During the late 5th century, the Burgundians were threatened by the Visigothic king Euric, who had succeeded his brother Theodoric II as king of the Visigoths in A.D. 472 under suspicious circumstances. Euric made forays into Gaul and seized Bourges and Arles and rampaged along the Rhone valley. Fear of immediate, prolonged war with the Burgundians tempered his actions, but he left the land in tatters, facing imminent famine. (It was during this time that the archbishop Patiens gathered and dispersed food throughout the countryside at his own expense).
Around A.D. 470, the Burgundian king Gundioc died and was succeeded by his brother Chilperic I, who apparently took his duty as an imperial federate seriously, if actions are any indicator. Chilperic pushed the attacking Visigoths out of the lower Rhone Valley. This conflict devastated the surrounding countryside, and hit the Romans especially hard.
Gundobad was a son of Gundioc and had joined the imperial service as a protégé of his uncle, Ricimer, the Patrician of Rome. (See, for example, J.B. Bury, Invasion of Europe, p.164, for the explanation that Ricimer’s sister was wife to Gundioc, Gundobad’s father. Thus, Ricimer was Gundobad’s uncle). In A.D. 472, Italy was essentially divided into two kingdoms. One was ruled by the Western Emperor, Anthemius, in Rome, and the other was ruled by Ricimer in Milan. Ricimer, who also happened to be Anthemius’s son in law, raised Olybrius as Western Emperor, attacked Anthemius in Rome and was victorious. Anthemius disguised himself and hid in the church of St. Chrysogonus after his supporters surrendered to Ricimer. His disguise failed and he was discovered and killed by Ricimer and Gundobad.
Ricimer died six weeks after the death of Anthemius and Emperor Olybrius replaced him with Gundobad. Upon Olybrius’s own death in A.D. 473, Gundobad selected an unknown named Glycerius as his candidate for Emperor of the West. Glycerius, perhaps in a show of gratitude, also appointed one of the Gundobad’s kinsmen, either Chilperic I (Gundobad’s uncle) or Chilperic II (Gundobad’s brother), as master of soldiers in Gaul, based in Lyons, in A.D. 474. The confusion over which Chilperic was so rewarded is an ongoing debate.
Many historians believe that this title was conferred upon Chilperic I, Gundobad’s uncle and brother to Gundioc, as a reward for defending against the Visigoths in the Rhone valley around A.D. 470. However, some, like Danuta Shanzer and Ian Wood (Avitus of Vienne, 209) point out that it is also unclear which Chilperic, either Gundobad’s uncle or his brother, was named Magister Utriusque Militiae and Patricius in A.D. 474 and then continued to rule in Lyons and Geneva.
It is my belief that since Gundioc and Chilperic I assumed leadership of the Burgundians shortly after Chalons (A.D. 451), it seems plausible that the title of MVM was probably given to Gundobad’s brother Chilperic II, who would have been close in age to his brother and more militarily active than a relatively old uncle, and thus a more likely candidate to mount a defense against Euric’s Visigoths. We'll probably never know for sure.
Emperor Leo had disagreed with Gundobad’s imperial selection and sent Julius Nepos to Rome to take the throne by force. Gundobad did not wait for Julius Nepos and instead departed for the realm of the Burgundians, perhaps to solidify his claims of inheritance against those of his brothers. Thus, with no real opposition, Nepos arrived in Italy, unseated Glycerius and was proclaimed Emperor at Rome on June 24, 474.
Gundobad’s activities in Rome as both magister militum and patricius exposed him to the Roman court. He was probably well educated, perhaps more than any other of his contemporaries, and he, again, more than any other barbarian king, was familiar with imperial politics and the workings of Rome. This familiarity proved valuable in his later career as king of a nation of Burgundians and Romans.
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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).