Western Europe

          Most of western Europe is dominated by the Frankish Empire, but on the fringes exist the Northmen, Iberia, and non-Frankish Italy. See the Map of Western Europe.

The Frankish Empire
          The Frankish Empire, founded by Charles the Great, is officially known as the Holy Roman Empire and commonly referred to as the Western Empire (to distinguish it from the Byzantine or Eastern Empire). Charles the Great always intended to divide his empire among his sons, but only one survived to inherit, Louis the Pious. Louis also chose to divide his empire, but lacked the strength to keep his sons in line. They fell to fighting among themselves even before he died, plunging the empire into civil war. The war didn't end until 843, three years after his death, when his three surviving sons signed the Treaty of Verdun splitting the empire equally between themselves. The eldest son, Lothar, retained the title of emperor and nominal authority over the whole. When he retired to a monastery in 855, he also passed the imperial title to his eldest son while splitting his lands among his three sons. Despite the Treaty of Verdun, the heirs of Charlemagne continue to fight among themselves while simultaneously trying to fend off Vikings, Saracens, and Slavs.

          The Kingdom of the West Franks is ruled by Charles the Bald, youngest son of Louis the Pious. In addition to the western Frankish lands known as Francia, his kingdom also contains the regions of Flanders, Aquitaine, Gascony, Septimania, and the Spanish March. Most of the people in these lands speak one of two vulgar Latin dialects, commonly known as langue d'oc (used in the south) and langue d'oil (used in the north), though Dutch is common in the lowlands of Flanders. In recent years King Charles has devoted all of his efforts to fending off Viking attacks from the north, a situation which has allowed his southern lands to drift away into semi-independent kingdoms (see Iberia), and Aquitaine, until recently a subordinate kingdom under Pippin II, grandson of Louis the Pious, is riven by war between rival counts seeking supremacy.

          The Kingdom of the East Franks is ruled by Louis the German, second son of Louis the Pious. It contains the eastern Frankish lands called Franconia plus the lands of Saxony, Friesland, Alamania, Bavaria, and Carinthia. Most of his subjects speak either High German (in the south) or Low German (in the north). Dutch and Frisian are spoken in the low countries of the northwest. Various Slavonic languages are used by the conquered tribes along the eastern borders, though Louis has made great strides in developing the border regions and assimilating Slavs into his German kingdom. Though 69 years old, Louis the German is still vigorous and may last for years to come.

          Charles the Bald and Louis the German have always wavered back and forth between alliance and war, teaming up when necessary against their older brother Lothar and his sons, but just as easily attacking each other once the external threat is gone. Until five years ago their lands were separated by the kingdom of Lotharingia, the inheritance of Lothar II, who ruled the rich, central Frankish lands along the Rhine, along with the low countries to the north. When Lothar II died in 869 without an heir this land should have reverted to his brother, Emperor Louis II. Instead both Charles the Bald and Louis the German sent in their armies, each attempting to claim the land for himself. After many indecisive battles, in 870 they signed the Treaty of Mersen, dividing Lotharingia between themselves and shutting out their nephew and emperor.

          Emperor Louis II directly rules the kingdom of Italy, which he inherited from his father Lothar I, though large portions of the kingdom are under the control of Pope John VIII, based on lands granted to the papacy by Charlemagne and Louis the Pious. Louis II also technically rules the kingdom of Provence, formerly the land of his younger brother Charles who died childless in 863, and now in the midst of a protracted civil war. Like his two younger brothers, Louis II has no sons, though he has a single daughter named Ermengarde, who is married to Boso, a nobleman from Provence. Hoping to prevent his uncles from snapping up Provence as they did with Lotharingia, Louis II has already named Boso his heir in Provence. The emperor is in ill health; both Charles the Bald and Louis the German are already maneuvering to see who will succeed him as emperor.

The Northmen
          Though often considered by outsiders to be a single people, the Northmen of Scandinavia are divided into their own ethnic groups. They all share a common language (Norse) and pagan religion; their most popular gods include Thor, Odin, Tyr, and Freya. Norse inheritance allows for co-rule by brothers, a system which sometimes works out but just as often leads to fratricidal wars.

          The Northmen most commonly encountered outside Scandinavia are the Danes, so much that the term Dane is often used to refer to all Northmen. The vast majority of Viking raids originate from the Denmark, and the Danes are feared throughout Europe. The Kingdom of Denmark includes the Jutland peninsula (separated from Germany by the Danewirk, a fortified rampart across the base of the peninsula), many nearby islands such as Sjęlland (Zealand) and Fyn (Funen), and the lands of Skåne (Scania, southern Sweden). Currently the land is ruled jointly by two brothers, Sigifrid and Halfdan. The Danes are notorious as the fiercest of the Vikings; the vast majority of raids on the continent and England are led by Danes. Despite their aggressive attitude, the Danes are also great traders, and the town of Haithabu on the southeast coast is the dominant trade center of the Baltic Sea.

