Widukind (Saxony)

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Modern Widukind statue in Nienburg

Widukind (also Wittekind or Weking ) came from a Westphalian noble family and led the resistance against Charlemagne in the Saxon Wars from 777 to 785 as dux Saxonum , ie as the " Duke " of the Saxons . The Saxons were ultimately subject to the militarily superior Franks . So today's north-west of Germany was incorporated into the Carolingian Empire and finally also Christianized .

Widukind was first mentioned in 777 on the occasion of the Diet of Paderborn . After his baptism in the royal palace of Attigny (785), there was no reliable information about his further fate, while his figure grew into myth and was partially worshiped.

Name, family and origin

Family table

The name Widukind means forest child or child of the forest and can be considered a kenning . Widukind was a paraphrase for the wolf, an animal that is associated with war or death. The name Widukind may originally have been an honorable epithet, not a proper name. His origin, like his end, is largely unclear, but apparently he belonged to a noble family of the Saxon branch of the Westphalia . A wife Geva or Gheua is mentioned for the first time in the Braunschweigische rhyme chronicle from the time from 1279 to 1292 and cannot be proven by contemporary sources. On the other hand, Meginhard reports in his writing around 863 about the transfer of the bones of St. Alexander from a son of Widukind named Wikbert. This had a son Waltbert , who in turn had a son Wikbert , the bishop of Verden . Widukind von Corvey , the elder Mathildenvita and Thietmar von Merseburg report unanimously that Queen Mathilde , King Henry I's second wife, is descended from Widukind.


In 772 the Franks invaded Saxony and destroyed the Irminsul , a pagan sanctuary of the Saxons. The time of the Saxon Wars, in which Widukind was probably involved from the beginning, had begun - it lasted until 804. A year later, the Westphalia attacked Deventer in retaliation , while Charlemagne was in Italy. The following year the Engern besieged Fritzlar , but were forced to retreat by the Franks who stayed there. In the year 775 Charlemagne conquered the Ostfalen and the Engern. The Westphalians outwitted an army detachment and caused a great bloodbath. A year later, Charlemagne forced a large part of the Frankish nobles of the Saxons to sign a treaty with him, after which Saxony became a mark .


In the following year the Westphalian noble Widukind - he is mentioned for the first time in the Franconian Reichsannals for 777 -, unlike the other nobles, stayed away from the Franconian Imperial Assembly in Paderborn against the will of Charlemagne , and went to see the Danish king Sigfrid for a year . In 778 the Westphalians, presumably under Widukind's leadership, invaded the Franconian Rhineland , destroyed several settlements and caused great damage. In the period from 779 to 781 , a grueling guerrilla war began in what was then Saxony, today's Westphalia , which was also directed against the franc-friendly nobles. At the Reichstag in Lippspringe 782, what was then Saxony was divided into Franconian counties and thus part of the Franconian Empire.

Widukind returned from the Danish king to Saxony, where he again provoked a revolt against the Franks. The Saxons then destroyed a Frankish army in the Battle of the Süntel and killed two of the highest officials of the Frankish king. Charlemagne allegedly took revenge at Verden (Aller) with the beheading of 4,500 Saxons ( blood court of Verden ), while Widukind had again escaped to the Danes. A year later, in 783, Karl's army was forced to withdraw from the battle of the Grotenburg . The reinforcement of his army, however, caused the defeat of his opponents in the Battle of the Hase . In 784 the Frisians supported Widukind, who continued the resistance against the Franks in winter.

