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.
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Hil.Epist. “Qualiter contra sedis” (MGH Epist. 3.28-29) in Mathisen, Roman Aristocrats.
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