An Early Medieval Arms Embargo

25 July 864, Charles the Bald, then King of West Francia, issued the Edict of Pistres during a diet in Normandy. The so-called “capitulary” forbade trading the high quality Frankish weapons and horses to Vikings, as well as ordering the fortifying of towns and bridges over navigable rivers and commanding every man who owned a horse to serve in his new cavalry – one of the initials for the birth of French chivalry.

“Chivalry!---why, maiden, she is the nurse of pure and high affection---the stay of the oppressed, the redresser of grievances, the curb of the power of the tyrant ---Nobility were but an empty name without her, and liberty finds the best protection in her lance and her sword.” (Sir Walter Scott, “Ivanhoe”)

Frankish Cavalry from the mid-9th century (from the Zurich Psalter)

During the first half of the 9th century, Viking raids in East and Middle Francia had grown from being a bloody nuisance to a real threat. Not only coastal settlements were hit, the Norse sailed their sleek warships up the rivers Rhine and Meuse, Loire and Seine and sacked places like Cologne, Paris and Tours, with the various
Frankish armies usually fighting rather each other than the raiders.

Charles the Bald, Charlemagne’s recently crowned grandson, had to do something. The idea to let rich landholders arm themselves and their men and contribute to the defence of the kingdom instead of having a large standing army, wasn’t exactly new in the 860s, the foundations of feudalism had already been laid at least 100 years before by Charles Martell and Pepin, but somehow the idea did not really seemed to have put down roots in terms of organising a local defense.

Charles the Bald (823 - 877)

After the Edict of Pistres, however, easily assembled warbands of mounted, armoured and well-armed local nobility and their immediate retainers begun to fight back more or less efficiently, as well as fortifying not exactly the towns but their own strongholds and protecting his vassals – the basic idea of a medieval feudal lord, well armed living in a castle. The Viking Age did not end at all for the next two hundred years though and only 50 years later, the Norwegian warlord Hrolf Ragnvaldsson was enfeoffed with his own Dukedom and became Charles the Simple’s vassal Robert of Normandy – in order to stop him raiding.

If the Edict of Pistres with its arms embargo was actually a trade blockade against Norse merchants is open to debate, but would support the idea of a not only violent expansion of the Scandinavians during the Viking Age.

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