Era
Vol. 1: A seculo VI usque ad 803
Series
Date
788
Regestum

Narrative sources on the events of 788 that resulted, among a variety of other things, with Istria being incorporated into the Frankish kingdom.

Source
1) Annales regni Francorum, sub anno 788.
Several early copies are preserved, but the original is lost (see Kurze’s preface in the edition cited below); the current edition is based on the following manuscript: Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 10911, fols. 76v–78v; 9th-century copy, digitized and available online here (B).
2) Annales qui dicuntur Einhardi, sub anno 788.
Several early copies are preserved, but the original is lost (see Kurze’s preface in the edition cited below); the current edition is based on the following manuscript: Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Codex 510, fols. 77v–78v; 10th- or early 11th-century copy, digitized and available online here (B).
Edition
Friedrich Kurze (ed.), Annales regni Francorum inde ab anno 741 usque ad anno 829, qui dicuntur Annales Laurissenses maiores et Einhardi, Monumenta Germaniae historica, Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum separatim editi 6 (Hannover 1895), a. 788, pp. 80–85.
Transcription

[1) Annales regni Francorum]

DCCLXXXVIII

Tunc dominus rex Carolus congregans synodum ad iamdictam villam Ingilenhaim, ibique veniens Tassilo ex iussione domni regis, sicut et ceteri eius vassi; et coeperunt fideles Baioarii dicere, quod Tasilo fidem suam salvam non haberet, nisi postea fraudulens apparuit, postquam filium suum dedit cum aliis obsidibus et sacramenta, suadente uxore sua Liutbergane. Quod et Tassilo, denegare non potuit sed confessus est postea ad Avaros transmisisse, vassos supradicti domni regis ad se adortasse et in vitam eorum consiliasse; et homines suos, quando iurabant, iubebat, ut aliter in mente retineret et sub dolo iurarent; et quid magis, confessus est se dixisse, etiamsi decem filios haberet, omnes voluisset perdere, antequam placita sic manerent vel stabile permitteret, sicut iuratum habuit; et etiam dixit, melius se mortuum esse quam vita ita vivere.

Et de haec omnia conprobatus, Franci et Baioarii, Langobardi et Saxones, vel ex omnibus provinciis, qui ad eundem synodum congregati fuerunt reminiscentes priorum malorum eius, et quomodo domnum Pippinum regem in exercitu derelinquens et ibi, quod Theodisca lingua Harisliz dicitur, visi sunt iudicasse eundem Tassilonem ad mortem.
Sed dum omnes una voce adclamarent capitale eum ferire sententiam, iamdictus domnus Carolus piisimus rex motus misericordia ab amorem Dei, et quia consanguineus eius erat, contenuit ab ipsis Dei ac suis fidelibus, ut non moriretur.
Et interrogatus a iamfato clementissimo domno rege praedictus Tassilo quid agere voluisset; ille vero postolavit, ut licentiam haberet sibi tonsorandi et in monasterio introendi et pro tantis peccatis paenitentiam agendi et ut suam salvaret animam. Similiter et filius eius Theodo deiudicatus est et tonsoratus et in monasterio missus, et pauci Baioarii, qui in adversitate domni regis Caroli perdurare voluerant, missi sunt in exilio.

Eodem que anno commissum est bellum inter Grecos et Langobardos, id est duce Spolitino nomine Hildebrando seu duce Grimaldo, quem dominus rex Carolus posuit ducem super Beneventanos; et fuit missus Wineghisus una cum paucis Francis, ut praevideret eorum omnia, quae gessissent. Et auxiliante Domino victoria est facta a Francis seu supranominatis Langobardis.

