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One thing I’ve struggled with as a writer is the mass execution of 4,500 Saxon men at Verden in 782, ordered by King Charles (Charlemagne).

To us in the 21st century, our first reaction is that this is barbaric. To my Frankish characters, it’s justice. As I did more research on what led up to this incident for today’s post on Unusual Historicals, I am finding we might be closer to those eighth-century Franks than we would like to believe.

A little context: this execution was retribution for a rebellion in Saxony, part of series of wars between the Franks and the Saxons that started 10 years before. What made 782 distinct was a disastrous battle for the Franks, resulting in the deaths of many noblemen.

In a culture of vengeance, Charles’s own counts would have likely demanded the enemy pay dearly. Perhaps Charles feared if he did not exact a price, the Saxons would be emboldened to do worse.

If we 21st Americans are to be honest, we also want justice when our people are attacked. We could not have let Pearl Harbor or 9/11 go unanswered.

The man Charles probably wanted to kill, Widukind, the instigator of the 782 rebellion escaped. Had Charles captured him, would there have been this mass beheading? We can only speculate.

For more about this incident and what led up to it, visit Unusual Historicals.

1725 Statue of Charlemagne by Agostino Cornacchini

Equestrian statue of Charlemagne, by Agostino Cornacchini (1725), St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican. Photo by Myrabella via Wikimedia Commons, used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.