Conquests of Charlemagne between 768 and 811

In the summer of 785, Karl then advanced into the Bardengau on the lower Elbe. Widukind and his follower Abbio , now mentioned in the sources for the first time - possibly his son-in-law or brother-in-law - initially evaded to the north Elbe Saxony, but gave up the resistance shortly afterwards. Direct negotiations between Charlemagne and Widukind in Bardengau led to the baptisms of Widukind and Abbios in the same year. It was carried out on the occasion of Christmas in Attigny . Godfather was Charlemagne, who established a "spiritual relationship" with him, honored him with gifts and confirmed his rank, which clearly shows the importance Charlemagne attached to Widukind. This reflects the feast of thanksgiving to be celebrated by all of Roman Christianity, which Pope Hadrian I ordered in 786 on the occasion of the news of Widukind's baptism. Widukind is venerated as a blessed of the Catholic Church . In addition to Attigny, there are eleven other places where Widukind was baptized, such as Hohensyburg , Paderborn and Worms . The vernacular sees the Bergkirchen spring miracle as an impetus for a change of mind (see Widukinds monument). With his baptism, Widukind finally reached a peace treaty with Charlemagne. At the same time, he strengthened the position of the Saxon upper class in the Franconian Empire: In the following years, Saxon nobles were included in the Franconian county constitution after their baptism, so that the historian Widukind von Corvey noted that the two peoples had grown together into one people as early as the 10th century.

After that, there are no more secured messages about Widukind. He disappears from the sources. However, Widukind is mentioned in the Vita Liudgeri , who was on the way to the campaign against the Wilzen , and in the Imperial Chronicle , in which it is said that Widukind was slain by Gerold von Schwaben , brother-in-law of Charlemagne (Gerold died himself in 799 on a campaign against the Avars ). Some researchers want the origin of the small town of Balve in the Sauerland to be associated with Ballowa, a plant that, also mentioned in Vita Liudgeri, is said to go back to Widukind.


Widukind tomb
in the collegiate church of Enger

Gerd Althoff tried to prove a monk by the name of Widukind, who is said to be listed as "Dominator Widukind" in the fraternization book of the Bodensee monastery on the Reichenau . Charlemagne had therefore banished Widukind as a monk on the island of Reichenau. This assumption is controversial in research. The tradition of Widukind's death and burial in Enger is linked to the grave ceiling from around 1100 in the collegiate church in Enger and is determined by faith. It is not known where Widukind was really buried. The bones Widukind are suspected in a grave in the collegiate church of Enger. Scientific investigations in the last few years, which are illustrated in the Widukindmuseum Enger , seem to at least confirm these assumptions, but an unequivocal proof is still pending.

Widukind monument and legends

Widukind memorial from 1959 based on the original by Heinrich Wefing in Herford, Herford district, North Rhine-Westphalia, in the background the Herford Catholic Primary School.

A statue was set up in Nienburg / Weser as a memorial, and in Enger there is a fountain with a Widukind figure . The Widukind monument in Herford tells a story. It was recreated in 1959 by the Bochum sculptor Walter Kruse based on the old designs of Professor Heinrich Wefings . The previous memorial, inaugurated in 1899, was melted down during the war in 1942. It goes back to one of the many legends, according to the common core of which Widukind, as the essential leader of the Saxon resistance against Charlemagne during the Saxon Wars, rode over the ridge of the Wiehengebirge and thought about which is the correct belief. He was said to have been to a church beforehand and disguised as a beggar to take part in a service that impressed him very much. Under this impression, he wanted a sign of whether Christianity was the correct divine teaching.

During the ride, his horse stopped at the place where the church of the Bergkirchen district of Bad Oeynhausen is today . The mount, regarded by the pagan Saxons as a connection to the divine, scratched a stone there. A source sprang up out of the ground, which Widukind took as a sign of converting himself to Christianity as a role model for his people, of surrendering to war and submitting to Charlemagne. This legend is represented in the Herford monument made of stone and bronze. Widukind then had a church built above the source.

The stone church building there today is a successor to the wooden church built on this site after the Saxon Wars. The church and spring are a short distance from the transition over the Wiehengebirge as the last elevation before the north German lowlands with Widukind's birthplace Wildeshausen in it.

