Oaths of Strasbourg

Doi (identifier) JSTOR (identifier) Old High German
Oaths of Strasbourg
Sacramenta Argentariae (pars longa).png
Text of the Oaths
Also known as
  • Sacramenta Argentariae  (Latin)
  • les serments de Strasbourg  (French)
  • die Straßburger Eide  (German)
Manuscript(s)include BNF, Cod. Lat. 9768 (Nithard's De dissensionibus filiorum Ludovici pii)
Subjectpledges of allegiance and cooperation between Louis the German and Charles the Bald, rulers of East and West Francia respectively

The Oaths of Strasbourg (Latin: Sacramenta Argentariae; French: Les Serments de Strasbourg; German: Die Straßburger Eide) were mutual pledges of allegiance between Louis the German (died 876), ruler of East Francia, and his half-brother Charles the Bald (died 877), ruler of West Francia made on 12 February 842.[1] They are written in three different languages: Medieval Latin, Old Gallo-Romance and Old High German, all in Caroline minuscule.[2] The Romance passages are generally considered to be the earliest texts in a language that is distinctly Gallo-Romance.

Historical context

The several pledges were spoken at a strategic meeting on 12 February 842 at Strasbourg, with the brothers' assembled armies in attendance and participating in the ceremonies. In addition to their promised allegiance to each other, Louis and Charles pledged their solidarity to oppose their eldest brother Lothair, ruler of Middle Francia and, nominally, emperor of all the Carolingian Empire Frankish kingdoms as well as Holy Roman Emperor. Louis spoke his oath in the Romance language of Charles' realm, while Charles spoke his oath in lingua teudisca, Germanic, of Louis' realm.[3]

The historical nature of the meeting is made more remarkable by the additional, separate pledges that were scripted for the monarchs' armies – in their respective vernaculars – to the effect that, for each "soldier", should his own lord-king unilaterally break the oath just pledged (to the other king), then, each "soldier of the oath" promises not to help his master against the abused other monarch.

Sources and contents

Parchment containing the beginning of the Oaths in Gallo-Romance.

The sole source for the text of the oaths is Nithard's Historiae or De dissensionibus filiorum Ludovici pii (On the Dissensions of the Sons of Louis the Pious), where it is found in Chapter V of Book III. Nithard's work is preserved in a manuscript from the 10th or 11th century (Cod. Lat. 9768 in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris) and the text of the oaths is on folios 12v-13r-13v. (A later, 14th-century manuscript is a copy of Cod. Lat. 9768 and therefore of no independent value as a source.)

Both kings first made the same preamble speech, which was a detailed complaint against Lothair. Each king then swore his individual oath in front of their assembled armies, not in Latin nor in his own language, but in the vernacular of the other's kingdom. Finally, the armies swore separate pledges in their respective languages.

One version of the pledges was written in the Rhine Franconian dialect of Old High German. The second version is in a form of Romance that can be viewed, very approximately, as Proto-French. The preamble was also written in Latin, as were sections to report the ceremonies.

Historical and linguistic significance

The text is significant to both linguists and historians. Linguistically, the text is the first document known to be written in a Romance language, and specifically in a form of Gallo-Romance. The documents also shed light on a significant period in the history of the Carolingian-Frankish empire. Historians[who?] have long used the coexistence of these bilingual documents to illustrate their theory that, by 842, the empire had begun splitting into separate proto-countries and developing with different languages and customs.

However, others[who?] of late[when?] have come to favour a different hypothesis: that the Frankish Kingdom comprised several regna (loosely translated as kingdoms) that since ancient times had maintained different customs and languages. Supporting this theory they note that both Charlemagne and Louis the Pious sent their sons to be raised in the respective regna which they were designated to inherit, in order to better enlist the support of the local populace by becoming familiar with them and their customs.


The transcriptions are edited, with abbreviations written out and some punctuation and word boundaries inserted.[4]

The image to the right is a scan of the original text. In the transcription below, two asterisks mark the beginning and end of the text visible in this scan.

Original text Modern French/ German translation[5] English translation

[Latin:] Ergo xvi kal. marcii Lodhuvicus et Karolus in civitate que olim Argentaria vocabatur, nunc autem Strazburg vulgo dicitur, convenerunt et sacramenta que subter notata sunt, Lodhuvicus romana, Karolus vero teudisca lingua, juraverunt. Ac sic, ante sacramentum circumfusam plebem, alter teudisca, alter romana lingua, alloquuti sunt. Lodhuvicus autem, quia major natu, prior exorsus sic coepit:

“Quotiens Lodharius me et hunc fratrum meum, post obitum patris nostri, insectando usque ad internecionem delere conatus sit nostis. Cum autem nec fraternitas nec christianitas nec quodlibet ingenium, salva justicia, ut pax inter nos esset, adjuvare posset, tandem coacti rem ad juditium omnipotentis Dei detulimus, ut suo nutu quid cuique deberetur contenti essemus.

