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.