The historian Tacitus wrote, “The appearance of the country differs considerably in different parts; but in general it is covered either by bristling forests or by foul swamps”. Such was a Roman view of the whole region of Germania at the time, not just Saxony. According to Roman sources, a people known as the ‘Saxones’ inhabited a small part of Germania in the second century AD. Over the centuries, the Saxons expanded within Germania itself, either by conquest or assimilation; by assimilating the Cherusci, Angrivarii, Aimsvarii and Bructeri they expanded to their greatest extent by 700 AD. 

While the Franks and most other migrators became increasingly Romanised from centuries of living in Roman lands with Romanised Christian faith, the Saxons had never been under direct Roman influence. This manifested in the Franks more-or-less forming a centralised, hereditary monarchy, preserving Roman religious & governmental apparatus, while the Saxons were following native Germanic traditions of government. The Saxons never sought to form a unified state, remaining a tribal confederation where leaders were chosen by their skill in warfare; a system which resembled earlier Germanic traditions where Kings were largely restricted to religious and judicial roles during periods of peace. The Franks were largely ignorant of these systems and instead strived for the creation of the “Kingdom of Saxony”. This misunderstanding was one of the causes for centuries of conflict along a fluid border, interrupted by brief attempts at peace. The Saxon Wars thus ensued, resulting in the eventual forced conversion of the Saxons by the Franks, which manifested itself most heavily in the imagery of the Irminsul being torched by Charlemagne, as depicted most famously in Heinrich Leutemann’s 1882 painting of the event. 

However, there was a degree of peaceful Christian contact with the Old Saxons by their cross North Sea twins, the Anglo-Saxons. As the Saxon languages were yet to diverge too far from another, their languages remained mutually intelligible until the 800s and 900s, which is why Anglo-Saxon missionaries and trade with the British Isles were such common features of coastal Old Saxon communities.

Therefore a question begs to be asked, if there are two conflicting ways Christianity interacted with this native pagan culture: one of violence and one of cooperation and peaceful assimilation, then was Christianity a disrupting force or was it secular concerns for Frankish leaders which led to such a harsh conquest of the Old Saxon people by Charlemagne? Ultimately, one would pin the destruction of the Low German culture on the secular actions of the Franks more so than religious reasons – as demonstrated by the Anglo-Saxons peaceful relations with the Saxons and a lack of conflict between the two peoples – despite religious differences and the continuation of Germanic traditional governance in Anglo-Saxon England.