“In quo nos, sicut nostis, per misericordiam Dei victores extitimus, is autem victus una cum suis quo valuit secessit. Hinc vero, fraterno amore correpti nec non et super populum christianum conpassi, persequi atque delere illos noluimus, sed hactenus, sicut et antea, ut saltem deinde cuique sua justicia cederetur mandavimus.

“At ille post haec non contentus judicio divino, sed hostili manu iterum et me et hunc fratrem meum persequi non cessat, insuper et populum nostrum incendiis, rapinis cedibusque devastat. Quamobrem nunc, necessitate coacti, convenimus et, quoniam vos de nostra stabili fide ac firma fraternitate dubitare credimus, hoc sacramentum inter nos in conspectu vestro jurare decrevimus.

“Non qualibet iniqua cupiditate illecti hoc agimus, sed ut certiores, si Deus nobis vestro adjutorio quietem dederit, de communi profectu simus. Si autem, quod absit, sacramentum quod fratri meo juravero violare praesumpsero, a subditione mea necnon et a juramento quod mihi jurastis *unumquemque vestrum absolvo”

Cumque Karolus haec eadem verba romana lingua perorasset, Lodhuvicus, quoniam major natu erat, prior haec deinde se servaturum testatus est:

So, Louis and Charles met on the 16th day before the calends of March (14 February) in the town that used to be called Argentaria but which is now commonly known as Strasbourg, and they swore the oaths given below, Louis in Romance and Charles in German. But before swearing the oaths, they made speeches in German and Romance. Louis, being the elder, began as follows:

“Let it be known how many times Lothair has — since our father died — attempted to destroy me and this brother of mine, committing massacres in his pursuit of us. But since neither brotherhood nor Christianity nor any natural inclination, save justice, has been able to bring peace between us, we have been forced to take the matter to the judgement of almighty God, so that we may accept whatever His will is.

“The result was, as you all know, that by the Grace of God we came out as victors, and that he, defeated, went back to his people where he was stronger. But then, motivated by brotherly love and compassion for Christendom, we decided not to pursue and destroy them; instead, until now, we have asked him at least to submit to justice as in the past.

“But he, despite this, not content with God's judgement, does not cease to come after me and this brother of mine with his armies. Moreover, he is devastating our people by burning, pillaging and murdering. That is why we now, driven by necessity, are having this meeting, and, since we believe that you doubt our firm faith and brotherhood, we shall swear this oath between us before all of you.

“This act is not in bad faith, but simply so that, if God gives us peace thanks to your help, we may be certain that a common benefit will come of it. Should I — God forbid — break the oath which I am about to swear to my brother, I release you from my sovereignty over you and from the oath that you have all sworn to me.”

Once Charles had finished off the speech with the same words in Romance, Louis, since he was the elder, then swore allegiance first:

[Gallo-Romance:] “Pro Deo amur et pro christian poblo et nostro commun saluament, d'ist di en auant, in quant Deus sauir et podir me dunat, si saluarai eo cist meon fradre Karlo, et in adiudha et in cadhuna cosa si cum om per dreit son fradra saluar dift, in o quid il mi altresi fazet. Et ab Ludher nul plaid nunquam prindrai qui meon uol cist meon fradre Karle in damno sit.”

"Pour l’amour de Dieu et pour la conservation du peuple chrétien et de nous deux, à partir de ce jour, autant que Dieu m’en donne le savoir et le pouvoir, je soutiendrai mon frère que voici ; comme on doit, conformément au droit, soutenir son frère. A condition qu’il fasse autant pour moi. Et avec Lothaire je ne passerai aucun accord qui, par ma volonté, puisse lui nuire."

“For the love of God and for Christendom and our common salvation, from this day onwards, as God will give me the wisdom and power, I shall protect this brother of mine Charles, with aid or anything else, as one ought to protect one's brother, so that he may do the same for me, and I shall never knowingly make any covenant with Lothair that would harm this brother of mine Charles.”

