Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gundobad - Burgundian King, Early Years

After the death of King Gundioc, Burgundy, according to Gregory of Tours, was divided among his four sons, with Chilperic II reigning at Lyons, Gundobad at Vienne, and Godegisil at Geneva while Godomar's capital is not known. Modern historians have come to believe that Gundobad divided the kingship, but not the physical kingdom, with his three brothers.

For instance, Herwig Wolfram (Germanic Peoples) noted that this was a uniquely Burgundian political system and that it was confirmed by the historical/legendary Niebelungenlied. On the other hand, other historians, such as Ian Wood, (“Kings, Kingdoms and Consent”) and P.S. Barnwell (Emperor, Prefects, & Kings), explain that, given that Lyons seems to have been the residence of the “primary” king, it would seem that Chilperic II may have been the eldest son of Gundioc. This is supported by the fact that it was Gundobad who went to Rome to make his name, a route that probably would not have been followed by the eldest son and heir but was commonly followed by second, or younger, sons. ( Further, to support the contention that Lyon was the "king's" seat, when Chilperic II died, Gundobad assumed his seat in Lyons and was then regarded as the primary king among the Burgundians).

It is believed that, under this system, while the younger sons were given territories with urban residences in Geneva, Vienne and Valence, they did not actually divide up the realm for a split rule. In short, while Gundobad’s brothers were also kings, he was high king. It is possible that instead of ruling, they administered specific regions and collected the tax revenue generated in the region they administered. This configuration may have been influenced by similar arrangements made by the Huns, who some scholars believe the Burgundians emulated.

Sidonius wrote two letters that shed light on some of the political machinations within Burgundy shortly after Julius Nepos took the throne. In the first, a letter to his uncle Appolinaris, he related how Appolinaris’s brother Thaumastus was worried for Appolinaris. As Sidonius wrote:

He is certain that the venomous tongues of certain villains have been secretly at work, whispering in the ear of the master of the soldiers, the ever-victorious Chilperic, that it was chiefly your doing that the town of Vaison was won over to the side of the new emperor.

That Chilperic II would be upset at any that supported the rival to his kinsman’s choice for emperor was understandable. Thus, if Chilperic II believed these rumors, Appolinaris had much to fear. More importantly, this could be taken as evidence that the relationship between Chilperic II and Gundobad was not one in which fratricide would be the ultimate outcome.

Sidonius assured Apollinaris that he would be his advocate and investigate the charges. In a subsequent letter to Thaumastus, Sidonius related that he had discovered who the rumor mongers were and bemoaned the fact that Apollinaris was in a dangerous situation. However, Sidonius also provided some hope to Thaumastus. In an allegorical passage, he praised Chilperic II’s wife:

But the chief consolation in our troubles is this: our Lucumo is restrained by his Tanaquil. With a timely and witty word, she rids her husband’s ears of the poisonous tales instilled there by whisperers. You should know that up till now it has been her doing that the mind of our common patron has not been poisoned against the well-being of our brothers by these younger Cibyrates; God willing, that will never happen while the present power rules a Lyonese Germania, and our present Agrippina exerts her moderating influence on her and our Germanicus.*

Sidonius held this unnamed queen in high regard. His account of her advising her husband is almost all that is known about Chilperic II’s wife.

The Burgundians were politically and militarily strong prior to the emergence of Euric at the head of the Visigoths. Yet, with his emergence and the nearly simultaneous establishment of another Gothic kingdom in Italy, they sought imperial assurances and support. In A.D. 474, the Burgundians and the Empire renewed their old treaties and the Burgundian kings were allowed to re-assume Roman military offices. Situated in Rome at the time, Gundobad most likely had a large part to play in these negotiations.

In the Auvergne, up until around A.D. 475, the Burgundians supported the efforts of the Gallic senators to oppose Euric. However, they were distracted by conflict with the Alamanni over the Langres, Besancon and the Jura, which they successfully gained (thus part of Lugdunensis I and all of Maxima Sequanorum fell into their hands). During this time, Euric persisted in his attempts to obtain the rich country of Auvergne, which held out for four years. Perhaps as a result of the relative inattention of the Burgundians, the Auvergne was eventually ceded to him as part of a peace agreement with Julius Nepos in A.D. 475.

The agreement greatly strengthened the Goths, who had already conquered Spain and the Aquitaine. The peace lasted for a year, then Euric seized Arles and Marseilles. Anthemius’s successor, Zeno, could not change the situation and conceded southern Provence to the Goths. The Burgundians, wary of their dangerous neighbor, also made peace with Euric.

