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.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Godomar, Last King of the Burgundians

According to Gregory, Clotilda asked her sons to avenge her father’s death on the sons of Gundobad. In 523, Clovis’s son Clodomir, marched against the Burgundians and defeated them. Despite any technical alliance with Byzantium, the reality was that the Burgundians simply didn’t have the military might to ward off their enemies. Memories of Roman titles may have been pleasant, but they were of no practical help. Godomar escaped, but while Sigismund and his family tried to seek refuge in the monastery of Agaune, Clodomir captured and held them hostage.

According to another source, some Burgundians had given Sigismund to the Franks. This may be more accurate. Many Burgundians, outraged at his past actions, willingly turned Sigismund over. Meanwhile, Godomar reassembled his forces and won back at least a portion of the kingdom. Clodomir prepared to attack Godomar and decided to kill Sigismund, apparently to rid himself of the distraction. Despite the pleas of Avitus, he ordered Sigismund and his entire family thrown down a well.

Marius of Avenches wrote that, in A.D. 524, “Godomar, the brother of Sigismund, was appointed king of the Burgundians.” Clodomir then summoned his brother Theuderic, who agreed to march in support of Clodomir against Godomar. They marched to Vezeronce and fought Godomar, who fled with his army. Clodomir followed in close pursuit, but raced too far in front of his troops. Godomar’s men killed him and put his head on a stake as a grisly trophy. Clodomir’s Franks saw this, rallied and harried Godomar out of his lands again.

Godomar had not been fighting only the Franks. Sigismund’s murder of Sigeric had enraged the child’s grandfather, Theoderic, who invaded southern Burgundy at the same time, with much Burgundian support. It was at this time that Theoderic made his famous agreement with the sons of Clovis whereby he acquired half of the lands of Burgundy for the loss of no blood and only a little treasure. Meanwhile, Godomar returned yet again and retook Burgundy, if only temporarily. (Documented by Gregory almost as a one line afterthought in The History of the Franks: “Godomar won back his kingdom a third time”).

After Theoderic died in A.D. 526, and after a conquest in Spain to return their sister, Clotilda II, home, Lothar and Childebert decided to attack Burgundy again. Theuderic refused to join them, but his men, who desired loot, threatened to desert if he did not take part. He promised them all of the Burgundian loot they could carry as long as they did not to join his brothers. His men agreed and they marched into Clermont and brought as much as they could, both goods and people, away from the city. While Theuderic and his men were looting and capturing slaves, Lothar and Childebert besieged Autun in A.D. 534 and forced Godomar to flee Burgundy a fourth and final time.

Godomar may have also overestimated his position. In A.D. 530, he had made a treaty with Amalasuintha, the Ostrogothic queen and regent. It called for mutual assistance between the two kingdoms. This had provided Godomar with some additional military might, so he thought, in exchange for the cessation of the territory north of the Durance to the young Ostrogothic king. However, when attacked by the Franks again in A.D. 532, the Ostrogothic army only fought to reestablish its former borders.

Finally, in A.D. 534, the Ostrogothic army offered no aid and left Godomar to his fate. According to Gregory of Tours and Marius of Avenches, he disappeared forever and so did Burgundian rule in Burgundy. Procopius recounted that the Franks captured Godomar and kept him in a fortress while they subjugated his people and forced them to fight with the Franks in battle. The aristocracy continued to operate and at least some members, or descendents, of the former royal family survived until 613. However, the last significant act by a group of Burgundians would be that of a band of warriors, who, by the direction of the new ruler, had a final curtain call on the stage of history.

In A.D. 539, during the early years of Emperor Justinian’s invasion of Italy, the newly-crowned Ostrogoth king Vittigis sought to bolster his defense against the Imperial forces led by Belisarius. He requested the assistance of Theudibert (A.D. 533-48), the Frankish king of Burgundy, who agreed to send aid and did so in the form of 10,000 Burgundians.

This enabled Theudibert to claim that he was doing nothing to hurt the Emperor’s cause as the Burgundians acted on their own accord and not by his command. The Burgundians assisted the Goths in the siege of the weakly garrisoned city of Milan. Attempts to relieve the city were mishandled, and while reinforcements dallied, the siege was having its desired affect. Milan was on the verge of famine.

The Burgundians and Goths sent envoys to Mundilas, the Milan garrison commander, and asked him to surrender the city. Mundilas attempted to extract from the barbarians a promise to cause no harm to the inhabitants of the city. However, according to Procopius, “the enemy, though ready to give pledges to Mundilas and the soldiers, were moved by furious passion against the Ligurians and were evidently going to destroy all.” Despite the entreaties of Mundilas, all of his soldiers chose surrender over honorable death. The barbarians left the soldiers alone, “but the city they razed to the ground, killing all the males of every age to the number of not less than three hundred thousand,” according to Procopius. The Burgundians received the women as slaves as repayment for their alliance, and seemed to disappear. This was the final act of a distinctly Burgundian army. After this brief episode, they simply became another group assimilated into Merovingian France and vanished into the mist of history.

UP NEXT: Historiographical Question: Gregory on Clotilda and her Sons--Documenting Historical Vengeance or Creating Political Propoganda?

Wolfram, Germanic Peoples.
Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks.
Marius of Avenches in Murray, Merovingian Gaul.
Avitus of Vienne.
Procopious of Caesarea, De Bello Gothico, Bonn ed. in Dill, Roman Society.
Procopius, History of the Wars, Books V and VI, trans. by H.B. Dewing in Procopius. Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1953).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Rise and Fall of Sigismund

Upon Gundobad’s death in A.D. 517, his son Sigismund was proclaimed king, while his other son Godomar supported his brother and held court at Geneva. Sigismund had converted to Catholicism, guided by Bishop Avitus of Vienne, probably some time around A.D. 501/502. Lucien Musset ventured that Sigismund was “completely in the hands of Avitus and the Catholic clergy. He looked to the Eastern Emperor as his overlord, and addressed him in almost servile terms.” However, Shanzer and Wood counter that Sigismund’s conversion was probably more a result of a visit to Rome than by any direct influence of Avitus.