          The Norwegians live farthest north of all the Norsemen, and their raiders are the ones most commonly found in Caledonia and Ireland. Possibly due to the harsh conditions of their homeland, Norwegian Vikings are also the most likely to migrate to new lands, as shown by their colonies throughout the northern British islands. Just last year a Norwegian named Ingólfr Arnarson was the first to settle in Iceland. Norway itself has no king, but is ruled by dozens of independent jarls, the two most important being the jarls of Vestfold and Trondelag. However, this fragmentation won't last if Harald Fairhair, the teenage jarl of Vestfold, has his way. Upon succeeding his father he swore not to cut his hair until all Norway acknowledges his rule as king.

          North of Denmark and east of Norway lie the kingdoms of Götaland and Svealand. The Götar and Svear are rarely seen in western Europe, for their interests lie with the Balts and Slavs in the east, among whom they both trade and raid. Svear adventurers known as the Rus have even penetrated the great rivers of eastern Europe, creating a principality whose domain stretches from Novgorod to Kiev and from which they have launched raids on Constantinople.

          The Iberian peninsula is divided between Moors of the Emirate of Córdoba and the Christians of the Kingdom of Asturias and Galicia. Though enemies, the two kingdoms have enjoyed a relative state of peace for most of the last century, mainly due to the wide depopulated zone which lies between them. In recent years, however, King Alfonso III has begun settling the empty borderlands and building castles. Meanwhile, Emir Muhammad is too busy dealing with rebellious muwallads to react.

          The independent Emirate of Córdoba was founded in 756 by an Umayyad prince who fled Damascus when the Abassids took over the Arab Caliphate. As such, they retain a number of practices distinct from those of the rest of the Arab world. There is much greater toleration of non-Muslims, but at the same time racial differences are more strongly emphasized. Córdoban society is highly stratified, with Moors on top, followed by Muwallads (Iberians who converted to Islam), Jews, Mozarabs (Christian Iberians), and finally slaves. Córdoba is a well-known center of learning and craftsmanship, home to outstanding scholars in medicine, mathematics, botany, and other sciences.

          The Kingdom of Asturias and Galicia is the survivor of the former Visigothic Kingdom, a fusion of Hispano-Roman and Germanic peoples, which had dominated the peninsula for three centuries between the fall of Rome and the coming of the Moors. They are generally supported in their efforts by the Frankish emperors, who wish to prevent further Moorish incursions, though the two have fought in the past over dominance in the Pyrenees.

          In addition to the major powers, wedged into the corner between Asturias, Córdoba, and Gascony lies the new Basque kingdom of Pamplona. A century ago the Basques were responsible for the infamous ambush which destroyed Roland, Charlemagne's greatest paladin, as he crossed the Pyrenees, and this fierce reputation has allowed the tiny kingdom to hold its own amongst its larger neighbors. Meanwhile, on the eastern coast, Count Wifred of Barcelona, has begun asserting his independence from the Franks and his dominance over the Catalan people of the Spanish March.

Non-Frankish Italy
          Though the Kingdom of Italy controls most of the northen peninsula, the tiny Republic of Venice remains outside of Frankish rule. While technically a part of the Byzantine Empire, in practice it is run as an independent nation by the elected Doge (currently Orso Badoer). Situated at an excellent port between the Western and Eastern empires, Venice is a major Mediterranean trade entrepot.

          South of Rome, the Italian peninsula is a patchwork of minor lands, the largest being the autonomous Lombard principalities of Benevento, Salerno, and Capua. In the fertile Campania area, the city-states of Naples, Amalfi, and Gaeta are technically part of the Byzantine Empire, but like Venice are effectively independent republics. All three cities trade extensively with the Saracens in Sicily. The only lands directly held by the Eastern Emperor are a few cities along the coasts of Calabria and Apulia. All of these states recently joined together in a grand alliance, along with Emperor Louis in northern Italy, to repel the Saracen raiders who threaten the region and who have a number of permanent bases on the coasts, including major cities such as Taranto. Their efforts are regularly thwarted, however, by internal rivalries which lead individual Christian leaders to attack one another, often using the Saracens are mercenaries.

More Information on the Mundane World of A.D. 875:
Life in the Dark Ages
Peoples of Caledonia
Geography of Caledonia
The Church in Caledonia
The British Isles
Western Europe
Distant Lands
Map of Western Europe
Map of Caledonia

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Caledonia: A Light in the North