Pepin the Short


Pepin III called the Short (Jupille, 714 – Saint Denis, September 24, 768) was palace butler of Neustria (741-751) and Austrasia (747-751), then king of the Franks (751-768). He was the father of the future emperor Charlemagne.

He was crowned king of the Franks by the pope who, threatened by the advance of the Lombards, had obtained his protection and reciprocated the help received from Pepin the Short with a formally illegitimate coronation.

He was the second son of the palace butler of Austrasia and later palace butler of all the Frankish kingdoms, Charles Martel (who was the son of Pippin of Herstal or Pippin II, palace butler of all the Frankish kingdoms, (ca. 650-† 717), whose ancestors are not known, but the Ex Chronico Sigeberti monachi informs us that she was sister of a certain Dodon, servant of Pepin II, who martyred the bishop of Liege, Lambert) and his first wife, Rotrude of Trier (695-724) who for a long time was thought to be the daughter of Willigarda of Bavaria and St. Liévin, Liutwin or Leudin (but more recent studies have established that she was the daughter of Count Lambert II of Hesbaye (from whom also descended Ermengarda (778-818), wife of Ludwig the Pious.

Pepin the Short in 736, along with his father Charles Martel and his older brother Charlemagne, crossed the Loire and, fighting the Duke of Aquitaine Hunaldo, reached the Garonne, conquered the city of Bordeaux and the castle of Blavia and managed to subdue the whole region and take possession of it. In 741, his father Charles divided the kingdom into two parts: to Charlemagne, the firstborn, he gave Austrasia, Swabia – now called Alemannia – and Thuringia; to the secondborn, Pepin gave Neustria, Burgundy and Provence. According to the Annales Mettenses his father, Charles, would have wanted to divide the kingdom into three parts, as requested by his second wife Swanachilde, but – following the opinion of the Franks, who considered the second-born son, Griffin, illegitimate – Charlemagne and Pepin refused.

Griffin rebelled against his half-brothers, in order to have a part or even all of his father”s domain. Then Charlemagne and Pepin gathered the army to capture Griffin, who, having heard the news, fled with his mother and closed in Laudunum (now Laon), where the half-brothers laid siege. Seeing that he could not escape from the siege, Grifone surrendered to the stepbrothers. He was imprisoned by Charlemagne in a castle (Nova Castella) in the Ardennes, near Liège, where he remained until 747, the year in which his half-brother Charlemagne went to Rome.

Alternatives:Palace ButlerBuilding Butler

Charlemagne and Pippin, after the throne of the Frankish kingdom had been vacant for some years, decided at the end of 741 to recognize as king the Merovingian Childericus III, who according to the Annales Francorum Ludovici Dufour was a relative of his predecessor, Theodoric IV (perhaps brother or son).

In 742, Charlemagne and Pippin went to Aquitaine to fight Hunaldo, who after the death of Charles Martel had not kept the commitment of loyalty to his sons. Gathered the army and passed the Loire to Aurelianis, the current Orleans, came to Beturigas, the current Bourges, which gave to the flames. Continuing, defeated Hunaldo and forced him to flee, during the pursuit, conquered the castle and the city of Lucas, the current Loches, sparing the inhabitants. Then at Vetus-Pictavis (Vieux-Poitiers) the two brothers divided their prey and hostages. In the autumn of that year, after crossing the Rhine, Charlemagne and Pepin devastated Alemannia, reaching as far as the Danube where the Alemanni, led by Theobald, son of Duke Gotfrid, seeing themselves beaten, surrendered and, giving hostages and offering gifts, asked for peace.

