Saturday, October 31, 2009

Gallo-Romans and Burgundians - Part 2

The Burgundians were a small tribe and realized that they could not simply overwhelm the traditional inhabitants of any region in which they were settled. In addition, at least one of their traditions claimed they were genealogically related to the Romans. As such, in the case of the Burgundian kingdom, there was no social differentiation made between Gallo-Roman or Burgundian.

Roman senators and Burgundian nobles were considered of a class, and this equality between social strata held true down to the lowest classes of both people. Additionally, the Burgundian kingdom was administered similarly to a traditional Roman province. It was composed of civitates, which were the same as the episcopal dioceses, and was administered by both a Burgundian and a Roman official.

The new Roman aristocratic clergymen sought barbarian patronage. For instance, Pope Hilarus wrote to Leontius of Arles about a complaint concerning Mamertus of Vienne’s ordination of a new bishop, Marcellus, for the city of Die. In a letter dated October 10, 463, Hilarus explained that he heard of this from his “son, the illustrious master of soldiers Gundioc” who also said that Marcellus was named bishop against the wishes of the inhabitants of Die.

This amply illustrated that Gundioc was not only the new Burgundian king of Die, but was also a Roman official and sent a report to Hilarus that prompted the Pope’s action. Whether Gundioc directed his report to the Pope because he was the leader of the ecclesiastics and logical choice to address the matter or because Gundioc was a Catholic and naturally deferred to the Pope remains unknown.

Gundioc’s position as both king and Roman official probably complicated the networks of loyalty, patronage, and authority at Die. Nonetheless, this Burgundian king filled the void left by the removal of Gallo-Roman patrons and often heard Gallo-Roman appeals. That Gundioc held the position of both Burgundian king and the Roman office of magister militum per Gallias reveals the degree of assimilation achieved by the Burgundians, something that neither the Visigoths nor Franks had yet accomplished.

Thus, the Burgundian kings held a definite place in the imperial hierarchy and this led to the Gallo-Romans accepting the legitimacy of the Burgundian royal court as the locus of provincial government. This peaceful coexistence resulted in very little direct conflict between Burgundians and the Roman Empire. They only fought once at Lyons in A.D. 458, against Marjorian.

Another account told of the charity of the Gallo-Roman senator Ecdicius during a famine in Burgundy. Ecdicius sent his men with wagons to gather the starving people to his estate and fed and lodged four thousand until the famine was over. He then returned them home. There were other reports of how Ecdicius was a leader and man of action, as indicated by a story of how he repelled a party of Goths with only ten other men.

Another Gallo-Roman, Patiens, Bishop of Lyons, helped people avert starvation in a like manner. These stories show the charity of the Gallo-Romans as well as their ability to maintain their comfortable lifestyle under the “harsh rule” of barbarian kings.

Church officials could also successfully petition barbarian kings for relief. In the 460s, the abbot Lupicinus of St. Claude asked the Burgundian king Chilperic I to free some paupers who claimed that they had been illegally enslaved. The oppressor of these peasants was a Roman “sycophant” according to Sidonius. As a means of defense, the accused Roman official attempted to smear the abbot by charging that Lupicinus had predicted the ruin of the Burgundians ten years prior. Lupicinus accused the King and his tribe of oppressing the poor against the wishes of Rome. The king was affected by the plea of the abbot and offered land and vineyards to the monastery as recompense. This act of impartial justice toward a Catholic abbot by a supposed Arian king stood the Burgundian royalty in good stead among Catholics, especially as compared to other barbarian Arians, such as the Goths.

Records show that Gallo-Roman families continued to be influential, and wealthy, for generations. Some transferred their service from the state to the church, though many became gradually accepted into Burgundian service, serving as Counts, treasurers or in other positions, with some offices designated only for those who were Roman by birth. Their influence upon the administration of the Burgundian kingdom was evident, for instance, the Burgundians continued to use consular years to date administrative documents, still written in Latin.

One major difference between Burgundian and Roman rule was the development of the office of count (comes) into a dual position of both military officer and civil servant. This was antithetical to the standard of separation of powers that had been the imperial policy since Diocletian. These representatives of Roman culture greatly influenced the Burgundians and also benefited from the relationship, as did the Catholic church, which experienced an upsurge in church building under the Arian Burgundians.

