Posted by: ken98 | May 11, 2010

Unexpectedly Expensive Saints, the Last Roman (Again), and La Belle France is Founded

Day 243 – Ken here (T)(5-11-2010)
(DEF II, v.3, ch.38 pp.450-460)(pages read: 1550)

A short day today. OK, I admit it – I have less than a compelling interest in the successor barbarian kingdoms of the Roman West. Well, little or no interest actually. Today we spend all day with Clovis and the beginnings of the French monarchy. I’m finding it difficult to get my interest ratcheted up for this.

But… here goes…

The Story
Revolution in Gaul
  • The Gauls for centuries had been the great terror of Rome – in the 370’s BCE, the Gauls had been the first to sack Rome (and the last for 700 years)
  • Since they had been thoroughly civilized and citizens (literally – Roman Gaul was a land of cities) – they had lost their martial ways and were more Roman than the Romans (who had also lost their martial skills)
  • Odoacer “gave” all the land north of the Alps, and Spain to the Visigoths – to King Euric (476-485), if you can give what you can’t defend
  • The cities of Gaul – what was left of them, and of Spain now centered around the Visigothic court
  • The new King Alaric (485) of the Visigoths – an infant – meant that the other barbarian nations had an opportunity to expand. The Salian band of the Franks would take advantage of that opportunity.

    Clovis – King of the Franks (481-511)
  • Clovis commands a very small part of Europe, and an even smaller army – he becomes a war-leader for the tribes of the north and gains command of them through fair dealings, justice, and most important – WINNING BATTLES and DIVIDING SPOILS
  • Clovis dies young – at 45 – but manages to make his Salian Franks the new overlords of Europe above the Pyrenees

    Clovis versus the Last Romans – Syagrius (486) and the Kingdom of Soissons
  • Syagrius – son of Aegidius – inherited the north-central part of Gaul – a desolate region much worked over by marauding bands
  • After Odoacer had been recognized by Eastern Rome, Syagrius continued to rule in northern Gaul – as a dux, not a king or an emperor – he maintained he was ruling a Roman province
  • Clovis attacked repeatedly and managed to bring the kingdom and Syagrius down at the the famous battle of Soissons (486) – which could be one more “End Date” of the Roman Empire in the West.

    Clovis Converts to Christianity
  • Clovis dedicates one of his battles to the Christian God and the God of his wife Clotilda – Clovis wins, and becomes a Christian with the rest of his bodyguard and army
  • He was baptised at Rheims – so coronations of French Kings takes place here from now on


    Map showing the Lost Kingdom of Syagrius - Kingdom of Soisson (457-486).  When the Eastern Roman Empire recognized Odoacer as the barbarian general running the West - not as emperor, but -UNDER- the Eastern Roman Empire (a blatant fiction), northern Gaul held out as an orphaned Roman province, governing itself, until Clovis dismembered it and swallowed it whole into the emerging barbarian kingdom of the Salian Franks (b. of Soisson - 486).  This date (486) is another one of those End of the Empire in the West dates.  How lonely and terrible must it have been for northern Gaul to have been isolated and left to hang by the Empire

    Map showing the Lost Kingdom of Syagrius - Kingdom of Soisson (457-486). When the Eastern Roman Empire recognized Odoacer as the barbarian general running the West - not as emperor, but -UNDER- the Eastern Roman Empire (a blatant fiction), northern Gaul held out as an orphaned Roman province, governing itself, until Clovis dismembered it and swallowed it whole into the emerging barbarian kingdom of the Salian Franks (b. of Soisson - 486). This date (486) is another one of those End of the Empire in the West dates. How lonely and terrible must it have been for northern Gaul to have been isolated and left to hang by the Empire

    The Last Bit of Rome – The Lost Kingdom of Soissons (457-486)

    This from Wiki (here):

    The Domain of Soissons originated in the reign of the Western Emperor Majorian (457–461). Majorian appointed Aegidius to be magister militum of the Gallic provinces. The only remaining Roman territory in Gaul was in the northwest, with a small strip connecting it to Italy. During Majorian’s reign, that corridor was annexed by the Germanic tribes now occupying Gaul, thus effectively cutting off Aegidius and his citizens from the Empire.

    Aegidius was allied to Childeric I, king of the Salian Franks of Tournai, and helped him defeat the Visigoths at Orléans in 463. According to Gregory of Tours, Aegidius even ruled the Franks during Childeric’s banishment, but Childeric later returned from exile. It is possible that the Groans of the Britons, referring to a Romano-British request for military assistance after the Roman departure from Britain, may have been addressed to Aegidius.

