The Invasion of Europe
by the Barbarians
Visigoths and Franks in Gaul
But Euric was no less active in Spain than in Gaul. His predecessors had constantly made incursions into Spain against the Suevians, and had generally cooperated with the Romans. In fact, in these Spanish wars they might be considered as continuing the work of Wallia, as imperial federates, helping to protect Roman Spain against the Suevians. Euric continued the war against the Suevians; but it carried him much farther. He not only conquered a part of Suevic territory, but he extended his power ultimately over the whole of Roman Spain, except a few strong places on the coast. We may say that by the year 478, all Spain, except the north-western corner where the disabled and weakened Suevian kingdom continued to exist, had been incorporated in the Visigothic kingdom. By the year 481 Euric's dominion stretched from the Straits to the Loire. In Gaul it was bounded by the Atlantic, the Loire, and the Rhone, with the addition of Provence, east of the Rhone. It was now at the  height of its territorial power, and it seemed in these years, from 480 onwards, far the greatest and most promising state of western Europe. In fact, anyone surveying western Europe at that moment could hardly have failed to conclude that its destinies depended on the Visigoths.
I think it is likely that the subjugation of all Gaul was a dream which Euric dreamed, and hoped to realise. His policy is thus expressed by Jordanes, who was no doubt copying Cassiodorus: "Euric saw the frequent change of Roman Emperors and the tottering state of the Empire: so he determined to be independent and to subdue Gaul." This general statement of Euric's policy is borne out by the facts; he made very considerable steps towards carrying it out. It is possible that if he had lived longer he might have done more. But I do not believe that he or any other king of the Visigoths, however able, could have accomplished Euric's dream unless they had fulfilled one condition. I come here to what was probably the principal and radical cause of the remarkable failure of the Visigoths, notwithstanding their splendid promise. It was their religion; they were Arians. If Euric or his son Alaric had embraced the Catholic creed and brought about the conversion of his people, the course of history in Gaul might have been quite different. The weak joint in the armour of the Visigothic kings was the antagonism of the Roman population and their clergy to their heretical rulers. This cause of weakness was not confined to the Visigoths: it appears with similar effects in the case of the other great East German kingdoms. I think it is not too much to lay down the general proposition that the Arian heresy was one main cause of the striking fact  that the East German peoples who had begun so brilliantly, sweeping, as it were, all before them, ended their career in failure. The three leading cases are the Vandals, the Visigoths, and the Ostrogoths. The overthrow of the Vandal kingdom by the forces of the Empire might never have been achieved but for the fanatical devotion of the Vandals to their heretical creed and their persecution of the Catholic provincials. It was the same with the still shorter lived Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy; for, although the Ostrogoths did not persecute, their rule could never establish itself on a popular basis because they were Arians; and it was the difference in faith, keeping the Goths and the Italians apart, and the rallying of the Italians to the side of an orthodox conqueror, that conduced above all to the success of the imperialist armies which reconquered Italy under Justinian. The Visigothic kingdom did not come to an untimely end like the Vandal and the Ostrogothic; yet it not only fell short of the success which it seemed likely to achieve, but it did collapse suddenly in Gaul. But before we consider that collapse we must follow the history of the Franks.
Like all the other German peoples, the Franks had their heroic songs, and these songs were not only about  the remote past; they celebrated living or recently dead chieftains, together with recent and contemporary events. Historical facts were altered by popular imagination, and gradually cast into legendary moulds which conformed them to the spirit of epic poetry. The existence of poetry of this kind can be proved among all the chief German peoples. That the character and origin of these narratives have been so slowly recognised is due to the semi-critical attitude of Gregory in receiving and recording them. He did not know the Frank tongue himself, and he must have got friends who knew the songs to tell him the gist of them. He evidently distrusted these Frank traditions, but he had no other source, and was obliged to make use of them. But he shows his distrust and contempt for them, as compared with written sources, by never designating them, or referring to them by any more particular formula than ut ferunt, or the like. He mentions his written authorities because he regarded a written authority as a guarantee of correctness; but he had little respect for popular rumour or tradition, and did not consider it a guarantee at all. This is the characteristic sceptical attitude of the Roman man of letters to oral tradition. You understand, then, that the Franks of Gregory's time had their heroic songs not only of the remote past, but also of the very recent past; and that the popular imagination was still busy in Gregory's own day with the invention of new works of poetical creation.