In 743 the Duke of Bavaria Odilone, who the year before had forced the sister of Charlemagne and Pepin, Iltrude, to marry him against the will of his brothers (according to the Ex Chronico Sigeberti monachi had kidnapped her), rebelled against the authority of the Franks, thus forcing Charlemagne and Pepin to gather the army to attack Bavaria. They camped on the banks of the river Lech, while on the opposite bank had gathered not only Bavarians but also Saxons, Swabians and Alemanni. Not being able to cross the river in that point, after some days Carlomanno, after having divided in two groups the army, crossed the Lech by night, in marshy and uninhabited zones. He unexpectedly fell on the adversaries, while Odilone and Teodorico, duke of the Saxons, fled beyond the river Inn. The Franks took many prisoners including the messenger of the pope, Sergius, who convinced them to return home. In that same year Charlemagne conquered the castle of Hoohseoburg (the current Seeburg, near Eisleben), defeated the Saxons led by Duke Theodoric and forced them to peace.

Also in 743, Hunaldo, the Duke of Aquitaine, crossed the Loire and conquered and burned Carnotis, the current Chartres. In 744, Charlemagne and Pepin, mindful of the insult of Hunaldo, reacted, passed the Loire and set up camp in Aquitaine. Hunaldo, seeing that he could not resist his opponents, decided to abdicate.

Then, still in 744, Charlemagne and Pepin intervened with the army to tame the rebellion in Saxony and, after having captured Duke Theodoric another time, according to the anonymous chronicler Fredegarius, having made a large number of prisoners and found that they were of similar stock to the inhabitants of his kingdom, Charlemagne acquired them as subjects and many of them converted to the Christian faith and asked to be baptized. Also in that year Charlemagne and Pepin intervened in Bavaria and after defeating him Charlemagne made peace with Odilon.

In 745 the Vasconis rebelled once again and the Frankish army was gathered on the banks of the Loire. In 745 Theobald, son of Gotfrid, Duke of the Alemanni, rebelled, but was defeated by his brother, Pepin.

In 746, the rebellion of the Alemanni resumed; Carlomanno and Pipino fought them. Charlemagne hurled himself against them making slaughter, especially in Candistat (today Cannstatt, district of Stuttgart).

After many battles, Charlemagne confessed to Pippin that he wanted to leave the secular life and, in 747, did not move the army, but prepared to facilitate the path chosen by Charlemagne; he renounced the power, which delivered into the hands of his brother Pippin, leaving him also the guardianship of his son Drogone, went to Rome with several of his ministers and with many gifts, where he met with Pope Zacharias, was tonsured and became a monk, receiving the monk”s habit from the same pope. According to some historians, supported by the Annalium Petavianorum continuatio, Charlemagne retired to the convent to expiate the sins of the massacres made in the various battles fought, especially against the Alemanni (see the massacre of Canstatt in 746). Others argue that Pepin the Short, with the complicity of the Pope, facilitated this decision of his brother Charlemagne.

In the same year Pippin freed his half-brother Griffin from the prison in which Charlemagne had imprisoned him and welcomed him into his palace, giving him an earldom and several annuities. But, in 748, while Pippin was in Duria (present-day Düren), Griffin left Pippin”s house with many young nobles. Pippin then pursued him and, crossing Thuringia, arrived in Saxony and occupied the border town of Skahningi (present-day Schöningen), where the Swabians had arrived in Pippin”s aid and where many Saxons were captured and many of them converted to the Christian faith. Moreover, in Hocsemburgh (present-day Süpplingenburg), the evil Duke Theodoric was captured by Pepin for the third time. Continuing to advance, Pippin arrived on the bank of the river Obacra (today”s Oker), while Griffin and the Saxons were attested on the opposite bank of the river Obacra, near the city of Orhaim (today”s Ohrum). During the night, thinking they were weaker, the Saxons abandoned their positions and so Pippin easily destroyed their fortifications. Also in that year, Gryphon thinking that the Saxons were too weak to defend him and not trusting his half-brother, where his uncle, his mother”s brother, the Duke of Bavaria, Odilon I had died.Gryphon in Bavaria was well received by his half-sister, Iltrude, Odilon”s widow, regent on behalf of her son, the new Duke Tassilon III. Grifone, making dynastic claims (as the son of a princess of Bavaria, Swanachilde), usurped the throne to Tassilone III, a child of 7 years, and with the help of Lanfredo subjugated the Bavarians. Upon learning of this, Pippin went to Bavaria and Lanfredo after reconfirmed his nephew Tassilone on the ducal throne. Pippin pardoned all the young men who had followed Griffin, received twelve counties in Neustria, including Le Mans.

