Battle of Lechfeld

Battle of Lechfeld

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The Battle of Lechfeld often seen as the defining event for holding off the incursions of the Hungarians into Western Europe
Western Europe
Western Europe is a loose term for the collection of countries in the western most region of the European continents, though this definition is context-dependent and carries cultural and political connotations. One definition describes Western Europe as a geographic entity—the region lying in the...

, was a decisive victory by Otto I the Great, King of the Germans, over the Hungarian leaders, the harka
Horka (title)
Horka or harka was a title used by the Magyar tribes in the 9th and 10th centuries. According to Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenetos in De administrando imperio, the horka had judicial authority. However, in other sources the term horka was applied to a military leader...

(military leader) Bulcsú and the chieftains Lél (Lehel
Lehel
Lehel was a Magyar chieftain, one of the brilliant military leaders of prince Taksony of Hungary, the descendant of Árpád. He was one of the most important figures of the Magyar invasions of Europe...

) and Súr. Located south of Augsburg
Augsburg
Augsburg is a city in the south-west of Bavaria, Germany. It is a university town and home of the Regierungsbezirk Schwaben and the Bezirk Schwaben. Augsburg is an urban district and home to the institutions of the Landkreis Augsburg. It is, as of 2008, the third-largest city in Bavaria with a...

, the Lechfeld is the flood plain that lies along the Lech River
Lech River
The Lech is a river in Austria and Germany. It is a right tributary of the Danube in length with a drainage basin of .Its source is located in the Austrian state of Vorarlberg, where the river rises from lake Formarinsee in the Alps at an altitude of...

. The battle appears as the Battle of Augsburg in Hungarian
Hungary
Hungary , officially the Republic of Hungary , is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The...

 historiography
Historiography
Historiography refers either to the study of the history and methodology of history as a discipline, or to a body of historical work on a specialized topic...

. It was followed up by the Battle of Recknitz
Battle of Recknitz
The Battle of Recknitz river]]") was fought on 16 October 955 between the forces of Otto I of Germany allied with the Rani tribe on one side, and the Obotrite federation under Nako and his brother Stoinegin with their allied and tributary Slav neighbours on the other in the region of present-day...

 in October. It was the first national German battle against a foreign enemy.

Sources


The most important source is Gerhard's monograph Vita Sancti Uodalrici that describes the series of actions from the German point of view. Another source is the chronicler Widukind of Corvey
Widukind of Corvey
Widukind of Corvey was a Saxon historical chronicler, named after the Saxon duke and national hero Widukind who had battled Charlemagne. Widukind the chronicler was born in 925 and died after 973 at the Benedictine abbey of Corvey in East Westphalia...

 giving us important details. The chronicle Gesta Hungarorum
Gesta Hungarorum
Gesta Hungarorum is a record of early Hungarian history by an unknown author who describes himself as Anonymi Bele Regis Notarii , but is generally cited as Anonymus...

provides insight from the Hungarian side; however this chronicle was written in only the 12th century.

Historical context


Many decades of Hungarian
Principality of Hungary
The Principality of Hungary, also Hungarian Principality or Duchy of Hungary , was the first documented Hungarian state, a tribal alliance in the Carpathian Basin, established 895 or 896, following the 9th-century Magyar invasion of Pannonia.The Magyars , a semi-nomadic group of people led by Árpád...

 raiding had highlighted the inability of the later Carolingian
Carolingian
The Carolingian dynasty was a Frankish noble family with origins in the Arnulfing and Pippinid clans of the 7th century AD. The name "Carolingian", Medieval Latin karolingi, an altered form of an unattested Old High German *karling, kerling The Carolingian dynasty (known variously as the...

 kings of Germany to demonstrate that they were kings in more than name.

Background


After having put down a rebellion by his sons, Otto I the Great, King of the Germans, set out to Saxony, his duchy. Upon arriving in Magdeburg he received reports of the Hungarian invasion. The Hungarians had already invaded once before during the course of the rebellion. This occurred immediately after he had put down a revolt in Franconia
Franconia
Franconia is a region of Germany comprising the northern parts of the modern state of Bavaria, a small part of southern Thuringia, and a region in northeastern Baden-Württemberg called Tauberfranken...

. Because of unrest among the Polabian Slavs
Polabian Slavs
Polabian Slavs - is a collective term applied to a number of Lechites tribes who lived along the Elbe river, between the Baltic Sea to the north, the Saale and the Limes Saxoniae to the west, the Ore Mountains and the Western Sudetes to the south, and Poland to the east. They have also been known...

 on the lower Elbe
Elbe
The Elbe is one of the major rivers of Central Europe. It rises in the Krkonoše Mountains of the northwestern Czech Republic before traversing much of Bohemia , then Germany and flowing into the North Sea at Cuxhaven, 110 km northwest of Hamburg...

