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).


Melisende said...

Very much enjoying the foray into the Burgundians. And looking forward to the next instalment.

Howard said...

Hi Marc,

I have some detailed questions on your "last King" post. Hope you don't mind.

1. When Gregory says, as you quote “Godomar won back his kingdom a third time”, do you understand that to mean literally that this was the third time Godomar had won back his kingdom (i.e. the 4th time he had held the kingdom)? Or, that he won back his kingdom, and held it therefore a 3rd time? In any case, how do you count the 3 or 4 times? 1st as co-king with Sigismund prior to 523? 2nd as sole king after recovering from the Frankish invasion of 523? 3rd as king after recovering from Chlodomer and Theuderic's invasion of 524? 4th ???

2. Following Gregory of Tours you put Theuderic's ravaging of Clermont (why do you refer to it as "Burgundian loot"?) at about the same time as the final invasion of Burgundy (Thorpe, Gregory's Penguin translator, says it was in 532). But it could not have been then because of the following facts:
a. It was during Theuderic's invasion that Arcadius was expelled from Clermont, and went to Childebert's court in Paris.
b. Later Arcadius helped Childebert and Clothar murder Chlodomer's sons aged 10 and 7 (a third son was probably even younger).
c. Chlodomer died in 524.
Therefore Theuderic's ravaging cannot have been later than 531. Moreover, at the time of Theuderic's ravaging of Clermont, Gregory says that Quintianus was bishop there. But other sources imply that Quintianus died on Nov. 13 525 or 526.
So unless there was another invasion of Burgundy by Childebert and Clothar in 525 or 526 (which seems unlikely), it seems that Gregory must be wrong in linking Theuderic's ravaging of Clermont with any action in Burgundy. What do you think?

3. You say "Lothar and Childebert besieged Autun in A.D. 534 and forced Godomar to flee Burgundy a fourth and final time." Again, I'm not sure what you are counting as the previous 3 times. Can you clarify?

4. You say that Godomar ceded "the territory north of the Durance to the young Ostrogothic king" in c. 530. My understanding was the opposite --- that Amalasuntha restored this territory to Godomar at this time (it had been annexed by Theodoric in c.524).

5. You say "when attacked by the Franks again in A.D. 532, the Ostrogothic army only fought to reestablish its former borders." What is the source for this war between Ostrogoths and Franks in 532, and which former borders do you mean?


Marc said...

Wow! Not sure if I can get to this all at one time....

1) I read it, as you put it, "he won back his kingdom, and held it therefore a 3rd time".

2) Way to many timelines for me to follow right now. I'll have to look into this....

3) I quoted from Gregory, you're right, it doesn't seem to jibe as the evidence suggests. Maybe ol' Greg new of another instance? Not sure. To add to the confusion, there's Procopius( History of the Wars, 3:133, p.135) who 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 “whole land which the Burgundians had previously inhabited they made subject and tributary to themselves.”; and Marius of Avenches (in Murray, Merovingian Gaul, p.103) wrote that the Franks took Burgundy, divided it and caused King Godomar to flee. Again, I don't have all of the sources handy to review.

4) & 5) My source for these two points was Herwig Wolfram, Germanic Peoples, p.257 (and thereabouts). I don't have the book handy to refer back to, but I followed this interpretation (doesn't mean I can't change my mind!)

Howard said...


1) Ok. I agree this seems most likely.

2) No worries, I will wait.

3) I can't find anything in Gregory that mentions a 4th time. All I can find is "Lothar and Childebert ... besieged Autun, forced Godomar to flee, and occupied the whole of Burgundy." Could it be you interpolated the "4th time" because of what Gregory said in (1)?

4) Interesting. I also do not have this book to hand, so I'd like to know what Wolfram says. I can't remember all the sources I read to come by my opinion, but:
a) Peter Heather "The Goths" says (p. 254) that the Goths annexed the Burgundian land north of the Durance in 523. This is based on Cassiodorus, Gregory, and Procopius I think.
b) Cassiodorus (Variae XI, 1) implies that c. 530 the Burgundians were handed back some territory by Amalasuntha.

5) I haven't read any source about a war between the Ostrogoths in 532. Perhaps this is related to Jordanes' claim that during the reign of Amalasuntha some "long held lands" of the Goths were "returned to the Franks". I had assumed that here "Franks" was an error for "Burgundians" because of 4(c). I can't think what lands the Goths would have taken from the Franks though. And anyway, this is the opposite of what you said about the Ostrogoths re-establishing their borders.