The Invasion of Europe
by the Barbarians
The Reign of Clovis
IN the last lecture I traced the first efforts of the Salian Franks to advance in north-eastern Gaul under their kings Chlodio and Childeric. Perhaps I should rather say indicated than traced, for the meagre notices of our sources amount to little more than an indication. We now come to the greatest of all the Merovingian kings, the creator of the Merovingian power, the man who stands out between Julius Caesar and Charles the Great as most powerfully moulding the destinies of Gaul. It is indeed only in the reflected light of what Clovis achieved that the small successes of his great-grandfather win their importance and significance.
Clovis, son of Childeric and Basina, succeeded his father in A.D. 481. Though darkness broods over his reign of thirty years, and though, considering the greatness of his work, we know little as to how he accomplished it, we have at all events some fixed  chronological points for tracing his gradual advance. His first movement was against the imperial power which still maintained itself in a portion of northern Gaul, encompassed by barbarian kingdoms. Aegidius, the protector of Gaul, had been succeeded by Syagrius. We do not know what exactly was the official title under which Syagrius represented the Emperor in Gaul. Up to 480 the Emperor he represented was Julius Nepos, after 480 the Emperor whom he represented was Zeno; but Zeno at Constantinople could do nothing to help him. He was practically, though not formally, an independent ruler, and the Franks naturally came to regard the Roman province which Syagrius governed as his own kingdom. Hence he is called in their tradition "king of the Romans"; and, what is more, he is looked upon as son and successor of Aegidius, who again is considered the son of Aetius. In fact, in Frankish tradition, the last three defenders of imperial Gaul appear as a dynasty of Roman kings, and a pedigree, mounting higher, was made out for them. That is a very interesting illustration of the form in which popular tradition expresses historical facts. Syagrius resided at Soissons, and against Soissons Clovis moved in 486. A battle was fought; it is generally called the battle of Soissons, though I do not think it was necessarily fought just at that city. Syagrius was utterly defeated, and he fled to the court of the Visigothic king at Toulouse. Alaric II., son of Euric, was that king. He was not prepared to go to war with the Franks, and when Clovis sent a message peremptorily demanding that he should deliver up the fugitive, he complied.
A famous incident occurred in connection with this conquest which is characteristic and instructive.  There was found in the booty a beautiful vessel, a work of art, belonging to a certain bishop, and the bishop sent a particular entreaty to Clovis to restore it to him. Gregory does not mention the bishop's name, but it can be shown, almost to a certainty, that it was Remigius, bishop of Reims. The king desired to do this favour to the bishop, and he told him to come to Soissons where the spoils were to be divided. At the division of the spoils, the king requested his warriors to reserve this vessel for himself, and all consented except one, who declared that the king should not have more than his legal share, and followed up his protest by breaking the vessel with a stroke of his axe. The Frank was within his rights; the king was forced to suppress his wrath. But next year Clovis held a review of his army. Singling out the offender, he found fault with something in his equipment, and snatching a weapon from him threw it on the ground. The soldier bent down to take up the weapon, and Clovis split his skull with his axe, saying,"Thus didst thou to the vessel of Soissons."Probably this incident has an historical basis; it certainly is not a Frankish legend; it was rather derived from an ecclesiastical source, as the subject indicates; and it has been conjectured with much probability that Gregory's source was the Life of St. Remigius, the bishop concerned, for we know that this biography was consulted by Gregory. The instructive points in the incident are two: first, the policy of Clovis, though he was still a pagan, to conciliate the Gallo-Roman bishops; secondly, the limitation of the royal power at this period; the Frank warriors are all on an equality with the king at the division of the spoils; one of them fearlessly  asserts this equality, and the king cannot resent it; he can only bide his time for revenge. Such an incident would hardly have happened a generation later. Now, in respect of this limited character of the kingly power, it is important to remark that there were other kings among the Salian Franks besides Clovis, though he was pre-eminent. There was a king called Ragnachar who reigned at Cambrai, and there was another, Chararic, both kinsmen of Clovis. It has been thought by some critics that these kings must have been suppressed, and all the Salians united under the sole authority of Clovis, before he conquered Syagrius and the Roman province. I believe that this criticism is wholly from the purpose. Gregory tells us, and his authority may very well be a notice in the Annals of Angers, that Ragnachar co-operated with Clovis in that expedition. And the tradition which records how Clovis marched against Chararic and destroyed him records this act just after the war against Syagrius, and accounts for it by the circumstance that Chararic held aloof from that war. The truth seems to be that it was his success in that war and the heightening of his prestige that enabled Clovis to take steps to make his own authority sole and undivided over the Salians, and to get rid of the other kings. As the stories of his dealings with these kings were derived by Gregory from native legends, and as legend could be taken for fact, Clovis's character would be established as that of a cruel and bloodthirsty tyrant. But an examination of them shows that no inference can reasonably be made; the means by which he is represented to have annexed the kingdoms of his kinsmen are certainly not historical; and national epics love a perfidious and successful hero.
