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.

No comments: