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Aug 11, 2010

Massacre of Verden

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The Massacre of Verden (German: Blutgericht von Verden) was an alleged massacre of Saxons in 782 near the present town of Verden in Lower Saxony, Germany, ordered by Charlemagne during the Saxon Wars.

In 782 A.D. some 4,500 Saxon leaders are said to have been beheaded for practicing their indigenous paganism, having officially, albeit under duress, converted to Christianity and undergone baptism. The river Aller was said to have been flowing red with their blood. Charlemagne's motives were to demonstrate his overlordship and the severity of punishment for rebellion.
The effect was that the Saxons lost virtually their entire tribal leadership and were henceforth largely governed by Frankish counts installed by Charlemagne. The Saxon leader, Duke Widukind, had escaped to his in-laws in Denmark, but soon returned, submitted to Charlemagne, and accepted conversion.

The veracity of this event is questioned in some quarters: there may have been a misspelling in the original source by which the Latin delocabat (meaning exiled or displaced) erroneously became decollabat (meaning beheaded). Archaeological evidence for the massacre has not been found, although the bodies of the slain could have been buried elsewhere by their next-of-kin.
On the issue of beheading the historian Ramsay MacMullen notes that in 681 a council of bishops at Toledo called on civil authorities to seize and behead all those guilty of non-Christian practices of whatever sort. These massacres were common on both sides throughout the Christianization of Europe, with similar events involving pagan Saxons, Germans and Celts and Christians documented in Britain and Ireland.