[Latin:] Quod cum Lodhuvicus explesset, Karolus teudisca lingua sic hec eadem verba testatus est:

When Louis had finished, Charles swore with the very same words in the German vernacular:

[Old High German:]“In godes minna ind in thes christiānes folches ind unsēr bēdhero gehaltnissī, fon thesemo dage frammordes, sō fram sō mir got gewizci indi mahd furgibit, sō haldih thesan mīnan bruodher, sōso man mit rehtu sīnan bruodher scal, in thiu thaz er mig sō sama duo, indi mit Ludheren in nohheiniu thing ne gegango, the mīnan willon imo ce scadhen werdhēn.”

Im Namen der Liebe Gottes, um des Christenvolkes willen und im Namen unseres gemeinsamen Heils, von diesem Tage an, so mir Gott Wissen und Können schenkt, werde ich diesem meinem Bruder Karl beistehen in allen Dingen, wie man seinem Bruder beistehen soll, und er wird mir Gleiches tun. Und mit Lothar werde ich in keinerlei Verhandlung treten, die wissentlich meinem Bruder Karl schaden könnte.

“For the love of God and Christendom and the salvation of us both, from this day on, as God will give me the wisdom and power, I shall protect this brother of mine, as one ought to protect one's brother, so that he may do the same for me, and I shall never go along with Lothair in anything that, by my will, would harm him [Louis].”

[Latin:] Sacramentum autem quod utrorumque populus, quique propria lingua, testatus est, romana lingua sic se habet:

The oath that each of the two peoples (i.e. the assembled armies) then swore in their respective languages is, in Romance, as follows:

[Gallo-Romance:] “Si Lodhuuigs sagrament quæ son fradre Karlo iurat, conseruat, et Carlus meos sendra, de suo part, non lostanit, si io returnar non l'int pois, ne io, ne neuls cui eo returnar int pois, in nulla aiudha contra Lodhuuuig nun li iu er.”

Si Louis tient le serment qu’il a juré à son frère Charles et que Charles, mon seigneur, de son côté, enfreint celui qu’il a juré, au cas où je ne pourrais l’en détourner, je ne lui prêterai aucune aide contre Louis, ni moi, ni nul que je pourrais en détourner.

“If Louis keeps the oath that he has sworn to his brother Charles, and Charles, my lord, on the other hand breaks it, and if I cannot dissuade him from it — neither I nor anyone that I can dissuade from it — then I shall not help him in any way against Louis.”

[Latin:] Teudisca autem lingua:*

And in the German vernacular:

[Old High German:] "Oba Karl then eid, then er sīnemo bruodher Ludhuwīge gesuor, geleistit, indi Ludhuwīg mīn hērro then er imo gesuor forbrihchit, ob ih inan es irwenden ne mag: noh ih noh thero nohhein, then ih es irwenden mag, widhar Karlo imo ce follusti ne wirdhit."

Wenn Karl den Eid, den er seinem Bruder Ludwig geschworen hat, hält und Ludwig, mein Herr, seinerseits ihn nicht hält, wenn ich ihn nicht davon abhalten kann, weder ich noch irgendeiner, den ich davon abhalten kann, so werde ich ihm nicht gegen Karl helfen.

“If Charles keeps the oath that he has sworn to his brother Louis, and Louis, my lord, on the other hand breaks the oath he has sworn to him, and if I cannot dissuade him from it — neither I nor anyone that I can dissuade from it — then I shall not follow him against Charles.”

[Latin:] Quibus peractis Lodhuwicus Reno tenus per Spiram et Karolus iuxta Vuasagum per Vuīzzūnburg Vuarmatiam iter direxit.

With this completed, Louis left for Worms along the Rhine via Speyer; and Charles, along the Vosges via Wissembourg.

The following is the Romance vernacular part in its original manuscript form and a close transcription (with minimal editing):

Scan of the text Close transcription
Short extract

Pro dõ amur & pχρ̄ian poblo & nrõ cõmun
ſaluament. diſt di e/in auant. inquantd̃ſ
ſauir & podir medunat. ſiſaluaraieo.
ciſt meonfradre karlo. & in aḍ iudha.
& in cad huna coſa. ſicũ om p dreit son
fradra ſaluar dift. Ino quid il mialtre
ſi faz&. Et abludher nul plaid nũquã
prindrai qui meon uol ciſt meon fradre
karle indamnoſit.

See also


  1. ^ Pierre Riche (1983). The Carolingians: The Family who forged Europe. Translated by Michael Idomir Allen. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 162.
  2. ^ Dianne Tillotson
  3. ^ Pierre Riche, The Carolingians:The Family who forged Europe, 163.
  4. ^ For a closer transcription, and a summary of proposed emendations for the passages in Romance, see Foerster and Koschwitz (1902, cols. 45–48).
  5. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-04-08. Retrieved 2015-04-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)