Besides, the pope or Avitus were not the only Catholics in Sigismund’s life. There were many in the Burgundian royalty who were also Catholic, most importantly Sigismund’s mother, Caratena. Of course, Sigismund’s cousin, Clotilda, was also Catholic, as was her mother and sister. Shanzer and Wood also add that “[i]n fact it is difficult to find named Burgundian women who were Arian.” However, Avitus did have a close relationship with Sigismund. On more than one occasion, he wrote to Sigismund to express his disappointment at not having seen him over Easter or when Sigismund had been traveling through Vienne. On other occasions he wrote of his concern for the safety of Sigismund while on a military campaign.

Sigismund had probably been elevated to the position of rex, or sub-king, by his father, some time around his conversion. Thus, he was most likely quite an experienced politician by the time his father died and he ascended to the throne. While his father was still alive, he had recognized the precarious position of his kingdom geographically between the Franks and Goths and he sought the aid of the emperor in Byzantium. He wrote to Byzantium to re-assert the status of the Burgundian kingdom as technically a legal territory of the empire, or federated regnum, and to maintain good relations between Constantinople and the Burgundian kingdom (Musset probably derived his assessment of Sigismund from these letters).

In his letters, Sigismund reminded the emperor of the role that Burgundy played as a vital part of the empire in Gaul, and, more importantly, lobbied for an imperial position commensurate with one who led such a vital part of the empire. He was rewarded with the title of patricius as a result of this correspondence. Upon his assumption of the Burgundian throne, he received the more important title of magister militum. These events were noticed by Theodoric, whose own relations with Byzantium had crumbled. He attempted to cut off diplomatic traffic between the two, most of which were letters written by Avitus of Vienne, by not allowing Sigismund's messengers to travel through Italy to Constantinople.

Sigismund had a few important accomplishments. He had built a monastery at Saint-Maurice d’Agaune in A.D. 515 and the monks supported him. He added to the Lex Gundobad. Lyons, and possibly Vienne, had schools of rhetoric and archeologists have traced Latin inscriptions to this period. It was he who, in A.D. 517, had called for the royal synod at Epaon and who also held several provincial synods during his reign.

Unfortunately, the Catholic bishops were disappointed by Sigismund’s actions in a case involving his royal treasurer Stephanus in an incestuous relationship with a woman named Palladia. The murderous palace scandal resulted in a “no-confidence” vote by the Catholic bishops and contributed greatly to erosion of ecclesiastical support for Sigismund. Though a resolution was made, Sigismund would never recapture the same standing among the ecclesiastics that he had once held.

Additionally, the revenue stream, increasingly reliant upon the a shrinking pool of Gallo-Roman landholders who saw no such taxation requirements put upon their exempted Burgundian neighbors, may have been drying up. Musset:

Everywhere, in fact, the fundamental resources of the state continued to be provided by the Roman taxation system, the burden of which rested on the Roman inhabitants, through the medium of a government land survey whose registers continued to be kept more or less up to date; the general exemption from taxes which the barbarian estates enjoyed must have diminished the yield as well as increased the burden.

Thus, while the money supply shrank, the resentment among those contributing to it grew.

Sigismund also had problems within his immediate family. His first wife, the daughter of Theoderic of Italy, had died giving birth to his eldest son Sigeric. According to Gregory of Tours account, Sigismund’s second wife disliked Sigeric and conspired to make Sigismund suspicious of Sigeric’s motives towards his father. She convinced him that Sigeric was conspiring with his grandfather Theoderic to seize Burgundy from Sigismund. Her conniving was successful and Sigismund made plans to have Sigeric murdered.

As the story goes, Sigismund got his son drunk until he passed out and then had two retainers strangle him. He immediately regretted his act as, according to Gregory of Tours, he “threw himself on the dead body and wept most bitterly.” Burgundian outrage at this vicious murder combined with the recent loss of ecclesiastical support proved to be Sigismund’s undoing. He might have survived, despite this internal unrest, had not external factors also contributed to his downfall.

UP NEXT: Godomar, Last King of the Burgundians


Wood, “Kings, Kingdoms and Consent"
Avitus of Vienne.
Musset, Germanic Invasions.
Avitus, Epp. 93 and 94 in Opera, ed. Piper, 1883 in Bury, Roman Empire.
Wolfram, Germanic Peoples.
Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms.
Wood, “Incest, law and the Bible in sixth-century Gaul."
Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks.
Marius of Avenches in Murray, Merovingian Gaul.
Kurth, Saint Clotilda.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Christianity in the Burgundian Kingdom

Salvian of Marseille wrote in the 440s that Barbarians are strangers to learning and know nothing unless it is taught to them. Thus, since they were taught heretical, or Arian Christianity, they held that theirs was the true faith and that Catholics were heretical just as the Catholics thought the same of them. This kind of tolerant attitude toward Arian Christians may not have been prevalent, but it may help to explain the tolerance, or at least the lack of antagonism, between the ecclesiastics of each brand of Christianity.

According to Salvian, Roman Catholics and barbarian Arians associated rather freely and probably were more unified by the common aspects of Christianity than they were splintered by dogmatic belief in either being the only true form. In Burgundy, the Roman Catholic Church was treated fairly, probably because the royal house had been divided between Arianism and Catholicism. (Some historians believe the Burgundians went from Catholicism to Arianism and then back again).

It seems that, in general, barbarian rulers kept their Arian bishops close at hand and didn’t appoint Arian bishops to cities, as was done in the Eastern Empire. They resided near him in his capital and performed services for the king and his retinue, but performed few other ecclesiastical functions. Thus, bishops formed a sort of sacred council and they performed special, mostly diplomatic, missions at the request of the king.

Perhaps the barbarian kings were paranoid and sought to keep powerful religious leaders close by to keep an eye on them. Gregory of Tours told the story of how Saint Aprunculus, Bishop of Langres, had become suspicious to the Burgundians because of word of a conspiracy of Catholics in Burgundy with Franks. After the Burgundians put out the order to kill him, Aprunculus “was lowered down from the walls of Dijon” and escaped to Clermont where he was made Bishop.

Ecclesiastics often were involved in plots against their overlords. Ralph Mathisen (“Barbarian Bishops”) wrote of how, when Gundobad captured Vienne, Godegisel fled to an Arian church and was there with an Arian bishop (cum episcopo arriano). Mathisen believed that this hinted that the Burgundians had a patriarch, at least in Vienne, whose loyalty to Godegisel was rewarded by death. Or, writes Mathisen, “perhaps this faithful Arian episcopus was the chief bishop of Godegisel’s sacerdotal college.” Finally, Mathisen showed that, with this one exception, there is little evidence of Burgundian Arian bishops.