, Otto had to leave most of his Saxons
Saxons
The Saxons were a confederation of Germanic tribes originating on the North German plain. The Saxons earliest known area of settlement is Northern Albingia, an area approximately that of modern Holstein...

 at home. In addition to this, Saxony was distant from Augsburg and its environs, and considerable time would have elapsed waiting their arrival. The battle took place six weeks after the first report of an invasion, and historian Hans Delbrück
Hans Delbrück
Hans Delbrück was a German historian. Delbrück was one of the first modern military historians, basing his method of research on the critical examination of ancient sources, the use of auxiliary disciplines, like demography and economics, to complete the analysis and the comparison between...

 asserts that they could not have possibly made the march in time.

The king ordered his troops to concentrate on the Danube, in the vicinity of Neuburg
Neuburg an der Donau
Neuburg an der Donau, literally Neuburg on the Danube River, is a town which is the capital of the Neuburg-Schrobenhausen district in the state of Bavaria in Germany.-Divisions:The municipality has 16 divisions:-History:...

 and Ingolstadt
Ingolstadt
Ingolstadt is a city in the Free State of Bavaria, in the Federal Republic of Germany. It is located along the banks of the Danube River, in the center of Bavaria. As at 31 March 2011, Ingolstadt had 125.407 residents...

. He did this in order to march on the Hungarian line of communications and catch them in their rear while they were raiding northeast of Augsburg. It was also a central point of concentration for all the contingents that were assembling. Strategically therefore, this was the best location for Otto to concentrate his forces before making the final descent upon the Hungarians.

There were other troops that had an influence on the course of the battle. On previous occasions, in 932
932
Year 932 was a leap year starting on Sunday of the Julian calendar.- Asia :* After an initial defeat, Mardavij took Tabaristan and Gurgan. Makan, whose attempts to recover his territories failed, entered the service of the Samanids.- Europe :* St...

 and 954
954
Year 954 was a common year starting on Sunday of the Julian calendar.- Europe :* King Máel Coluim I of Scotland is killed in battle against the Highlanders...

 for example, there had been Hungarian incursions which had invaded the Germanic lands to the South of the Danube, and then retreated back to their native country via Lotharingia
Lotharingia
Lotharingia was a region in northwest Europe, comprising the Low Countries, the western Rhineland, the lands today on the border between France and Germany, and what is now western Switzerland. It was born of the tripartite division in 855, of the kingdom of Middle Francia, itself formed of the...

, to the West Frankish Kingdom and finally, through Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

. That is to say, a wide sweeping U-turn that initially started westward, then progressed to the south, and then finally to the east back to their homeland; and thus escaping retribution in Germany. The king was aware of the escape of these Hungarians on the above mentioned occasions, and was determined to trap them. He therefore ordered his brother, Archbishop Bruno, to keep the Lotharingian forces in Lorraine. He did this with the fear that the Hungarians would follow their plan of retreat on the previous occasions. However, with a powerful enough force of knights pressing them in the front from the west, and a powerful force of knights chasing them from the East, the Hungarians would be unable to escape.

The Bishop Ulrich
Ulrich of Augsburg
Saint Ulrich , sometimes spelled Uodalric or Odalrici, was Bishop of Augsburg and a leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany. He was the first saint to be canonized.-Family:...

 defended Augsburg, a border city of Swabia, with a contingent of soldiers. Motivating them with the 23rd Psalm
Psalm 23
In the 23rd Psalm in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the writer describes God as his Shepherd. The text, beloved by Jews and Christians alike, is often alluded to in popular media and has been set to music....

 ("Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death"). While this defense was going on, the king was raising an army to march south.

There is no reliable source on the size of the armies and the numbers are still disputed. The most accepted view is that Otto called up about 8,000 men. The eight 1,000-strong legiones (divisions) included three from Bavaria
Duchy of Bavaria
The Duchy of Bavaria was the only one of the stem duchies from the earliest days of East Francia and the Kingdom of Germany to preserve both its name and most of its territorial extent....

, two from Swabia
Duchy of Swabia
Swabia was one of the five stem duchies of the medieval German kingdom, and its dukes were thus among the most powerful magnates of Germany.-History:...

, one from Franconia and one from Bohemia under Prince Boleslav I
Boleslaus I of Bohemia
Boleslaus I the Cruel, also called Boleslav I , was the ruler of Bohemia from 935 to his death. His was the son of Vratislaus I and the younger brother of his predecessor, Saint Wenceslaus.Boleslav is notorious for the murder of his brother Wenceslaus, through which he became duke of Bohemia...

. The eighth division, commanded by Otto and slightly larger than the others, included Saxons, Thuringians, and the king's personal guard. The king's contingent probably included seasoned knights of Frankish origin.