In 748, the Saxons, as was their custom, had not kept faith with the oaths made, so Pippin was forced to intervene, with the help of Frisians. After many of them had already been slaughtered or taken prisoner and their lands burned, the Saxons, seized with fear, asked for peace, promising to be tributaries. Seeing, moreover, that they could not oppose the Franks, they dismissed their commanders and converted to the Christian faith. Then, however, as a result of pressure from the Bavarians, they abjured their faith and did not keep their word, so, in 749, Pepin returned with the army in Saxony and the Saxons withdrew with wives and children beyond the river Inn. Pippin then camped on the banks of the river to prepare to cross it with boats. The Bavarians, estimating that they could not intervene to help the Saxons, sent gifts and agreed to be subjects of Pippin, who accepted and returned to his homeland and for two years peace reigned.

Around 750, Pippin, at the request of his brother, the monk Charlemagne, and the Holy See, instructed his half-brother, Remigius, to go to Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, near Orleans, to ask the abbot of the Abbey of Fleury for the return of the bones of Saint Benedict.

In this context of peace, Pippin, in 751, sent letters to Pope Zacharias and, without the knowledge of his king, but with the approval of all the Franks, led by St. Burcard, bishop of Würzburg and Fulrado, abbot of Saint-Denis, asking him whether the title of king belonged to those who exercised power or to those who were of royal blood. The pope replied that he should be king who really exercised the power.Childerico III then was deposed and, by order of the successor of Zachariah, Stephen II, was shaved and, in 752, was taken to a monastery and tonsured, while Pepin the Short, with Queen Berta and crowned, in Soissons, king of the Franks, by Boniface, bishop of Mainz. Pippin thus became the first king of the Carolingian Franks, first according to the traditions of his people and later for the Church of Rome.

Alternatives:King of all FranksKing of all the FranksKing of all Francs

Crucial to European history was the legally illegitimate act of royal coronation with papal legitimation (until then kings had only been blessed by the pope, while the legal status to reign had to come from the sole heir to the Roman Empire, the Byzantine sovereign). Pippin was usurping a “sacred” sovereign title towards the Germans while the pope was arrogating to himself a legitimizing power that had no defined legal basis. In practice, however, the sacredness of the pope compensated for the end of the sacredness of the Merovingian dynasty; moreover, the presence of a “heretical” (iconoclastic) emperor such as Leo III on the throne of Byzantium caused a power vacuum that the pope had already shown he wanted to arrogate to himself (the apocryphal document of the Donation of Constantine was born in those years)…

In 752, the Goth population of Septimania rebelled against the Saracens, who had occupied the region for several years, and called on Pepin to help them. At the end of the campaign, Pepin had received from the Goths the cities of Nemauso (now Nîmes), Magdalona (now Maguelonne), Agate (now Agde) and Beterris (now Béziers).

When Pippin, in November 751, was elected king of the Franks, his half-brother Griffin rebelled again and, to resume the fight, decided to go to Vasconia at the Duke of Aquitaine, Waifer.Then Pippin sent his legates to Waifer so that his brother was returned.Griffin, considering that his half-brother could have influenced Waifer, thought to reach Italy to take refuge from the king of the Lombards, Astolfo. Arrived in 753, in the area of Maurienne, was intercepted by several Franks, loyal to Pepin, and in combat found death on the banks of the river Arbore (the current Arvan).At that time, Pepin had defeated the Saxons and, while returning and was in Bonna (the current Bonn), was reached by messengers from Burgundy who told him that his half-brother Griffin had been killed near Maurienne.Pepin managed since then to reign in peace.

