The Battlefield Of Alischanz
olfram’s supposed source, the Bataille d’Aliscans, contains – apart from the title – absolutely nothing of any use in trying to locate Wolfram’s battle scene Alischanz.
Wolfram’s description, on the other hand, leaves no doubt
that it is located near
The decisive reference to this locality is the mention of the sarcophagi lying on that part of the battlefield on which in certain phases the second battle raged.
Wolfram’s reference to these sarcophagi has been unjustly devalued by Wolfram researchers by saying that Wolfram would have known of the legend of the miraculous sarcophagi in Alischanz by the accounts of a traveller or by the Kaiser-Chronik (Imperial Chronicle of Charlemagne). In this decisive geographical detail, it is however not the legend that matters according to which on the morning after the first battle all fallen Christians were found buried in stone coffins, but the quite concrete geographical indication that such sarcophagi were scattered on Alischanz and the fact that in his description of the second battle Wolfram mentions these coffins every time that in various phases of the battle, the fighters stormed over this field scattered with these stone coffins.
The battlefield of Alischanz has several sections, which are characterized by Wolfram as mountain, slope, wet meadow, lowland, moor, woods, sarcophagi, source, marsh, salt lake, Larkant, ford and sea. All the names of these landscape components are definitions for specific geographical localities. The section of the landscape that Wolfram depicts with the sarcophagi is only part of the greater battlefield. It is that part that has lent the whole battlefield its name and that even today can be defined by the metre, because through excavations archaeologists have established the exact size of this ancient necropolis.
prepares to reconstruct the battlefield of Alischanz with the aid of Wolfram’s
exact references, is well advised to begin with this clearly defined cemetery.
Today, the sarcophagi are no longer to be found where they were placed two
thousand years ago by the Romans and later by the Christians, and where they
were seen by
Plate 9. Les
The most beautiful specimens are now in the
here one arrives at a fairly large plain, it is called: the Elysian Fields,
Aliscamps according to the Provençal dialect. They are situated on the eastern
part of the town
This description illustrates how well Wolfram is informed about this area, when in his battle report – in which his main concern are not the coffins, but characterizing the terrain – he depicts the precise course of the battle. As such, he does not forget to mention the coffins that are lying about, for example (Wh. 386:2):
nu was Matusaleses kint, Now Matusales’ child,
der mine gerende Josweiz, love-seeking Josweiz,
zorse komn. des puneiz rode forth. His massed attack
was von maneger storje starc. was many a contingent strong
beidiu heide und sarc and both heathland and coffins
wart getrett al gelîche. were trampled down.
Or (Wh. 394:20):
ob der getoufte sarke Could it be that the baptized men’s coffins
nu mit starken huofslegn are trampled now
iht wol getretet werden megn? beneath harsh hooves?
Or (Wh. 437:20):
al über die sarcsteine, Over all the stone coffins
dâ die gehêrten lâgen, where lay the exalted dead
die ze himele rouwe pflâgen, who were at peace in heaven,
mit sweten an den furt gement with swords to the ford
wart manc esklîr, der ungewent was driven many an eskelir
was daz er fliehen solte. who was not accustomed to fleeing.
It must be recognized that with these concise words – simply according to his precise knowledge of the site – Wolfram says that the described phase of the battle takes place at a cemetery. He did not want to boast about the fact that his knowledge went beyond the source drawn from the Kaiser-Chronik (Carolingian Imperial Chronicle). Wolfram speaks as an objective reporter who knows that the Esklirs, unaccustomed as they were to fleeing, did just that towards the ford, passing the cemetery at this special spot (Plate 10).
Cemetery at Les Alyscamps in
Mentioning the coffins was of no greater or lesser importance to him than mentioning the ford across the Larkant, or referring to the battle-calls Ipern and Arras yelled out by the Flemish in full pursuit of the infidels. He describes in all objectivity a certain phase of the battle with the reserve of a true battle correspondent, fully conscious of the fact, as he himself states, that his work can only be taken seriously by avoiding all fantasy.
connection with the last quotation (Wh. 437:20), it will now be shown how,
starting from this passage, a topography of the battlefield can be drawn up.
