Berthoald, Duke of Saxony
Berthoald (died 622) was the Duke of the Saxons during the reign of the Frankish kings Chlothar II and his son Dagobert I, the last ruling Merovingians. He despised Frankish suzerainty and rebelled, but was defeated. His story is told in the Liber Historiae Francorum (727) and the Gesta Dagoberti (830s), both sources partial to the Merovingian kings.
In 622, shortly after Chlothar had appointed Dagobert to rule Austrasia, the Frankish kingdom that bordered the Saxons, Berthoald rose in revolt and began marching against him. Dagobert crossed the Rhine and invaded Saxon territory to meet him. In the subsequent battle the Franks were defeated and Dagobert received a strong blow to his helmet, by which a portion of his characteristically long Merovingian hair was lost. He retrieved it and sent it with his armiger to his father, to request his assistance. Chlothar, who was in the Ardennes at the time, gathered an army on hearing the news and left that same night. The Franks under Dagobert then encamped on the river Weser across from Berthoald's army. When Chlothar arrived, Dagobert's Franks applauded so loudly that the Saxons could hear on the other side of the river. Berthoald, however, refused to believe reports that Chlothar had arrived and accused his men of cowardice. Chlothar waded his horse into the river, where the Saxon leader met him. After the king removed his helmet to reveal his long grey hair, Berthoald taunted the Frank: "Retire, for if you defeat me, people will only say you have beaten your slave Berthoald, while if I win the victory, they will say everywhere that the mighty king of the Franks has been killed by his slave." The king, in full armour, then charged him and killed him in single combat, even cutting off his head with his axe. The Saxons were routed in the battle that followed. Their land was plundered and their adult males executed in great number.
The Saxon episode is described briefly in the tenth-century chronicle of Regino of Prüm, who characteristically gets the date wrong (572):
In 869, Hildegar, Bishop of Meaux, composed a Vita Faronis episcopi Meldensis in which he claims that a carmen publicum iuxta rusticitatem (a popular song) celebrating the Frankish victory over Berthoald was still being sung. He quotes the first and last lines only:
- Max Diesenberger (2003), "Hair, Sacrality and Symbolic Capital in the Frankish Kingdoms," The Construction of Communities in the Early Middle Ages: Texts, Resources and Artefacts, Richard Corradini, Max Diesenberger, and Helmut Reimitz, edd. (BRILL), 201–2.
- The above account is taken mostly from H. H. Howorth (1880), "The Ethnology of Germany, Part IV: The Saxons of Nether Saxony," The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 9, 417, supplemented by Diesenberger. Howorth cites as his sources the Liber and Regino.
- Regino of Prüm, Chronicon, Jacques Paul Migne, ed., Patrologia Latina, vol. 132, 13–1332.