Gundobad’s wife, Caratena, was Catholic, and, according to Bishop Avitus of Vienne, her “epitaph suggests that she practiced both sexual renunciation and asceticism.” According to Fortunatus, “she was…the mother of the poor and the advocate of the guilty” and she also “gave proof on the throne of every virtue, concealing beneath a smiling countenance the fasts and austerities with which she subdued her flesh.” For his part, Gundobad was friendly with Avitus, who often urged him to convert and, according to Justine Davis Randers-Pehrson, may have at least partially succeeded in bringing Gundobad into the flock.

Randers-Pehrson noted that Avitus’ letter to Clovis congratulating him on his baptism must have had to have passed through the hands of Gundobad for approval, “in a way it was addressed more to him than to Clovis.” Avitus complimented Clovis for recognizing the true religion, unlike other barbarian rulers, and for breaking with tradition to do so. The implication being that any who used tradition as an excuse to hold onto heretical religion no longer had an excuse. According to Randers-Pehrson, “this argument was not lost on Gundobad, who had long wrestled earnestly with the problem and with his conscience.”

Further, Edward James explained that the process of royal conversion had at least three steps. First, the intellectual conversion whereby Christ is accepted; second the public announcement of the acceptance, and third the formal baptism ceremony and acceptance into the Christian community. According to Gregory of Tours, Gundobad reached the first stage but didn’t dare take the second for fear of reprisal among the Burgundians.

Though nominally an Arian and attended to by Arian bishops, Gundobad had a fertile mind and was able to intelligently argue theology with Avitus. He also encouraged debate between Avitus and his Arian bishops.

Burgundian Arianism seemed to be based on strict adherence to a literal interpretation of the Latin Bible. This literal familiarity with the Bible was an advantage for Gundobad and his bishops, who proved to be more adept than Avitus in citing specific scriptural passages. Avitus made at least one mistaken identification of a biblical excerpt during a debate with the Arians, though he may have been citing from memory rather than relying on a direct reference.

Despite their theological differences, Gundobad did respect Avitus and asked him to write his ‘Against the Eutychian Heresy’ after the Trishagion riots in Constantinople in A.D. 511. This illustrated both the scope of his religious inquisitiveness and that he was politically astute enough to want to be on the “right” side of a religious controversy.

Avitus was in line with the orthodox view evolving during his era and was a strong defender of the pope, whose actions he felt only God could ultimately judge. Avitus viewed the controversy surrounding Symmachus and the Laurentian schism as damaging to Catholicism as a whole, and was especially wary of the considerable strength of Arianism among the barbarian kingdoms.

In this, as in nearly all other theological writings that passed before the eyes of Gundobad, Avitus wrote on theology in hopes of bringing the Burgundians around. To these constant entreaties, Gundobad once replied that he couldn’t worship the Holy Trinity. Avitus assured Gundobad that he could avert attack, possibly from Clovis and his recently converted Franks, if he simply converted. Gundobad’s theological assignment to Avitus prompted Gregory of Tours to believe that Gundobad did eventually convert to Catholic Christianity.

There were instances that seem to indicate that the Burgundians may have encouraged, rather than merely tolerated, Catholicism. Notably, the Catholic bishops of the Burgundian kingdom met at Epaon in A.D. 517, under Avitus, and produced an influential list of canons that served as a basis for laws regarding incest. These included prohibitions against marrying your brother’s widow, deceased wife’s sister, mother-in-law, cousin or child of a cousin, uncle’s widow and stepdaughter.

A pamphlet written by Avitus in A.D. 517, “On Not Assimilating Basilicas of the Heretics,” provided additional information regarding the Burgundian Arian church. It was written in response to the fact that Gundobad’s son Sigismund had been converted to Catholicism. Avitus had been asked if churches and basilicas of the Arians were to also be converted. Avitus asked if the king had consulted with his Arian bishops and made it clear that the conversion of the king did not mean the conversion of the people. As such, the Arian religion continued to be practiced in Burgundy. Interestingly, Gundobad took much more than a philosophical interest in the Catholic church. In A.D. 499, he helped Avitus secure papal recognition making the Bishop of Vienne the primary church authority in Gaul over the bishop of Arles (held by the Goths).

In lands where the ruling class followed their teachings, Arian bishops seemed content and did not actively proselytize among the provincials. Lucien Musset (Germanic Invasions) postulated that “the reason for this was probably the intellectual inferiority of the Arian hierarchy, which was badly equipped for controversy and incapable of contemplating systematic missionary activity.” Danuta Shanzer and Ian Wood (Avitus of Vienne) observed that, while the Arian bishops under Gundobad engaged in a theological debate with Avitus, their penchant for being able to memorize and cite specific biblical passages did not necessarily indicate any ability to ponder deeper theological questions.

This willingness to allow Catholicism to spread and flourish within the barbarian kingdoms made Arianism less attractive and, ironically, ended a period of dynamic theological thought in Gaul. With no intellectual opponent, Gallo-Roman Orthodox Christian writers lost their rhetorical abilities and became more dogmatic in their theology as they relied on others, especially Augustine, to establish a new “theological uniformity,” according to Shanzer and Wood.

The belief that the Burgundians were mostly Arian seems to be an overstated one. Clotilda was a Catholic, as were her sister, and her aunt Caretena. Sidonius indicated that Chilperic I and his wife were friendly with Patiens. The only evidence of an Arian church was during the reign of Gundobad, in which he killed his brother, Godigisil. Yet, again, at this time Clotilda and her sister, and later their cousin Sigismund, were Catholic. As for Gundobad, Ian Wood (The Merovingian Kingdoms) theorizes that Gundobad may have acquired his Arianism during his younger years in Rome, through his relationship with his uncle Ricimer. With the exception of Gundobad, then, nearly every member of the Burgundian royal family seems to have been a Catholic.