According to chronicles, the Hungarian army amounted to 25–50,000 men, but a more realistic figure is 10–25,000 men.

Gerhard writes that the Hungarian forces advanced to the Iller river
Iller
The Iller is a river in Bavaria, Germany. It is a right tributary of the Danube, 147 km in length.The source is located near Oberstdorf in the Allgäu region of the Alps, close to the Austrian border. From there it runs northwards, passing the towns of Sonthofen, Immenstadt, and Kempten...

 and placed Augsburg
Augsburg
Augsburg is a city in the south-west of Bavaria, Germany. It is a university town and home of the Regierungsbezirk Schwaben and the Bezirk Schwaben. Augsburg is an urban district and home to the institutions of the Landkreis Augsburg. It is, as of 2008, the third-largest city in Bavaria with a...

 under siege. At this time, Augsburg was not quite touching the left bank of the river, upon which it was basically situated. The fort was defended by bishop Ulrich. Most probably the fiercest battle took place on August 8 at the eastern gate when the Hungarians tried to invade the fort in large numbers. The bishop's men defended bravely and killed the leader of the attack, forcing the Hungarians to withdraw. The next day the Hungarians launched a wider general attack. During the battle, Berchtold of Risinesburg arrived, which heralded the approach of the German army. At the end of the day, the siege was suspended, and the Hungarians prepared for the next day's battle. Count Dietpald led soldiers to Otto's camp during the night.

Battle at Lechfeld


The order of march of the German army was as follows: the three Bavarian contingents, the Frankish contingent under Duke Konrad, the royal unit (the center), the two contingents of Swabians and the Bohemian contingent. The Bavarians were placed at the head of column, according to Delbrück, because they were marching through Bavarian territory and they therefore knew the territory best. All of these were mounted.

According to the chronicler Widukind of Corvey
Widukind of Corvey
Widukind of Corvey was a Saxon historical chronicler, named after the Saxon duke and national hero Widukind who had battled Charlemagne. Widukind the chronicler was born in 925 and died after 973 at the Benedictine abbey of Corvey in East Westphalia...

, Otto "pitched his camp in the territory of the city of Augsburg and joined there the forces of Henry I, Duke of Bavaria
Henry I, Duke of Bavaria
Henry I was Duke of Bavaria.He was the second son of the German King Henry the Fowler and his wife Matilda. He attempted a revolt against his older brother Otto I in 938 in alliance with Eberhard of Franconia and Giselbert of Lorraine, believing he had a claim on the throne. In 939 he was defeated...

, who was himself lying mortally ill nearby, and by Duke Conrad
Conrad, Duke of Lorraine
Conrad the Red was a Duke of Lorraine from the Salian dynasty.He was the son of Werner V, Count of the Nahegau, Speyergau, and Wormsgau. His mother was a sister of Conrad I of Germany. In 941, he succeeded his father in his counties and obtained an additional territory, the Niddagau...

 with a large following of Franconian knights. Conrad's unexpected arrival encouraged the warriors so much that they wished to attack the enemy immediately."

The arrival of Conrad, the exiled duke of Lotharingia
Lotharingia
Lotharingia was a region in northwest Europe, comprising the Low Countries, the western Rhineland, the lands today on the border between France and Germany, and what is now western Switzerland. It was born of the tripartite division in 855, of the kingdom of Middle Francia, itself formed of the...

 (Lorraine) and Otto's son-in-law, was particularly heartening because he had recently thrown in his lot with the Magyars, but now returned to fight under Otto; in the ensuing battle he lost his life. A legion of Swabians were commanded by Duke Burchard, who had married Hedwig, the daughter of Henry, the brother of Otto. Also among those fighting under Otto was Boleslav of Bohemia. About 3,000 Saxons, were commanded by Otto himself.

The Hungarians crossed the river and immediately attacked the Bohemians, then later the Schwabian legions, but retreated after a short fight. As Otto received word of the attack, he ordered Conrad to recover the baggage train, and Conrad succeeded in doing so. Conrad then returned to the main forces. For Otto it became evident that this was the time to attack the Hungarians, and he did not hesitate. Despite a volley of arrows from the Hungarians, Otto's army smashed into the Hungarian line, and began to sweep over it.

The Germans were able to fight hand-to-hand with the Hungarians, giving the traditionally nomadic warriors no room to use their favorite shoot-and-run tactics. Bulcsú feigned a retreat with part of his force, in an attempt to lure Otto's men into breaking their line in pursuit, but to no avail. The German line maintained formation and routed the Magyars from the field. The German forces maintained discipline and methodically pursued the Magyars for the next couple of days, rather than dispersing jubilantly, as German forces had been known to do in the past. "Some of the enemy sought refuge in nearby villages, their horses being worn out; these were surrounded and burnt to death within the walls." The captured Magyars were either executed, or sent back to their ruling prince, Taksony
Taksony of Hungary
Taksony , Grand Prince of the Hungarians .Taksony was the son of Zoltán , the fourth son of Árpád, the second Grand Prince of the Hungarians...

