Most Undeservedly Overlooked Person in the Database Competition: Hitti

Posted: Dec. 15, 2014, 11:56 a.m. by Alice Rio

by Alice Rio

My choice for the “most undeservedly overlooked person in the database” is a man called Hitti. He appears in a diploma issued by Charlemagne, no. 218, from 9 May 813. Hitti, as can be seen on his Agent summary page, was a man of Charlemagne; and he was also a Saxon. Now, even those of you who are not keen latter-day followers of Charlemagne may still remember that being a Saxon and being a man of Charlemagne can’t always have been easy, and in fact Hitti suffered for it. 

Hitti’s story took place during the rebellion against Charlemagne perpetrated by the Anonymous group ‘Saxon rebels’. This clearly made life difficult for Hitti. As Charlemagne puts it in the charter text:

‘When all the other Saxons were acting unfaithfully towards us, Hitti, preferring to keep his faith than to stick with the other, unfaithful ones, left the land of his birth and came to us, and, while he was in our service, came to the villa known as Wolfsanger.’

Wolfsanger was still very much within Saxony, and it sounds like a pretty interesting place on account of its inhabitants: as Charlemagne says, ‘in that time both Franks and Saxons were known to live there’. So this is a first mystery: what was this magical fairyland where Franks and Saxons apparently lived together in peace and harmony right in the middle of the Saxon wars? We’ll never know, but either way poor Hitti didn’t have much luck there – the charter says he wanted to stay, sed minime potuit: he wasn’t able to. We are here faced with the frustrating quality of many early medieval charters, because obviously we’d like to know why he couldn’t stay there: was he really unpleasant to be around? Did he have bad breath? Or did the unbridled, flowers-in-your-hair idealism which had led to the creation of this commune eventually run out of steam, leading to increasingly demanding conditions for entry and harsher visa rules? Who knows…

But anyway, poor Hitti had to go on on his way, and ended up settling in part of a forest called Buchonia, in Hauucabrunn – between the rivers Fulda and Werra, so in fact very close to Wolfsanger: just a bit to the south. Buchonia was clearly a large forest, and Charlemagne disposed of quite a few pieces of land there: it turns up in 10 different diplomas of his. It may have been important partly because it was next door to the monastery of Hersfeld, which had received several grants from Charlemagne in the wake of the initial conquest of Saxony in 775; so going to settle in Buchonia could well have been a way of rallying around a powerful pro-Frankish patron.

Hitti then died, and left his little bit of forest land to his son Asig. But even in death, his troubles weren’t over: some imperial officials then swooped in and claimed Hitti’s land for the imperial fisc. Hitti’s son Asig, though, was a faithful man (a fidelis) of Charlemagne, and Charlemagne made a big deal in this diploma out of the fact that he was going to allow him to keep his inheritance after all.

Now, there are a number of things that come out of this story.

First of all, Hitti was in the service of Charlemagne, but he also evidently was not a particularly big fish – otherwise he wouldn’t have been kicked out of the Frankish/Saxon commune in Wolfsanger. Hitti had given up everything in order to be faithful to Charlemagne. Is this a classic case of a little guy losing out – someone who, precisely because he had given up everything, was also unlikely to be worth rewarding in any significant way and in fact became easier to overlook? (Is this, in other words, an early-days version of what happened to the historian Nithard, who was more in a position to let posterity know how disappointed he was with the way he’d been treated?)

And why did Charlemagne’s officials think it was a good idea to go and grab land off the orphan of someone who had stuck with Charlemagne through thick and thin? The plot thickens when you take into account the fact that Hitti was not the only Saxon in this sort of situation. Another diploma tells us about another Saxon, called Amalung, who went through exactly the same thing, travelled through exactly the same places, was also kicked out of the Frankish-Saxon commune in Wolfsanger, and then finally also settled in the forest of Buchonia. This other diploma is addressed to his son after his death, but in this case it’s just a confirmation – probably because the son in this case was a count and more of a big shot. Asig, by contrast, did not automatically inherit: he had to go through the charade of a dispute. As a result, he had to go to Aachen and declare himself Charlemagne’s faithful man. And this was clearly the point.

The similarities and contrasts between these two cases show that the faithfulness of pro-Frankish Saxons did not necessarily help to guarantee their property rights in the eyes of Charlemagne: their uprooting from their initial property made them more vulnerable – not only to other Saxons, but also to the Franks and to imperial officials. And this chimes in, I think, with the message from the database as a whole, which is that nothing was for ever: not fidelity, not grants of land, and certainly not gratitude. All of these things needed restating again and again, and this is largely what royal documents were for.