UP NEXT: The Rise and Fall of Sigismund


Salvian in Murray, Merovingian Gaul.
Ralph Whitney Mathisen, “Barbarian Bishops and the Churches ‘in Barbaricis Gentibus’ During Late Antiquity,” Speculum 72, no.3 (1997).
Goffart, “Rome, Constantinople, and the Barbarians.”
Dill, Roman Society.
Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks.
Avitus of Vienne.
Kurth, Saint Clotilda.
Leblant, Inscriptions Chretiennes de la Gaule, Vol. I., 70, no. 31, in Kurth, Saint Clotilda.
Randers-Pehrson, Barbarians and Romans.
Hen, Culture and Religion.
Ian Wood, “Incest, law and the Bible in sixth-century Gaul,” Early Medieval Europe 7, no.3 (1998).
De basilicas haereticorum non recipiendis, Epistulae 7 (MGH AA 6/2:35 – 39) in Mathisen, “Barbarian Bishops.”
Marius Aventicensis, Chronica s.a. 523, ed. Theodor Mommsen, (MGH AA 11:225-39) in Mathisen, “Barbarian Bishops.”
Wolfram, Germanic Peoples.
Musset, Germanic Invasions.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Burgundian Code - Some Examples

Roman influences are seen in an important law that removed “the ancient rule of blame” whereby if an animal owned by a man injured or killed another man or beast of another by accident, the owner of the offending animal was not held liable.

The segregation of Roman and Burgundian rights was also safeguarded. Fines were levied to penalize the common practice of Romans petitioning their barbarian overlords to intercede on their behalf in lawsuits between themselves and another Roman, thus reducing the chance that a judge would be swayed by the presence of a barbarian overlord on behalf of one of the plaintiffs.

Some of the laws of Germanic origin can be identified by their titles and provide a more accurate depiction of Burgundian society as it really was than do the more Roman-like, and sophisticated, laws.

For example, “Of Those Who Set Traps For Killing Wolves” dealt with the problem of people stumbling into unmarked traps set by other people. These traps were of the type called tensuras, or drawn bows. This law defined a specific safety device that was required to be in place (Burgundian OSHA, if you will). This warning system consisted of two bows, one on either side of the tensura, each set to shoot an arrow higher than a man’s head so as to send a warning shot that alerted unwary pedestrians of the hidden trap. Hopefully the man wasn't taller than average.

“Of Horses Which Have Bones And Sticks Tied To Their Tails,” law stated the offense in the title and described the punishment to be administered based on varying conditions. The scindola tied to a horse’s tail indicated that someone had tried to scare the horse to avenge some perceived wrong committed by the horse’s master. The hope was that the horse would run around and get hurt or killed. The guilty party was required to pay the owner with a like animal in addition to returning the original to its owner. If the owner didn’t want a damaged animal, then two horses of a quality similar to the original were returned to the owner.

“Of Hounds, Hunting Dogs, Or Running Dogs,” explains that if anyone was presumed to have stolen a dog “we order that he be compelled to kiss the posterior of that dog publicly in the presence of all the people,” or he could pay a fine and a 5 solidi wergild to the dog’s owner.

“Of Falcons” requires anyone presumed to have stolen another’s falcon to either pay a 6 solidi wergild and a 2 solidi fine, or “let the falcon eat six ounces of meat from his breast.” Some translations had it as eating the meat from the top of his head. Neither would have been pleasant.

These laws reveal that, even at this late date, the Burgundians valued their animals, especially those associated with hunting or war, to a great degree. They also indicate a certain sense of humor, as exhibited by the codification of the penalty whereby one was required to become familiar with a hound’s posterior.

Assimilation between Burgundians and Gallo-Romans in the Burgundian kingdom was well underway by the time of Gundobad’s reign. Parts of the Burgundian Code made no difference between the two, with the same penalties applying to both. Still, total assimilation hadn’t occurred, and they were each judged according to different law codes as long as all concerned parties were members of either the Roman or Burgundian group. If a mixed conflict arose, then the Burgundian laws held precedent. Full assimilation would only occur when both groups practiced the same version of Christianity.

UP NEXT: Christianity in the Burgundian Kingdom


Drew, Burgundian Code.
Halphen, “Germanic Society,” in Drew, Barbarian Invasions.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Burgundian Code - Women and Family

There were protective and restrictive laws that dealt exclusively with women. Daughters weren’t allowed admittance to the paternal succession unless there weren’t any sons, though they inherited the clothes and ornaments of their mother. However, they made provisions for a woman to inherit property, so long as no sons were alive and she had taken religious vows.

In a more somber law, the relatives of a young girl who had been raped were allowed to punish the guilty as they saw fit if the guilty was unable to pay proper compensation, though this was an extreme case. Even if in practice men resorted to violent acts of vengeance to right perceived wrongs done to them, the laws usually placed obstacles to this method and attempted to set up a regular procedure before a court.

The Germanic concept of the family was alive and well in the late fifth and early sixth centuries. The man essentially bought his wife and had to hand to the bride’s father an already agreed upon amount, called a wittimon. A third of the amount had to be used to buy a trousseau for the bride.

Also, after consummation of the marriage, the husband set up a marriage settlement sometimes called the “morning gift,” or morgengabe. The Burgundians frowned on intermarriage, though they didn’t make it illegal, just unprofitable. If, for instance, a Roman girl married a Burgundian without her parents knowledge, her parents were under no obligation to pay a wittimon or any inheritance.

Burgundian law restricted divorce to cases where the woman had been convicted of adultery, witchcraft or of violating a tomb. If a man’s wife committed a crime other than the aforementioned, he had no recourse except to abandon everything to her, which could be an expensive alternative. If he wished to separate from her if she had been found innocent, he risked having to pay her a “composition” equal to the amount of the marriage price (wittimon) together with a fine of 12 solidi to the treasury. The woman had no recourse, no occasion in which she could be granted divorce. As Halphen explained, “If she deserted the conjugal hearth, she suffered the penalty of being ‘smothered in the mire.’”

UP NEXT: The Burgundian Code - Some Examples


Drew, Burgundian Code.
Halphen, “Germanic Society,” in Drew, Barbarian Invasions.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Burgundian Code - Outline

One reason for the relative ease with which Romans took to Burgundian rule were the lengths to which the Burgundian rulers went to ensure that Roman citizens were protected. Gregory of Tours said of King Gundobad “He instituted more humane laws for the Burgundians, so they would not oppress the Romans.”

The recent civil war had shown that Franks and Romans of the senatorial class had been fighting alongside Godegisel, and, Gundobad reasoned that he had to address their concerns. For this reason, he used Roman consults to help him frame his law code. Writing of one such Roman, Sidonius said of his friend Syagrius, the “Solon of the Burgundians,” that he educated the Burgundians in Latin and Roman laws and society in general and was thus he able “to implant a ‘Latin heart’ in the Burgundians.”

