Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Burgundians in the Mist Released

If you enjoy all the information here, you'll love it organized in book form!

Monday, May 16, 2011

For Book Updates

For updates on the book, head on over to my central site.  Thanks!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Burgundians in the Mist: The Cover

Revise Revise Revise Create a cover:

Back to revising!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Burgundians in the Mist: The Monograph

It's taken a while and, thanks to Createspace, I've decided to go ahead and publish Burgundians in the Mist in monograph form.  Yes, you can get the info here, but a book, well now, that's the standard still, right?  Here's a preview.

Why go this route? Well, after a few inquiries, I was informed by various academics that the topic is well-covered and, lest I bring "something new" to the table, there really isn't room for another scholarly monograph.  I don't agree. I've tried to write a book that is both accessible to the general reader but with all of the footnote and historiographical fun we geeky historians enjoy. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't, but I'm putting it out there in an avenue that is open to folks like me (ie; non-institutional independent historians).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Summarizing the Burgundians

The Burgundians of the fifth and sixth centuries were tenuously related to their namesake mentioned in the classic works of such writers as Pliny and Ptolemy. Their own third century belief, according to Ammianus, that they had resulted from a mixture of barbarians and Romans along the limes may be more reliable and historically believable, though that assumption must also be made with reservation.

What was certain was that by the turn of the fifth century, the Burgundians were firmly situated on the Rhine and received the blessing of Rome to occupy and hold the region for the Empire. This first kingdom was a short-lived failure. The Burgundian’s zealous expansion caused consternation in Rome and resulted in a vicious reaction from Aetius who, either singly or with his clients the Huns, delivered a devastating blow to the fledgling Burgundian kingdom. After seeing them sufficiently weakened, Aetius thought enough of their prowess in battle to re-settle them in an area more beneficial to Rome.

This second kingdom of the Burgundians originated in Sapaudia and eventually expanded to include eastern Gaul. It was more successful than the first, probably because it was constructed and held by a family, the Gibichungs, led first by Gundioc and Chilperic I and then by Gundobad, who continued to view it as land held for the greater Roman Empire, rather than as their own possession. Whether a fallacy or not, this enabled the Burgundian rulers to maintain continuity between the old provincial government and their new amalgamation and softened the changes felt by the Gallo-Romans. As a result, the Gallo-Roman inhabitants of the Burgundian protectorate seemed to have regarded the Burgundians as the most desirable, or at the very least the most benign, of barbarian overlords. The Burgundian’s tepid Arianism contributed to this impression, but the primary factor in the relative ease with which Gallo-Romans accepted Burgundian rule may have been a result of the Burgundian’s long exposure to Rome and their adoption and familiarity with its social, political and cultural norms. In this, it was quite possible that the tenuous evidence of Roman blood in their veins, whether real or legend, had the affect of instilling in the Burgundians a sense of kinship to the Romans and, by extension, the Gallo-Romans.

The Burgundians made accommodation for the rights of Romans in their laws and in their religion and were relatively benevolent rulers. The lack of written evidence that can be directly assigned to Burgundians, with the notable exception of the Lex Gundobada, could be attributed to the relative ease in which they assimilated Roman culture, language and institutions into their own society. This also reveals that Burgundian society was not distinct enough and did not have strong enough traditions to maintain a unique character in the face of Roman culture. This ability to, at the least, embrace other societal structures or, at the most, lose their own cultural identity to them, contributed to their downfall.

The Burgundians repeatedly accommodated other groups by allowing them to settle in Burgundy. Alamans already inhabited the lands around Geneva and the Jura Mountains when the Burgundians took control of the region as foederati. The Lex Gundobad stated that "all assimilable elements, Visigoths and even runaway slaves, should be accepted into the community." Their attempts to accommodate many within their realm, which was so instrumental in maintaining internal peace, had the effect of making enemies of many outside and inside their realm. This apparent weakness of conviction may have prompted Catholic ideologues within Burgundy to seek other, more convicted patrons.

Clovis and his Franks used the Arianism of the Burgundians as an excuse to attack around A.D. 500, probably with the support of some Catholic bishops within Burgundy. It was only later that legends of Clotilda’s desire for revenge as a reason for these attacks came about. Later, after the Burgundians had converted to Catholicism under Sigismund, Theoderic used their apparent betrayal of Arianism and a purported desire to exact revenge for the killing of his grandson as excuses for his coordinated attack with the Franks.

