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The first two pages of the Ludwigslied

The Ludwigslied (in English, Lay or Song of Ludwig) is an Old High German (OHG) poem of 59 rhyming couplets, celebrating the victory of the Frankish army, led by Louis III of France, over Danish (Viking) raiders at the Battle of Saucourt-en-Vimeu on 3 August 881.

The poem is thoroughly Christian in ethos. It presents the Viking raids as a punishment from God: He caused the Northmen to come across the sea to remind the Frankish people of their sins, and inspired Louis to ride to the aid of his people. Louis praises God both before and after the battle.

The poem is preserved in over four pages in a single 9th-century manuscript formerly in the monastery of Saint-Amand, now in the Bibliothèque municipale, Valenciennes (Codex 150, f. 141v-143r). In the same manuscript, and written by the same scribe, is the Old French Sequence of Saint Eulalia.

The Ludwigslied In Braune's Althochdeutsches Lesebuch, 8th edition, 1921

The poem speaks of Louis in the present tense: it opens, "I know a king called Ludwig who willingly serves God. I know he will reward him for it". Since Louis died in August the next year, the poem must have been written within a year of the battle. However, in the manuscript, the poem is headed by the Latin rubric Rithmus teutonicus de piae memoriae Hluduico rege filio Hluduici aeq; regis ("German song to the beloved memory of King Louis, son of Louis, also king"), which means it must be a copy of an earlier text.


Dennis Green summarises the poem as follows:

After a general introductory formula in which the poet claims to know of King Ludwig (thereby implying the reliability of what he has to say) this king’s prehistory is briefly sketched: the loss of his father at an early age, his adoption by God for his upbringing, his enthronement by divine authority as ruler of the Franks, and the sharing of his kingdom with his brother Karlmann. [ll. 1–8]

After these succinct eight lines the narrative action starts with God’s testing of the young ruler in sending the Northmen across the sea to attack the Franks as a punishment for their sinfulness, who are thereby prompted to mend their ways by due penance. [ll. 9–18] The kingdom is in disarray not merely because of the Viking aggression, but more particularly because of Ludwig's absence, who is accordingly ordered by God to return and do battle. [ll. 19–26]

Raising his war-banner Ludwig returns to the Franks, who greet him with acclamation as one for whom they have long been waiting. Ludwig holds a council of war with his battle-companions, the powerful ones in his realm, and with the promise of reward encourages them to follow him into battle. [ll 27–41] He sets out, discovers the whereabouts of the enemy and, after a Christian battle-song, joins battle, which is described briefly, but in noticeably more stirring terms. Victory is won, not least thanks to Ludwig’s inborn bravery. [ll. 42-54]

The poem closes with thanks to God and the saints for having granted Ludwig victory in battle, with praise of the king himself and with a prayer for God to preserve him in grace. [ll. 55–59][1]


Although the poem is Christian in content, and the use of rhyme reflects Christian rather than pagan Germanic poetry, it is often assigned to the genre of Preislied, a song in praise of a warrior, of a type which is presumed to have been common in Germanic oral tradition.[2][3] Not all scholars agree, however.[4] Other Carolingian-era Latin encomia are known for King Pippin of Italy (796)[a] and the Emperor Louis II (871),[b] and the rhyming form may have been inspired by the same form in Otfrid of Weissenburg's Evangelienbuch (Gospel Book), finished before 871.[5]


Most regard it as the sole textual example of the otherwise little known West Frankish dialect, which is assumed to have been the language of the Salian Franks.[6][7] This dialect is supposed to have been a descendant of Old Frankish that was spoken in West Francia, closely related to the Franconian dialects of Old High German as spoken in East Francia, but not identical with any single one of them. Some regard it as Rhenish Franconian, though there are some peculiarities which have received a variety of explanations.[8][9] It is assumed[by whom?] that the manuscript was written by a bilingual scribe in Saint-Amand and we have no other example of an OHG text from this area.