Idem similiter et alia pugna commissa est inter Avaros in loco, cuius vocabulum est [blank space] et Francis, qui in Italia commanere videntur; opitulante Domino victoriam obtinuerunt Franci, et Avari cum contumelia reversi sunt, fuga lapsi sine victoria. Tertia pugna commissa est inter Baioarios et Avaros in campo Ibose, et fuerunt ibi missi domni regis Caroli Grahamannus et Audaccrus cum aliquibus Francis; Domino auxiliante victoria fuit Francorum seu Baioariorum.
Et ista omnia supradictus dux Tassilo seu malivola uxor eius Liutberga Deo odibilis, per fraudem consiliaverunt.
Quarta pugna fuit comissa ab Avaris, qui voluerunt vindictam peragere contra Baioarios. Ibi similiter fuerunt missi domni regis Caroli, et Domino protegente victoria Christianorum aderat. Avari fugam incipientes, multa stragia ibidem facta est occidendo, et alii in Danubio fluvio vitam necando emiserunt.

Post haec omnia domnus rex Carolus per semet ipsum ad Reganesburg pervenit et ibi fines vel marcas Baioariorum disposuit, quomodo salvas Domino protegente contra iamdictos Avaros esse potuissent.

[2) Annales qui dicuntur Einhardi]

[The first part, the account of Tassilo’s trial, is omitted as it is very similar to the one given in Annales regni Francorum]

Huni vero, sicut Tassiloni promiserunt, duobus exercitibus comparatis uno Marcam Foroiuliensem, altero Baioariam adgressi sunt, sed frustra; nam in ultroque loco victi fugatique sunt et multis suorum amissis cum magno damno ad loca sua se receperunt. Quam iniuriam velut vindicaturi iterum Baioariam maioribus copiis petierunt, sed in prima congressione pulsi a Baioariis et innumera multitudo eorum caesa, multi etiam ex eis, qui per fugam evadere conati Danubium tranare voluerunt, gurgitibus fluminis absorbti sunt.

Interea Constantinus imperator propter negatam sibi regis filiam iratus Theodorum patricium Siciliae praefectum cum aliis ducibus suis fines Beneventanorum vastare iussit. Qui cum imperata exsequerentur, Grimaldus, qui eodem anno post mortem patris dux Beneventanis a rege datus est, et Hildibrandus dux Spolitinorum cum copiis quas congregare potuerunt, in Calabria eis occurrerunt habentes secum legatum regis Winigisum, qui postea in Ducatu Spolitino Hildibrando successit. Commisso que proelio inmodicam ex eis multitudinem ceciderunt ac sine suo suorumque gravi dispendio victores facti magnum captivorum ac spoliorum numerum in sua castra retulerunt.

Rex autem in Baioariam profectus eandem provinciam cum suis terminis ordinavit atque disposuit. 

Translation

[1) The Royal Frankish Annals]

788

The Lord King Charles convoked an assembly at the villa of Ingelheim. Tassilo came there as well as his other vassals on the order of the Lord King. Loyal Bavarians began to say that Tassilo, egged on by his wife, was breaking his fealty and showing himself as downright treacherous, after he had surrendered his son with the other hostages and taken oaths. Tassilo could not deny it, but confessed later that he had made overtures to the Avars, had ordered the vassals of the Lord King to come to him, and had made an attempt on their lives. When his people took oaths, he told them to make mental reservations and swear falsely. What is worse, he confessed to having said that even if he had ten sons, he would rather have them all perish than keep the agreements and stand by what he had sworn. He also said that he would rather be dead than live like this.

After all this had been proved against him, Franks, Bavarians, Lombards, and Saxons, and whoever else had come from every province to this assembly, condemned him to death, since they remembered his previous evil deeds and his desertion of the Lord King Pepin on a campaign, which is called Harisliz in German. While all called out with one voice that he should impose the death sentence, the most pious Lord King Charles was moved by mercy. For the love of God and since the duke was his kinsman he prevailed upon these men, who were faithful to God and to him, that Tassilo should not die. Tassilo was asked by the most gracious Lord King what he wished to do. The duke requested permission to take the tonsure, enter a monastery, and do penance for so many sins in order to save his soul. His son Theodo was judged similarly, was tonsured, and sent to a monastery; a few Bavarians who chose to persist in their hostility against the Lord King Charles were sent into exile.