The amalgamation of a spring legend playing on a mountain pass with the decision to submit to the militarily superior Charlemagne, interpreted as a Christian-religious conversion experience, indicates that there was previously a Saxon spring shrine at the site of today's Bergkirchen church. At the Bergkirchen church and at the Wittekinds spring below, information boards point to the legend and the presumed earlier spring sanctuary.

A romanticized adaptation of the story as a saga was taken by Fritz Vater , for example , whereby the dispute between the Frankish king Charlemagne and the Saxon king Weking (Widukind) in the 8th century is told in an exciting and youthful way.


The Herford district is also called Widukindskreis, Wittekindskreis or Wittekindsland as an addition. The Herford district got its name Wittekindskreis from its close relationship with the Duke of Saxony. The memory of Wittekind is also kept alive by the coat of arms of the Herford district. It shows the black, jumping horse that Wittekind is said to have ridden before his baptism. According to legend, Charlemagne gave him a white horse after his baptism, which is interpreted as the heraldic animal of Westphalia.


A district in the northeast of the Lower Saxon city ​​of Osnabrück , which was created in the 1930s, bears the name Widukindland , while the streets and squares of the district are largely named after Saxon and Germanic tribes.


  • Liedgut: Duke Widukind is mentioned in the Lower Saxony song and the Westphalia song . In addition, Widukind is thematically treated by the Westphalian metal band Heimdalls Wacht in the song The Burden of Shame and portrayed as the savior of the Saxons.
  • Hiking trail: The 95 km long Wittekindsweg on the ridge of the Wiehengebirge in Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia is named after the Sachsenführer. The path begins in the east on the Wittekindsberg with the Wittekindsburg and the Wittekinds spring that has dried up and passes the most famous Wittekinds spring in Bergkirchen. Another Wittekindsburg is located in the Osnabrück region.
  • Another Wittekinds spring is located on the Wittekindsweg near Lübbecke.
  • Another Wittekinds spring is located in the ramparts of the Wittekindsburg in Porta Westfalica.
  • The annual Wittekind donation in Enger developed from feeding the poor, which is said to go back to the Duke of Saxony.
  • A plaque about him is in the Walhalla in Donaustauf .
  • In the Vlotho district of Exter there is the so-called Wittekindstein as a ground monument , which, however, was broken and erected only at the end of the 16th century after the date stamped on it and originally served more as a contemporary court stone.


The main source on Widukind and the Saxon Wars are the Annales regni Francorum .

  • Reinhold Rau (edit.): Sources on the Carolingian empire history. Part 1: The Reichsannals. = Annales regni Francorum (= selected sources on German history in the Middle Ages. Vol. 5, ISSN  0067-0650 ). Rütten & Loening, Berlin 1955 (Unchanged reprographic reprint of the 1955 edition. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1966; Unchanged reprographic reprint of the 1968 edition. Ibid. 1987, ISBN 3-534-06963-3 ; Unchanged reprographic reprint of the 1987 edition. Ibid 2008, ISBN 978-3-534-06963-7 ).