As Katherine Fischer-Drew explained:

Customary law is a body of moral practices established by the immemorial customs of a people and having a binding moral force rather than the arbitrarily enforced power of statutory law....[Statutory law] is a body of specific statures supported by a positive legal authority and guaranteed and enforced by political power.

Though customary law may seem less defined and less structured, it is generally more respected because of the moral force behind it and thereby more likely to be obeyed than statutory law. This moral force is buttressed by cultural or traditional expectations and is not as easily ignored as statutory law, which requires some authority to enforce its tenets. The Burgundians brought their customary law with them into the Empire while the Romans who found themselves under the rule of the Burgundians maintained their statutory laws.

During the time spanning A.D. 474-516, Gundobad undertook the task of codifying both sets of laws. The Burgundian laws are known under many names--Lex Burgundionum, Liber Legum Gundobadi, Lex Gundobada, la Loi Gombette, and Gombata--while the laws of the Romans are simply known as the Lex Romana Burgundionum. Gundobad’s son Sigismund continued his father’s work after A.D. 516 and his brother Godomar also made some contributions during the waning days of the kingdom.

The Lex Gundobada was a very influential law code and an example of a key transitional stage of law that combined Germanic and Roman laws. The Burgundians had long been exposed to Roman laws and earlier attempts at codifying laws were probably made prior to the Lex Gundoba. Allusions to such laws are located throughout the code.

The Burgundians were also assisted more directly in the composition of the laws by Gallo-Roman assistants. As David Dumville noted, these men had both “ideological as well as practical” reasons for offering their assistance.

Romans were used to thinking of their ruler as a source of judgements; it is easy to see why they should have wished barbarian kings to issue written regulations covering disputes between their Roman subjects and their own people, and this helps to account for much of the character of early Visigothic and Burgundian legislation.

All of the Burgundian laws set the parameters of personal relationships between individuals; no public law was defined. The Lex Gundobada was a trend away from customary law supported by moral ideals toward statutory law based on the political power of a lawgiver, in this case the king.

The Preface of the code stated that the laws were intended to establish standards for the fair treatment of all classes of subjects. The object throughout is to protect both the rights of the Burgundian settlers and the Romans against further encroachments while promoting peace between the two factions. In order to avoid quarrels, amounts of compensation, called a wergild, were set in advance to serve as redemption in lieu of physical acts of vengeance. (A note: Summerfield Baldwin proposed that the wergild fines given throughout the Code were not meant to be a concrete fine structure. Instead, they were provided as a reference for relative worth, in an attempt to set some value that Romans within Burgundy would understand).

For example, the Burgundian law said that the life of a freeman was worth 300, 200, or 150 solidi. A small pig, still sucking, 3 solidi, a small pig already weaned, 1 solidus, for a pig two years old, 15 solidi plus the payment for the capital and interest. As Louis Halphen explained, these different amounts were called “compositions” and the “payment of this sum did not take the place of public punishment . . . but it cut short all later claims from the parties involved and stopped the exercise of private vengeance.”

The class divisions of the Romans and Burgundians in the Burgundian kingdom are not clear, but the Lex Gundobada does provide some hints. There were two general divisions of free and unfree with coloni or originarii in between. The four classes of free men appear to have been the highest, middle and lowest of free men (who were free from birth) and the freedmen, or slaves who had earned their freedom or had been freed by their masters. The freedmen were the lowest of the free class, but their children were considered to be freemen and a freedman could be considered a freeman following the death of his former master.

The nobles (optimates) were the highest class of free men, these were royal servants and officials, but there was no real basis for distinguishing between the middle and lower in the Lex Gundobada. Certain characteristics of the laws indicate that the middle class was closer in standing to the upper than the lower class. Intermarriage among the classes of freemen appears to have been common, though the social standing of the offspring of these unions is unknown. Thus, the main distinction between the classes is indicated by the difference in the amount of wergild assigned to the life of each man.

The coloni were lower than freemen, though they were freeborn and recognized as such before the law. They held land, but they couldn’t be removed from it nor leave it of their own free will, thus their freedom was limited. Burgundian law didn’t recognize social distinctions in the application of penalties, with the exception of differentiating between free and slave. For slaves, the Burgundians were like the Romans whereby they outlined penalties such as lashes of the whip or death whereas they rarely prescribed physical punishment for freemen.

There were only three circumstances in which a freeman or woman was subject to a physical form of punishment. First was a sentence of slavery if a woman was convicted of incest, relations with a slave, or found guilty of complicity if her husband was convicted of stealing horses or cows. Second was the cutting off of the hand if found guilty of forgery or destroying property markers. The third was death in serious cases such as premeditated murder, armed robbery, the venality of judges, or the theft of a slave, horse, ox or cow. Usually, though, the Burgundian offender could pay a set fine (usually 3, 6, or 12 solidi) in addition to any other damages awarded.

UP NEXT: The Burgundian Code - Women and Family

Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks.
Sidonius Apollinaris, Carmina. ed. and trans. Christian Luetjohann, MGH Auctores antiquissimi 8: 173 ff. 1887, in Sidonius, ed. and trans. W.B. Anderson, Loeb Classical Library, 1936.
Wolfram, Germanic Peoples.
Mathisen, Roman Aristocrats.
Dill, Roman Society.
Drew, Burgundian Code.
Bamwell, Emperor, Prefects & Kings.
David N. Dumville, “Kingship, Genealogies and Regnal Lists,” in Early Medieval Kingship, ed. Sawyer and Wood, 126-27.
Halphen, “Germanic Society,” in Drew, Barbarian Invasions.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Reign of Gundobad

Under Gundobad, the Burgundian kingdom reached its greatest height. Theoderic and Gundobad had prevented Clovis from conquering Provence and denied him access to the Mediterranean. Yet, the alliances shifted quickly in this era and, after fighting with Clovis in A.D. 500, Gundobad joined him to fight against the Visigoths at Poitiers in A.D. 507. Theoderic did not participate in this war, perhaps because of the complications inherent in siding with one relative against others.