In the same year a war was fought between Greeks and Lombards, that is, by Duke Hildebrand of Spoleto and Duke Grimoald, whom the Lord King Charles had made duke of the Beneventans. Winigis was sent there with a few Franks to oversee what they were doing. With the help of God a victory was won by the Franks and the Lombards.

A battle also took place at . . . between the Avars and the Franks who were stationed in Italy. With the help of the Lord the Franks won; the Avars fled and returned home disgraced and defeated.4 A third battle was fought between Bavarians and Avars  on the Ybbsfeld, and the emissaries of the Lord King Charles, Graham- annus and Otgar, were present with a number of Franks. With God’s help victory went to Franks and Bavarians. All this Duke Tassilo and his rancorous wife, Liutberga, a woman hateful to God, had treacher­ ously counseled. A fourth battle was started by the Avars, who wished to take revenge on the Bavarians. In this battle the emissaries of the Lord King Charles also took part, and since they were protected by the Lord the Christians won the victory. The Avars took to flight and in a great carnage many were struck down; others lost their lives by drowning in the Danube.

After all this the Lord King Charles came himself to Regensburg and arranged the borders and marches of the Bavarians so that with the protection of the Lord they could be held against the Avars.

[Bernhard Walter Scholz and Barbara Rogers (trans.), Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories (Ann Arbor 1970), pp. 66–67.]

[2) Annals Falsely Attributed to Einhard]

788

[...]

The Huns, as they had promised Tassilo, prepared two armies and attacked the March of Friuli with one and Bavaria with the other; but it was in vain. In both places they were defeated and put to flight and withdrew to their homes with great injury after losing many of their men. Planning to avenge this defeat, they again came to Bavaria with larger forces but were repulsed by the Bavarians in the first engagement, and an uncountable number of them were slain. In addition, many who attempted to flee and wanted to swim across the Danube were sucked down by the whirlpools of the river.

In the meantime Emperor Constantine, enraged because he had been denied the kings daughter, instructed the patrician Theodore, governor of Sicily, with his other commanders to lay waste the territory of the Beneventans. When they carried out their orders, Grimoald and Hildebrand met them in Calabria with the troops they had been able to assemble. The king had installed Grimoald that year, after his father’s death, as duke over the Beneventans; Hildebrand was duke of the people of Spoleto. With Grimoald and Hildebrand was the king’s envoy Winigis, who afterwards succeeded Hildebrand in the duchy of Spoleto. In the ensuing battle they killed an immense number of the enemy; they won a victory without cost in equipment and men and brought back to their camp numerous prisoners and plenty of booty.

[...]

[Bernhard Walter Scholz and Barbara Rogers (trans.), Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories (Ann Arbor 1970), pp. 67–68.]

Medieval Recollections

Writing just a couple of decades after the fateful events of 788 was Theophanes the Confessor, the author of the early 9th-century chronicle of the Byzantine Empire. In his narrative, the Byzantine chronicler sheds additional light on the conflict between Charlemagne and Empress Irene that sparked the 788 military skirmishes in Calabria, the spark that eventually resulted with the Frankish takeover of Byzantine Istria.

[AM 6281, AD 788/9]

[...]

The Empress Irene broke her contract with the Franks and sent out the protospatharios Theophanes, who brought a maiden from the Armeniac parts, Maria of Amnia. She married her to her son, the Emperor Constantine, who was unwilling and very distressed because of his connection with the daughter of Karoulos, king of the Franks, to whom he had been previously betrothed. His wedding was celebrated in the month of November, indiction 12.

[...]

Irene sent John, the sakellarios and logothete of the military chest, to Longobardia along with Theodotos, the former king of Greater Longobardia [Adelgis, son of King Desiderius], to take measures, if possible, against Karoulos and detach from him some of his supporters. They went off together with Theodore, patrician and strategos of Sicily. Battle having been joined, the some John was captured by the Franks and put to a terrible death.

Theophanes Confessor, Chronicle, ed. and trans. Cyril Mango, Roget Scott and Geoffrey Greatrex (Oxford 1997), a. 6281, pp. 637–38. 

