Monday, June 8, 2009

The First Kingdom of the Burgundians

As the empire grew, Rome demanded the provincial landowners pay higher municipal assessments. These landowners passed as much of this burden as they could onto the tenant farmers and slaves on their lands, who, with no other recourse, would sometimes revolt against their landowners. Thus, brigandage (armed rebellion) spread, and the landowners, now often without sufficient workers on their lands, were still required to pay the assessments, regardless of their own ability to collect taxes.

These "brigands" viewed Rome as a greater threat than barbarian incursion and, when faced with the inability of the former to deal adequately with the latter, resorted to raising their own commanders to deal with the problems of rebellion and barbarian raids. When these champions were successful, they would further be raised as emperors, as in the case of Cassius Latinus Postumus and his Gallic Empire from A.D. 259 to A.D. 273.

These events foreshadowed a growing attitude among the provincial Romans. They were more concerned with their immediate welfare than with maintaining a remote ideal of a united Roman empire and, when faced with chaos, turned to whomever could provide immediate relief. Self-interest won out over idealism. In the fifth century this attitude became the norm.

On December 31, 406, Vandals and Alans crossed the Rhine and entered Gaul to raid, pillage and burn. Shortly thereafter, about A.D. 407, the Burgundians filled the vacuum created by the departure of the Vandals and moved down the Main River and ravaged Strassburg, Speier and Worms in the process. They fought and pushed out the Alamanni and occupied new territory on both sides of the Rhine by A.D. 411.

As an aside, Ralph Mathisen--in Roman Aristocrats--has explained that Ausonius, Jerome in A.D. 406, Nazarius in the early fourth century, Sidonius in the fifth century (twice), and Avitus of Vienne in the 6th century all gave approximately the same list of barbarian tribes who they said invaded the empire. These lists indicated no uniquely identifying quality for any of these groups and the frequent mention of the same list seems to indicate that it was a standard litany used to illustrate that there were barbarians invading the empire.

Further, Katherine Fischer Drew is one of many who points to the Greek historian Socrates’ assertion that the Burgundians crossed the Rhine to pursue their primary trade of carpentry and woodworking. This seems a curious passage, though it may have a grain of truth. Perhaps the Burgundians were known for their woodworking talents, though no other evidence to support this can be found in the sources

Traditionally, the Burgundian establishment in this region has been called the Kingdom of Worms, apparently in an attempt to align history with the tales of the Nibelungenlied. In fact, the kingdom was said to be located on the Rhine, downstream of Koblenz, in Roman province of Germania II rather than Germania I. As a result of this historiographical argument, some scholars began referring to it as the Rhenish kingdom of the Burgundians.

During this time, the Roman imperial claimant Constantine III (A.D. 409-411) had entered the Rhone valley. He encountered certain barbarian tribes, often believed to have been Burgundians and Alamanni. At that time, Constantine made some sort of mutually beneficial agreement with these tribes, which they later violated. Further, it seems both groups, the barbarians and Constantine, continued to operate independently of each other in the region, in a sort of acquiescence of feigned ignorance. It seems apparent that if the Burgundians did indeed drive the Alamanni out of territory they occupied, then the two groups may also have had a falling out.

After Constantine III was killed, Jovinus (A.D. 411-412), a Gallo-Roman in northern Gaul, was raised as emperor with the support of the Burgundians. It has also been suggested that Roman officials who had previously supported Constantine III also supported Jovinus. This support of Jovinus for Emperor by the Burgundians was an attempt to strengthen their position within the wider Roman Empire. However, the reign of Jovinus was brief, and the Burgundian’s role as imperial power brokers proved a temporary one. Athaulf and his Visigoths eventually killed Jovinus at the behest of Rome in A.D. 413.

Peter Heather has explained that it was common practice for barbarian groups to attempt to strengthen their position within the Empire by supporting rebellion when the opportunity arose. They respected the strength of Rome too much to strike out on their own, in the open, to set up an independent state by directly usurping land from the Roman Empire. In this, the barbarian tribes and their leaders were just one of the multiple players in Late Antique imperial politics, which included various Roman political and ecclesiastical factions. And, as Ralph Mathisen has noted, however, these factions were just as, if not more, involved in the rise and fall of the various “tyrannical” emperors as were the barbarian groups and their kings.