Whatever the reason given, the primary causes of the downfall of the Burgundian kingdom were Sigismund’s lapses in leadership and, especially, the Burgundian kingdom’s vulnerable geography. Situated on lands straddling the Alps, the Burgundians were caught between Goths in the south and Franks to the north, both of whom were desirous of the rich Burgundian lands. Though religion and revenge may have only been convenient excuses for invasion, it is probable that the Burgundians eventually would have had to face either, or both, of its neighbors in armed conflict.

The obvious legacy of the Burgundians is the Nibelungenlied, their namesake region in France, and the wine produced there. Yet, they owe their most important legacy to that singular woman, the Burgundian princess Clotilda. Her marriage to Clovis was in some way related to one of the most significant royal conversions in history. Whether Clotilda inspired Clovis’s conversion directly or whether he was inspired for political reasons, their marriage enabled his acceptance by the Roman Catholic Church and he became the first barbarian king religiously aligned with his Roman subjects. Clovis and his armies, and the valuable support of the Pope, conquered the Arian Christians and preserved Catholic Christianity in the West.

Although they showed great latitude towards their Catholic subjects, the Arian Burgundian kings were reluctant to fully embrace Catholicism. Though some of the Burgundian royal family, particularly the women, may have been Catholic, it was only after the ascension of Sigismund that a systematic dismantling of the Arian church within the Burgundian Kingdom occurred.

This apparent reluctance to both fully embrace Catholicism and actively denounce the Arian heresy did not ultimately cause their downfall. Rather, it was the acts of Sigismund that sealed the Burgundian fate. Sigismund’s own Catholicism and few charitable acts could not insulate him against those who opposed him. He alienated many in the Church and his actions fomented rebellion among the ecclesiastics. Without their support, Sigismund was vulnerable to both internal strife and external invasion. His death did not quiet the storm. In disarray, and despite Godomar’s stubborn attempts to save it, the Burgundian Kingdom was ripe for conquest, and the Franks and Goths obliged. The Burgundians were assimilated into France and disappeared.

Like the other Germanic kingdoms, that of the Burgundians was, to quote Lucien Mussett, an:

elaborate synthesis of various elements, and the creation of a new civilization distinct both from that of late Antiquity and from that of Free Germany. It can be judged inferior to classical civilization, but its originality cannot be denied, and it cannot be considered simply as an indefinitely prolonged period of 'decadence.'

The Burgundians who crossed the Rhine in A.D. 406 were not an ethnically homogeneous group of Germans, but rather a group of Germans, some probably with Roman blood, who were united by shared traditions and strong leaders. Though their kingdoms ultimately ended in failure, the Burgundians provided an example of how disparate groups could survive and thrive if united under strong and able leadership, such as that provided by the militarily and politically astute Gundobad. Finally, it was the second Burgundian Kingdom, especially during the reign of Gundobad and the early years of Sigismund, that foreshadowed a Germanic and Roman cultural fusion that would be more famously realized in the age of Charlemagne.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Epilogue: The Saintly Queen

Jane Tibbets Schulenburg (Forgetful of Their Sex) believed that Clotilda became the prototype for later Catholic queens and noblewomen. and Katherine Scherman (The Birth of France) wrote of Clotilda:

Her selfless dedication is the obverse side of the Merovingian nature…the pure and literal application of the teaching of the primitive Church. People like Clotild[a]…add a dimension of light, like the sun shining in back of a cloud, to the dismal and stormy climate of post-imperial Europe.

Of course, it must be remembered that Clotilda was, in fact, a Burgundian, not a Merovingian!

After the murders of her grandsons, Queen Clotilda lived a life of chastity and charity in Tours, though she still played a political role. She made many private donations. In Clermont, she gave a priest, named Anastasius, a gift of land and the title that proved his right to them. The Bishop of Clermont, Cautinus, sought to keep the lands for himself by dint of his authority, but Anastasius maintained his rights to the land, even after being tortured. Anastasius eventually escaped and complained to King Lothar, who upheld the legitimacy of Clotilda’s gift.

JoAnn McNamara and John E. Halborg in Sainted Women of the Dark Ages hypothesized that Clotilda went to Tours in the relatively newly acquired Aquitaine, where Clovis was commissioned as patrician of Rome, as "part of an ongoing Frankish policy of reaching a solid settlement with the old Gallo-Roman population." They also noted that female saints "regularly diminished the gains of their warrior relatives by almsgiving." This "suggests that they were playing a sort of structural role in the circulation of wealth, possibly as representatives of the more merciful or 'womanly' side of monarchy."

Clotilda also funded the building of many churches and monasteries and gave lands to support them. Among these was the Notre-Dame-des-Andelys, located along the Seine near Rouen. It was the last church she founded and around its founding and construction a story was circulated.

