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.