The Oaths of Strasbourg were a military pact made on the 14th of February, A.D. 842 by Charles the Bald and Louis the German against their older brother Lothair I, the designated heir of Louis the Pious, the successor of Charlemagne. One year later the Treaty of Verdun would be signed, with major consequences for Western Europe's geopolitical landscape.
Centuries after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Charlemagne, who had conquered much of its former territory, announced its restoration. Upon his death, he passed this realm to his son Louis the Pious, who would in turn pass it to his firstborn son Lothair I. However, the latter's brothers--Charles and Louis--refused to recognize him as their suzerain. When Lothair attempted to invade their lands, they allied against him and defeated him at the Battle of Fontenoy in June 841. Charles and Louis met in February 842 near modern Strasbourg to affirm their alliance by swearing a joint oath against Lothair. The following year the civil war would end with the Treaty of Verdun, in which the three claimants partitioned the Empire amongst themselves.
The Oaths were not preserved in their original form; they were instead copied by the historian Nithard, another grandson of Charlemagne, in a work titled De Dissensionibus Filiorum Ludovici Pii "On the Quarrels of Louis the Pious' Sons". This was a firsthand account, as Nithard had campaigned alongside his cousin Charles the Bald. It was however biased, reflecting the perspective of the allies and casting Lothair as an aggressor and villain.
Louis and Charles swore their oaths not as kings--a term which is never used--but rather as lords, with their respective entourages acting as witnesses. Ostensibly they were acceding to Lothair I's demands as his future 'subjects'.
Although the Oaths are of little political importance, given that they were superseded by the more comprehensive Treaty of Verdun, they are of significant importance to the field of linguistics. As the scholar Philippe Walter wrote:
"This is the oldest extant French text. It is political in nature, not literary, and is important in that it marks the written debut of the 'vulgar' tongue."
Nithard's text has been passed down to us via two manuscripts that are today kept at the National Library of France.
The older manuscript was copied around the year 1000, probably for an abbey in Picardy (either that of Saint-Médard or Saint Riquier). In the fifteenth century it was in the possession of the Abbey of Saint Magloire in Paris. Around 1650 it was bought by the Swedish Queen Christina and transferred to Rome; after her death it was acquired by the Vatican Library. After Napoleon's forces captured Rome, it was transferred back to Paris along with various other historical manuscripts. Napoleon would later return most of the others, but kept this one. It is currently found in the National Library of France under the call number Latin 9768. The Oaths are found on folio #13.
The other manuscript, which is kept in the same library under the call number Latin 14663, is a copy of the former that was made in the fifteen century.
Louis the German's oath is recorded as follows:
Pro Deo amur et pro christian poblo et nostro commun salvament, d'ist di en avant, in quant Deus savir et podir me dunat, si salvarai eo, cist meon fradre Karlo, et in aiudha, et in cadhuna cosa, si cum om per dreit son fradra salvar dift, in o quid il mi altresi fazet, et ab Ludher nul plaid nunquam prindrai, qui meon vol cist meon fradre Karle in damno sit.
"For the love of God and Christiandom and our joint salvation, from this day onward, to the best of my knowledge and abilities granted by God, I shall protect my brother Charles by any means possible, as one ought to protect one's brother, insofar as he does the same for me, and I shall never willingly enter into a pact with Lothair against the interests of my brother Charles."
The army of Charles the Bald swore that:
Si Lodhuvigs sagrament, que son fradre Karlo iurat conservat, et Karlus meos sendra de suo part non los tanit, si io returnar non l'int pois, ne io ne neuls, cui eo returnar int pois, in nulla aiudha contra Lodhuvig nun li iv er.
"If Louis keeps the oath which he has sworn to his brother Charles, and my lord Charles on the other hand breaks it, if I cannot dissuade him from it--neither I nor anyone else whom I could dissuade from it--then I shall render him no aid against Louis."
The language reflects an early form of Ripuarian Frankish. Charles the Bald is recorded as saying:
In Godes minna ind in thes christianes folches ind unser bedhero gealtnissi, fon thesemo dage frammordes, so fram so mir Got geuuizci indi mahd furgibit, so hald ih tesan minan bruodher, soso man mit rehtu sinan bruodher scal, in thiu, thaz er mig sosoma duo ; indi mit Ludheren in nohheiniu thing ne gegango, zhe minan uuillon imo ce scadhen uuerhen.
This is a close translation of Louis' oath, except that an equivalent to et in aiudha et in cadhuna cosa appears to be missing. The soldiers of Louis the German replied:
Oba Karl then eid, then er sinemo bruodher Ludhuuuige gesuor, geleistit, indi Ludhuuuig min herro, then er imo gesuor, forbrihchit, ob ih inan es iruuenden ne mag, noh ih noh thero nohhein, then ih es iruuenden mag, uuidhar Karle imo ce follusti ne uuirdit.
This, in turn, was equivalent to the oath sworn by Charles' soldiers.
According to Hall, the text does not contain any particular features that would mark it as belonging to the future Oïl or Oc groups, with the possible exception of the form tanit 'keeps' < *tni?at, which is characteristic of Lorraine. Hall describes the language of the text as "nearly undifferentiated conservative Pre-French".
The difficulty of discerning a particular dialect in the text may be due to a deliberate effort by the author to write in a sort of regional koiné. Cerquiglini further observes that "No Old French text, not even any of the oldest ones, was written to agree with the dialectical features of only one particular region."
The following is a reconstructed narrow transcription of the pronunciation of Louis' oath and that of Charles' soldiers:
pro d amór e pro krístjan pbl? e nstr? komún salvamnt
dést dí en avánt
en kánt ds savér e poðér m? dónat
tsést m?on fráðr? karl?
eð en ajúða
eð en kaðúna kza
sí kóm m p?r dréi?t son fráðr? salvár déft
en keð íl mí altresí fáts?t
eð a loðér núl plai?t nónka prendrái?
kí m?on vl tsést m?on fráðr? kárl? en dámn? sét
sí loðuvíks sa?ramnt
k? son fráðr? kárl? d?urát konsrvat
e kárl?s ms sndr? d? só? párt non l? s tán?t
sí j r?tornár non lént pi?s
n? j n? n?úls kui r?tornár ént pi?s
en núla ajúða kntra loðuvíg nón li iv r
Here are the Romance sections of folio 13r along with digital facsimiles: