The Great Rabbit War of 863AD: Myth or Historical Fact?

Dr. Garbeesha Plimps1, Hortense Saxifrage2 and Retired Col Wippo Truslebeam3

1 Department of Archaeology Cranberry-Lemon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

2 Battle Field Archaeology, Rothenburg, Germany 

3 Medieval Weaponry Expert from “Past Weapons of Combat” failed history channel pilot episode replaced by more Pawn stars episodes

Abstract

Direct evidence of the Cano-Lagomorphic Wars (or colloquially known as the “Great Rabbit Wars”) of 863-867AD has long eluded European archaeologists. With a treasure trove of literary evidence and the strong oral record from many southern German towns it is a mystery that there has been little found in the archaeological record. While some have claimed to have finally found battlefield evidence of the climactic battle of Boschdenbosch forest or the Siege of Berplesberg, these claims have been labeled as misattributed at best [1] and fabricated at worst [2]. A team of Cranberry-Lemon unpaid and self-funded interns has carefully excavated such evidence several miles North of the German town of Rothenburg. This paper will show that the written evidence creates a compelling argument for the true location of the famous battles based on some rusty artifacts we found at the sites we believe were likely used by the rabbit army to defeat the defending dog army in the fields of Trouchgordes and the Siege of Burplesberg. 

Keywords: Archaeology, Rabbit Combat, Cano-Lagomorphic Wars, Battlefield Reconstruction, Illuminated Manuscripts 

1. Introduction

    “Once during an unusually cool summer, deep in the dark forests of Boschdenbosch lived the quaint town of Berplesberg. A brave and faithful knight accompanied by his trusty dog Fremples walked through the forest. A twig snapped in the distance. They suddenly became surrounded by dozens of rabbits. ‘What are the rabbits doing with such sharp axes and engines of war?!?’ Fremples asked his knightly owner Günther. ‘Why, I do not know! Go warn the town!’ Fremples the dog ran with all of his speed and agility. Günther was never heard of again.” –The Rabbit Wars: Grimms’ Fairy Tales. [3] 

     Every child knows the fairy tale. The sordid stories of the rabbit wars of the late dark ages have been used for generations to teach German children to maintain a small and manageable rabbit population. Surprisingly, many historians and archaeologists alike debate the very existence of the rabbit wars. Some argue that there is too much cultural evidence to suggest that it is just a bunch of stories. Many say that there is no feasible way such beastly animals would have invaded so deep into Christian territory. At a minimum, most experts believe the true location would not have been so far south as the stories suggest. Because of the heavy emphasis on the dog army, most serious academics consider these battles to be too fantastical to be true. “Dogs are loyal to their owners but they are not organized and cutthroat enough to repel a rabbit army by themselves without human leadership” [4]

     In between the easily decomposable instruments of war used by the rabbit armies and the canine skeletons of the defending Berplesberg dog armies being easily confused with local petite wolves (Canis scrufus sp. scrufissimus) of the dark German forests, direct archaeological evidence is understandably hard to find. Through clues in key Rabbit War texts, our team of researchers were able to pinpoint a narrow feasible area of the ancient town of Berplesberg which may have been verified as the locus of events and even better, the famed field of Trouchgordes in the mythical upper Boschdenbosch forest. 

2. Background

Medieval German legends suggest that in the summer of 863AD an unseasonably warm winter produced an overpopulation of murderous rabbits throughout the Boschdenboshch forest east of the upper Rhine. Some written and oral accounts suggest that in the early reign of Charlemagne, there was a large and thriving population of baptized Christians living in the area that vanished practically overnight. Because of the lack of record keeping during the late dark ages, the only actual written record is a single sentence written by a nearby monk from Strassburg Arnulf Huburts The Flexible in his unfortunately brief Annals. “Dozens of migrants come after the attack on Barblesburck.” Many discount Arnulf Huburts account due to its brevity and the fact that he was a terrible record keeper and speller who missed so many major political events of his time to include the beginning of the Carolingian Empire and instead wrote about how the quality of the communion wine went downhill after a new priest came to town. 

Only the oral history of lower Germany preserves the tale of the Great Rabbit Wars for posterity. Through children’s tales passed from generation to generation, many Germans were told of the infamous story where a band of wild rabbits began murdering humans in cold blood in the forests of Germany. They started by slaughtering hunters and then their dogs until they finally took over the walled city of Berplesburg. Because the tale was so unnecessarily violent for a warning to children about rabbit population control, it became more rare over time and completely antiquated by the 20th century when modern weapons destroyed any fears of a large-scale rabbit uprising. 

Because of the lack of evidence of a true location of the major events of the war other than stories, most academics have not attempted to find a mass grave of rabbit and dog skeletons. That’s where Cranberry-Lemon’s crack team of archaeologists decided to become heroes and do some important research after caniform/lagomorphic bone fragments were discovered near Rothenburg.  

3. Written Records

Not all written records are in translatable language. While many medieval scholars may be writing about religion, war, or day to day minutia, many would doodle in the margins. The monastic order attracted all manner of young men who couldn’t transcribe a full text without drawing grotesque art on the rest of the page. Even though it was before paper was invented and written on Vellum which was far more costly, instead of fitting in more text, medieval monks decided to draw beautiful pictures of bird women, dance moves, phallic trees, Dragon riding ladies of the night, whatever this is and much more. Most academics believe that most of the drawings were done out of boredom and fun. We at Cranberry Lemon believe it’s history!

It is the only widely accepted evidence outside of children’s stories which even hints at the existence of this famous war. Even among contemporary historical sources, there is no written evidence of rabbits being a threat to humanity outside of Monty Python’s Holy Grail and drawings on the margins of illuminated manuscripts. They were only previously thought of as mercenaries [5-7].

3.1 Casus Belli

According to the historical evidence shown just in figure 1, the men of Boschdenbosch forest were shot with arrows, nailed with long spikes, beaten with clubs, dragged across the ground, and decapitated. We may not know why the rabbits of Boschdenbosch forest attacked humans, but according to this evidence, it is obvious why the humans of these German forests found the local rabbits as a threat. 

Rabbits capture, and execute a hunter. The Smithfield Decretals
Figure 1: Rabbits capture, and execute a hunter. Image Credit the Smithfield Decretals, decorated in London, England, in the 1340s: Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 59v-61v [8] Credit The British Library

     Not only were the rabbits going after the humans of Berplesberg, they were similarly attacking their dogs in the same manner as shown in Figure 2. The tale historically describes four bountiful summers throughout the mid 860’s, “…Titheth the eternal sun to groweth stalks of grass and wheat, as to so did say the Lord to raise the rabbits of the field to fill the land as a plague of swarming locusts.” [9] According to the large abnormally shaped trees and blades of grass in the pictures shown in Figures 1-2, we believe that these images do in fact correspond with the mythical rabbit battles. The flora depicted in the images and many of the hills and breeds of dogs were cross analyzed against multiple biological models in the fossil record of the Southern German forests. Using the environmental analysis, a list of eleven feasible locations were deduced to include; Schwarzbuchwaldenpooper Field, the High Plains of Low Mœdrummgrummus, The Valley of Heiligsankt Nimbul die Churlishschen, Der Woudboschwustforstwald Forest, Grandpa’s Armpit (“Großvater Achselhöhle” in the old tongue), Cliffs of Knechtrumpertsenrache, The abbey ruins of Klosteraltneu Betrukenerfettermönch. These suggestions aided in narrowing down the true location of historic Burplesberg, and the famous skirmish.

Rabbits capture, and execute a hound. The Smithfield Decretals
Figure 2: Rabbits capture, and execute a hound. Image Credit The Smithfield Decretals, decorated in London, England, in the 1340s: Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 62r-64r Credit The British Library [8] 

3.2 Skirmish of Boschdenbosch Forest

With the regions selected, descriptors of the battlefield were then compiled from manuscripts such as the one shown in Figure 3. The terrain would need to be open but accessible to snail cavalry. Many scholars ignore the presence of snail cavalry because in most written records, snails were able to travel and battle through even the most rough terrain such as an All Terrain Venomoth. [10]

This is of course an anachronism because throughout the early middle ages, giant land snails were bred for combat before the French elected to eat them and ride horses in the late 1400s. In the age of late antiquity up into the mid 900s, snails were rarely ridden in actual combat due to their size and meager stamina and only used for transportation. Over time however, many medieval riders managed to breed snails to be more versatile sometime around the mid 1100s. [11]

Skirmish of Boschdenbosch Forest Dog on Rabbit Snail jousting
Figure 3: Skirmish of Boschdenbosch Forest Dog on Rabbit Snail jousting. Image credit BL Yates Thompson 8 f. 294r. Credit The British Library [8]

It is because of the evidence shown in figure 3 that the infamous war must have taken place in the fields of Trouchgordes in the upper Boschdenbosch Forrest. While being selected as a likely area in the previous selection, the field of Trouchgordes is the only space which could have possibly supported rabbit-on-snail jousting as depicted in many different illuminated manuscripts conveniently associated with the Great Rabbit Wars. Most of the locations do not even have open spaces large enough for a snail to achieve a full gallop which is needed in combat. At that point in history most ballistics experts suggest a fully grown and broken-in snail requires at least forty cubits to achieve a lethal lancing velocity. Among the two other fields, the High Plains of Low Mœdrummgrummus are too rocky for snail combat while The Valley of Heiligsankt Nimbul die Churlishschen is far too steep for a snail to maintain balance with a fully armored rabbit as first hypothesized in [11]. 

3.3 Siege of Berplesberg 

The other primary reason Boschdenbosch forest is believed to be the location of the mythical rabbit wars is that it is near the walled city of Berplesberg, now a modern day truck stop. Nearby Rothenburg Germany, Berplesberg is a medieval town with an immense archaeological record. The written record only dates back to their decision to become Lutheran in the 1540s because the locals hated the Catholic church for making them Flexitarians, even if it was only on Fridays and during lent. The Archaeological record goes back to the 400s and had been fortified with a wall during the 800s when the two-staged siege would have taken place. A depiction of the second stage of the Berplesberg siege can be seen in figure 4. 

Berplesberg dog-rabbit siege
Figure 4: Berplesberg dog-rabbit siege. Ms 107, Bréviaire de Renaud de Bar (1302-1304), fol.-89r-137v, Bibliothèque de Verdun. Credit The British Library. 

For Burplesberg to be confirmed as the location of the famous two staged siege, there will need to be evidence which shows not only a rabbit siege of a human encampment involving large engines of war and a dog army siege of the rabbit encampment. While rabbit remains should be found inside and outside Berplesberg, dog remnants will likely only be found outside of the city and on the upper Collismund den Hohehügelhill in which they likely scaled the heavily defended walls. 

The story in oral tradition regularly recalls that when the dog army had defeated the rabbits at Boschdenbosch, the rabbits retreated to a fortified town which they quickly sieged and captured its human population to become their pets and slaves while the dog army was busy licking its wounds (and each other). While the dog army was less skilled in siege warfare, they were able to take the town from the rabbits. 

4. Mass Gravesite

Back in 2018, a farmhouse near the suspected battlefield in Boschdenbosch forest decided to expand and build a bed and breakfast in Trouchgordes fields. Upon breaking ground, bone fragments were found and construction was halted for an archaeological excavation by Cranberry Lemon self-funded student archaeologists. At the site, over 300 bone fragments were found. 72% of those bones were of the Leporidae family (rabbit-related) and 20% were associated with canines, with the remaining to be assumed truck stop chicken wings due to their spicy garlic buffalo sauce residue. Subsequent carbon dating was performed on the bones and the results indicate that while they are not as old as your mom, the bones are ~1000-1300 years old. In figure 5, a collection of large rabbit Pelvic Girdles can be seen.

Rabbit bone fragments discovered in Denbosch farm house
Figure 5: Rabbit bone fragments discovered in Denbosch farm house. Edited image from Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Once the expedition expanded to the nearby town of Berplesburg, even more rabbit bones were found inside and outside of the city. While the rabbit bones found in the Boschdenbosch can be argued as circumstantial, the bones found near Berplesburg and shown in figure 6 are unquestionably a result of the rabbit wars. As discovered in [12], the berserker class Alpha-Bull rabbit is a Leporidae creature which is only bred for war. Records of the famed Lagomorphic Alpha-Bull have appeared in other rabbit-related conflicts to include the woodland rebellion in second century Macedonia [5], the tribal revolt of Gaul of 32AD [6], and most brutally, the battles of the English civil war in which Oliver Cromwell employed rabbit mercenaries to sack the king’s army [7]. According to Tacitus’ Annals book 3:82, “The bull rabbits, intended for use in the games and only bred for war, were too ferocious and wild for normal military use. Emperor Tiberius, looking to make an example of the disloyal tribes, employed a troupe of Alpha Bull rabbits to quell the rebellion. Such aggressive and dishonorable tactics were the pinnacle of Emperor Tiberius’ brutality.” 

Skulls from Berserker class Alpha-Bull Rabbits
Figure 6: Skulls from Berserker class Alpha-Bull Rabbits

5. Rabbit Armament

Alongside the bone fragments appropriately carbon dated to the time of combat +/-500 years, weapons and engines of war were additionally found. Because of the scavenging of the invading rabbit army, no weapons were found near the farmhouse BnB in Trouchgordes but only near the walls of Berplesberg. As detailed in [7], this is normal rabbit warfare operations.

Trebuchet Winch from medieval rabbit army
Figure 7: Trebuchet Winch Lisa Jarvis / Rusty winch 

5.1 Siege Engine Winch

Everyone knows that rabbits use complicated siege engines and are talented engineers and musicians. It was no surprise that  the winch to a large engine of war was discovered outside of Berplesberg. This is shown in figure 7. Despite their lack of dexterity and intelligence, rabbits have long been employed by medieval armies to construct and operate large engines of war in times of siege. Their specialty, backed up by written record and now archaeological evidence, has always been the Trebuchet for its ability to throw a 90kg object 300m.   

5.2 Chained Claw-Hammer of War

A favorite of the bull rabbit, three chained Claw-hammers of war (“Krallenhammerton” in the plattdeutsch Lagomorph Sagas)  were found across the Berplesberg battlefield. The chained claw-hammer was favored by the berserker class Alpha Bull rabbit. Its weight was far too immense for the most rabbit warriors but gave the bred-for-combat alpha-bulls +12 stats against armored enemies. Shown in figure 8, the Claw-hammer was discovered with confirmed rabbit blood DNA on the edge of the hammer.  There is not much evidence that the weapon was wielded by the defending dog army who was far too good-natured to have picked up such a horrific weapon. What is widely believed is that rabbit Bulls would likely incur enormous collateral damage on their own forces through the large swings of the Claw-Hammer [13]. Such collateral damage is why it is believed that it was only employed by armies as ravenous, wild, and bloodthirsty as rabbits who have no respect for human or woodland critter life and only have a dark heart to rape and pillage.  

Excavated chained Claw-Hammer of War from the siege of Burplesberg. 
Figure 8: Excavated chained Claw-Hammer of War from the siege of Burplesberg. 

5.3 Excavated Artillery Shields 

In a typical rabbit siege, it may take hours if not days to either breach through the gate of a walled city or scale the walls. During the initial siege and approach of a city, many rabbit armies tend to protect themselves behind reinforced steel shields. Despite the efforts of Andrew Carnegie 19th century propaganda, many historians agree that rabbits were the first to invent and utilize steel [14]. One of thirty discovered shields from the siege site is shown below in figure 9.

Reinforced steel and iron shield used by the rabbit armies of the 860’s
igure 9: Reinforced steel and iron shield used by the rabbit armies of the 860’s. Edited image from Ole Husby from Melhus, Norway, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

6. Discussion

Despite all of the evidence discussed, some still believe that the Cano-Lagomorphic or Great Rabbit Wars of 863 is still a myth. Most conjecture that rabbits were always considered as symbols of purity and helplessness and that there was no way that they could have ever in reality been a bloodthirsty army of warriors. When presented with the literary evidence across the millenia, these scholars tend to suggest that the many monks who drew depictions of killer rabbits were just bored and drunk.

While it may be convenient to explain away these tragic events with a simple narrative of monks doodling funny pictures on holy texts, it is not enough to convince most. It is even harder to explain away the hard archaeological evidence presented in this paper. The bones and the machines of war suggest that there is at a minimum some truth to the war which took place in the outskirts of the early Carolingian empire. While many could argue they may not have been the remains of rabbits and dogs, why then are so many doodles of rabbits seen as deadly killers throughout the middle ages? If the idea of rabbits killing armies of humans is so humorous, why aren’t the townspeople of Berplesberg laughing?

According to some scholars, the misconception of rabbits as harmless woodland critters is only a recent phenomenon. Many theories abound that throughout most of human history, man learned to live beside these deadly animals. It was only after the invention of gunpowder that humans finally destroyed the violent warmongering breeds of rabbits to only leave the cuddly and piano-playing sort of rabbits that we know today [15]. 

7. Conclusion

Despite all of the counter arguments, there is too much evidence to suggest that it is a myth. The Rabbit wars of 863AD is a confirmed historical fact and not merely mythology or bored monks. There is too much hard evidence corroborated by written records to deny that during the unseasonably warm winters of the 860s, a sadistically violent horde of killer rabbits terrorized the people of Burplesberg and Boschdenbosch forest, were repelled by a dog army in the fields of Trouchgordes, fled to the walled city of Burplesberg, captured the city of Burplesberg, then were besieged and completely destroyed by the pursuing dog armies. This is a historic fact now, come fight me otherwise.

8. Conflict of Interest

According to my ‘23 and me’ results, my great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandfather died in the Rabbit wars, may he rest in peace. If this isn’t true, I am 75% French-25% English and I would rather be wrong than French. 

References

  1. Herberts Johaesson et al, 1994 Nails in the Forest, First hard Evidence of the Great Rabbit Wars :: Predatory Journal of Archaeology
  2. Loe-rain, Yelnetz, and Umphrey 2012 A Very real not made up written record of the Great Rabbit Wars :: Apex Predatory Journal of Archaeology
  3. Grimms Fairy Tales Vol. 3 Pg 32 The Rabbit Wars Bedtime Story 
  4. Ret Lt. Col USA Max Rothquers 2017 12 things historians get wrong about Dogs in Combat :: Self-Published on his military history blog Brothers-and-Animals-In-Arms.com 
  5.  Plutonium Archimusinus 320 AD The Histories
  6. Tacitus Annals Book III 80-96 
  7. Cromwell J., James K., The History of the English Civil War Extended Edition 
  8. The British Library Blog June 2021 Medieval killer rabbits: when bunnies strike back 
  9. Monk Eugenipe Elderbean 1035 Things I heard at the bar :: Unlabeled Journal Entry 
  10. Dr. David J. Delawürth Feb 2013 Snail Combat in Post Roman Western Europe :: Journal of European Mollusc History 
  11.  Dr. Eugene F. Delawürth Feb 2014 Why my brother David is Wrong about Snail Combat :: Journal of European Mollusc History 
  12. Dr. Susan H. Reed Aug 2005 A Class by Class Depiction of Extinct Medieval Warrior Rabbits and How to play them in Dungeons and Dragons :: Journal of Historic Dungeon Masters Guide
  13. Ret Marine Gunnery Sgt R. Lee Ermey 2005 The Chained Claw-Hammer :: Mail Call Deleted Episode 
  14. Dr. Phillip Cranberry Dec 2008 Andrew Carnegie was beaten to Steel by Rabbits and Carnegie Mellon Sucks :: Cranberry Lemon’s Journal of Trashing an Inferior School 
  15. Elizabeth Dalmer Mar 2018 The Extinction of the Sentient European Rabbit :: Journal of Feeling Guilty, Genocides and other General Atrocities

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Published by B McGraw

B McGraw has lived a long and successful professional life as a software developer and researcher. After completing his BS in spaghetti coding at the department of the dark arts at Cranberry Lemon in 2005 he wasted no time in getting a masters in debugging by print statement in 2008 and obtaining his PhD with research in screwing up repos on Github in 2014. That's when he could finally get paid. In 2018 B McGraw finally made the big step of defaulting on his student loans and began advancing his career by adding his name on other people's research papers after finding one grammatical mistake in the Peer Review process.

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