The Transformation of Frontiers from Late Antiquity to the Carolingians

By Walter Pohl; Ian Wood et al. | Go to book overview

CONVERSION AND CONTROL:
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF LITURGICAL FRONTIERS
IN CAROLINGIAN PANNONIA

Helmut Reimitz

Accounts of Charlemagne's war against the Avars (791–c. 804) and subsequent Carolingian efforts to establish their “Order of Things” along the middle Danube provide many examples of the close relationship between conversion and the implementation of Carolingian rule on the eastern frontier. The conversion of the Avars as the solemn aim of the Avar war was frequently used by contemporary authors to legitimise the establishment of Carolingian power. Not only in the occasion of the first invasion of Avar territory in 791, but in almost every description of Carolingian success in ensuing years the liturgical orchestration of political negotiation and military events played an important role.1 Little difference was made in contemporary texts between the subjugation of the Avars and their conversion, and in fact one of these aspects of assimilation into the Empire could be expressed by and through the other. The Avar tudun, for example, travelled (according to the Royal Frankish Annals) to Saxony in 796 both to submit to Charlemagne and to receive baptism.2 Spiritual success could thus be seen as political success. But, as we see in a letter of Alcuin to Arn of Salzburg in 799, shortly after a rebellion of the subject Avars, political failure could be interpreted as spiritual failure as well.3

1 Cf. W. Pohl, Die Awaren. Ein Steppenυolk in Mitteleuropa 567–822 (München, 1988),
esp. pp. 323–331; id., “Das sanfte Joch Christi. Zum Christentum als gestaltende Kraft
im Mitteleuropa des Frühmittelalters”, Karantanien und der Alpen-Adria-Raum im Frühmittel-
alter, eds. G. Hödl and J. Grabmayer (Wien, 1993), pp. 259–280; H. Wolfram, Grenzen
und Räume. Geschichte Österreichs vor seiner Entstehung (Wien, 1995), pp. 212 ff.; id., Salzburg,
Bayern, Österreich. Die Conυersio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum und die Quellen ihrer Zeit, MIÖG,
Erg.Bd. 31 (Wien and München, 1995), esp. pp. 175 ff. I would like to thank Mayke
de Jong, Walter Pohl, Julia Smith and Ian Wood for reading earlier versions of this
article and for many suggestions and inspiring discussions.

2Annales regni Francorum a. 796; cf. Pohl, Die Awaren, pp. 300 f.; P. Geary, “Die Bedeu-
tung von Religion und Bekehrung im frühen Mittelalter”, Die Alemannen und Franken bis
zur “Schlacht bei Zülpich” (496/97), RGA, Erg.Bd. 19, ed. D. Geuenich (Berlin and New
York, 1998), pp. 445 f.

3 Alcuin, Ep. 184: Hunorum υero, sicut dixisti, perditio nostra est negligentia. Cf. on the

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