Let us see what we can make out of this material concerning the early history of the Franks. The first Salian king of whom Gregory of Tours tells us is Chlodio, and here too it can be shown that he gained his information not from any written sources, but  from the traditions, the poetical traditions, of the Franks. I may quote verbally his notice of Chlodio: it is highly important. "It is related that Chlodio, a brave man and the most noble of his race, was at that time king of the Franks. He lived in the stronghold of Dispargum, which is in the borders of the Thuringians. Chlodio sent reconnoitrers to the city of Cameracum (Cambrai): they explored the whole district, and then Chlodio followed, defeated the Romans and captured the city, where he resided for some time. Then he occupied all the country as far as the river Somme." This notice is a brief summary of the drift of a Frankish tale of which Chlodio was the hero. You observe here the land of the Thuringians means a land west of the lower Rhine on the north-east border of France. You observe too how Gregory is, in spite of himself, under the influence of his source. In such a brief notice he might better have left out the details of the sending forth of reconnoitrers and the king himself following subsequently; we ought either to have more details or none at all. Fortunately for us he has left them in; for they indicate clearly, as Kurth has pointed out, that he was abbreviating from a much fuller story in which those details had interest and significance.
The stronghold of Dispargum is, no doubt, historical; we need not doubt that it was a stronghold north of the great forest, the Silva Carbonaria, which bounded the Frankish territory on the south. But what about Chlodio himself? Is he a historical person or a legendary figure? If we had no evidence but this notice of Gregory of Tours we might feel considerable doubt as to his reality. But by a lucky chance we have another piece of evidence which completely  reassures us that Chlodio was a real king of the Franks, and one, moreover, which gives us a chronological date. This important testimony is found in a poem of Sidonius Apollinaris. The poet describes an episode in the career of the great Roman general Aetius, his own contemporary. He tells how Chlodio with his Franks invaded the plains of Artois. He encamped near a place called Vicus Helena, and his warriors, deeming themselves quite secure, celebrated the wedding of one of their comrades. As they are engaged in songs and festivity, Aetius is suddenly seen on the road descending into the valley. The Franks, taken unprepared, are routed, and the bride and bridegroom fall into the hands of the conquerors. This precious text assures us, in the first place, of the reality of King Chlodio; in the second place, it shows us that the Frank tradition is historically correct in representing Chlodio as trying to extend his dominion in the direction of Artois; in the third place, it gives us a date for King Chlodio's reign, since the incident recorded by Sidonius can be fixed to the year A.D. 431 or thereabouts. But how very instructive the existence of this testimony is! Sidonius was not a historian; and it was only a chance that he should have chosen to tell this story. If he had not told the story, the existence of Chlodio would have been a subject for legitimate doubt. It is a most useful warning to us, that tradition must be criticised and not merely set aside.
In the present case, Sidonius also furnishes a valuable clue for criticising the record of the Frank tradition. In the account of Gregory, Chlodio first seizes Cambrai, which implies that he penetrated through the Carbonarian forest, and then proceeds to reduce all the land as far as the Somme. These achievements  are conceived in this tradition as a single great successful expedition. That this conception was not historical is shown by the story in Sidonius, from which we learn that the able Roman general was in the field against the Franks, and that he drove them back. We must therefore conclude that the conquests of Chlodio, if they did finally reach to the Somme, were achieved slowly and not in one glorious advance. That the national song should have pressed into a single enterprise events that were scattered over years is perfectly natural.