  • Stefan Brakensiek (Ed.): Widukind. Research into a myth (= city ​​of Enger. Contributions to city history 9). Publishing house for regional history, Bielefeld 1997, ISBN 3-89534-198-3 .
  • Torsten Capelle : Widukind's pagan ancestors. The development of the Saxons at a glance. Publishing house for regional history, Bielefeld 2008, ISBN 978-3-89534-741-2 .
  • Caspar Ehlers : The integration of Saxony into the Franconian Empire (751-1024) (= publications of the Max Planck Institute for History 231). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2007, ISBN 978-3-525-35887-0 (also: Würzburg, Univ., Habil.-Schr., 2005).
  • Dieter Hägermann : Charlemagne. Ruler of the west. Biography (= List-Taschenbuch 60275). 3. Edition. List, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-548-60275-4 .
  • Verena Hellenthal: Widukind. The adversary in sagas and legends . Sutton Verlag, Erfurt 2009, ISBN 978-3-86680-504-0 .
  • Christina Reinsch: Wildeshausen and Widukind. To investigate a myth . In: Oldenburg Yearbook . Vol. 96 (1996), pp. 23-32 ( online )
  • Heinrich Schmidt: Widukind. In: Hans Friedl u. a. (Ed.): Biographical manual for the history of the state of Oldenburg . Edited on behalf of the Oldenburg landscape. Isensee, Oldenburg 1992, ISBN 3-89442-135-5 , p. 791 f. ( online ).
  • Matthias Springer : The Saxons (= Urban pocket books 598). W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-17-016588-7 .
  • Matthias Springer:  Widukind. In: Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde (RGA). 2nd Edition. Volume 33, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2006, ISBN 3-11-018388-9 , pp. 581ff. (with further literature).
  • Christof Spannhoff: Widukund . In: Westphalian places of memory. Contributions to the collective memory of a region, ed. v. Lena Krull, Schöningh Verlag, Paderborn 2017, pp. 31–46. ISBN 978-3-506-78607-4 .
  • Fritz Vater: Weking - The saga of the hero fight in Lower Saxony . Ed .: Franz v. Bebenburg. Verlag Hohe Warte, Pähl 1956, p. 381 .

Web links

Commons : Widukind  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. In the Einhard Annals for the year 777, he is described as one of the most distinguished of Westphalia ( ... Widokindum, unum ex primoribus Westfalaorum ... ).
  2. ^ Matthias Springer: The Saxons. Stuttgart 2004, pp. 196-197. The Latin term dux is ambiguous and can only mean military leader in this context.
  3. ^ Matthias Springer: The Saxons. Stuttgart 2004, pp. 195-196.
  4. Ludwig Weiland (ed.): Saxon World Chronicle. Eberhard's rhyming chronicle from Gandersheim. Brunswick rhyming chronicle. Chronicle of the monastery of S. Simon and Judas zu Goslar. Holstein rhyme chronicle. (= MGH, Dt. Chron., 2.) Hahn, Hannover 1877, pp. 459-574, here pp. 462 and 464 .
  5. ^ Sigurd Abel , Bernhard Simson : Yearbooks of the Franconian Empire under Charlemagne. Vol. 1., Duncker and Humblot, Berlin 1866, p. 413 Note 1 describes Geva as part of a "fabulous tradition".
  6. ^ Matthias Springer: The Saxons. Stuttgart 2004, pp. 69, 199
  7. Widukind I, 31
  8. ^ Vita Math. Ant c. 2.
  9. Thietmar I, 9.
  10. To the descendants of Widukind in general Karl Schmid : The descendants of Widukinds. In: German Archive for Research into the Middle Ages, Vol. 20. 1964, pp. 1-47. ( online )
  11. Gerd Althoff: The Saxon Duke Widukind as a monk on the Reichenau. A contribution to the criticism of the Widukind myth. In: Frühmittelalterliche Studien , Vol. 17 (1983), pp. 251-279. ( online )
  12. ^ To Althoff critical Eckhard Freise : The Sachsenmission of Charlemagne and the beginnings of the diocese of Minden. In: On Weser and Wiehen. Contributions to the history and culture of a landscape. Festschrift for Wilhelm Brepohl. Minden 1983, pp. 57-100, here: p. 81. ( online ) More detailed Eckhard Freise: Widukind in Attigny. In: 1200 years of Widukind's baptism. Paderborn 1985, pp. 12-45, here: pp. 35ff. ( online ).
  13. Rainer Pape (ed.): The old Herford. Pictures from 4 centuries. Herford 1971, p. 104.
  14. Fritz Father: Weking - The saga of the heroic struggle in Lower Saxony . Ed .: Franz v. Bebenburg. Verlag Hohe Warte, Pähl 1956, p. 381 .
predecessor Office successor
- Duke of Saxony