On the field of Vouillé, near Poitiers, Alaric fell and Aquitaine was annexed to the dominion of the Franks in A.D. 507. The Franks and the Burgundians had also burned Toulouse, and Gundobad sacked Barcelona. Theodoric had warned Gundobad that an alliance with Clovis would be suicide, but the territorial gains had been apparently too attractive to turn down. Unfortunately, as the weaker partner in the Frankish-Burgundian alliance, they were the easier mark for Theodoric, who also made devastating forays into their lands. In the next few years, Theoderic conducted campaigns in Gaul in which he succeeded in rescuing Arles and in saving Narbonensis for the Visigothic kingdom. He also captured Provence from Burgundy and annexed it to Italy. From A.D. 507-509, the Burgundians lost all of their earlier gains.

Despite this territorial setback, Gundobad reigned for sixteen years as sole king of the Burgundians. Under him, the Burgundian kingdom was ruled on the administrative model of Rome even while the military maintained its Germanic characteristics.

Most of the Roman-barbarian kingdoms operated with two governmental constants. The first was the executive power in the form of the martial barbarian king and the second was a Roman bureaucracy with a strong emphasis on law. Gundobad sought advice from both Burgundian generals and Gallo-Roman aristocrats and each administrative district included a dualistic judicial system overseen by both a Burgundian comes who judged Germans and his Roman counterpart who judged Romans. This system is confirmed in the character of Gundobad’s greatest achievement, the Lex Gundobada, or Burgundian Code.

UP NEXT: The Burgundian Code - Outline


Drew, Burgundian Code.
Wallace-Hadrill, Barbarian West.
Chronicle of 511 in Murray, Merovingian Gaul.
Bury, Roman Empire.
Wolfram, Germanic Peoples.
Musset, Germanic Invasions.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Burgundian Civil War

No matter how or why Clovis intervened in Burgundian politics--whether of his own initiative or by invitation from Godegisel--it is clear that he moved to attack Gundobad. For his part, Gundobad was forewarned of Clovis’ movements but unaware of his brother’s treachery, which was why he sent for Godegisel’s aid to ward off the Frank attack. Godegisel assured his brother that he would help.

The three kings met in battle near Dijon somewhere along the shores of the river Ouche. As planned, Godegisel united his forces with Clovis’ to crush the army of Gundobad. Gundobad, no doubt surprised by this betrayal, fled the field and followed the Rhone to the city of Avignon where he gathered reinforcements.

Marius of Avenches wrote of Godegisel's "deceitful machinations" and explained that, "after Gundobad fled, Godegisel obtained his brother’s kingdom for a little while..." Godegisel promised to hand part of his kingdom over to Clovis and went home to Vienne to celebrate his victory. Meanwhile, Clovis moved to attack Avignon and remove Gundobad. According to Gregory of Tours, Gundobad heard of these dire plans and, understandably worried, turned to his wise advisor Aridius who concocted a plan of action.

In short, Aridius pretended to play the part of a turncoat. Clovis’s army had surrounded the city, so Aridius approached the lines of Clovis’s army in the guise of a traitor. He won the confidence of Clovis, apparently because his reputation as a man of knowledge preceded him, and soon became a trusted advisor. Eventually, Aridius convinced Clovis that more profit was to be had from exacting tribute from Gundobad than from ravaging the surrounding lands while laying siege to a nearly impenetrable town. Clovis agreed to the plan to offer such a proposal to Gundobad and sent his army home. Gundobad agreed to Clovis’s proposal, paid tribute for the current year and promised to do so in the future.

Some scholars, setting the story of Aridius aside, believe Clovis had no desire to destroy Gundobad and was happy to only weaken him sufficiently. They trace this back to the influence of Clotilda and proposed that Clotilda acted as an ambassador between Clovis and Gundobad. Further, if Clotilda’s aim was to keep both of her uncles alive, then the fact that Clovis left five or six thousand men with Godegisel before leaving for home could be viewed as an attempt to equalize the forces of Gundobad and Godigisel to prevent more fighting.

Thus, from these circumstances, it could be construed that, because Clovis returned home without having completely vanquished his opponent, his people, unused to such “Frankish moderation,” could not conceive of such an outcome. As a result, they came to believe that what had really occurred was that their king, “in an excess of generous loyalty, had allowed himself to be tricked by the Burgundians.” Rather than Clovis showing mercy to a relative at the behest of his queen, he had been duped by a Gallo-Roman aristocrat.

After Gundobad recovered his strength, and apparently gained the benefit of Visigothic reinforcements, he cavalierly dismissed the need to continue his tribute to Clovis and attacked his brother Godegisel in Vienne, besieging the city. Godegisel, running short of provisions, ordered that the commoners be driven out of the city. Among these people was an engineer who, understandably angered over Godegisel’s callous act, told Gundobad of a way into the city via the aqueduct.

The engineer led some of Gundobad’s men along the aqueduct and they entered the city through an iron grate. Once in the city center, they blew a trumpet signal and Gundobad’s forces outside the city walls crashed the gates and entered the city. According to Gregory, the townspeople were cut to pieces during the melee.

Godegisel hid in an Arian church and was killed with his Arian bishop. Apparently there were still about five thousands Franks who had stayed with Godegisel and Gundobad ordered that they be left alive. His men disarmed them and Gundobad exiled them to Toulouse. All of the Burgundians and Gallo-Roman senators who had supported Godegisel were executed.

Marius of Avenches wrote of this:

[Gundobad] took the city, killed his brother, and condemned to death by many refined tortures a good number of magnates and Burgundians who had been in agreement with Godegisel. Gundobad recovered the kingdom he had lost along with that which his brother had held and ruled successfully down to the day of his death.

Gundobad's victory had wide consequences. The Visigoths received lands from the Burgundians in gratitude for their assistance and Gundobad rewarded Alaric II by ceding Avignon to him in A.D. 501. Gundobad became the sole political figure in the Burgundian kingdom. He had marriage ties to both the Franks and the Ostrogoths of Theodoric, with whom he helped prevent the expansion of Clovis into Provence.

From Clovis’s vantage point, his intervention in Burgundian affairs must have made him realize that he had dangerous neighbors to his south-east, both strong in their own right and allied by marriage and circumstance to the Goths. As Wallace-Hadrill noted, “The Merovingians were seldom astute in their handling of the Burgundians, but they had every excuse to go on trying.” And try they did.