 There is, however, one chronological indication of Clovis's authority over the Salians. We learn that at this time, 486, he attacked the Thuringians. Now, an aggression against the kingdom of Thuringia beyond the Rhine seems at this period of Clovis's reign highly improbable, in fact out of the question; and therefore we may take it that the Thuringian name here too refers to the land of the Salians, the Belgic Thuringia, and that this expedition of Clovis was one of the steps by which he became sole sovereign of the Salians.
With the conquest of Syagrius the power of Clovis, as I have said, reached to the Seine. It was followed by a further extension, of which we have no direct historical record and which we can only infer from subsequent events, an extension to the Loire. Here the people with whom Clovis had to do were partly men of our own race—the Saxons, against whom his father and the imperial generals had fought together.
The legendary character of the story is patent, but in this case the very basis of it is entirely fictitious. Clotilda had nothing to avenge; Gundobad had not committed the murders of which the story accuses him. His friendly relations with his brothers are, as it happens, attested in a letter which was written to him by Bishop St. Avitus to console him for a daughter's death. "On former occasions", says the saint, "you wept with unutterable emotion the loss of your brother, and your people sympathised in your grief". This passage does not refer to Godegrisil, another brother who strove with Gundobad and perished in the struggle; it must refer to Chilperic. The testimony seems definitely to exclude the hypothesis that Gundobad slew Chilperic, as the legend assumes. Besides this, the epitaph of Chilperic's wife, Clotilda's mother, has survived in a church at  Lyons. Her name was Caretena, and she died in the year 506, many years after her daughter's marriage. This legend, then, of the wicked uncle is not in accordance with historical facts: how did it come to arise? It has been shown beyond question that it originated after the great war of A.D. 523 between the Burgundians and the Franks, in which King Sigismund of Burgundy and his family tragically perished. It was to explain the origin and reason of this later war, which seemed so tragic because the royal families of the two nations were so closely allied, that popular imagination invented the story. If Clotilda were not avenging some old wrong, how could she have permitted her sons to destroy her kinsmen? Thus was suggested the story of old wrongs, a former scene in a poetical drama of injury and revenge. The connection is manifested by the mode in which the crime is made in the legend to correspond to the revenge. King Sigismund and his wife were slain and thrown into a well; accordingly, Chilperic's wife must be slain along with him and thrown into the water; again, two sons of Sigismund perished with him; therefore two sons of Chilperic (who may have never existed) must perish with him. We can thus safely conclude that the true Gundobad was not the sanguinary tyrant of later tradition, nor was Clotilda the bearer of tragedy and doom to the Burgundian house as she appears in the story.
The incalculable importance of Clovis's adhesion to the Catholic faith has been fully recognised by historical writers. They emphasise it strongly as an event of ecumenical consequence—Welthistorische Bedeutung. What they have not seen clearly enough is that the event was not an accident or a sudden inspiration. It was, so far as I can see, the crown of  a consistent, calculated policy, which displays Clovis's high intelligence and eminently statesmanlike perception. To suppose that he was not conscious of the political bearings of what he did, to believe that it was the toss of the dice or a freak of circumstance whether he became a Catholic or an Arian, is to hold an opinion of Clovis's mental power which is inconsistent with his great achievements. For observe that this was not a case of foreseeing future contingencies, or discerning the small germs of great developments; no second sight was necessary; it was simply a case of taking a wide and statesmanlike view of the political situation, estimating the conditions in which his kingdom was placed, and choosing the policy which would best tend to its consolidation. It was the sort of problem which has often occurred and has often been solved. But it is solved by reflection and craft, not by chance or the happy hits of an unthinking ruler. What makes us prone to misapprehend and misrepresent to ourselves the intellectual calibre of a statesman like Clovis is the circumstance that the barbarians, the Franks of Clovis's time, Clovis himself, had a naive side, and that this side—a certain simplicity and childishness, combined with cunning—is what is chiefly reflected in the traditions as recorded by Gregory of Tours and Fredegarius. And so an idea is shaped of a bold warrior, primitive and childlike in his notions, capable of astuteness and cunning in his dealings, but one with whom are associated no higher qualities of statesmanship, such as become the founder of a great state. Such a conception of Clovis cannot but be untrue; the paucity of our material unfortunately has suffered the error to exist.