During this time, the Roman imperial claimant Constantine III (A.D. 409-411) had entered the Rhone valley. He encountered certain barbarian tribes, often believed to have been Burgundians and Alamanni. At that time, Constantine made some sort of mutually beneficial agreement with these tribes, which they later violated. Further, it seems both groups, the barbarians and Constantine, continued to operate independently of each other in the region, in a sort of acquiescence of feigned ignorance.

It seems apparent that if the Burgundians did indeed drive the Alamanni out of territory they occupied, then the two groups may also have had a falling out. After Constantine III was killed, Jovinus (A.D. 411-412), a Gallo-Roman in northern Gaul, was raised as emperor with the support of the Burgundians. It has also been suggested that Roman officials who had previously supported Constantine III also supported Jovinus. This support of Jovinus for Emperor by the Burgundians was an attempt to strengthen their position within the wider Roman Empire. However, the reign of Jovinus was brief, and the Burgundian’s role as imperial power brokers proved a temporary one. Athaulf and his Visigoths eventually killed Jovinus at the behest of Rome in A.D. 413.

After the fall of Jovinus, Prosper of Aquitaine wrote that the Burgundians “acquired part of Gaul near the Rhine.” Prior to their support of Jovinus, Constantine III had confirmed the Burgundians in their possession of the land they had seized along the Rhine. The new emperor, Honorius, accepted them as Federates of the Empire (foederati), probably more out of necessity than desire. As such, in A.D. 413, they were established along the Rhine and pledged to guard the empire against its enemies. This was the first Burgundian kingdom in Gaul, under their king, Gundahar.

UP NEXT: The Conversion of the Burgundians

SOURCES:

Geary, The Myth of Nations.
Mathisen, Roman Aristocrats in Barbarian Gaul.
Prosperi Tironis epitoma chronicon, ed. Th. Mommsen, Chronica Minora I, MGH AA 9 (1892), 385-485. trans. A.C. Murray, in From Roman to Merovingian Gaul: A Reader, ed. and trans. Alexander Callander Murray (Orchard Park, NY: Broadview Press, 2000).
L. Schmidt, Geschichte der Wandalen, 1901 in Bury, Later Roman Empire.
Heather, “The Huns...,” The English Historical Review.
Robert Latouche, “Agriculture in the Early Middle Ages,” in The Barbarian Invasions: Catalyst of a New Order, ed. Katherine Fischer Drew (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970).
Musset, Germanic Invasions.
Orosius, Historiae adv. Paganos, edited by Zangemeister (1889) and E.A. Freeman, Western Europe in the Fifth Century (1904) in Bury, Later Roman Empire.
Chronica Gallica A. CCCCLII, ed. Th. Mommsen, Chronica Minor I, MGH AA 9 (1892), 646-62, trans. by A.C. Murray, in Murray, Merovingian Gaul, 81. (hereafter cited as Chronicle of 452).
Prosperi Tironis, in Murray, Merovingian Gaul.
Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks, trans. with an introduction by Lewis Thorpe (London: Penguin Books, 1974).
Mathisen, Roman Aristocrats.
Mathisen, “Proculus, Patroclus, and Pelagianism: The Gallic Church in the Age of the Tyrants,” in Ecclesiastical Factionalism and Religious Controversy in Fifth-Century Gaul, (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Press, 1989).
The Chronicle of Hydatius and the Consularia Constantinopolitana, ed. and trans. Richard W. Burgess (Oxford, 1993), trans. A.C. Murray, in Murray, Merovingian Gaul.

3 comments:

rodger said...

Excellent overview of the Burgundians, a real addition to the canon of works, well researched and presented.
I would be interested in your views of Burgundian Military organisation pre and post 406.

Marc said...

Rodger, for pre-406, you may find some value in my posts from early last year HERE. They were basically of the war band model, though certainly influenced by Roman military due to their exposure along the limes and later as auxiliaries. This probably carried through until they were assimilated into the Merovingian nation. Thanks for the kind words.

rodge said...

Thanks Marc...missed that one. Whilst is seems the integration of the Gallo-Roman military in the second kingdom seems fairly certain, what is your view of the integration of the Gallo-Roman military in the First kingdom? IIRC Drinkwater: 'The Usurpers Constantine III and Jovinus' he says that following the fall of Jovinus there was a savage cull of aristocrats and Gallo-Roman 'military' that had lent their support to the Burgundian/Alan enterprise. I wonder to what extent the Burgundian force acted in concert with these forces and whether they lingered under Burgundian influence posy 414AD? Indeed what could these Gallo-Roamns forces have been?