From A.D. 474, when he left Rome, until A.D. 490, little, if anything, is known of Gundobad’s actions, though it is not too far of a stretch to assume that he took some part in the battles against the Goths and also in negotiations with both Rome and Constantinople. However, in A.D. 490, Gundobad took advantage of the conflict in Italy between Odovacar and Theoderic the Ostrogoth, and sent an army into northern Italy to pillage the countryside.

He may have done so in support of Odovacar, he may have been playing the vulture, or he may have been wary of being caught between two Goth kingdoms and hoped a preemptive strike would weaken Theoderic to prevent such a situation. He also may have had more legal matters in mind, too, as he would later claim that his actions had been to gain compensation at the expense of the Ligurians for the violation of a treaty on the part of one of their rulers. What is clear is that, by this time, it seems Gundobad was the preeminent king among the Burgundians.

Gundobad pillaged the countryside and took Ligurian captives and, his goal accomplished, returned to his lands before Theodoric could muster a force to confront him. Shortly thereafter, Theoderic sent an embassy to parley for the return of hostages. Bishop Epiphanius was head of this diplomatic group and was accompanied by Ennodius, who wrote:

Liguria had been devastated by the Burgundians; King Gundobad had carried thousands into captivity, and no husbandmen were left to till the soil and tend the vineyards. Theoderic was prepared to ransom the captives, and he charged Epiphanius with the office of persuading the Burgundian king to release them. The bishop, notwithstanding his infirm age, undertook the cold and difficult journey over the Alps in March (A.D. 494), and was received by Gundobad at Lyons. To the arguments and prayers of the envoy, Gundobad, who was an excellent speaker, replied with the frank and cynical assertion that war permits and justifies everything which is unlawful in peace. ‘War ignores the bridle of moderation which you, as a Christian luminary, teach. It is a fixed principle with belligerents that whatever is not lawful is lawful when they are fighting. The object of war is to cut up your opponent's strength at the roots.’ He went on to say that a peace had now been concluded — it had been sealed by the betrothal of a daughter of Theoderic to Gundobad's son Sigismund — and that if the bishop and his companions would return to their homes he would consider what it were best to do in the interests of his soul and his kingdom. Epiphanius had gained his cause. Gundobad set free all prisoners who were in his own hands, without charge, and those who were the slaves of private persons were ransomed. More than six thousand were restored to Italy.

Theoderic had to contend with four chief powers; the Visigoths, the Burgundians, the Franks, and the Vandals. As such, he used his female relatives as agents of political alliances. As alluded to in the above passage, Theoderic gave one daughter Ostrogotho-Areagni** to Gundobad’s son, Sigismund, and another, Thiudogotho to the Visigothic king Alaric II. He himself married Audofleda, sister of the Frankish king Clovis. There is no chronology of the marriages, though it is probable that the marriages of Theodoric and Clovis took place before those of Theodoric’s daughters. The marriage between Sigismund and Ostrogotho was probably formalized by A.D. 496 and occurred no later than A.D. 497.

With these marriages, Theoderic hoped that close family ties with other barbarian powers would both maintain peace in Western Europe and secure his own position in Italy. Gundobad also saw the diplomatic benefits of royal marriage and arranged for his niece, Clotilda, to marry the Frank king, Clovis.

* Lucumo/Tanaquil and Germanicus/Agrippina are allusions to Chilperic I and his wife. The first were a legendary king and queen of Rome and the second were involved in Roman politics and intrigue c. A.D. 20. The Cibyrates were two brothers who helped Verres, a governor of Sicily, plunder his province in 73-30 B.C. There is some confusion regarding this unnamed Queen, with some scholars confusing her with Gundobad's wife, Caratena.

** Theoderic additionally gave gifts to Gundobad, including a sun-dial, a water-clock, and a celestial globe.

UP NEXT: Clotilda


Jordanes, Goths.
Bury, Roman Empire.
Wolfram, Germanic Peoples.
Bury, Invasion of Europe.
Chronica Gallica, DXI, ed. Th. Mommsen Chronica Minora I, MGH AA 9 (1892), 664-666, trans. A.C. Murray in Murray, Merovingian Gaul.
Avitus of Vienne, Shanzer and Wood.
Barnwell, Emperor, Prefects, & Kings.
Murray, Merovingian Gaul.
Heather, “The Huns”.
Michael Frassetto, ed., “Gundobad,” in Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe: Society in Transformation (Santa Barbara, Cal.: ABC Clio, 2003).
Michael Frassetto, ed., “Gundobad,” in Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe: Society in Transformation (Santa Barbara, Cal.: ABC Clio, 2003).
Ian Wood, “Kings, Kingdoms and Consent.”
Sidonius, in Murray, Merovingian Gaul.
Dill, Roman Society.
Ennodius Opera, ed. Hartel, (1882), 276, 369, (Hist. Misc. 15.16) in Bury, Roman Empire.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I just wanted to say hi :)