I have given you the usually received account of  Clovis's conversion, depending on the account of Gregory of Tours. It is, I think, in the main points correct, with the explanations which I have suggested. But I have still to tell you that a document exists which is, so far as it goes, of much higher authority than Gregory of Tours, and which creates a considerable difficulty. It is nothing less than a letter from Remigius, bishop of Reims, to Clovis himself; in fact, a political document of incontrovertible authority; but we must be sure that we understand it. Two letters of this Bishop Remigius to Clovis are extant; one of them, the less important, is an epistle of condolence on the death of the king's sister, Albofledis, who was a Christian, and from its tone one would certainly never suspect that the person to whom it is addressed was not a Christian. But the other letter to which I have to direct your attention suggests very strongly that Clovis was a Christian when it was written. The bishop exhorts him always to resort to the advice and counsels of his priests: Sacerdotibus tuis debebis deferre, et ad eorum consilia semper recurrere. He tells him: hoc imprimis agendum ut Domini judicium a te non vacillet. So long as there was nothing to determine the date of this letter, there was no difficulty, for it could be taken for granted that it was subsequent to 496 and Clovis's conversion. But it has recently been suggested that the letter contains an indication of its date. The bishop states his motive for writing to the king in his opening words. As they stand in the MSS. they are extremely obscure and indeed obviously corrupt. Rumor ad nos magnum pervenit administrationem vos secundum bellice suscepisse. Rumor magnum—I am not responsible for the gender, and I suspect neither was Remigius, but  what the bishop meant was:"An important piece of tidings has reached us that you have undertaken the administration of"—something. Secundum bellice makes nonsense. The usual resort has been to insert rei after bellice, and the meaning is supposed to be "that you have undertaken for the second time the administration of military affairs". Such a statement is unintelligible in reference to Clovis. The words secundum bellice have been brilliantly emended by Bethmanns into Secunde Belgice, "that you have undertaken the administration of the Second Belgica". But if this simple correction is right, it would seem to follow, as Gundlach has pointed out, that the letter was dated soon after the victory of Soissons, which brought the province of Belgica Secunda under Clovis's power. That is, it would be written in 486 or 487, ten years before the date assigned by Gregory of Tours for Clovis's conversion. But the letter seems almost necessarily to imply that Clovis was a Christian when it was written. Therefore, concludes Gundlach, the story in Gregory of Tours which connects that conversion with the victory over the Alamanni is false. Clovis was a Christian before the battle of Soissons.
Now, if this view were true, we should be met by a considerable difficulty. Why should ecclesiastical tradition, which gloried in Clovis as the first Christian king of the Franks, have conceived the thought of injuring his reputation by representing him as a pagan during the first fifteen years of his reign, if he was in reality for all or most of that period a Christian? This seems to me a very grave difficulty, and I cannot help thinking that the general tenor of the ecclesiastical tradition must be correct. How then are we to interpret the letter? Are we to say that the tone of  the letter and the expressions in it which seem to imply Clovis's Christianity are delusive, and that the bishop designedly adopted that tone with the purpose of suggesting that Clovis should no longer be content with showing goodwill towards Christianity, but should now adopt that religion himself? Foreseeing the probability of the king's ultimate conversion, the bishop might have taken upon himself, proleptically as it were, to address him as if he were a Christian. This is just conceivable, but I hardly think we could without distinct evidence admit it as a probable explanation.
Of course the simplest way out is to say that, after all, Secunde Belgice is only an emendation. But it is an emendation of a very high order of probability. The context requires the designation of a territory or province, and as the MSS. give Secundum bellice, it seems quite impossible to escape the conviction that Secunde Belgice is what the bishop wrote, seeing that the bishop's own see of Reims was in that province. We must admit, in my opinion, that Bishop Remigius in this letter did refer to the Second Belgica, but I am not prepared to accept Gundlach's conclusion as the only possible one. On the contrary, the evidence points, I think, to another conclusion of great interest and importance. Accepting the general truth of the ecclesiastical tradition that Clovis's conversion was not brought about till 496, it follows that this letter of Remigius in which the king's Christianity is implied was written after that year. Therefore it was after that year that Clovis undertook the administration of the Second Belgica.
