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The Battle on the Raxa

The Battle on the Raxa (or Recknitz) is the title conventionally given to an engagement between Otto the Great and a coalition of Slavic groups which took place sometime in fall 955.  This page provides all independent attestations of this battle.  All of them follow on descriptions of the Battle of Lechfeld, the August 955 engagement where Otto decisively defeated the Magyars/Hungarians.

The Recknitz river can be found on the map of Transelbian rivers here.


Flodoard of Reims

Flodoard's Annales provide a view of tenth-century history from Reims.  Historians believe they were written year-by-year from 919 through 966; thus, they preserve the first and most contemporary viewpoint on the battle; it differs somewhat from later accounts.  The translation is Steven Fanning and Bernard Bachrach, The Annals of Flodoard of Reims 919-966 (University of Toronto Press, 2011), 61.

37 (955): After this war, King Otto fought against two kings of the Sarmatians and with the support of King Boleslav, who had submitted to him shortly before, he gained victory.


Adalbert of Magdeburg

Adalbert's continuation of Regino of Prüm's Chronicon was probably completed in 967.  The translation is Simon MacLean, 257-258.

955: When he had returned from there the king sent his army against the Slavs, where he won a similar victory and struck them down with a great massacre.  Wichmann was expelled.


Widukind of Corvey

Widukind of Corvey, whose Res gestae Saxonicae was probably completed in a first draft in 968, includes the most detailed description of the battle.  It is framed as part of the rebellion of Wichmann the Younger, but incongruities in the text suggest that Wichmann may have been added to an already-complete description of the battle (more information here).  The translation here is ours.

III 53-55: The emperor, eager to avenge this wickedness—and with a victory over the Hungarians now accomplished—hostilely entered the lands of the barbarians. Having deliberated regarding the Saxons who had conspired with the Slavs, it was the sentence that Wichmann and Ekbert needed to be considered public enemies but the rest should be spared, insofar as they had wished to return to their people. A legation of the barbarians then arrived, announcing: that, as allies, they wished to pay tribute according to custom and wished moreover to hold dominatio of the region; and that they wished for peace as a result of this agreement, but otherwise they would contend with arms for freedom. The emperor responded to this: indeed he by no means refused them peace, but was not able to give it of any sort, unless they purged with fitting honor and amends the injury committed. Both burning and laying waste to everything, he led an army through those regions, until finally, having pitched camp on the Raxa river, most difficult to cross on account of the swamps, it [the army] was surrounded by enemies. From the rear the road was obstructed by a stronghold of trees, and the same road was fortified by a band of armed men. From the other side, the river and the swamp bordering the river, and the Slav and a huge army were blocking the warriors both from their task and from passing. The army was also vexed by other annoyances, sickness together with hunger. While this was going on for many days, Count Gero was sent to the princeps of the barbarians, who was called Stoinef, so that he might surrender to the emperor and thereby be about to attain a friend, not experience an enemy.

Indeed in Gero there were many good qualities: expertise in war, good counsel in civil matters, enough eloquence, much knowledge; he was someone who showed his prudence in deed as much as in word, energy in acquiring and generosity in giving, and—what is best—good zeal in divine worship. Therefore the praeses was greeting the barbarian beyond the swamp and the river to which the swamp was adjacent. The Slav responded to him with comparable words. To him the praeses said: “it should be enough for you, that you make war against one of us, one of the servants of my lord, but not also against my lord the king. What army do you have, what arms, that you presume so much? If there is any strength among you, or skills, or daring, give us a place to cross over to you, or vice versa, and let the valor of the fighter be visible on equal ground.” The Slav, gnashing his teeth in a barbarian manner and vomiting forth much scorn, laughed at Gero and the emperor and the whole army, knowing him to be aggravated by many troubles. Gero was provoked by this, as his spirit was very fiery. “Tomorrow,” he said, “day will prove whether you and your people are strong enough in force or not. Tomorrow without a doubt you will see us contending with you.” (Gero, although once considered renowned by many distinguished deeds, was now however proclaimed everywhere as great and celebrated because he had captured with great glory the Slavs who are called the Uchri.) Thereupon Gero, having returned to camp, reported what he had heard. The emperor, rising in the night, ordered the arrows and other machines summoned to battle, as if he wished to traverse the river and swamp by force. The Slavs, weighing nothing other than the threat of the previous day, prepared likewise for battle, defending the path with all their strength. But Gero, with his friends the Ruani, descending fully one mile from the camp, without the enemy knowing, quickly constructed three bridges and, with a messenger sent to the emperor, summoned the whole army. Once this was seen, the barbarians and they met in battle with their troops. The foot soldiers of the barbarians, because they ran the longer way, entered the battle dissipated by exhaustion and so fell more quickly to the soldiers; without delay, while they sought the aid of flight and were cut down.

But Stoinef, with horsemen, was waiting on the event’s outcome on a prominent hill. Seeing his comrades enter into flight, he himself fled too. Discovered by a military man whose name was Hosed, in a certain grove with two followers, wearied by battle and stripped of arms, he was beheaded. Another of his followers, captured alive, was presented to the emperor by the same soldier, together with the head and spoils of the regulus. Because of this, Hosed was considered renowned and distinguished; the reward for such a celebrated deed was an imperial gift with the revenue of twenty estates. On the same day, with the camp of the enemy invaded and many mortales killed or captured, the slaughter was drawn out well into the night. At next light, the head of the subregulus was placed in a field and around that seven hundred of the captives, beheaded; his counselor, eyes put out and stripped of his tongue, was left helpless in the midst of the corpses. Wichmann and Ekbert, aware of their wickednesses, having left for Gaul, escaped in flight to dux Hugh.


The Annals of Hersfeld

The Annals of Hersfeld are a lost text preserved in its many continuations.  Several of these continuations, the Annals of Quedlinburg and Hildesheim (both here in the Latin), include an account of the Battle on the Raxa.  From the relationship of the texts it is probable that this was composed after 973.

AH 955: And in the same year king Otto battled most dangerously with the Abodrites, whom Egberht, the son of his maternal aunt, gathered against him.

AQ 955: But also king Otto battled most dangerously against the Abodrites, whom Egbert, the son of his maternal aunt, gathered against him.


Thietmar of Merseburg

Thietmar's Chronicon was composed between 1012 and 1018.  His account of the battle seems to be entirely reliant on Widukind.  The translation is David Warner, 99-100.

II 12: As these events were transpiring, the Slavs started a horrible war at the instigation of Counts Wichman and Ekbert under the leadership of Nacco and his brother Stoigniew.  Lacking confidence in his own ability to defeat them, the commander, Herman, asked the king for help.  Energetic as he was, the latter took a strong force and invaded those northern regions which, as scripture teaches, so often produce evil.  There, the king had Stoignew beheaded, after capturing him in a wood in which he had hidden as his supporters fled.  He pursued the authors of this outrage, the brothers Wichman and Ekbert, sons of his maternal aunt.


The Greater Annals of St. Gall

The Greater Annals of St. Gall (here in Latin, the manuscript is here) were recorded up to the Battle of Lechfeld in a single hand.  A second hand, dating probably from the era of Ekkehard IV of St. Gall (fl. 1020-1056), later appended the information regarding the Battle on the Raxa.

955: In the same year, king Otto and his son Liudolf fought with the Abatarenis, and Vulcis, and Zcirizspanis, and Tolonsenis, and obtained victory in this, with the dux of those peoples, named Ztoignavo, having been killed, and made them tributaries.