Archive for August 11th, 2020

979: Gero, Count of Alsleben

Add comment August 11th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 979, a Saxon lord won a trial by combat at the cost of his head.

You’re not supposed to call this period the “Dark Ages” but it’s fair to say that our sources don’t throw a comprehensive illumination on the story.

Our date’s principal is a count named Gero, possibly/presumably the descendant of one Gero the Great who governed a vast eastern march of the Holy Roman Empire. Famous for his campaigns against the Slavs, the Great Gero is the historical personage behind the “Margrave Gere” character in the Nibelungenlied.

By our Gero’s generation, that vast eastern march had been fragmented into smaller territories, so he carried the same name with nothing like the same political muscle. The man who concerns us was Count of the town of Alsleben, in Saxony, and somehow he made an enemy of a knight named Waldo. What grievance did they have worth fighting about? This is one of those topics left un-lit for us by history, but as we shall see we might be entitled to guess that Gero was the guy in the wrong.

At any rate, the two fought a sanctioned judicial duel on August 11, 979, a date we have via several chroniclers taken by the remarkable event. In the course of the scrap, both antagonists gave like they got, but Waldo having stunned Gero with a blow stepped out of the lists and began unstrapping. We can perhaps picture him, smirking in peppermint-striped armor, pumping his gauntlets … but …

… well, Gero had also wounded Waldo about the neck in the melee, and that wound took lethal, albeit delayed, effect. Was it a subtle injury that left Waldo bleeding out internally, blissfully unaware of death stealing up on him? Or a vicious wedge-shaped gash that spat wheezing gore through his fingers as he tried to stanch it? Whatever it was, it was good enough: “as he refreshed himself, Waldo fell down dead,” the prince-bishop Thietmar noted. (Book 3, paragraph 9 of Thietmar’s Chronicle.)

Executed Today has previously skirted the strange (and strangely long-lasting) juridical enclave of judicial duels/trials by combat. The way this is supposed to work is, the dead guy is deemed owned and the living guy, however concussed he might be, is legally vindicated by prowess at arms.

Not so here. Emperor Otto II revealed the whole spectacle to have been a sham all along and decreed Gero’s death anyway. He was beheaded that very evening.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Early Middle Ages,Execution,Germany,History,Holy Roman Empire,Nobility,Wrongful Executions

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