UP NEXT: Gallo-Romans and Burgundians - Part 3


Wolfram, Germanic Peoples.
Hil.Epist. “Qualiter contra sedis” (MGH Epist. 3.28-29) in Mathisen, Roman Aristocrats.
Elton, “Defence in fifth century Gaul,” in Fifth-century Gaul: a Crisis of Identity?, eds. Drinkwater and Elton.
Barnwell, Emperors, Prefects, & Kings.
Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks.
Samual Dill, “Persistence of the Aristocratic Way of Life,” in The Barbarian Invasions: Catalyst of a New Order, ed. Katherine Fischer Drew (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970).
Bury, Roman Empire.
Whittaker, Frontiers of the Roman Empire.
Vulpicini 10 in Mathisen, Roman Aristocrats.
Yitzhak Hen, Culture and Religion in Merovingian Gaul A.D. 481-751 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995).
Louis Halphen, “Germanic Society in the Early Sixth Century,” in The Barbarian Invasions, ed. Drew.
The Burgundian Code, trans. Katherine Fischer Drew with a foreword by Edward Peters, 4th ed. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992).
King, Roman Gaul.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Gallo-Romans and Burgundians - Part 1

Concessions to barbarians in the form of lands and titles were a necessity for the Empire. However, the constant rebellions for expansion strained the imperial treasury and the Empire taxed the goods produced by its territories to pay for the army and its administration. At the same time, the Empire was giving away either land or the tax revenue it generated, which reduced the resources available for defense and civil service. This reduction in resources significantly affected the Roman elite.

By the fourth century, as the church had expanded and the Roman bureaucracy shrank, Roman aristocrats became attracted to ecclesiastical offices as a means of exercising local political power. As a result, the line between imperial politics and ecclesiastical administration became blurred. There were also many who sought these office for more traditional, spiritual reasons and some, such as Martin of Tours and Ambrose of Milan, opposed imperial interference in Church affairs, though others, such as Felix of Trier, supported secular involvement in administration.

The Roman aristocratic class relied on imperial careers for prestige and class legitimization as well as moneymaking opportunities. The weakening of the Roman Empire, perceived by the lessening of revenue by these elite, weakened the attachment between them and Rome. Eventually, loyalty to Rome served no practical purpose and the elite landowners began to look to the barbarians who lived among them to preserve their societal standing and property.

This atmosphere prompted Salvian of Marseille, writing in the 440s, to observe that many Romans fled to the barbarian lands, despite their different religious beliefs. These Romans “prefer to live as free people under an outward form of captivity than as captives under an appearance of liberty.” As such, the idea of being a Roman citizen, once coveted, was abandoned. Gallo-Roman aristocrats perceived a lack of imperial interest in maintaining Gaul at the level they expected and this may have tended to both unify the Gallo-Romans and separate them from others of their class who lived in other parts of the empire.

By the time the Burgundians entered Gaul, the Gallo-Romans had already begun to think of themselves less as Romans, more as Gauls and more interested in their own immediate concerns than in preserving the concept of empire. Additionally, though they loved Rome, self-interested Gallo-Romans had considered a strong central government not in their best interests and a threat to their family-based commercial and political oligarchy. Aristocrats who assessed their situation and reacted appropriately often survived the barbarian conquerors and even profited from them.

However, this did not mean that they lost faith in the Roman method of government. According to Barnwell (Emperors, Prefects, & Kings), “Where Romans were in charge, it is not unreasonable to suppose that ‘Roman’ governmental traditions were continued at the local level.” While this Gallo-Roman flexibility contributed to their survival, it could not have succeeded without an accommodating barbarian king and his people. From their first contact with Rome, barbarians had been cognizant of the advantage of life in the Empire. Regardless of the exact nature of their entrance into the Empire, whether as raiders or foederati or refugees, they sought land of their own. Barnwell, again: “They were likely to look for militarily and economically secure places to settle, and to seek integration with the native population.”

UP NEXT: Gallo-Romans and Burgundians - Part 2


Mathisen, “The Gallic Church In The Fourth Century,” in Ecclesiastical Factionalism.
Heather, “The Huns.”
The Writings of Salvian the Presbyter, trans. Jeremiah F. O’Sullivan, (New York, 1947) in Murray, Merovingian Gaul.
Mathisen, Roman Aristocrats.
Geary, Before France and Germany.
Barnwell, Emperors, Prefects, & Kings.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Burgundian Expansion, Ricimer and Roman Politics

There were two legitimate Roman generals considered to be both militarily and politically strong enough to attract a following in Gaul and to be viable candidates for emperor. The first was Marcellinus, who was supported by both Gallo-Roman aristocrats and the Burgundians in Lyons. The other was the Roman general Majorian who had the support of his barbarian colleague Ricimer. To prevent conflict, Marcellinus decided to support Majorian, a friend as well as a rival, in his bid for Emperor. His Gallo-Roman followers were not so understanding and continued to agitate for Marcellinus after Majorian’s ascendence to the throne. For this continuing intransigence, Majorian burdened them with heavy taxes.

