While two of Europe’s major powers engaged in a bloody conflict, and another, led by the ‘Father’ of the continent established a title that would span over a thousand years, the Age of the Vikings was in full swing, and they dominated what was left. In the east, meanwhile, a declining Chinese dynasty was rife with conspiracy and produced an invention that would soon change warfare forever. In this article, learn about 7 major events that took place in the 9th Century (800s CE).
1. Charlemagne is crowned Emperor of the Romans (800)
After the fall of the Roman Empire centuries earlier (although it continued on, in a sense, via the Byzantine Empire in the east), the successes of Charlemagne, King of the Franks, led to his coronation as Emperor of the Romans on Christmas Day in 800. Charlemagne reunited much of Western Europe for the first time in centuries, converting many Germanic states, acting as protector of the papacy, and earning him the nickname today of ‘Father of Europe’. He died in 814, and while Francia was divided into three states before the century was out, the rekindled idea of an emperor in the west would live on via the Holy Roman Empire, which survived until 1806. The crowning of Charlemagne was also the rejection of the Byzantine Empress Irene, acting as the first major dispute between the east and west that would eventually lead to the separation of their churches two centuries later.
2. The invention of gunpowder in China (808)
Some historians believe that gunpowder was actually invented hundreds of years earlier, with elements of gunpowder, such as sulfur and saltpeter, used as part of Taoist medicine. However, the first confirmed recipe and acknowledgment of gunpowder was in 808, the date it is formally accepted to have been invented, where Taoist alchemists discuss its properties and usefulness, and describe a formula to make it. Attempting to create an elixir of life, the alchemists made gunpowder by accident, and it turned out to be a significant error. Out of all the Four Great Inventions to come from China (the others being the compass, papermaking, and printing), none have shaped borders and the lives of mankind across the modern world more than gunpowder. One of these other inventions, wood printing, also produced the first known printed book this century, with the Diamond Sutra in 868.
3. The Byzantine-Bulgarian Wars (809-815)
Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus I longed to take back control of Bulgaria, making his first attempt with a failed invasion in 807, which did nothing but serve as an excuse to provoke the Bulgar Khan Krum, who had his own ambitions of taking Constantinople. Defeating the Byzantines twice through 809, Krum capped it off with the capture of Serdica. Eager to rid himself of the Bulgarian problem, Nicephorus attempted a full-scale invasion in 811 consisting of some 70,000 troops, sacking the capital of Pliska, but in the ensuing battle, he was killed. According to tradition, the ruthless Krum took his skull and had it made into a drinking vessel. The new Byzantine Emperor faired no better, with the Battle of Versinikia in 813, such an easy victory for the Bulgarians that they initially thought it was a trap. Krum died in 814 before plans to siege Constantinople could be realized, leading to a hasty peace treaty, with both sides exhausted by war, ending the conflict for 30 years.
4. The Sweet Dew Incident of Tang Dynasty China (835)
Already on the decline, the Tang dynasty weakened state led to the rise in power of the Eunuchs, who began enjoying more power in Chinese court than anyone. Displeased, Emperor Wuzong conspired with his officials to exterminate the Eunuchs for good. Using the ruse of sweet dew forming on a nearby pomegranate tree (a sign of divine favor), the Emperor and his conspirators set out to ‘inspect’ this and lure the Eunuchs to a place they could be easily massacred. However, the Eunuchs sensed something was amiss and in their ensuing retaliation, captured and executed some 1000 officials and civilians. Having failed in their plot, the remaining decades of the Tang dynasty were dominated by the Eunuchs, with Wuzong and his successors enjoying very little power.
5. The Rurik dynasty begins in Rus’ (862)
Little is known about the early life of Rurik, but the earliest records claim he was a Viking who arrived in Novgorod (modern-day Northern Russia) in 862 after the people invited him to govern them. Other accounts suggest he had already taken the nearby town of Ladoga (by modern-day Saint Petersburg) several years earlier, and also took Novgorod by force. But it happened he established one of the most significant and oldest royal families in Europe. His successor Oleg created Kievan Rus when he took Kiev and named it his capital a few decades later, and the Rurikid dynasty would go on to rule the region in its various forms right through to the Tsardom of Russia in 1598, some 21 generations and 700 years later.
6. Norsemen settle Iceland (872)
Discovered decades earlier, with exploratory groups and temporary settlements being established, the first permanent settlers of Iceland were led by Ingólfr Arnarson around 874. Reaching the coastline, he is said to have cast his high seat pillars overboard, claiming where ever they washed ashore he would settle, which proved to be a smoky bay (due to hot springs), which they thusly named Reykjavík. Within 60 years, the island was fully settled with thousands of people, and is significant in that it was the second to last major landmass to be settled by humans (New Zealand being the last in the thirteenth century), and offered a launching point for further explorers to later reach Greenland and North America.
7. Battle of Edington (878)
Following the invasions of the Vikings from 865, only Wessex remained of the seven Anglo-Saxon states, rallying as a last stand under their King, Alfred the Great (making him the First King of the English). At the Battle of Edington in 878, Alfred gained a decisive victory against the Danes, who were led by the warlord Guthrum, ending their previous unchecked march across England at the Wessex border. A treaty was signed with the invaders, which immediately led to Guthrum’s baptism and departure from Wessex, half of Mercia falling back to Anglo-Saxon control, and the establishment of the Danelaw over the rest of the country. Alfred died in 899, but his successful defense of Wessex gave his successors the footing they needed, both in land and allegiance with one another, to push out the Danes in the following century.