UP NEXT: The Reign of Gundobad

Marius of Avenches in Murray, Merovingian Gaul.
Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks.
Avitus of Vienne.
Kurth, Saint Clotilda.
Wolfram, Germanic Peoples.
Dill, Roman Society.
Goffart, Barbarians and Romans.
Chronicle of 511 in Murray, Merovingian Gaul.
Wallace-Hadrill, The Long-Haired Kings.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Clovis' Role in Stoking the Burgundian Civil War

Around A.D. 500, Gundobad and Godegisel ruled together in Burgundy, though Gundobad was probably the arch-king while Godegisel was his subordinate, probably ruling only the territory around Geneva more directly. The fate of their brother Godomar was not recorded. The cause of their rivalry is unknown, and it appears they had peacefully coexisted for some time.

That Godigisel was the aggressor in the event was evident. Perhaps sibling rivalry or Godigisel’s jealousy over the position and fame of his older brother, or resentment over the partitioning of the kingdom whereby Gundobad had received most of Chilperic I’s former lands, had prompted him to approach Clovis about an alliance against his brother. Clovis had been winning great victories against other barbarian tribes and Godegisel heard of these and sent ambassadors to him asking for aid in attacking Gundobad. In exchange, Godegisel offered tribute at a rate determined by Clovis.

Clovis accepted the offer, and there have been many theories as to why he did. Perhaps he did it simply based on loyalty to his wife’s former guardian. Godegisil had essentially been Clotilda’s foster father and may have been a Catholic himself (Godefroid Kurth, based on his reading of Pardessus, Diplomata, vol.I., observed, “We know at least that in conjunction with his wife Theodelinda, he built the monastery of St. Peter at Lyons.”).

Additionally, as Godigisel was less powerful than Gundobad, he was less of a threat to Clovis, who probably could not have easily passed up an opportunity to severely weaken, if not destroy, a dangerous rival. Some assumed that Clotilda, if forced to choose, probably would have sided with the uncle under whose care she had been given. Kurth, who wondered if, perhaps, Clotilda saw Clovis’s intervention as a chance to save Godigisel rather than to destroy Gundobad, wrote, "[b]ut, at the same time, while coming to the help of the one, she had no wish to make relentless war on the other.”

Similar to this, others have said that the simple fact of being related to the Burgundians was enough motivation for Clovis to get involved. J.M. Wallace-Hadrill (The Longhaired Kings) asserted that, “It was the fact of kinship, not of his wife’s Catholicism...Clovis marched into Burgundy at the invitation of one of his kinsmen by marriage, Godigisel, caring little where it might lead.”

Others contended that Clovis sought to kill Gundobad to avenge the murder of his wife’s parents, though he ultimately did not exact said revenge. And so we arrive at one of the great debates surrounding Clovis and the Burgundians. Was Clovis, and later his progeny, seeking revenge upon the Burgundians? Or was this a useful myth?

Edward James (The Franks) who theorized that though Clovis could have sought vengeance on behalf of his wife, “if he was a more cynical politician than Gregory allows,” then the story of Gundobad murdering Clotilda’s parents “served the Franks as useful propaganda for many years.” Katherine Scherman (The Birth of France) stated there was no direct evidence that Clotilda encouraged Clovis in his conquest of Burgundy because “the Christian bias of the chroniclers” saw the “motive of revenge” as “immoral.” Along the same line, Godefroid Kurth (Saint Clotilda) observed:

To a bloody-minded and barbarous people, in a state of spiritual infancy, how could Clotilda, the great and the good, lack any element necessary to their crude ideal; how could she be otherwise than vengeful, if vengeance were a point of honour, and if to forgive were weakness and cowardice? As surely as the mind of childhood has got its stereotyped king and queen and prince, ever crowned in high state and radiant with gold, so surely has the childlike multitude certain moulds into which every hero or saint must be pressed unless the public imagination is to be pained and shocked.

Some historians, such as Herwig Wolfram, at least partly attributed Clovis’s interest in the Burgundian civil war as a sort of thanks to his wife for helping to convert him, implying that Clovis thought it would be appropriate to fight Arians. Others have countered that, though the conversion of Clovis and his Franks helped him to consolidate power, there can be no doubt that had they been Arian, they would have still attacked the Burgundians and Visigoths because they were looking to expand no matter who was in their way.

Some believed that more earthly, and immediate, circumstances motivated Clovis. After Clovis had captured Soissons and all of her riches, he was aware that his warriors would expect continued success and booty. A civil war would have seemed a perfect opportunity to satisfy his warriors and this may point to the possibility that Clovis could have approached Godigisel about a joint attack on Gundobad.

UP NEXT: The Burgundian Civil War

Wood, “Kings, Kingdoms and Consent"
Kurth, Saint Clotilda.
Wallace-Hadrill, The Long-Haired Kings.
James, The Franks.
Scherman, The Birth of France.
Wolfram, Germanic Peoples.
O’Sullivan and Burns, Medieval Europe.
Randers-Pehrson, Barbarians and Romans.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Clotilda's Political Influence

In addition to the credit Clotilda has garnered for converting her pagan husband to Catholic Christianity, there are other arguments made on behalf of the influence wielded by Clotilda in the political arena. A strong queen could take advantage of the vague definition of her role in the early middle ages. Her presence at the royal court and position as mother to royal heirs gave her access to her husband, his advisers and the royal treasury. At the death of Clovis, Clotilda was probably a very politically influential figure in the kingdom, given the young age of her children and the attachments in court she had no doubt made, including the significant support of the Catholic bishops, such as Remigius.

She would need these contacts and their support, and possibly that of her Burgundian relatives, over the next few years. Clovis left behind four sons, but only three were sons of Clotilda. The eldest son, Theuderic, was much older than his half-brothers and even had a son of his own, Theudebert. He was probably in a politically strong position, with military victories and his own loyal warriors, and was a severe threat to the welfare of Clotilda and her sons. Assuming that a mother would be predisposed to guarantee the welfare of her children, it is plausible to propose that a political compromise was reached between she and Theuderic.

As well as church support, Clotilda may have also called on her relationship with her Burgundian relatives to add muscle to the negotiations. It seems doubtful that Theuderic could be checked solely by the officials of a religion to which he had but recently converted, if he did at all (there is no proof that he followed his father to the baptismal pool).

