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KING ATAULF had no intention of establishing a permanent dominion in Italy. As an occupation of Africa seemed hopeless he turned towards Gaul in the year 412, probably making use of the military road which crossed Mt Genèvre via Turin to the Rhone. Here he at first joined the anti-emperor Jovinus (set up in the summer of 411) who had a sure footing, especially in Auvergne, but was little pleased by the arrival of the Visigoths, which interfered with his plans of governing the whole of Gaul. Hence the two rulers soon came to open strife, especially as Jovinus had not named the Gothic king co-ruler, as he had hoped, but his own brother Sebastian. Ataulf went over to the side of the Emperor Honorius and promised, in return for the assurance of supplies of grain (and assignments of land), to deliver up the heads of both usurpers and to set free Placidia, the Emperor's sister, who was held as a prisoner by the Goths. He certainly succeeded without much trouble in getting rid of the usurpers. As, however, Honorius kept back the supply of grain and Ataulf, exasperated by this, did not give up Placidia, hostilities once more began between the Goths and the Romans. After an unsuccessful attempt to surprise Marseilles, Ataulf captured the towns of Narbonne, Toulouse, and Bordeaux by force of arms (413). But a complete alteration took place in the king's intentions, obviously through the influence of Placidia, whom he took as his (second) wife in January (414). As he himself repeatedly declared, he now finally gave up his original cherished plan of converting the Roman Empire into a Gothic one, and rather strove to identify his people wholly with the Roman State. His political programme was therefore just the same as that of the Ostrogoth king Theodoric, later on, when he accomplished the founding of the Italian kingdom. In spite of these assurances the Emperor refused him every concession; influenced by the general Con­stantius, who himself desired the hand of the beautiful princess, Honorius looked upon the marriage of his sister with the Barbarian as a grievous disgrace to his house. In consequence Ataulf was again compelled to turn his arms against the Empire. He first appointed an anti-emperor in the person of Attalus, without however achieving any success by this move, since Attains had not the slightest support in Gaul. When Constantius then blockaded the Gallic ports with his fleet and cut off supplies, the position of the Goths there became quite untenable, so that Ataulf decided to seek a place of retreat in Spain. He evacuated Gaul, after terrible devastation, and took possession of the Spanish province of Tarraconensis (in the beginning of 415), but without quite giving up the thought of a future understanding with the imperial power. In Barcelona, Placidia bore him a son, who received the name of Theodosius at his baptism, but he soon died. And not long afterwards death overtook the king from a wound which one of his followers inflicted out of revenge (in the summer of 415).

After Ataulf's death the anti-Romanizing tendencies among the Visigoths, never quite suppressed, became active again. Many Pretenders contended for the throne, but all, as it seems, were animated by the thought of governing independently of Rome and not in subjection to it. At length Sigerich, brother of the Visigoth prince Sarus, murdered by Ataulf, succeeded in getting possession of the throne. Sigerich at once had the children of Ataulf’s first marriage slaughtered, and Placidia suffered the most shameful treatment from him. However, after reigning for one week only he was murdered certainly by the instigation of Wallia, who now became head of the Goths (autumn 415). 

Wallia, although no less an enemy to Rome than his predecessor, at once granted the imperial princess a more humane treatment, and first tried to develop further the dominion already founded in Spain. But as the imperial fleet again cut off all supplies, and famine broke out, he determined to take possession of the Roman granary in Africa. But the undertaking miscarried because of the foundering in the Straits of Gibraltar of a detachment sent on in advance, which was looked upon as a bad omen (416). The king, obliged by necessity, concluded a treaty with Constantius in consequence of which the Goths pledged themselves, in return for a supply of 600,000 measures of grain from the Emperor, to deliver up Placidia, to free Spain from the Vandals, Alans, and Sueves, and to give hostages. After fierce protracted fighting the Gothic army overcame first the Silingian Vandals and then the Alans (416-418). But when Wallia also wanted to advance against the Asdingian Vandals and the Sueves in Galicia he was suddenly called back by Constantius, who did not wish the Goths to become too powerful, and land for his people to settle upon was assigned to him in the province of Aquitanica Secunda and in some adjoining districts by the terms of a treaty of alliance (end of 418). Shortly after Wallia died, and was succeeded on the Visigoth throne by Theodoric I, chosen by the people.

Historical tradition is silent over the first years of Theodoric's reign; they were taken up with the difficulties of devising and executing the partition of the land with the settled Roman population. The Goths kept their national constitution and were pledged to give military assistance to the Empire. Their king was under the supreme command of the Emperor; he only possessed a real power over his own people, while he had no legal authority over the Roman pro­vincials. Such an indeterminate situation, after the endeavors so long directed towards the attainment of political independence, could not last long.

