The great Carolingian Empire was now once again broken up, this time never to be reunited, for Arnulf was chosen only as King of the Germans. The French and the Italians chose other kings, and a kingdom was also formed out of Burgundy. And although Burgundy, and Italy too, often again came under the same ruler as Germany, France and Germany were never again united.
Arnulf had won the throne of Germany almost without a struggle. But soon he had to fight, and that with his country's old enemy the Northmen. In 891 these riders of the sea appeared once again. Arnulf, when he heard of their coming, gathered his army, but before they were ready for battle the Northmen fell upon them and defeated them. They slaughtered every man who fell into their hands, and captured much booty, together with many wagon-loads of food.
When Arnulf heard of this defeat he was very sorrowful. He bitterly mourned the loss of his brave knights and men. He burned with wrath against the foe, and quickly gathering another army he marched against the Northmen.
It was at Louvain on the Dyle that the two armies met. At first King Arnulf hesitated to begin the battle, for on one side lay a marsh and on the other a river, and between the two there was no room for horsemen to fight. For foot-soldiers truly there was room enough, but his men were unused to fighting on foot.
In anxious thought the King swept the field with his keen eyes; he noted now this, now that; in his mind he weighed now one thing, now another.
Meanwhile from the Northmen's lines came sounds of mocking laughter and of scorn. With sneers and insults they accosted the foe. "Remember your last battle," they cried. Remember the little stream which we turned into a bath of blood. Soon we will show you such another."
The insults and mockery raised the King's ire, they roused his men to fury. "Men," cried Arnulf, turning to them, "commend yourselves to God. With His help you will be unconquerable in the defence of your country. Take courage. Think of all the blood of your kindred shed by these ruthless heathen. Think of the holy ones they have murdered, of the churches they have desecrated, of your homes they have ruined. Up and at them, soldiers. You have the felons before you. I myself will get from my horse and carry the flag before you. After me! It is not alone our own honour we defend, but God's honour. Up and at them, in God's Name!"
The King's words awoke a glow of courage in the hearts of all who heard him. As one man they leaped from their horses, old and young together, and from the ranks a battle-cry went up that seemed to shake the vault of heaven.
Shouting their battle-cry the Germans advanced. With a cry scarcely less loud, with rattling of bones and clash of sword on shield, the Northmen answered.
Thus the battle began, and fierce and stern was the fight. But the victory lay with the Germans. The Northmen turned and fled. And now the river, which had been to them a safeguard, proved their undoing. With the Germans raging behind them, they dashed towards the river, and hurled themselves into it in hundreds. On and on they rushed, until the bed of the river was choked with dead and dying. The German victory was complete, and of all the countless host of Northmen scarce a man was left alive to carry the news back to the ships. Among the dead lay two of the Northmen kings, and fifteen banners were captured, besides much spoil. On the German side it was said that only one man was killed.
As soon as the battle was over the whole army was formed into a procession, and singing hymns of thanksgiving and victory, they marched solemnly over the field. And for hundreds of years afterwards every year a festival was held in memory of this great victory.
This victory of Louvain gained for Arnulf lasting fame. But even yet the Northmen were not thoroughly beaten. Next year, knowing Arnulf to be far away fighting another enemy, they returned, sailed up the Rhine, and, unhindered, wasted and plundered the land in their usual fashion. A German army met them, it is true, "but they did nothing which might be called a brave deed," says a writer of the time. This was, however, the last time that the Northmen sailed up the German rivers. In autumn a famine swept over the land, and to escape the pangs of hunger the Northmen took to their ships and sailed away. They went to England, to fight with Alfred the Great, and never more returned to Germany.
Besides the Northmen, Arnulf had other enemies to fight. Chief of these were the Moravians. They had formed a kingdom on the eastern boundaries of Germany, and although their King was supposed to own the King of Germany as overlord, it was really a mere form. He did as he chose, so there was war between the two countries. In this way Arnulf was victorious, but he was helped by new and strange allies. These were the Hungarians.
The Hungarians were a heathen wandering people who had come from the steppes of Asia. They were fierce and wild, and splendid riders, and many people thought that they were descendants of the Huns, who long before had swept over Europe in conquering hordes. Like them they were little and ugly, with deep-sunk fiery eyes. Like them they seldom walked, but rode upon swift horses, dashing upon the enemy with terrible swiftness, and disappearing as rapidly as they had come. Arnulf made friends with these wild people, and they helped him in his war with the Moravians.
Arnulf also fought in Italy, for he wanted to be overlord of Italy and Emperor. The Pope too wished it, and when the Emperor died the Pope sent a message to Arnulf asking him to come to Rome to be made Emperor.
Arnulf went, but when he reached Rome he found, instead of the friendly reception he expected, the gates shut against him. The Pope was no longer master in his own city, for the Emperor's widow, Ageltruda, had taken possession. She had shut all the gates and garrisoned the walls, so that Arnulf should not be able to reach the Church of St. Peter. For she was determined that none but her son Lambert should be Emperor.
Deeply enraged, Arnulf drew back from the walls, and gathered his men to a council of war in a neighbouring church. First they heard Mass, then the King asked his followers what was to be done.
With a shout they replied as one man, "Let us take the city by storm." With tears running down their cheeks they once more swore the oath of fealty to their King, they confessed their sins, and marched out ready to do or die.
The King now rode round the walls to see how the assault might best be made. Meanwhile the watching defenders began to fling insults at the invaders, mocking them with scornful laughter. This made the Germans angry, and the soldiers clamoured to assault the city at once. Eager for battle, they rushed upon the walls.
Some threw great stones at the defenders, hurling them from the battlements. Others crowded to the gates, hacking them down with axes and battering-rams. Some dug mines beneath the walls, others laid ladders against them and climbed over. They worked with such heat and fury that all resistance was overcome. When the shadows of evening fell the great city of Rome was in the hands of the Germans, and the Pope was set free. The next day Arnulf held his triumphal entry. The Senate of Rome, in splendid robes, with many priests and nobles carrying flags and crosses, met the King; and singing hymns of praise, they led him into the city.
With fatherly tenderness the Pope received him, and led him into the great Church of St. Peter. There with solemn ceremony he placed the crown upon his head, and hailed him as Cæsar Augustus.
When they saw that their cause was lost, Ageltruda and her son fled. But Arnulf knew that although the crown was set upon his head his work was only half done. If his Empire was to be made safe, Lambert must be crushed.
So fourteen days later he marched forth with his army to do battle with him. But on the way he became very ill, and instead of fighting Lambert, Arnulf turned homeward with all speed. It was thought by some that he had been given poison by the Italians which by slow degrees killed him.
Arnulf lived for three years after he received the Emperor's crown, but his life was henceforth a sad one. He was ill, troubles crowded in upon him, and at last, worn out with sickness and sorrow, he died in December 899.