres, which housed vast amounts of movable wealth, has led some historians to believe that contemporary source writers (who, like Prudentius and Hincmar, were almost exclusively clergymen) exaggerated their accounts of the raids because they were usually the invaders' primary targets and frequently had to foot the bill when kings agreed to pay the Vikings off, as Charles the Fat did at the Siege of Paris in 885-6.[3] After 841, only in the years 874 and 875 are there no references to Viking activity.[4] Most scholars, however, now believe the Vikings posed little more than a persistent, niggling military threat to the Carolingian regime.[5]

The Annals are notable, among other things, for containing one of the earliest written references to Rus'. According to the Annals, a group of Norsemen who called themselves Rhos (qi se, id est gentem suam, Rhos vocari dicebant) had visited Constantinople about the year 838. Fearful of returning home through the steppes, which would have left them vulnerable to attack by barbarian and most ferocious peoples (perhaps Magyars), the Rhos set out with a Byzantine embassy hoping to obtain the Franks' assent for traveling via Germany. At Ingelheim royal residence, near Mainz, they were questioned by Frankish Emperor Louis the Pious and informed him that their leader was known as chacanus (hypothecized either to be a Latin form for "Khagan" sometimes accordingly emended to chaganus, or a deformation of Scandinavian proper name Håkan).[6] Through a more thorough investigation of the reasons for their journey the Emperor found that they belonged to the people of the Swedes (eos gentis esse Sueonum); and as it seemed to him that they were spies in his realm rather than peace envoys, he decided to keep them by him until it could be ascertained for sure whether they had come in earnest purpose or not. Scholars came to conclusion that the Rhos people lived in northern Russia, but that their ancestral homeland was in Sweden.[7] Scholars have sought to establish a connection between the Rus'-Byzantine embassy to Louis the Pious and contemporary events in the Eastern Empire, as recorded in the Life of St. George of Amastris, one of the earliest Greek sources on the Rus'.

The narrative came to an end in 882 when an elderly, frail Hincmar was forced to flee his cathedral at Reims from approaching Viking invaders.[8] The scholar-bishop died shortly after at Épernay, and the narrative was not continued.

The Annals is one of five major independent narrative accounts of the late 9th century. The others are:


  1. ^ Annales de Saint-Bertin, publiées pour la Société de Histoire de France (série antérieure 1789), par Félix Grat, Jeanne Vielliard et Suzanne Clemancet, avec une introduction et des notes par Léon Levillain. Paris, Klincksieck, 1964
  2. ^ Janet Nelson, The Annals of St. Bertin (Manchester, 1991), pp. 7-19
  3. ^ Peter Sawyer, The Age of the Vikings (London, 1971), p. 120
  4. ^ Annals of St. Bertin, 841-82
  5. ^ Simon Coupland and Janet Nelson, 'The Vikings on the Continent', in History Today Vol. 38, No. 12 (1988), pp. 12-19
  6. ^ I. H. Garipzanov, The Annals of St. Bertin (839) and Chacanus of the Rhos. Ruthenica 5 (2006) 3–8 sides with the old theory (
  7. ^ Gwyn Jones, A History of the Vikings, 2nd ed., London, Oxford University Press, 1984, pp. 249-250. (
  8. ^ Annals of St. Bertin, 882


  • The Annals of St. Bertin, trans. Janet Nelson, Ninth Century Histories, Vol. I (Manchester, 1991)
  • Nelson, Janet. Charles The Bald (London, 1992)