In 421 or 422 Theodoric fulfilled his agreement by sending a contingent to the Roman army which was marching against the Vandals; but in the decisive battle these troops fell upon the Romans from behind and so helped the Vandals to a brilliant victory. In spite of this base breach of faith the Goths came off unpunished, and even dared to advance southwards to the Mediterranean coast. In the year 425 a Gothic corps was before the important fortress of Arles, the coveted key of the Rhone valley; but it was forced to retreat by the rapid approach of an army under Aetius. After further fighting, about which unfortunately nothing detailed is known to us, peace was made and the Goths were granted full sovereignty over the provinces which had originally been assigned to them for occupation only—Aquitanica Secunda and the north-west corner of Narbonensis Prima—while they restored all their conquests (c. 426).

This peace continued for a considerable period and was only interrupted by the unsuccessful attempt of the Goths to surprise Arles (430). But when in 435 fresh disturbances broke out in Gaul, Theodoric took up once more his plans for the conquest of the whole of Narbonensian Gaul. In 436 he appeared with a strong force before the town of Narbonne, which however after a long siege was relieved by Roman troops (437). The Goths went on fighting, but without success, and were at last driven back as far as Toulouse. But in the decisive battle which was fought before the walls of this town (439) the Romans suffered a severe defeat, and only the heavy loss of life which the Goths themselves sustained could decide the king to agree to the provisional restoration of the status quo.

Theodoric was certainly not disposed to be satisfied with the narrow territory surrendered to him. Therefore (c. 442) we find him again on the side of Rome's enemies. First he entered into close relations with Gaiseric, the dreaded king of the Vandals; but this coalition, which would have been so dangerous for the Roman Empire, was broken up by the ingenious diplomacy of Aetius. He next tried to attach himself to the powerful and rising kingdom of the Sueves by giving King Rechiar one of his daughters in marriage, and by furnishing troops to assist his advance into Spain (449). It was only when danger threatened the whole of the civilized West by the rise of the power of the Huns under Attila, that the Goths again allied themselves with the Romans.

In the beginning of the year 451 Attila’s mighty army, estimated at half a million, set out from Hungary, crossed the Rhine at Easter-time, and invaded Belgica. It was only now that Aetius, who had been deceived by the false representations of the king of the Huns, thought of offering resistance; but the standing army at his command was absolutely insufficient to hold the field against such a formidable opponent. He found himself, therefore, obliged to beg for help from the king of the Visigoths, who although he had at first intended to keep himself neutral and await the development of events in his territory, thought, after long hesitation, that it would be to his own interest to obey the call. Theodoric joined the Romans with a fine army which he himself led, accompanied by his sons Thorismund and Theodoric. Attila had in the meantime advanced as far as Orleans, which Sangiban, the king of the Alans who were settled there, promised to betray to him. The proposed treachery, however, was frustrated, for the allies were already on the spot before the arrival of the Huns, and had encamped in strength before the city. Attila thought he could not venture an attack on the strong fortifications with his troops, which principally consisted of cavalry, so he retreated to Troyes and took up a position five miles before that town on an extensive plain near the place called Mauriacus, there to await a decisive battle with the Gotho-Roman army which was following him. Attila occupied the centre of the Hun array with the picked troops of his people, while both the wings were composed of troops from the subjected German tribes. His opponents were so arranged that Theodoric with the bulk of the Visigoths occupied the right wing, Aetius with the Romans, and a part of the Goths under Thorismud formed the left wing of the army, while the untrustworthy Alans stood in the centre. Attila first tried to get possession of a height commanding the battlefield, but Aetius and Thorismud were beforehand and successfully repulsed all the attacks of the Huns on their position. The king of the Huns now hurled himself with great force on the Visigothic main body commanded by Theodoric. After a long struggle the Goths succeeded in driving the Huns back to their camp; great losses occurred on both sides; the aged king of the Goths was among the slain, as was also a kinsman of Attila's.

The battle however remained drawn, for both sides kept the field. The moral effect, which told for the Romans and their allies, was, however, very important, inasmuch as the belief that the powerful king of the Huns was invincible had suffered a severe shock. At first it was decided to shut up the Huns in their barricade of wagons and starve them out. But when the body of Theodoric, who had been supposed up till then to be among the survivors, had been found and buried, Thorismund, who was recognized as king by the army, called upon his people to revenge and to take the enemy's position by storm. But Aetius, who did not wish to let the Goths become too powerful, succeeded in persuading Thorismund to relinquish his scheme, advising his return to Toulouse, to prevent any attempt on his brother’s part to get possession of the crown by means of the royal hoard there. Thus were the Goths deprived of the well-earned fruits of their famous exploit; the Huns returned home unmolested (451).