  1. ^ Green 2002, pp. 282–283. Line numbers added.
  2. ^ Murdoch 2004, pp. 121, 130.
  3. ^ Freytag 1985, p. 1038.
  4. ^ Green 2002, p. 294: "There are reasons to doubt whether it is justified to see [the] poem in terms of the Germanic past ... the more so since the Germanic praise-song, although attested in the North, is a hypothetical entity for southern Germania. The Ludwigslied is of course a song of praise, ... but poetic euologies are common ... in Latin as well as various vernaculars, without there being a trace of justification to identify them with the specifically Germanic Preislied. Interpreting the poem in terms of a postulated literary genre of the past ... has led inevitably to wishful thinking".
  5. ^ Poole 2010, p. 184.
  6. ^ Robinson, Orrin W. (2003-09-02). Old English and Its Closest Relatives: A Survey of the Earliest Germanic Languages. Routledge. p. 196. ISBN 9781134849000.
  7. ^ Sanders, Ruth (2010-06-21). German: Biography of a Language. Oxford University Press. p. 110. ISBN 9780199889167.
  8. ^ Fought 1979, p. 845: "editors and other scholars generally agree in attributing [the Ludwigslied] to Rhine Franconian, but with some uncertainties or reservations in each case".
  9. ^ Harvey 1945, p. 12: "that the main dialect of the poem is Rhenish Franconian has never been called into question".


  • Althochdeutsches Lesebuch, ed. W. Braune, K. Helm, E. A. Ebbinghaus, 17th ed., Tübingen 1994. ISBN 3-484-10707-3. Includes the standard edition of the text.
  • Bostock, J. Knight; King, K. C.; McLintock, D. R. (1976). A Handbook on Old High German Literature (2nd ed.). Oxford. pp. 235–248. ISBN 0-19-815392-9. Includes a translation into English. Limited preview at Google Books
  • Fouracre, Paul (1985). "The Context of the Old High German Ludwigslied". Medium Aevum. 54 (q): 87–103. doi:10.2307/43628867.
  • Fought, John (1979). "The 'Medieval Sibilants' of the EulaliaLudwigslied Manuscript and Their Development in Early Old French". Language. 55 (4): 842–58. doi:10.2307/412747.
  • Freytag W (1985). "'Ludwigslied'". In Ruh K, Keil G, Schröder W. Die deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters. Verfasserlexikon. 5. Berlin, New York: Walter De Gruyter. pp. 1036–1039. ISBN 978-3-11-022248-7.
  • Green, Dennis H. (2002). "The "Ludwigslied" and the Battle of Saucourt". In Jesch, Judith. The Scandinavians from the Vendel period to the tenth century. Cambridge: Boydell. pp. 281–302.
  • Harvey, Ruth (1945). "The Provenance of the Old High German Ludwigslied". Medium Aevum. 14: 1–20. doi:10.2307/43626303.
  • McKitterick, Rosamond (2008). The Carolingians and the Written Word. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 232–235. ISBN 978-0521315654.
  • Murdoch, Brian (1977). "Saucourt and the Ludwigslied: Some Observations on Medieval Historical Poetry". Revue belge de Philologie et d'Histoire. 55 (3): 841–67.
  • Murdoch, Brian (2004). "Heroic Verse". In Murdoch, Brian. German Literature of the Early Middle Ages. Camden House History of German Literature. 2. Rochester, NY; Woodbridge. pp. 121–138. ISBN 1-57113-240-6.
  • Poole, Russell (2010). "'Non enim possum plorare nec lamenta fundere': Sonatorrek in a Tenth-Century Context til minningar um Stefán Karlsson". In Jane Tolmie; M. J. Toswell. Laments for the Lost in Medieval Literature. Brepols. pp. 173–200.
  • Rossi, Albert Louis (1986). Vernacular Authority in the Late Ninth Century: Bilingual Juxtaposition in MS 150, Valenciennes (Eulalia, Ludwigslied, Gallo-Romance, Old High German) (PhD thesis). Princeton University.
  • Schwarz, Werner (1947). "The "Ludwigslied", a Ninth-Century Poem". Modern Language Review. 42 (2): 467–473. doi:10.2307/3716800.
  • Wolf, Alois. "Medieval Heroic Traditions and Their Transitions from Orality to Literacy". In Vox Intexta: Orality and Textuality in the Middle Ages, ed. A. N. Doane and C. B. Pasternack, 67–88. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991. Limited preview at Google Books
  • Yeandle, David N (1989). "The Ludwigslied: King, Church and Context". In Flood, John L; Yeandle, David N. "'Mit regulu bithuungan'": Neue Arbeiten zur althochdeutschen Poesie und Sprache. Göppingen: Kümmerle. pp. 18–79. ISBN 3-87452-737-9.

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