We have now two fixed points in the advance of the Franks; 358 for their advance from the island of Batavia into Flanders, and 430-431 for their next advance southward in the direction of the Somme. After this we lose sight of them again until the invasion of Gaul by the Huns in 451. At that crisis, as we saw, the Salians embraced the cause of Rome. They were still, of course, regarded as part of the Empire, living within its borders, and nominally subjects of the emperors. But we are not told who was king of the Salian Franks at the battle of the Mauriac plain. Now, according to the Frankish tradition as recorded by Gregory, King Chlodio was succeeded by Merovech or Meroveus, and Merovech by Childeric. About Childeric there is no difficulty or doubt; we know that he was already king in A.D. 457. But the intervening Merovech is surrounded by mystery. Our only definite notices of him are derived from Frank legend, and they hint at some curious secret about his origin. Gregory of Tours has no doubt about his existence; but he was in doubt about his birth. He says mysteriously "Some believe that Meroveus is of the seed of Chlodio"; but he does not mention any rival theory.  Clearly he wished to believe that Merovech was Chlodio's son: but the Frank tradition raised such doubts that he felt himself unable to speak positively. Fredegarius teaches us what the legend was. Merovech was the son of the queen, Chlodio's wife; but his father was a sea-god, bistea Neptuni. Perhaps you may think that the existence of this legend is sufficient bo throw doubt on the very existence of Merovech. That would be a hasty conclusion. The fact that Merovech comes in between the historical Chlodio and the historical Childeric seems to be a certain guarantee of his reality. If he were merely, as has been supposed, the legendary founder of the Merovingian family, then legend would have placed him before, not after, Chlodio. The legend is probably simply an attempt to explain his name, which means Son of the Sea.
Childeric is a somewhat clearer figure than Chlodio, but around him too legends grew up in which popular imagination dealt freely with historical facts. These legends were known to Gregory of Tours and Fredegarius, and they have preserved not very much, but at least some indications which are of service. There was a tale which told how Childeric and his mother were led into captivity by the Huns, and how he was delivered by the loyalty and devotion of a Frank, Wiomad, who enabled him to escape. This was a common type of tale—we have other examples—escape from captivity achieved through the cunning of a faithful and crafty esquire or servant. But you observe that the historical setting is accurate; it is perfectly in accordance with probability that Childeric, then a youth, might have been captured when Attila invaded Gaul. In my opinion, so much of the story is probably true: an actual captivity of Childeric at  the Hunnic court is the most likely explanation of the origin of the story, which must have had a historical motif. And if so, it will follow that it was not Childeric, but his father, Merovech, who was present at the Mauriac battle.
The other legend of Childeric to which I must refer is that of his marriage. The name of his wife was Basina; she was the mother of the great Clovis. As to her reality there can, I think, be no doubt. The name of Clovis's mother must have been remembered, and besides we know that at a later time Basina was a name in the Merovingian family. But a curious story was set afloat as to who Basina was and how Childeric came to marry her. It was related that Childeric led such a dissolute life, and committed so many acts of violence, that the Franks were roused to indignation against him and he was forced to flee. Before he fled, one of his friends, the faithful Wiomad, undertook to appease the people during his absence and prepare the way for his return. They split a piece of gold, and Wiomad was to send his half to Childeric as a token when the favourable time had come. Childeric found refuge in Thuringia with King Basinus and his wife Basina. The Franks then chose the Roman general Aegidius as their king. Through the machinations of Wiomad, the rule of Aegidius became heavy and unpopular, so that at the end of eight years the Franks regretted their exiled monarch. Wiomad then sent the token; Childeric returned to his land and resumed his kingship. Shortly afterwards Basina left her husband and fled to the homestead of Childeric. When he asked her why she had come so far, she replied, "Because I know your bravery. If I had thought that there was one braver than you, even  beyond the sea, I would have sought him." Then Childeric took her to wife.