According to the story, the men working on the church requested of Clotilda that wine be provided to slake their thirst during the hot summer days. While she considered the request, a spring of fresh water was discovered nearby. In a dream, Clotilda was told that if the workers were to request wine again, that she should send a servant to take them some water from this newfound spring. When the request was so made, and the water delivered, the workers discovered that the water had turned to wine. They went to the queen and gave thanks. The queen gave credit to God for the miracle and asked none to reveal the miracle. The situation continued throughout the construction of the monastery, but only occurred for the workmen working on the structure. All others who drank the water tasted water. When the monastery was completed, the miracle ended and the spring returned to its natural state for one and all.

Clotilda did not totally remove herself from the lives of her sons, and perhaps her most famous miracle was associated with her concern for their welfare. According to Gregory, her son Childebert and step-grandson Theudebert were at war with her son Lothar, who had the weakest army of the three. He retreated to a forest near Caudebec in Normandy and entrenched himself and prayed for his safety. His mother also prayed for the intercession of St. Martin in hopes of averting another family tragedy. When Childebert came near Lothar’s position, a thunderstorm occurred, lightning flashed, the wind howled, and hailstones fell. Soldiers covered themselves with their shields and horses ran away. Meanwhile, those in Lothar’s camp heard nothing, all was quiet and no storm raged. Unnerved, Childebert and Theodebert begged for God’s mercy and retreated. Peace was made with Lothar and each returned to their own lands. Such was the nature of the intervention of St Martin, at the behest of Clotilda. Her prayers were said to have inspired St. Martin’s miracle.

She also seems to have rewarded some Burgundian religious men who had accompanied her to Clovis’ kingdom. In the years 520 and 521, she appointed three elderly men to be Bishops of Tours. Gregory of Tours wrote that Theodorus and Proculus, the tenth Bishops of Tours, had come with Clotilda from Burgundy as consecrated Bishops but "had been expelled from their cities because they had incurred hostility there." She appointed them jointly in early A.D. 520 when they were both old men and they led Tours for approximately two years before dying and being buried there. Dinifius, who had also come from Burgundy, succeeded to the Bishop’s office, also at the behest of Clotilda, in A.D. 521. She gave him property from the royal domain to do with as he wished. He gave most of it to his own cathedral and left the rest for "deserving people." He was only Bishop for ten months.

Clotilda died in Tours in 545 A.D. and was carried to Paris and buried by her sons Childebert and Lothar in Saint Peter’s church next to her husband Clovis. Gregory wrote:

Neither the royal status of her sons nor her worldly goods nor earthly ambition could bring her to disrepute. In all humility she moved forward to heavenly grace.

Clotilda, perhaps the brightest shining light of the Burgundians, served as a light in the darkness for the early barbarians. Through her, the first real king of the Franks was Christianized and secured the faith in Europe.

UP NEXT: Conclusion

Schulenburg, Forgetful of Their Sex.
Scherman, The Birth of France.
Sainted Women of the Dark Ages, ed. and trans. JoAnn McNamara and John E. Halborg with E. Gordon Whatley (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1992).
Gregory of Tours, Historia Francorum, 4.12, in Kurth, Saint Clotilda.
Kurth, Saint Clotilda.
Vita Sanctae Chrotildis, c. XII, in Kurth, Saint Clotilda.
Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gregory on Clotilda and her Sons--Documenting Historical Vengeance or Creating Political Propoganda?

Gregory placed the revenge of Clotilda at the center of the Frankish desire to conquer Burgundy. Yet, as has already been discussed, Clotilda may have had nothing to avenge. She probably arranged the original alliance between Clovis and Gundobad around A.D. 507. This act of diplomacy would be difficult to accept of a woman with vitriolic hatred for her uncle. Further, as Ian Wood explains (The Merovingian Kingdoms), if Clotilda had "waited from the A.D. 490s until A.D. 523 the feud cannot have been uppermost in her mind."

Herwig Wolfram (Germanic Peoples) noted that both the Franks and Theodoric’s Goths invaded Burgundy, claiming revenge as a reason "that may well have been intended merely to veil hard power politics." Godefroid Kurth (Saint Clotilda) offered another viable counterargument to Gregory’s account.

If Clotilda was so eager for vengeance why did she not urge the duty on her husband Clovis, and why did she wait for the death of [Gundobad] in order to vent her wrath upon the innocent son of the latter?

He supported his belief with the fact that when Clovis had Gundobad within his power at Vienne, he left the field. Even when Gundobad failed to send tribute the next year, Clovis did not go to war with him. Instead, he made an alliance, and, according to Kurth:

...all this under the very eyes of Clotilda just at the time of his own conversion to Christianity, when we may presume that his wife’s influences was most potent with him.

