Charlemagne: Charlemagne’s Capitulary for Saxony

Charlemagne, also referred to as Charles the great, was a Roman emperor and the author of the Capitulary for Saxony Decree. Charlemagne is viewed as a holy Roman emperor who had a significant impact in uniting the greater part of Western Europe. Charlemagne’s view of upholding Christianity gained him significant legitimacy from his subjects and recognition from the pope.

The Roman Empire has secured its place in the books of history for its role in the spread of Christianity throughout Europe. As Christianity became the official state religion of the Roman empire, Roman emperor’s began spreading the religion and converting the numerous regions they had captured, placing them under the rule and doctrine of Christian values.

Capitularies were legislation or rules enacted by Roman emperors that guided the conversion of captured nations to Christianity. These capitularies are instances of Christian influence in the decrees and laws made by the rulers of Rome. The Capitulary for Saxony was enacted in the year 775-790 with an intention of upholding Christianity, as the devoted religion of God, above other religions of that time (Effros, 1997).

Charlemagne's Capitulary for Saxony
Capitulary for Saxony

The Capitulary for Saxony Decree

In 802, the Roman ruler Charlemagne gave the Capitulary for Saxony decrees as part of the Roman law and constitution. This was in line with the demand by Charlemagne for the mass conversion of captives from the regions that were defeated by the Roman army in war.

The Saxons originally resided in the northern parts of Europe in what is presently Germany and Netherlands.

In the view of Charlemagne, the capitularies were the rules that were to govern the captured Saxony and convert them to Christianity forcefully. The Charlemagne’s Capitulary for Saxony was to be enforced to the Saxony by the enforcers of the king’s decrees. Therefore, both the enforcers and the Saxons had to have the knowledge of the document.

The capitulary as established by Charlemagne made it an offence for the Saxony to uphold their idols higher than the churches devoted to God by Christianity. This capitulary included the death sentence for offenders who showed contempt for Christianity, killed someone or lavished the daughter of the king. However, this did not deter the Saxons secretly perform their rituals in the death and cremations. They detested from burying their dead in the Christian burial sites as designated by the king (Effros, 1997).

In the days of the roman rule, there was no distinction between the church and the state, the king administered political and religious duties with the help of the priests. However, the capitulary of Saxony had to different intentions that were Political and religious. The king wanted to ensure the rebellion of the minority was controlled and they would not cause any trouble in his rule. His decrees were fueled by the facts the Saxons were unwilling to convert to Christianity and posed a danger to his Christian rule. Therefore, he integrated a strategy to keep this in check and the response was to issue a capitulary for the Saxons,

In the other hand, the roman ruler wished to protect the faith of Christianity as supreme as it was the default religion of the Romans. Christianity held the Romans together. According to the king, the Saxons were pagans who were devoted to wicked worship. This posed a threat to Christianity and the king wanted to deal with the threat of possible resurrection and popularity of the Saxony religion. This strategy was achieved by forcefully separating the Saxons and settling them in different parts in the territories (Karras, 1986).

 Comparisons of purposes will always override religious reasons with political reasons. This is because even the reasons behold the conversion of Saxons was to ensure they are absorbed into the romance and become one united people easy for the emperor to rule. The laws made burial ceremonies that were not Christian illegals. Penalties included death sentences to scare the Saxons to abandon the culture they had inherited from their fathers. The Saxon capitulary also made baptism mandatory while making pagan worship, divination, and offense. The Romans influence and Christianity spread through the parts of Western Europe. The political motivation to conquer larger parts of the Europe and gained supports from the Christian masses probably meant justifying the actions of the king through religious faith. The Roman Empire also feared that other religion may dominate over the Saxons and this will give them more power to resist the roman rule. To avoid such instances, Charlemagne and his predecessors all designed a strategy to ensure they took control of the Saxons first.

The fact that the state and the church were one thing made it difficult to distinguish the use of political purposes for religious uses or even religious for political reasons. However, it is clear that that Charlemagne’s capitulary was more inclined to political benefits the religious reasons. They were meant to expand the Roman Empire and rule and not spread Christianity. The political benefits were more justified the religious benefits. The conversion made it much easier to rule the Saxons that if they still remained in the pagan religion. The reasons were politically motivated but integrated with Christian explanations. Specifically, the Saxony capitulary was linked to political developments affecting tribal groups and identity. For instance, the tenth capitulary indicated that any conspiracy against the Christians was punishable by death. With such decrees in place, the Saxons would easily convert to Christians not by will but by their desire to avoided confrontations with the authorities.

The capitularies are perfect examples of heroes. They formed the basis of spreading Christianity throughout  the region where the Roman empire had influence was one of the brought law and order in the empire with several laws with death as possible punishments.  The capitulary of Saxony succeeded in the best interest of the Romans as planned by Charlemagne. His efforts can be attributed to his desire to subdue any sort of rebellion or resistance. The decree ensured that Saxons did not practice their religion publically. This was for reducing the influence of the Saxons religion practice on the Romans who had already established their faith In Christianity creating challenges for the ruler. The consequences of the rules were clearing wiping out a culture for Saxons that had been passed on for generations the Saxons were forced to adopt the Christian religion at the expense of their long preserved cultures.


Effros, B. (1997). De parties Saxoniae and the regulation of mortuary custom: a Carolingian campaign of Christianization or the suppression of Saxon identity? Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire, 75, 267-86.

Karras, R. M. (1986). Pagan survivals and syncretism in the conversion of Saxony. The Catholic historical review, 72(4), 553-572.

Mediaval source book(775) chalemagne capitulary for saxonomy retrived from  from 15th april 2016