The infidels are fleeing. They are moving in the direction of their ships, i.e.
southwards. Below the cemetery, at the ford, they cross the Larkant. Riding on
in the same direction, they would soon reach the sea, for behind the stream the
sea was, after all, visible from
Plate 11. Drawbridge over Wolfram’s Larkant
On the other side of this waterway we reach the plain Plan du Bourg, behind which we come
across the main arm of the
Whoever halfway recognizes Wolfram’s resolve
to be exact, says to himself: Wolfram could be right. Terramer’s fleet sailed
up the Rhone and is now anchored keel to keel with the front line at the
outskirts of the town Arles on the left bank of the Rhone: from keel to keel, a
line stretching three miles long. A small rowboat serving as gangplank is tied
from each keel to the shore. This formation corresponds absolutely to the way
ships are moored in a river port. The fleet could not anchor this way at sea. Everything
falls into place, down to the assertion that the seashore is here. But knowing
how accurately Wolfram uses his words, one cannot be satisfied with this
assumption yet. One scrutinizes the hydrology of the
Whether this is exactly right can of course
only be established by examining the actual geological circumstances. For the
time being, the rule of thumb of the average yearly deposit may suffice in
order to arrive at the assumption that Wolfram’s reference could in principle
be right: Terramer anchored in the mouth of the
Plate 12. The
When we learn that between the
Mountainous Area with
On the other side of the Alpillen, towards Pîtit Punt, there was only a small land bridge – between the morass of Montmajour and the then still wide open Etang de Maugio or Etang du Comte corresponding to the present Marais desséchés des Baux – allowing access via land to the “Town of Morasses” as Arles was called then. This land bridge, which during rainy periods stood completely underwater and which only after long dry periods, above all in the autumn, swelled up to a width of some 2 km. was situated in the region of Barbegal where also the Roman aqueduct ran into the Costa Basse hill (Plate 14).
Plate 14. Roman Aqueduct
At the side of the Costa Basse plateau
observation post on the mountaintop, one kilometre east of Saint-Victor,
Map of the Battlefield of Alischanz
To the south lies the dried-up Etang de Meyranne, which
at the time extended as far as the foothills of the approaching
With the Larkant as an example, it will be
shown how exact Wolfram’s concepts match the actual conditions by comparing
them with the geographical reality then and there. Next to the greater and
During the time of the battle of Alischanz,
the exit of the
If one does not know that this is a loose
gravel area, one translates Wolfram’s concept steinwende (stone wall) with Felswände
(rock walls). There are, however, no rocks in this region, but washed up walls
der marcrâve zôch zehant The margrave went
gein’ dem wazzer larkant towards the river Larkant
das ors an sîner hende leading the horse by the hand
bî maneger steinwende past many a stone wall
unz in des wazzers ahganc. and into the riverbed.
einen kurzen wec niht ze lanc A short way, not long at all
reit er durch das stûdach he rode through the underbrush
unz er vor im ligen sach until he caught sight
des weren Vivîanses schilt. of noble Vivian’s shield.
Wolfram’s geographical expertise, as opposed to the ignorance of the Bataille d’Aliscans, is so evident that after inspecting the battlefield of Alischanz, all attempts to prove that these Chansons de geste are Wolfram’s source are simply not convincing. In addition, the assumption made in the chapter Oransch is strengthened in Alischanz: Wolfram must have known the battlefield personally.
If I may make another personal remark: locating the sites that Wolfram speaks about without a guide who knows the sites is, even with our modern means of transportation, an extremely time-consuming affair. Pitit Punt for example, I only found after several stays over many years in the region in question, even though Wolfram’s description is so exact that when looking at the locality, one has the impression that this point would have to be located straight away.
Without wanting to detract from Wolfram’s ‘resourcefulness’ in any way, I am convinced that Wolfram must have been led there by Hermann of Thuringia, and that the latter must apparently have had a thorough knowledge of the battlefield. One even gets the distinct impression that Hermann played the role of chief of staff for Wolfram. In this sense, Wolfram – before finishing his excellent battle report – would have used a method still applied by an army commander today in planning an exercise for his troops: Accompanied by his chief of staff, he examines the terrain beforehand to see if the manoeuvre, which was planned with the aid of an accurate map, can take place on it as planned.
report places the reader so concretely in the midst of the battle that
neither does Terramer prove himself a bungler in Wolfram’s battle report. He
orders Pojdius to charge on the flanks, causing
Wolfram von Eschenbach has taken his battle report very seriously. He knows he has to describe phases which appear fantastic, but which are nevertheless real. He stands still by the fact that others lose all measure in their poetic license, thereby causing the exact descriptions of those committed to relating the simple historical truth to turn pale. This conscious attitude on the part of a responsible historian prompts him to make the following remark (Wh. 384:23-30):
ich hoer von Witegen dicke sagn I often hear it claimed about Witege
daz er eins tages habe durch slagn that on one single day he smashed
ahtzehn tûnst, als einen swamp, eighteen thousand helmets as if they were
helme. der als manec lamp mushrooms. If you brought him
gebunden für in trüege, as many lambs already tied
ob er eins tages erslüege, and he slaughtered them in one day,
sô wær sîn strît harte snel, he would have to work fast,
ob halt beschoren ir vel. even if the lambs were shorn.
Man sol dem strîte toun sîn reht:
dâ von diu mære werdent sleht. that way stories get properly told.