In 754, Pippin, who resided on the banks of the Moselle, was informed that Pope Stephen II had departed from Rome with a large retinue and many gifts and had already crossed the Great St. Bernard Pass, a completely unprecedented action for the bishops of Rome. Pippin, with his son Charles, met him as far as the bridge, Pons Sancti Hugonis, over the river Isère, near La Chapelle-du-Bard. The pope, having arrived in the presence of the king, requested his help against the Lombards and their king Astolfo to free the Romans from the abuses they were suffering. Then Pippin led the pope and his delegation to Paris, where he was lodged at Saint Dionysius. On June 28, Pope Stephen II anointed Pepin as king of the Franks and also anointed his sons as Roman patricians (i.e. military defenders of the territories belonging to the Church of Rome). In that same period, his brother, Charlemagne, had also gone to France by order of his abbot; he was sent to France, in conjunction with the journey to France of Pope Stephen II, for a peace mission, consisting in convincing his brother Pippin not to invade Italy (according to the Annales Mettenses at the request of King Astolfo).But, at the conclusion of the fruitless mission, he fell ill and remained in the city of Vienne, assisted by Queen Bertrada, for many days and died in peace in 754.

Since Pepin could not get what he had asked of the Lombards and Astolfo continued to act as before, in 755 the decision was made to make war on the Lombards alongside Pope Stephen II, for which a large army was gathered. King Astolfo, who knew about this, brought his army to the locks of Susa. Then Pipino made to pass a part of the army through the mountains. When he reached Susa, Astolfo attacked him. During the battle Astolfo was wounded, abandoned his army and fled to Pavia with a few followers. Pippin then put the whole region to fire and sword and chased him to Pavia, where he set up camp and prepared for the siege. Astolfo, believing he could not escape the siege, asked for peace, promising to respect the demands of the pope. Pippin, clement, accepted the offers, leaving Astolfo alive. Then, having received an invitation from the pope, who in the meantime had returned to the Holy See, he went to Rome, bringing with him countless gifts. Finally, having received forty hostages from Astolfo, he returned to his kingdom.

But Astolfo did not keep his promises and, in that same year, he headed towards Rome, devastating and burning the lands of the Patrimony of St. Peter. Pipino, in 756, crossed again the Alps at the pass of Moncenisio (second expedition of Pipino against Astolfo). The Longobards, having left Rome, moved to the locks of the Alpine passes, where they were defeated by the Franks (April 756). Then, with his nephew Tassilone III of Bavaria, Pipino devastated the region and chased them as far as Pavia, which was besieged. Astolfo then asked for peace promising, in addition to an annual tribute to the king of the Franks, not to attack the Apostolic See and to return the disputed territories to the papacy: the Byzantine lands of the Exarchate of Ravenna and the Pentapolis (this is the vast area from the river Panaro to Ancona). The territories, which had ended up under the power of the Lombard kings, starting with Liutprand, were handed over to the envoy of Pepin, Abbot Fulrad. According to the agreements made in 754 with Pope Stephen II (Promissio Carisiaca), Pepin donated the conquered lands to the Apostolic See. Also in 756, Astolfo, during a game of hunting, hit by a branch of a tree, was thrown from his horse. He was elected king of the Longobards Desiderio.

In 757 Pippin, as a sign of friendship, exchanged, through ambassadors, gifts with the Byzantine emperor, Constantine V. In that same year, Tassilon III, Duke of Bavaria, with a retinue of notables who countersigned, swore allegiance to Pippin and his two sons, Charles and Charlemagne.

In 758, Pippin went to Saxony and, in Sitnia (today”s Sythen), tamed their willingness to resist for several years.

In 759, after Pepin had put it under siege, the city of Narbonne, which many years earlier had fallen into the hands of the Saracens, was handed over to the Franks.

Between 759 and 760, Pepin, since Waifer gave refuge to the Franks who had rebelled and did not deal fairly with certain ecclesiastical matters within the jurisdiction of the French church, turned his attentions to Aquitaine. Having passed the Loire in the vicinity of Autisioderum (the present Auxerre), burning and devastating, he arrived in the Arvernicus (the present Auvergne). Then Waifer, sent two ambassadors, delivered two hostages and, accepting the conditions set by Pepin, obtained peace.