The bishops and the aristocrats were also probably instrumental in helping Clotilda to define the division of the Frankish kingdom amongst the sons of Clovis. Katharine Scherman (The Birth of France) believed that:

[Clotilda], in an attempt to foster harmony, designated as capitals of the four kingdoms cities in a near arc around Paris....Anticipating the predictable clashes of her hotheaded, only semicivilzed sons, it was likely that she was also the one who persuaded them to respect Paris as neutral territory.

Finally, evidence points to the land division of A.D. 511 between Clotilda’s sons and Theuderic as the first such splitting of inheritance. Ian Wood speculated:

"followed the lines of the old Roman civitas boundaries. The experts here were the bishops and the Gallo-Roman aristocracy. The division is inconceivable without their approval...but it seems plausible to suggest [that the division was a] political compromise [not] tradition.

Wood also argued further that Childebert and Chlothar would later have to make a similar compromise with their nephew Theudebert (son of Theuderic, and perhaps older than his uncles) who had the support of many within the kingdom. This seems to have created a “tradition” of land partition between heirs.

If this is so, what looks to us like Frankish tradition may only have been formed by the political compromises of the first half of the sixth century. One result of such a suggestion must be that in 511 [Clotilda] could not have been certain that her sons, young as they were, would survive.

Regardless of the particulars, it can be inferred that Clotilda's greatest political success was in preserving the birthright, and survival, of her sons.

UP NEXT: Clovis' Role in Stoking the Burgundian Civil War

Ian Wood, “Kings, Kingdoms and Consent.”
Janet Nelson, “Queens as Jezebels: The careers of Brunhild and Balthild in Merovingian History,” in Medieval Women, ed. D. Baker (Oxford, 1978), 31-77, in Elisabeth van Houts, “The State of Research: Women in Medieval History and Literature,” Journal of Medieval History 20
Katharine Scherman, The Birth of France: Warriors, Bishops and Long-Haired Kings (New York: Random House, 1987).

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Clotilda, Clovis and the Conversion

Godefroid Kurth (Saint Clotilda) believed that the relationship of Clovis and Clotilda must have encouraged marital fidelity. There is no evidence that Clovis begat any illegitimate offspring after their marriage. No illegitimate heir surfaced in the years of conflict between the sons of Clovis, which tends to support and confirm that Theuderic was Clovis’s only illegitimate son. Evidence of husbandly accommodation also is provided by his forbearance in allowing his sons to be baptized when there appeared to be no advantage to doing so.

Further, according to Kurth, she must have been comfortable with the relationship if she persistently attempted to sway him to Christianity. If their relationship was not so strong, would Clovis have continued to tolerate his wife’s persistent efforts at proselytizing him? Would Clotilda have felt comfortable in her cause if she had doubts as to the disposition of her husband’s feelings toward her? Writes Kurth: “It is obvious that she must have enjoyed considerable ascendancy over his mind in order to have repeatedly urged so great a sacrifice without fear of violent refusal.”

While there has been much written about Clovis’s battlefield epiphany, Clotilda undoubtedly laid the groundwork for his conversion. Championing Clotilda's primacy as the prime mover behind Clovis' conversion, Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg (Forgetful of Their Sex) writes, it’s “the ‘Christ of Clotilda’ whom Clovis invokes” and “neither St. [Remigius] nor other members of the official church hierarchy were similarly awarded this type of prominence.” In contrast, Wallace-Hadrill asserted that while Clovis showed goodwill to the Catholic bishops by his marriage to Clotilda, the acute act of his marriage to Clotilda did not prompt his conversion, despite the efforts of his wife and Bishop Remigius. However,Wallace-Hadrill was willing to concede that the groundwork laid by Clotilda and Remigius may have played a key part:

The pattern is familiar. Defeat stares him in the face and his gods have deserted him; his thoughts turn to his wife’s god, to whom he prays in his heart for victory; and victory is his. Like Constantine in a similar predicament, Clovis knows that he must throw in his lot with the new god...The parallel with the battle of the Milvian Bridge does not disprove the later story. His wife and St Remigius were there to remind Clovis of Constantine, if he needed reminding.

On the other hand, as I.N. Wood (The Merovingian Kingdoms) noted that Avitus made no mention of Clotilda’s role in converting Clovis, nor of a battlefield conversion, but credits Clovis for finding his own way.

Regardless of who deserves credit for converting the Frankish King, there was a risk for Clovis in deciding to convert. The majority of the Franks were pagan or Arian and for Clovis to maintain his power over the Franks, his bodyguard would also have agreed to convert or they would have disbanded and eliminated Clovis’s power base. Clovis had doubts as to whether they would join him and called a meeting to inform them of his intention. They all agreed to be converted with their king. Thus, around 3,000 of his warriors*, (though this may be an exaggerated number) were baptized with him.

Wallace-Hadrill theorized that Clovis’s conversion wasn’t “total” but more the acceptance of another god “to his people’s pantheon, perhaps in a commanding position.” Still, this is different than baptism and “officially” accepting no other gods but the Christian. This last was probably made easier by the “pantheon” of saints.

But even adhesion calls for conviction of right, and it is no belittlement of Clovis’ act to term it a political decision, taken after weighing Frankish pagan conservatism against the assured approval of the Gallo-Romans.

Perhaps the Gallo-Roman episcopate had finally demanded conversion, or Clovis had thought that the Empire would actively support him against the Goths. Finally, as Wallace-Hadrill points out, “Without Tolbiac [the battle with the Alamans], the proof would have been lacking that the Christian god gave victory over other Germans.” Tolbiac was, to use a contemporary term, the tipping point.

*Kurth believed that the average Frank cared not what the religion of his ruler was, but this was not so for the bodyguard, which was “bound to the king by a pledge of honour, was associated in all his acts and shared in his good and evil forturnes…they shared in all his personal interests, in his friendships and enmities, and his Gods were their Gods. What would become of this intimate communion of views and sentiments when Clovis passed from the service of Wodin to the service of Christ?”

UP NEXT: Clotilda's Political Influence


Godefroid Kurth, Saint Clotilda.
Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg, Forgetful of Their Sex.
J.M. Wallace-Hadrill, The Long-Haired Kings.
Ian Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms.
Justine Davis Randers-Pehrson, Barbarians and Romans.
J.B. Bury, Invasion of Europe.
Samuel Dill, Roman Society.
Jeremiah O’Sullivan and John F. Burns, Medieval Europe (New York: F.S. Crofts & Co., 1943).