Selected Bibliography
Bernardo Benussi, Nel medio evo: Pagine di storia istriana 2nd ed., Collana degli atti 23 (Rovinj 2004), pp. 116–17.
Warren TreadgoldThe Byzantine Revival: 780–842 (Stanford 1988), pp. 89–92.
Harald Krahwinkler, Friaul im Frühmittelalter: Geschichte einer Region vom Ende des Fünften bis zum Ende des zehnten Jahrhunderts (Vienna 1992), pp. 143–48, 199–200.
Peter Štih, The Middle Ages between the Eastern Alps and the Northern Adriatic: Select Papers on Slovene Historiography and Medieval History (Leiden 2010), p. 213.
Walter Pohl, The Avars: A Steppe Empire in Central Europe: 567–822 (Ithaca 2018), pp. 378–79.
Janet L. Nelson, King and Emperor: A New Life of Charlemagne (Oakland 2019), pp. 234–41, 257, 361.
Editor's Notes

The contemporary narrative sources, mainly the Royal Frankish Annals, depict three episodes whose combined byproduct was, it is traditionally argued, the Frankish annexation of Byzantine Istria and its incorporation into the expanding Frankish Kingdom.

First, there is the large military campaign against Duke Tassilo III of Bavaria which took place in 787. According to the Royal Frankish Annals, the duke surrendered without any bloodshed and relinquished all of his jurisdictional prerogatives in Bavaria to Charlemagne; he was put on trial, found guilty, and sentenced to banishment in a cloister together with his son.

Second, Empress Irene decides to support the military campaign of the deposed Lombard king Adalgis who thus attacks Charlemagne’s dukes in Italy. The pretext to this war was, both Frankish and Byzantine chroniclers agree, Empress Irene's breaking off the marriage alliance between their two houses as her son Constantine was meant to marry Charlemagne's daughter. These Byzantine forces are defeated by the combined armies of Charlemagne’s Franks and Lombards led by dukes Hildebrand and Grimoald.

Finally, several battles are fought against the invading Avars in northeastern Italy and Bavaria in which the Frankish forces also emerge victorious.

All of these events resulted with Charlemagne’s reorganization of the kingdom’s southeastern borderlands (fines vel marcas Baioariorum).

Another result of this tumultuous 788, it is traditionally argued, is Istria – a de iure Byzantine province – being occupied by Charlemagne’s forces and annexed to the Frankish kingdom.

It must be noted that there are absolutely no primary sources that would more explicitly attest to Frankish occupation of Byzantine Istria. This interpretation, indeed the most dominant one in historiography, is based on two other primary sources: the letter Pope Adrian I sent to Charlemagne sometime between 776 and 780 in which Istria is attested as still a Byzantine province (see the source here); and the letter Charlemagne sent to his wife Fastrada in 791 in which a Frankish duke of Istria is mentioned, attesting that the province had by that time already been incorporated into the Frankish kingdom (see the source here).

Therefore, the Frankish occupation of Istria had to happen sometime between 776 and 791 – the year 788 is the perfect candidate for this event:

  • the casus belli for the occupation would be the Byzantine attack led by the deposed Adalgis;
  • the military forces that occupied the province would be the same ones that were gathered to attack Tassilo III and/or repel the Avar advance in the March of Friuli;
  • finally, the annexation would be completed with Charlemagne’s reorganization of the Bavarian marches in Regensburg.
How to Cite
First citation: Josip Banic (ed.), Fontes Istrie medievalis, vol. 1: A seculo VI usque ad 803, doc. 788_CBI, fontesistrie.eu/788_CBI (last access: date).
Subsequent citations: FIM, 1: doc. 788_CBI
Image Source and Info

The first three images, in black and white, are the Annales regni Francorum; the images are downloaded from the official webpages of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

The last two images are the Annales qui dicitur Einhardi; the images are downloaded from the official webpages of the Virtual Monastic Library of Lorsch.

The editor has subsequently marked the folios of these manuscripts with red arrows to signal the beginning and the end of the parts that are hereby edited.