I have to start with an admission. I promised you a History of the Germans but I am afraid there is no such thing. All I can give you is the histories of the German people. The last 94 episodes you have heard one of the histories of the Germans, the one about the mighty emperors and their political, military and spiritual struggle with the papacy. It is a great story, and it was fun to tell it.

But today we kick off another of the histories, the history of the North of Germany, the part that looked east, rather than south. It is a story of a frontier culture where an estimated 7% of the population of the western part of the empire pack up their belongings and move east, sometimes under the cover of expansionary princes or knightly orders, sometimes invited by local potentates looking to grow their economies. It is a story about the creation and expansion of trade networks, the foundation of cities, some that will remain modest in size, others that turn into important European capitals. It is the story of a periphery that will in time become the centre.

And because it is an almost independent history, we start at the beginning, in the year 772, the year when Charlemagne takes his troops into Saxony hell bent on turning these pagan tribesmen into good Christians and subjects of his emerging empire. If things work out as I hope, we should end this episode with the life of Hermann Billung and Margrave Gero, the first of a wave of chancers and warlords that seek their fortune in the east.

And to all of you who may be new to the History of the Germans Podcast, do not panic. You do not have to catch up on all the previous episodes; you can just start right here, and the narrative should make sense in itself – at least I hope it will. However, some say that the previous three seasons weren’t completely shoddy and may be worth listening to.

The music for the show is Flute Sonata in E-flat major, H.545 by Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach (or some claim it as BWV 1031 Johann Sebastian Bach) performed and arranged by Michel Rondeau under Common Creative Licence 3.0.

As always:

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