Concerning Wolfram’s art of limitation in describing the
bare facts or about his gift for immersing himself into the reality of the
fighting, nothing is to be found in the so-called source. This entertainment
genre presents the battle as a great chaos of incoherent single events.
Everything appears haphazard and confused; equally unreal are the descriptions
of the characters. Terramer lacks the most elementary qualities of leadership.
The commander of an army, who is dependent on reliable information, even when
it may be disconcerting, will soon receive no reconnaissance anymore, were he
to treat his scouts in such an incredibly stupid manner as Terramer from the
“source” does with respect to the scout from Cler. This army leader gets
irritated about the only man with initiative he has, because the latter
personally decides to take over the reconnaissance work that he himself failed
to do. He saddles him up with his discontent about the bad news. A capable army
leader, on the contrary, would praise a man for doing something that he himself
failed to do. This is precisely what Wolfram’s Terramer does. He attempts to
extract all the possible results of reconnaissance from his scout, proving
thereby that he is
Even these small details show the great difference in quality between the two battle descriptions, which cannot be explained by Wolfram’s character, but only by his superior detailed knowledge. Since Wolfram himself was a brave knight and a great poet, but hardly as excellent an army leader, it may be assumed that he must have visited the battlefield accompanied by Hermann of Thuringia, a proven army leader.
case, the battle report from Thuringia is qualitatively so far superior to the
one from Aliscans that a military
expert cannot for a moment have the impression that Wolfram’s assumed source is
Wolfram‘s source. On the contrary, were not the fact known that Aliscans appeared earlier, we would have
to agree with the conclusion of every military commander that it is Wolfram who delivers the original
report, while the Aliscans can only be a layman’s tale, devoid of any tactical
understanding of the outstanding original. Purely militarily speaking – this
must be admitted – the roles have simply been reversed. The source lies in
philologist to agree with this assessment, it would mean that in the future he
would no longer have to verify what Wolfram makes out of his source, what he
adds, improves or leaves out. He would rather have to examine what important
details are missing in the French original battle report and what meaningless
trivialities have been added to the expertly streamlined battle report of the
essential aspects that has been preserved for us in
been said that Wolfram copied from Aliscans,
but that he also ennobled it. The priority in time of Aliscans forbids one from saying the other way around that the poet
of Aliscans copied Wolfram’s
The objection has been levelled with regard to Wolfram’s Parzival that the only reason for him mentioning the older source in the person of Kyot is that his copy work from Chrétien will then not be noticed. But if this were so, he would indeed be a more naïve forger than the present-day plagiarizers, who also copy upon finding something, but then take pains to avoid mentioning the author whom they copy by name, not admitting that they know him.
I do not
mention this to still further cloud the Kyot problem. But attention must be
drawn here to the fact that Wolfram does not criticize the author of Aliscans, but Chrétien de Troyes again.
Christjâns ein alten tymît Chrétien dressed him
im hât ze Munlêûn angelegt; in old dimity at Munleun;
dâ mit er sîne tumpheit regt, anyone who talks as foolishly as that
swer spricht sô nâch wâne. shows his stupidity.
Today we tend to shake our heads at this, since we are so
sure that Chrétien copied William the
Conqueror, Erec and Cligès, but not William of Oransch. Yet, Wolfram must also have known a
example of the armour shows the degree of accuracy that Wolfram’s report
reckons with. He says that Chrétien dresses
was so concerned with levelling criticism, he could have found and criticized
much greater differences in Aliscans.
Those describing him as a “smart aleck”, would have to establish consequently
that he does not seem know his source Aliscans
at all, for then he, the born polemicist, would not have let the chance go by
to criticize others to a much greater degree. With his remark, Wolfram shows
that he believes Chrétien to have written a
opinion by Wolfram cannot be refuted. It is certainly possible that an older
version of the tradition exists from which both authors drew independently from
each other. The third party adapting such an original would then be – next to
Wolfram and Chrétien – the poet who wrote Aliscans.
Through his single remark about Chrétien, Wolfram confirms that the version by
Chrétien de Troyes of this unknown French
no moaner. As a writer of history, he points to a fault. Such faults do not
seem to appear as much in
That Wolfram is much better informed becomes apparent upon examining his geographical references. It is therefore, at least theoretically, possible that he is better informed than we are in other aspects as well. Scientific statements to the contrary have not been made until now.
If we do
not a priori discard Wolfram’s opinion that Chrétien authored a
We would like to merely touch upon this theme here. We want in due course to return to this question of source and summarize the issue here by saying that the original battle report that Wolfram left us is unique in the entire literature of war. We are convinced that, next to the geographical expert Wolfram von Eschenbach, there is just as good a war correspondent Wolfram von Eschenbach. The question as to whether on top of that he is also a useful historian shall be examined in the next chapter.
 Mylius, Malerische Fussreise durch das südliche Frankreich, Carlsruhe 1818.