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Verdun, The Treaty of

Charlemagne was one of the greatest unifiers of Europe during the Medieval Period, but it was his son Louis the Pious and his grandsons who would carve the vast Carolingian Empire into what is now modern France and Germany. This led to the Treaty of Verdun which is recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during 843 AD.

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Charlemagne split the Frankish Empire between his three sons by Hildegard in 806. Only Louis the Pious was alive in 811 AD. The Frankish emperor had no choice but to appoint Louis as sole ruler of the empire who ruled as a sub-king of Aquitaine for some years now. Charlemagne died in 814 AD, and Louis, the newly crowned Holy Roman Emperor also partitioned the Frankish domain between his sons: the oldest, Lothair, crowned as king of Italy; another son, Louis, received Bavaria; and Pepin, the youngest of the three, received his father’s territory of Aquitaine.

The Carolingian Empire, at the time of Charlemagne and Louis the Pious’ reign, stretched from the Atlantic coast of present-day France to Bavaria in the east, and from Saxony in the north up to the duchies of Spoleto and Benevento in the south. The empire’s massive size made communication difficult, its cities easy pickings for marauders, and harder to defend from invaders. Charlemagne also conquered people of different ethnicities and languages, so it made sense that these peoples had different ethnic loyalties—a situation ripe for civil war by the time Louis divided the empire between his three sons. But Louis’ marriage to Judith of Bavaria (after his first wife’s death in 818) and the birth of their son Charles in 823 (later nicknamed the Landless) became the catalyst for the empire’s final division.

“The parting of Carolingian Empire by the Treaty of Verdun in 843.”

Domestic Troubles and Civil War

Louis was fond of his youngest son, so he took away a sizable portion of Lothair’s land located north of Italy known as Alemannia and gave it to the young prince. Lothair was enraged with this new arrangement, so he convinced his brothers to go up against their father, and a civil war erupted in the Carolingian Empire in 830 AD. The brothers overpowered their father in 833 AD, and sent him, as well as Charles and Judith, to different monasteries in the kingdom. But Louis the Pious had another trick up his sleeve. He negotiated with Pepin and Louis to side with him in exchange for more land. The brothers agreed to Louis’ proposal. When the news that his brothers turned on him reached Lothair, he finally agreed to retreat to his own territory in Italy.

Louis also gave Charles his own land in Neustria. Civil war once again erupted between the brothers after his death in 840 AD. Casualties from all sides piled up as war ravaged the empire, while crops failed or were destroyed during this period. This situation was compounded by the arrival of the Viking pirates and the invaders from Al-Andalus. The brothers saw the futility of the war they waged on each other after three years, so they came together and once again divided the Frankish empire between them. This agreement would be known as the Treaty of Verdun which they signed in 843 AD, and the empire was divided into three different territories.

  1. Charles the Landless – West Francia (comprised of Neustria, Gascony, Aquitaine, Septimania, parts of Burgundy, and into the Spanish Marches)
  2. Lothair – Middle Francia (the richest and most prestigious of the three which was comprised of Alsace, Lorraine, northern parts of Italy, and a portion of Burgundy)
  3. Louis the German – East Francia (comprised of Bavaria, Carinthia, East Saxony, Alemannia, and Austria)

Effects of the Treaty of Verdun

Charlemagne and Louis the Pious’ Frankish empire was made up of people of different ethnicities and languages. The Treaty of Verdun gave birth to the distinct identity of the French in West Francia and the Germans in East Francia. Lothair’s realm of Middle Francia was more ethnically and linguistically diverse with the occupation of the Flemish-speaking people in the north, the Franks in the middle, and the Italian in the south. It also shifted the power center from the Franks’ capital of Aachen to different cities in each domain. Without the Treaty of Verdun, Paris would not emerge as an intellectual, trade, and political center of modern France. The political importance of Frankish kings also declined during this period. They were replaced by landholding noblemen (dukes, counts, etc.) who emerged in the Medieval Period.

Picture By Scan made by Olahus – Histoire Et Géographie – Atlas Général Vidal-Lablache, Librairie Armand Colin, Paris, 1898., Public Domain,
Bradbury, Jim. The Routledge Companion to Medieval Warfare. London: Routledge, 2004.
Detwiler, Donald S. Germany: A Short History. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1976.
Einhard. “Einhard: The Life of Charlemagne.” Internet History Sourcebooks. Accessed August 30, 2016.
Goldberg, Eric Joseph. Struggle for Empire: Kingship and Conflict under Louis the German, 817-876. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006.
Thatcher, Oliver J., and Edgar Holmes McNeal. “A Source Book for Medi忙val History; Selected Documents Illustrating the History of Europe in the Middle Age.” Internet Archive. Accessed August 30, 2016.
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