    Aegidius continued to govern until his death on the Loire in 464, either by poison or by violence. He may have been murdered at the orders of one of Childeric’s enemies. His Comes Paulus of Angers was killed shortly afterwards, possibly on the same campaign. At that point Aegidius’s son, Syagrius, took his place as ruler. Syagrius governed using the title of dux (a provincial military commander), but the neighboring Germanic tribes referred to him as “King of the Romans”; hence the name of his enclave. In 476, under the rule of Syagrius, the Domain of Soissons failed to accept the new rule of Odoacer who had dethroned the last Western Emperor earlier that year. While both Syagrius and Odoacer sent messengers to the East Roman Empire, the Eastern emperor Zeno chose to offer legitimacy to Odoacer instead of Syagrius. The Domain of Soissons cut all ties with Italy and had no further recorded contact with the Eastern Roman Empire. Even after 476, Syagrius continued to maintain that he was merely governing a Roman province. The Domain of Soissons was in fact an independent region.

    Childeric died about 481, and his son Clovis I became the Frankish king. Clovis made continual war against Syagrius, and in the end took over all his territory. Syagrius lost the final battle of Soissons in 486; this victory is remembered by many as Clovis’ greatest victory.[3] Syagrius fled to the Visigothic king Alaric II, but the Franks threatened war if Syagrius were not surrendered to them. Syagrius was sent back to Clovis, who had him executed in 486/7.

    On Absolute Truth in History – Gibbon’s Prejudices – Absolute Francophile, Fanatical Brit, Admirer of All Things Swiss

    Gibbon must have been feeling pressure from his fellow British citizens for preferring to live in Switzerland over England. He also had a love for the French, and the Swiss that definitely affects his history of the Roman Empire – esp in the West. He does not have any particular love for the Germans. For that reason, the French monarchy, and the evolution of the Swiss Cantons hold a place of pride in his history of the later empire. Germany kind of fends for itself for now. That might prove a problem, as we’ll see later on.

    In a preface to his 4th volume, Gibbon makes a point (to his English readers) of displaying his British pride, but he can’t help praising his adopted country – Switzerland, and the French and the French language. You get the feeling that (along with his unpopular opinions about Christianity) Gibbon is doing a lot of backpaddling about his enthusiasm for England, and its citizens.

    This from Gibbon:

    I shall soon revisit the banks of the lake of Lausanne, a country which I have known and loved from early youth. Under a mild government, amidst a beauteous landscape, in a life of leisure and independence, and among a people of easy and elegant manners, I have enjoyed and may again hope to enjoy the varied pleasures of retirement and society.

    But I shall ever glory in the name and character of an Englishman; I am proud of my birth in a free and enlightened country; and the approbation of that country is the best and most honourable reward of my labours.

    (DEF II, v.4, Preface)

    Truth and History

    It is impossible to write a history – even write a sentence in a private letter – without utilizing some kind of viewpoint. Using a viewpoint implies an ability to see some things, and overlook others – in other words viewpoint implies a selection process (which is another word for prejudice – not a bad thing, unless you’re unaware of your own). A viewpoint-less text would include every detail about everything, known by anybody at all, written down in no particular order – as even the order in which you list facts requires selection.

    That is not to say there is no such thing as absolute truth (revealed reality) and that all things are relative (and therefor – as some would argue – all things are equally true – an absurd viewpoint to take in my opinion, since it is an imaginary one). Truth is possible even though all we are capable of at best is a partial truth – all of us can as faithfully as is possible, transcribe the truth as perceived from our own viewpoint.

    Truth and This Chapter

    Gibbon is a British expatriate, living in Switzerland and in love with all things Swiss, and (many) things French. Gibbon is unique in that he often identifies his sources, and so we have a good idea why he was thinking a certain way. This chapter (38) is typical (and dangerous) – because in it, Gibbon admits he is relying upon an admittedly massive and comprehensive work – an 11 volume French summary/compendium of French history (Benedictine, the Recueil des Historiens des Gaules et de la France – Paris 1738-1767 of Dom. Bouquet). That he is using it to write the earliest chronology of (what he calls) the French monarchy is troubling. Obviously a national history written by nationals themselves (esp. a French one written by the French) is going to be biased in its choice of sources to include/exclude, and in its arguments.

    This from Gibbon:

    Note 001
    In this chapter I shall draw my quotations from the Recueil des Historiens des Gaules et de la France, Paris, 1738-1767, in eleven volumes in folio. By the labour of Dom Bouquet and the other Benedictines, all the original testimonies, as far as A.D. 1060, are disposed in chronological order, and illustrated with learned notes. Such a national work, which will be continued to the year 1500, might provoke our emulation.