, missing their ears and noses. On their return, the Hungarian dukes Lél, Bulcsú and Sur, who were not Árpáds, were executed. Duke Conrad was also killed, after he opened his vest in the summer heat and one arrow struck his throat. "Never was so bloody a victory gained over so savage a people," was Widukind's conclusion.

Tactical details


Otto deployed his divisions in a single line, without reserves. From right to left the line was held by Duke Conrad's Franconians, three Bavarian divisions, Otto's division and two Swabian divisions. The Bohemian division defended the camp. The Hungarians mounted a rapid frontal attack in a typical horse archer swarm, raining arrows among the German knights, but this was only a feint. The main attack circled behind Otto's host and struck the camp, routing Boleslav's knights. The Hungarian flanking force then attacked the two Swabian divisions from the rear while their compatriots attacked in front.

The Swabians were disordered by the double attack, but they did not panic. Instead, they fell back fighting toward the king's division. Otto ordered Conrad to pull his division out from the extreme right and bring it behind the German line to help the Swabians on the enveloped left flank. Conrad brilliantly executed the difficult maneuver and his knights charged the Hungarian flanking force. Pinned between Conrad and the Swabians, these horsemen were cut to pieces. Meanwhile, Otto and the Bavarians had successfully held off the enemy frontal attack. Once Conrad disposed of the flanking force, Otto led a general advance. Conrad was killed by an arrow.

Seeing the day going against them, the Hungarians bolted for their camp. Fleeing across the river, many were caught in the shallow river bed (made up of banks of pebbles) and killed as they urged their tired horses up the steep and slippery west bank of the Lech. After the Germans stormed and plundered the Hungarian camp, the raiders set out for Hungary. They had to swing a long detour south and east, during which a number of the smaller war parties were overtaken and slaughtered by the enraged local people.

Aftermath


On the field of battle the German lords raised Otto on their shields in the Germanic manner and proclaimed him Emperor. A few years later, on the strength of this, Otto went to Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 and had himself crowned Holy Roman Emperor
Holy Roman Emperor
The Holy Roman Emperor is a term used by historians to denote a medieval ruler who, as German King, had also received the title of "Emperor of the Romans" from the Pope...

 by Pope John XII
Pope John XII
Pope John XII , born Octavianus, was Pope from December 16, 955, to May 14, 964. The son of Alberic II, Patrician of Rome , and his stepsister Alda of Vienne, he was a seventh generation descendant of Charlemagne on his mother's side.Before his death, Alberic administered an oath to the Roman...

.

The king spent the night after the battle in Augsburg. The king specifically issued the order that all river crossings were to be held. This was done so that as many of the Hungarians as possible, and specifically their leaders, could be captured and killed. This strategy was successful, as the Duke Henry of Bavaria captured a number of their leaders and killed them.

It is disputed how this had affected Hungarian statehood. What is certain is that it was not a crushing defeat, as Otto was not able to chase the army and extend the battle to Hungarian lands. After the defeat Hungarians reached the end of the almost 100-year era, when they were seen as the dominating military force in Europe.

After 955 the Hungarians completely ceased all campaigns westwards. In addition, Otto did not launch any further military campaigns against the Hungarians.

Importance


The battle has been viewed as a symbolic victory for the knight
Knight
A knight was a member of a class of lower nobility in the High Middle Ages.By the Late Middle Ages, the rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior....

 cavalry
Heavy cavalry
Heavy cavalry is a class of cavalry whose primary role was to engage in direct combat with enemy forces . Although their equipment differed greatly depending on the region and historical period, they were generally mounted on large powerful horses, and were often equipped with some form of scale,...

, who would define European warfare in the high middle ages
High Middle Ages
The High Middle Ages was the period of European history around the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries . The High Middle Ages were preceded by the Early Middle Ages and followed by the Late Middle Ages, which by convention end around 1500....

, over the nomadic, light cavalry warfare, which characterized warfare during the Dark Ages
Early Middle Ages
The Early Middle Ages was the period of European history lasting from the 5th century to approximately 1000. The Early Middle Ages followed the decline of the Western Roman Empire and preceded the High Middle Ages...

 in Central and Eastern Europe.

Paul K. Davis writes, "Magyar defeat ended more than 90 years of their pillaging western Europe and convinced survivors to settle down, creating the basis for the state of Hungary
Hungary
Hungary , officially the Republic of Hungary , is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The...

."