I need hardly point out to you the legendary shape of this narrative, whatever facts underlie it. It can be shown that two distinct legends and motifs have been combined. You observe the incongruity of the dialogue between Childeric and Basina with what goes before. Childeric has been living for eight years at her court, and yet he asks her why she has come, as if he had not the faintest suspicion. The dialogue, in fact, presumes no previous acquaintance. This suggests that originally the story of Childeric's meeting with Basina had no connection with the story of his exile in Thuringia. The combination of the two stories was a later thought. And of course it is an absurdity, or at the best highly improbable, to suppose that Basina was the wife of Basinus the Thuringian king. Basinus and Basina ought to be the names of brother and sister, but it was not likely to happen that they should be the names of king and queen. Basinus, or rather Bisinus, king of Thuringia, was a historical person; we have indisputable evidence of his existence; but Kurth is perhaps right in his view that it was just the resemblance of names between the historical Basina and the historical Basinus (each of whom came into a story about Childeric) that suggested the interlacing of the two stories. How much historical fact may we glean from these traditions? From the one, we can only infer that Basina was the name of Childeric's wife and Clovis's mother. The original legend represented her as coming to the king of the Franks, somewhat like the Queen of Sheba to Solomon; but we do not know whence she came. The other tradition, which represents Childeric as exile in Thuringia and  the Franks submitting to the sway of the Roman general Aegidius, has undoubtedly an historical motif, and I venture to think that we can disengage its main significance. Observe, to begin with, that the introduction of Aegidius is quite in harmony with the historical circumstances of Childeric's reign, for just as Chlodio's Roman antagonist was Aetius, so Childeric's Roman antagonist was Aegidius. The story that the Franks voluntarily elected Aegidius as their ruler can be nothing more than the legendary explanation of Roman success at their expense. If Aegidius drove back the limits of their encroachment, regained for the Empire territory which they had occupied, forced them to give tokens of submission to the imperial authority, such humiliation, puzzling to national pride, was presently explained in their poetical tradition by the flight of their king and their own free choice of the Roman conqueror. The main fact which we can determine is that in the days of Childeric there was, for a brief space, a rolling back of the Frankish advance, a revival of the imperial power in north-eastern Gaul. But it is certain that the legendary exile of Childeric to Thuringia must also have had a motive. Can we determine that too? I suggest that we can. If the Franks were decisively driven back by Aegidius, what did that mean but that the territory over which Chlodio had extended his power was recovered by the Empire, and the authority of Childeric was restricted to their old seats in the land north of the Carbonarian forest, the land which the Franks themselves, as we saw, knew as Thuringia. Here, I suggest, is the clue. The repulse of the Franks into the western, the Frankish Thuringia, from their more recently acquired territory, which passed from under  their king's authority, was the motive of the story of their king's exile, and the double meaning of Thurigia was the circumstance which determined the character of the legend. The Childeric of history had to retreat into Thuringia, that was the historical starting-point of the legendary invention; only Thuringia as counted as the eastern Thuringia; and hence the retreat of Childeric was transformed into an exile at foreign court. For this exile a motive was found in he tyrannical government of the king; and it in turn furnished a motive for the choosing of Aegidius by the Franks as their ruler.
The next operations in which we find Childeric  engaged are also on the Loire, after the death of Aegidius, but still as a Roman ally, a Roman federate. This time it is not against the Visigoths that his aid is needed, but against another foe—a foe whom we do not associate with Gaul but with our own island. It is a notable fact that the Saxons in the fifth century attempted to found kingdoms in Gaul as well as in Britain; they sailed for the Loire as well as for the Thames. They failed in Gaul, but in other circumstances they might have succeeded, and there might have been a Gallic Saxony. It was a remarkable anticipation of what happened in the ninth century, when the Northmen did what the Saxons had tried to do and had only partly done. Yet the Saxons did leave a mark, though it was a small mark, in Gaul. Some of the settlements remained distinct until late times, especially in the Bessin, in the region of Bayeux. But in the time of Childeric they were a terror to the cities of the Loire. Soon after the battle of Orleans they seem to have plundered Angers (under a leader named Adovaerius—a name clearly the same as that of Odovacar, the ruler of Italy). On the death of Aegidius, which happened about this time, the defence of the Roman provinces in north Gaul devolved on a certain Count Paulus; and his task was to withstand the encroachments of the Visigoths and to defend the land against the Saxons. Childeric and his Franks helped Paulus as they had helped Aegidius, and fought against both Goth and Saxon. The first object was to prevent the Saxons from capturing Angers, and Childeric successfully held the city. This success was followed up by active operations against the Saxons, and finally Adovaerius was forced to submit and enter Roman service. The general fact then to remark is  this: that the rise of a Saxon power in north Gaul was arrested at an early stage and frustrated by the united action of the imperial authority and Childeric.
After this, Syagrius, the son of Aegidius, is the representative of the Empire in Gaul, and we hear nothing as to the relations subsisting between him and Childeric. But we may consider it certain that there was no further territorial advance on the part of the Salian Franks so long as Childeric lived. Childeric died in 481, and he was buried at Tournai, which was his chief place. His tomb was discovered there in 1653, and in it were found the remains of his royal cloak, his arms, and many gold ornaments.
[The Reign of Clovis]