Given this, it seemed Clotilda, if she had wrongs to avenge, must have forgotten them until after both Clovis, her “natural avenger” and Gundobad were dead. Kurth again:

[I]t was only after both offender and offended had been in their graves the one during nine and the other during twelve years, and when there was nobody to punish, that we are asked to believe that this pious widow, living in retirement and devoting herself to good works, separated from her sons and peacefully awaiting death, suddenly bethought herself to crown a life filled with good works by initiating a fratricidal war in which her own flesh and blood were to perish.

On the other hand, while advocating for the strong role that medieval queens played in politics, Suzanne Fonay Wemple (Women in Frankish Society) made the interesting argument that since:

Loyalty to the uterine line was inculcated in aristocratic males in their early childhood...we should not be surprised to learn that Clotild[a] asked her sons, not her husband, to avenge the murder of her parents.

Danuta Shanzer and Ian Wood (Avitus of Vienne) remarked upon the duality between the supposed vengeance wrought upon the sons of Gundobad and Gregory's account of the supposed murder of Chilperic and his wife. In fact, they observed that Gregory reveals a remarkable penchant for fratricide and patricide among many of the Franks' rivals (Thuringians, Ostrogoths, Visigoths and Burgundians). Given this, repeated accusations of murder and mayhem "may...have been an aspect of Merovingian political propaganda." Revenge as a reason for war. To this I might add that it is a common tactic in politics to accuse your opponent of those things that you have or would do. Could Gregory have ascribed so many instances of inter-family murder in an attempt to portray such acts as commonplace, thus diminishing the horrendous crimes often committed by the ancestors of his own Merovingian patrons?

Some believed that the story was invented by popular imagination in an attempt to explain the reason that led two closely allied families to go to war. Accordingly, a connection was made by portraying the story of Gundobad’s murder of Chilperic and his wife first to justify the nearly identical form of Clotilda’s supposed revenge. Because Clodomir killed Sigismund and his wife, the legend grew that Chilperic’s wife, (Clotilda’s mother) was killed with him and both thrown in a well. Because Clodomir also killed Sigismund’s two remaining sons, then Gundobad was said to have killed Chilperic’s two sons (though these may have never actually existed).

As Wood explains:
There is also a curious parallel between the manner of [Chilperic II’s] death, supposedly by drowning in a well, and the similar disposal of Sigismund’s body after his defeat and capture in 524. It seems that Gregory’s account of the murder of Chilperic and the subsequent bloodfeud reflected later assumptions, rather than historical reality. The marriage of [Clotilda], therefore, may not have had the ominous implications which the bishop of Tours attributed it.

A parallel can be drawn in the similarity between Gregory’s account of Clovis’s battlefield conversion and that of Constantine roughly two hundred years earlier. Gregory was not above using one event as a template for another if he deemed it convenient or necessary. After all, Gregory and Fredegarius were Merovingian chroniclers and probably desired to show their patrons in the best light, often at the expense of historical truth.

Kurth speculated that this legend grew up out of the medieval mind, so to speak.

[There is a] universal tendency of the popular mind to explain great misfortunes as being the expiation of great crimes. When Sigismund, king of Burgundy, was killed with his wife and children by his cousin Clodomir, it was supposed that he must have perished in expiation of some similar crime which one of his ancestors had perpetrated against some member of Clodomir’s family. And hence it was easy to assume that [Gundobad] had inflicted on Chilperic, the grandfather of Clodomir, the same treatment as, at a later date, Clodomir had inflicted on his son.

[Of] the pretext on which the sons of Clovis took up arms against their unhappy cousin we have no information, nor indeed is the question of much historic importance. The war may have been caused simply by that insatiable love of fighting and of glory which lies at the root of uncivilised [sic] nature, or again by that desperate avarice which gave men no rest so long as there remained anything to covet or to conquer.

J.B. Bury summarized, "We can thus safely conclude that the true Gundobad was not the sanguinary tyrant of later tradition, nor was Clotilda the bearer of tragedy and doom to the Burgundian house as she appears in the story."

Don't bet on historical certainty, JB!

UP NEXT: Epilogue


Wolfram, Germanic Peoples.
Kurth, Saint Clotilda.
Wemple, Women in Frankish Society.
Avitus of Vienne, Shanzer and Wood.
Kurth, “St. Clotilda,” in Catholic Encyclopedia, 1908 ed.
Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms.
Bury, Invasion of Europe.