It follows then that after the victory at or near Soissons in 486, Clovis did not immediately take into  his own hands the direct administration of the provinces included in the so-called regnum of Syagrius; he left the administration to the imperial functionaries; he allowed the old organisation to remain unchanged; he contented himself with exerting a controlling influence.
Now, in the first place, this conclusion is probable in itself; it would show that the growth of the Frankish power under Clovis was more gradual than is generally supposed; not until after his great victory over the Alamanni did he feel in a position to exert direct and immediate rule over the Belgic province in which he had overthrown the regime of Syagrius, and to incorporate it fully in his dominion. In the second place, this conclusion seems to me more in harmony with the contents of the letter of Remigius. I find it very difficult to believe that that letter could have been written immediately after the victory of Soissons. It does not contain a syllable of reference to the battle, or to Syagrius. It is the letter of one who sympathises with Clovis, not of one who has just received the news of a very unwelcome fact of which he has to make the best. If it were really written just after the defeat of Syagrius, we should have to believe that the bishop was a traitor to the Roman government, and secretly favoured the Frankish invader: we should have to assume that the expression "You have undertaken the administration of Belgica Secunda" is a nicely calculated euphuism for "You have defeated our general".
Such is the brief story of this most important event, so far as it can be reconstructed from the records of the annals. The lordship of Aquitaine hereby passed from the Goths to the Franks; it became part of Francia in a wide sense of the term; and the authority of Clovis extended to the Pyrenees. The Visigoths were not indeed entirely driven beyond  the mountains. They continued to keep, and kept throughout the Merovingian period, the territory of Septimania, with the seaboard, as far as the mouth of the Rhone. But their centre was now transferred to Spain. Thus, with the exception of Septimania, Burgundy, and Provence, and the Breton peninsula of Armorica in the north, all Gaul was now united under the king of the Franks.
The overthrow of the Visigoths made a deep impression on the Gallo-Roman Church, and the impression is preserved in the pages of Gregory of Tours, who adorns his account of the campaign with various miraculous incidents, of which the ecclesiastical origin is apparent. The Gallo-Roman Christians, such as Gregory of Tours himself, looked upon the war as religious, and as justified by religion; the Visigoths were Arians, and therefore war against them was righteous, however unprovoked. Gregory represents Clovis as invading their kingdom without any provocation. "It vexes me", said Clovis to his followers, "to see these Arians holding a part of Gaul. Let us attack them with God's aid, and, having conquered them, subjugate their land". We need not take this story literally, but it expresses an important historical fact, viz. that Clovis's Visigothic war stands out among his other wars as one in which he had the enthusiastic support, not merely of his own Franks, but of the Gallo-Roman Christians and the Church. Soon after his return from Aquitaine, Clovis founded at Paris the Church of the Holy Apostles, afterwards the church of St. Geneviève. The tradition was that before he set out against Alaric, he made a vow to build the church if he should return victorious, and marked out the limits of the site by hurling his  axe, according to the German custom of taking possession of a domain. We cannot determine, and it matters little, whether he did make such a vow; the important point is that the clergy of the Church, rightly or wrongly, connected its foundation with the victory over the Visigoths. This, like many other stories which circulated among the Gallic ecclesiastics, may have no historical actuality; but they have all collectively historical importance—we may say historical truth—in reflecting accurately the impression which the conquest of the Visigothic kingdom made upon Gaul and especially upon the Church.
The enlargement of his kingdom by the annexation of south-western Gaul altered the centre of the realm, and rendered it expedient for the king to move his residence farther west than Soissons. He fixed on Paris, which then, at the very moment when the greater part of Gaul became co-extensive with Francia, was chosen for preeminence—a preeminence soon lost amid the divisions of the kingdom, but finally reasserted in confirmation of Clovis's choice.
The founder of the Frank monarchy died in 511, and for the last three years of his life he was by virtue of his consular title formally recognised by the  Empire. That title was doubtless a recognition of his championship of orthodoxy against the Arian Visigoths. Actually it made no change in the situation; but it is significant as illustrative of the relation of the Empire to the Germans who were dismembering it.
[The Lombard Invasion of Italy]