Story of Europe - H. E. Marshall

The Treaty of Verdun—The Beginning of France, Italy, and Germany

Charlemagne ruled as an emperor for more than thirteen years, during which time three emperors sat upon the Byzantine throne. With them all Charlemagne endeavoured to keep peace, sending them embassies, and calling them brother; but it was not until the year 812 that the Emperor Michael formally recognized Charlemagne's right to the imperial title.

Then for hundreds of years there were two emperors, one in the East and one in the West, each claiming to be the rightful heir of the Cęsars.

But although in the West the title  of emperor endured, Charlemagne's Empire fell to pieces soon after his death, the whole state being filled with discord and violence. For it was built upon no solid foundation, but upon the will of one man.

The Sons of Louis the Pious

Charlemagne had many sons, but only one survived him. He is known as Louis the Pious, and was more fitted for the cloister than the throne. Even in his lifetime his unruly sons tried to rend the Empire from him, and after his death they quarrelled among themselves over their inheritance. After a time the two younger of these sons, Louis and Charles, joined together against Lothaire, the elder.

At Strasburg they met together, and swore an oath of eternal friendship. The taking of this oath was made an occasion of solemn ceremony. The two armies were drawn up facing each other upon the plain, and in the space between the kings, in gorgeous robes, glittering with gold and jewels, met. Each made a speech, and then with great solemnity swore to stand by the other.

Louis, being the elder, spoke first. "For the love of God," he said, "and for this Christian people and our common salvation, as much as God gives me to know and to do, I will aid my brother Charles in all things as one ought rightly to aid one's brother, on condition that he does as much for me. And I will never willingly make any compact with Lothaire which may injure this my brother Charles."

Louis repeated the same words but in another language. For the interesting thing about this oath is that it was taken in two languages. It had been the dream of Charlemagne's life to unite all the Germans under one sceptre, so that they should be one people, speaking one language, and owning one ruler.

Before he died he had even begun to write a German grammar. But already, less than thirty years after his death, there were two such widely differing languages spoken within the Empire that the Frankish soldiers of Charles and the Saxon soldiers of Louis could not understand each other. So Louis, speaking to his brother's Franks, spoke their language, and Charles, addressing the Saxon soldiers, used another language.

Out of those two languages have grown modern French and modern German.

You may see how they have developed from the few words from the beginning of the oath which follow:

Old French: "Pro Deo amur et pro Christian poble et nostro commun salvament."

Modern French: "Pour l'amour de Dieu, et pour le salut commun du peuple cretien et le notre."

Old German: "In Godes Minna ind in thes Christianes folches ind unser bedhero gehaltnissi."

Modern German: "Aus Liebe zu Gott und des Christlicher Volkes sowie unser beider Heiles halber."

Those of you who know Latin can see at once what a strong influence that language had on the French spoken in the ninth century. The Vandals and the Goths, who had, in turn, conquered Gaul, left no trace even on the language. The Franks left little, and to-day there are not more than a thousand words of Germanic origin in the whole French language. Still fewer words can be traced to Celtic—the original language of the Gauls. Latin, the language of the Romans, is the chief element. Therefore we call it a Romance language—that is, one founded upon and developed from the language spoken by the ancient Romans. Italian and Spanish are also Romance languages, for in spite of repeated conquests by Vandals, Goths, Lombards, and Saracens, Latin remained the chief element in them.

Latin, on the other hand, had little influence on the German language, which is merely a development of the old German tongue. Germany never came under the civilizing influences of Rome, and its language, among other things, has remained the most primitive and undeveloped language in Europe.

Treat of Verdun


The Treaty of Verdun

In the Strasburg oath we see the beginnings of modern French and of modern German. In the following year we see the beginnings of the separate existence of the two countries. For then all three brothers met together once more and signed the treaty known as the Treaty of Verdun, by which they agreed to divide the Empire. Lothaire, being the eldest, kept the title of Emperor, and to him was given Italy and a strip of land west of the Rhine, running right through the Empire, from the Mediterranean to the North Sea.

The land which lay east of this was given to Louis, and the land which lay west of it was given to Charles. Save that the two kingdoms were divided by the strip of land belonging to Lothaire, the land of Charles took roughly the form of the France of to-day, that of Louis the form of Germany. Here, then, we have the beginnings of three great states—France, Germany, and Italy.

Nearly four hundred years had passed since the last Roman emperor of the West had been swept from his throne by an audacious Teuton. And in the turmoil of these centuries it would seem as if the Teutons had brought nothing in their train but bloodshed and discord and the destruction of art and learning. But to the reforming of Europe out of the fragments of the shattered Roman Empire the Teutons brought something new.

In Rome the state was everything, the individual nothing. There was a great gulf between the powerful wealthy and the powerless poor, between the slave and the slave-owner. The slave-owner was almighty, the slave a mere chattel. But among the Teutons there were no slaves. They were a free people, and each man was conscious of his own personal worth in the community. The idea of this individual freedom was the Teutonic bequest to future ages. But in the torn fragments of the Roman Empire out of which new nations were being hammered, side by side with this idea of personal freedom there grew up another power which was, to a great extent, to nullify it. This was the papal power.

For many centuries in all the states of southern Europe the power of the Church was supreme. Only in the island of Britain, separated from the continent of Europe by the narrow seas, the power of the pope was never felt in its full force. It was there, therefore, that this idea of freedom was allowed to grow with least opposition, and at length developed fully.

[Illustration] from The Story of Europe by H. E. Marshall