In 761, Waifer, to take revenge, entered Burgundy with his troops and bringing devastation arrived up to Cavalonum (the current Chalon-sur-Saône). Pippin reacted immediately and, devastating Aquitaine, arrived at Claremonte (present-day Clermont-Ferrand), where men, women and children perished in the burning of the city. Pippin returned the following year and laid siege to Bituricam (present-day Bourges), allowing all the defenders sent by Waifer who had been captured to return to their lands, while the rebuilt Bitorica was occupied by the Franks.

In the years 763 and 764, the war against Aquitaine continued, although with less intensity, as Pippin feared the betrayal of his nephew, Duke of the Bavarians, Tassilon III, so he did not move his army.

In the years 765 and 766, Pepin invaded Aquitaine and took possession of several cities, Pectavis (now Poitiers), Lemodicas (now Limoges), Santonis (now Saintes), Equolisma (now Angoulême), of which destroyed the walls. Devastated all the area planted with vines and, past the Garonne, faced by Waifer with a large army of Vasconi, defeated him and many Vasconi were killed. Waifer, with a few others, managed to escape and sent legates to Pippin who promised submission, but this time his offers were not taken into consideration. In 766, after Pepin had placed a Frankish garrison at Bitorica, Aquitaine, though devastated, could be considered a province of the Frankish kingdom.

In 767, Pippin went to Aquitaine with Queen Bertrada with the intention of capturing Waifer, who in the meantime had regained part of his duchy.Pippin continued in the conquest of the duchy and among other cities and castles.

In 768, Waifer, with a few followers, tried to undermine Pippin again, who was in Aquitaine with the queen and his two sons, Charles and Charlemagne, with him. Waifer was defeated and put to flight. Pippin divided the army into 4 groups and made them chase him, until he was captured and killed.Finally, master of all Aquitaine, Pippin returned to Saintes, where the queen, Bertrada, was waiting for him.

Alternatives:Death and successionDeath and inheritance

Shortly afterwards, Pippin fell ill with a fever. He went to Toronis (present-day Tours), to the monastery of St. Martin the Confessor, where he gave alms and prayed for his health. From here, with his wife and children, he moved to Saint-Denis in Paris, where, realizing that his life had come to an end, with the consent of the notables and bishops of the Franks, he divided the kingdom among his children: to Charles, the eldest, went Austrasia and to Charlemagne La Burgundia, Provence, Gotia, Alsace and L”Alemannia, while the newly conquered Aquitaine divided it between the two (Charles had Austrasia, much of Neustria and the northwestern half of Aquitaine (Charlemagne had Burgundy, Provence, Gotia, Alsace, Alamagne, and the southeastern part of Aquitaine (ie the south and the East of France plus the upper Rhine valley). After a few days, struck by severe pain after 25 years of reign, on September 24.His sons buried him in Saint-Denis, as Pippin himself had wanted. His tomb was desecrated more than a millennium later with the desecration of the tombs of the basilica of Saint-Denis during the French Revolution.

His sons Charles and Charlemagne were anointed and crowned kings on the same day in October, at Noviomem (present-day Soissons) and Saxonis (present-day Samoussy), respectively.

The benevolence of the papacy and the energy of the new sovereigns soon erased from collective memory any memory of usurpation. Since then, the existence, in the center of Italy, of a solid and well-defended territory of the Church (the Patrimony of St. Peter) made impossible any subsequent project of unification of the peninsula.

With Pipino the Short it was started the so-called “carolingia monetary reform”, that it concerned also the system of the mints. The Carolingian coinage fixed the following values: 1 pound = 20 soldi = 240 denarii.

Pepin married in 744 Bertrada of Laon, from which he had:


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Alternatives:Historiographical literatureHistoriographic literature


  1. Pipino il Breve
  2. Pepin the Short