Colonists, Knights and Cogs (772-1410)

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The music for the show is Flute Sonata in E-flat major, H.545 by Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach (or some claim it as BWV 1031 Johann Sebastian Bach) performed and arranged by Michel Rondeau under Common Creative Licence 3.0.


I promised you a History of the Germans but I am afraid there is no such thing. All I can give you is the histories of the German people. The previous 94 episodes you have heard one of the histories of the Germans, the one about the mighty emperors and their political, military and spiritual struggle with the papacy. It is a great story, and it was fun to tell it.

But today we kick off another of the histories, the history of the North of Germany, the part that looked east, rather than south. It is a story of a frontier culture where an estimated 7% of the population of the western part of the empire pack up their belongings and move east, sometimes under the cover of expansionary princes or knightly orders, sometimes invited by local potentates looking to grow their economies. It is a story about the creation and expansion of trade networks, the foundation of cities, some that will remain modest in size, others that turn into important European capitals. It is the story of a periphery that will in time become the centre.

And because it is an almost independent history, we start at the beginning, in the year 772, the year when Charlemagne takes his troops into Saxony hell bent on turning these pagan tribesmen into good Christians and subjects of his emerging empire. If things work out as I hope, we should end this season in 1410 having covered the creation of two most important principalities, Saxony and Brandenburg (aka Prussia), the development of the Teutonic knights and the Hanse.

Key Events

Colonists (772-1250)

When Henry the Fowler ascends to the throne in 919 he does so as duke of Saxony. The stem duchy of Saxony is this enormous territory that stretches from the eastern shores of the Rhine all the way to the Elbe and later to the Oder River.

Under the Ottonians (919-1025) Saxony is the centre of imperial power. But when the Salians take over, the imperial focus shifts south. Saxony becomes a hotbed of rebellion until the House of Welf sets up its own king-like rule over the Stem duchy. Imperial power recedes well into the background and the North sets out on its own path.


The beginnings of the Stem duchy of Saxony are drenched in blood as Charlemagne forces the local pagans to convert. 150 years later the Saxons do the same to their neighbours to the east, the Wends .


This week we take a look at the bigger neighbours, the Bohemians, the Poles and the Danes. It is right around this time, the middle of the 10th century that these political entities form. As always none of this happens smoothly, so expect all sorts of battles and betrayals, including a legion of thieves…


The Wends, the pagan Slavic peoples living east of the Elbe who found themselves ever more squeezed by their now Christian neighbours wake up one morning to find their oppressors fatally weakened. Events 2000 km south of Brandenburg create the once in a century opportunity to throw off the yoke of the Saxons.

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