In A.D. 457, the Burgundians seized large portions of Lugdunensis I and Viennensis, apparently as a form of self-payment for their just concluded service to the Empire. They were aided by an uprising in Lugdunum (Lyon) and proceeded to occupy the city, probably at the invitation of the Gallo-Romans. Majorian gathered an army to move against them, but they withdrew, either because of fear of Majorian’s army or because of diplomacy undertaken on Majorian’s behalf. Majorian, not confident in the strength of the Italian army, lobbied the Burgundians and gained their support. As proof, we have Sidonius' allusion to both the efforts of an Imperial Secretary, Petrus, to secure Burgundian support for Majorian and that Burgundians marched under Majorian’s standard in later action.

However, despite any agreement, the Burgundians soon returned to Lyons and took the city, perhaps as early as A.D. 461, but no later than A.D. 474. They continued to expand in this period, taking Die in A.D. 463, Vaison before A.D. 474 and Langres before A.D. 485. Ian Wood noted:

For the most part…the Burgundians were among the most loyal federates of the Empire, and they were proud of their connections with the Romans. The conflict with Majorian was caused by his reversal of the policies of Avitus, rather than any hostility towards the Empire held by the Burgundians themselves.

Part of these land grabbing movements could be attributed to the political machinations of Ricimer. Majorian was but one of many subsequent puppet emperors put up by Ricimer. Ricimer disposed of Majorian and Marcellinius refused to recognize the next puppet, Severus. Instead, Marcellinius went to Dalmatia where he posed an immediate threat to the Ravenna government of Ricimer. Ricimer’s position was made more precarious because Marcellinius also had the protection of the Eastern emperor and he was also under threat from the west by Marjorian’s former general Aegidius. However, Ricimer enlisted the aid of the Burgundians, perhaps with the help of his young Burgundian assistant, Gundobad.

Ricimer was a master propagandist and successfully portrayed Aegidius as an upstart and replaced him with Gundobad’s father, the Burgundian king Gundioc, no later than A.D. 463, who he moved into the strategically well-placed Lyons. He also convinced the Visigoths that his emperor, Severus was the rightful one. This forced Aegidius to seek allies, including the Franks from Tournai, under the Merovingian chief Childeric. Ricimer and his allies eventually prevailed, but these events set the stage for further antagonism between the Franks, Visigoths and Burgundians. Further, as a reward for his help, Ricimer formally awarded Gundioc with Aegidius’s former position of master of soldiers, while he ceded control of Narbonne to Theoderic II.

In fact, every subsequent Roman regime lobbied support from Gallo-Roman and Italian senators, Goths, Franks and Burgundians. This resulted in a policy among the Germans of withholding support for an imperial figurehead unless a proper payoff was promised. The Burgundian kings won Roman titles as Gundioc, Chilperic I and later Gundobad, were all regarded as patricians of Gaul. By the time of the Emperor Anthemius (A.D. 467-472), large concessions had been made to the Burgundians in Gaul to ensure their aid against Euric and his Goths.

These events reveal that the Burgundians were active participants in imperial faction politics. They apparently felt that standing in the Empire and relations with respect to the Emperor were important. Their earlier military actions confirm this. They supported the Romans against the Sueves in the 450s and the Huns in A.D. 452 and sided with one emperor against the followers of a deposed other when they fought Aegidius. They may have seized Lyons after Avitus was deposed because the Gallic senators supported the late emperor and opposed Majorian. They also must have been viewed as powerful political players in the empire if the Gallo-Roman aristocrat Arvandus approached them to propose that they be given territory in exchange for supporting the removal of Anthemius.

UP NEXT: Gallo-Romans and Burgundians

Randers-Pehrson, Barbarians and Romans.
Marius of Avenches in Murray, Merovingian Gaul.
Sidonius, Poems and Letters. trans. and intro. by W.B. Anderson, vol.1, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1936).
Ian Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751 (London: Longman Group, 1995).
Musset, Germanic Invasions.
Wolfram, Germanic Peoples.
A.H.M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, 284-602: a Social, Economic and Administrative Survey, 3 vols, (Oxford, 1964): 241-2, in Barnwell, Emperor, Prefects, & Kings.
Heather, “The Huns.”
Mathisen, Roman Aristocrats.
Bury, Roman Empire.
Barnwell, Emperor, Prefects, & Kings.
Sidonius, The Letters of Sidonius, trans. O.M. Dalton, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1915) in Murray, Merovingian Gaul.