    (DEF II, v.3, ch.38, fn.1)

    I’m not sure if this chapter may not end up being another throw-away chapter of dated, nearly-useless French posturing, justifying the age and legitimacy of the French monarchy, and glorifying it over all others. In the 19th century (1800’s – in the generations after Gibbon) the trickle of jingoistic, patently-fictionalized “national” histories reaching back to the end of the Roman Empire in the 400’s became a flood. Much of the literature of history, even well into the middle of the 20th century has to be taken with a grain of salt and a great deal of ancillary research to know what the historian is saying, and what he is not. Any bibliography which quotes primarily from historians, and not from original documents is suspect right off the bat. That is the problem with Gibbon’s relying upon Bouquet’s Recueil

    Gibbon is also living in Lausanne, Switzerland and loves it. For this reason (even in this chapter – in the 400’s) Gibbon makes a point of tracing “Swiss” history into barbarian kingdoms and tribes. Again, a prejudice we just have to be on the watch for.

    Of course, Gibbon is an Englishman, and a Brit of the Upper Class with all that that implies. He defends the Constitutional Monarchy, Moderate Protestant Anglicanism, and markets, empire, the supremacy of Northern Europeans, and trade at every opportunity.

    El Greco's famous painting of St. Martin of Tours dividing his cloak for the beggar.  Saint Martin was not nearly so generous with Clovis and Clovis's warhorse

    El Greco's famous painting of St. Martin of Tours dividing his cloak with the beggar. Saint Martin was not nearly so generous with Clovis and Clovis's warhorse


    Last Word…
    The Expensive Saint – Saint Martin of Tours

    Gibbon notes that in a “spiritual” transaction – where Clovis dedicated items he personally owned to the Saint’s church if he won, and after winning, attempted to buy the items back (substituting money for the pledged possessions) – a minor miracle took place – and one of those possessions could only be dislodged from Saint Martin’s Church at a greater cash price than Clovis had anticipated. Gibbon cautions us that his resulting comment was not skeptical or meant to be ironic or satirical. It is an interesting moment in Gibbon’s history when Gibbon reveals himself to be more a man of his times than a historian. But this is the beginning of well-annotated, sociological history-writing – and Gibbon is writing for the entertainment of his readers more than writing for professional historians.

    What, though, is Gibbon getting at in proving that Clovis was a most-Catholic king? Ardent Francophila is all I can deduce from this passage. Gibbon is famous for NOT liking Catholics, and saints. A very strange paragraph. This paragraph seems to have more to do with some pan-European cultural Christianity – and the attempt by Gibbon (and French historians) to paint over the beginnings of France with a liberal whitewash of “Catholicity” to show it as a very European country since the beginning of the kingdom. Again, very 18th century, very strange, and not very “Enlightened” or rational.

    Things to note about this passage: Clovis was probably very sincere – Late Antiquity saw little difference between visible and invisible persons (unlike an 18th century gentleman like Gibbon), so a monetary transaction with a saint would be as commonplace as harvesting wheat you planted – a natural outcome in the natural order of things. Gibbon is not getting this. Also, substituting money for actions/etc is a very Germanic custom – persons convicted of murder could either be turned over to the family for punishment, or what was more likely, the murderer was fined a specific amount of money for the “damages” of the murder. Substituting money for a pledged warhorse would be another very natural thing for a German to do.

    Here is the passage in Gibbon:

    Yet the king of the Franks might sincerely worship the Christian God as a being more excellent and powerful than his national deities; and the signal deliverance and victory of Tolbiac encouraged Clovis to confide in the future protection of the Lord of Hosts.

    Martin, the most popular of the saints, had filled the Western world with the fame of those miracles which were incessantly performed at his holy sepulchre of Tours. His visible or invisible aid promoted the cause of a liberal and orthodox prince; and the profane remark of Clovis himself, that St. Martin was an expensive friend, (33) need not be interpreted as the symptom of any permanent or rational scepticism. But earth as well as heaven rejoiced in the conversion of the Franks.

    On the memorable day when Clovis ascended from the baptismal font, he alone in the Christian world deserved the name and prerogatives of a catholic king. The emperor Anastasius entertained some dangerous errors concerning the nature of the divine incarnation; and the barbarians of Italy, Africa, Spain, and Gaul were involved in the Arian heresy. The eldest, or rather the only son of the church, was acknowledged by the clergy as their lawful sovereign or glorious deliverer; and the arms of Clovis were strenuously supported by the zeal and favour of the catholic faction.

    and in the footnote:

    Note 033
    After the Gothic victory, Clovis made rich offerings to St. Martin of Tours. He wished to redeem his war-horse by the gift of one hundred pieces of gold, but the enchanted steed could not move from the stable till the price of his redemption had been doubled. This miracle provoked the king to exclaim, Vere B. Martinus est bonus in auxilio, sed carus in negotio. (Gesta Francorum, in tom. ii. p. 554, 555.)

    (DEF II, v.3, ch.38, p.459-460, fn. 33)

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