Thorismund proved himself anxious to develop the national policy adopted by his father, and in the same spirit. After he had succeeded, for the time being, in keeping possession of the throne, he subdued the Alans who had settled near Orleans and thereby made preparations for extending the Gothic territory beyond the Loire. Then he tried to bring Arles under his power, but without having attained his object he returned once more to his country, where in the meanwhile his brothers. Theodoric (II) and Friedrich had stirred up a rebellion. After several armed encounters Thorismund was assassinated (453).

Theodoric II succeeded him on the throne. The characteristic mark of his rule is the close though occasionally interrupted connection with Rome. The treaty broken under Theodoric I—which implied the supremacy of the Empire over the kingdom of Toulouse—was renewed immediately after his accession to the throne. For the rest, this connection was never taken seriously by Theodoric but was principally used by him as a means towards the attainment of that end which his predecessors had vainly striven for by direct means — the spread of the Visigoth dominion in Gaul and more especially in Spain. Already, in the year 454, Theodoric found an opportunity for activity in the interest of the Roman Empire; a Gothic army under Friedrich marched into Spain and pacified the rebellious Bagaudae ex auctoritate Romana. After the murder of Valentinian III (March 455) Avitus went as magister militum to Gaul to win over the most influential powers of the country for the new Emperor, Petronius Maximus. In consequence of his personal influence—he had formerly initiated Theodoric into the knowledge of Roman literature—he succeeded in bringing the king of the Goths to recognize Maximus. When, however, soon after this, the news of the murder of the Emperor arrived (31 May), Theodoric requested him to take the imperium himself. On 9 July, Avitus, who had been proclaimed Emperor, accompanied by Gothic troops marched into Italy where he met with universal recognition. The close relations between the Empire and the Goths came again into operation against the Sueves. As the latter repeatedly made plundering expeditions into Roman territory, Theodoric, with a considerable force to which the Burgundians also added a contingent, marched over the Pyrenees in the summer of 456, decisively defeated them, and took possession of a large part of Spain, nominally for the Empire, but actually for himself.

But the state of affairs changed at one stroke when Avitus, in the autumn of the year 456, abdicated the purple. Theodoric had now no longer any interest in adhering to the Empire. He had in fact required the promotion of Avitus because he enjoyed a great reputation in Gaul and possessed there a strong support among the resident nobility. Friendship with him could only be of use to the king of the Goths in respect to the Roman provincials living in Toulouse. But the elevation of the new Emperor Majorian, on 1 April 457, had occurred in direct opposition to the wishes of the Gallo-Roman nobility to place one of themselves upon the imperial throne. Taking advantage of the consequent discord in Gaul, Theodoric appeared as the open foe of the imperial power of Rome. He himself marched with an army into the Gallic province of Narbonne and once more began with the siege of Arles; he also sent troops to Spain which, however, only fought with varying success. But in the winter of 458 the Emperor appeared in Gaul with considerable forces, quieted the rebellious Burgundians, and obliged the Visigoths to raise the blockade of Arles and again conclude peace (spring 459).

Although in the year 461 yet another change took place on the imperial throne, Theodoric thought it more advantageous for the time being to maintain, at least formally, the imperial alliance. On the other hand the chief general Aegidius, a faithful follower of Majorian, supported by a fine army, marched against the new imperial ruler. In the conflict which then ensued Theodoric found a favourable opportunity for resuming his policy of expansion in Gaul. At the call of Count Agrippinus, who was commanding in Narbonne and was hard pressed by Aegidius, he marched into the Roman territory and quartered upon that important town Gothic troops under the command of his brother Friedrich (462). Driven out of southern Gaul, Aegidius turned northwards whither a Gothic army led by Friedrich followed him. A great battle took place near Orleans in which the Goths suffered a severe defeat, chiefly through the bravery of the Salian Franks, who were opposed to them and lost their leader in the battle (463). Taking advantage of the victory, Aegidius now began to press victoriously into the Visigoth territory, but sudden death prevented him from carrying out his purposes (464).

Theodoric, freed from his most dangerous enemy, did not delay making good the losses he had suffered; but he died in the year 466 at the hand of his brother Euric, who was a champion of the anti-Roman national party and now ascended the throne. Contemporaries agree in describing the new king as characterized by great energy and warlike ability. We may venture to add from historical facts that he was also a man of distinguished political talent. The leading idea in his policy—the entire rejection of even a formal suzerainty of the Roman Empire—came into operation on his accession to the throne. The embassy which he then sent off to the Emperor of Eastern Rome can only have had for its object a request for the recognition of the Visigoth sovereignty. As no agreement was arrived at he tried to bring about an alliance with the Vandals and the Sueves, but the negotiations came to nothing when a strong East-Roman fleet appeared in African waters (467). Euric at first pursued a neutral course, but as the Roman expedition, set on foot with such considerable effort against the Vandal kingdom, resulted so lamentably (468), he did not hesitate to come forward as assailant, while he simultaneously pushed forward his troops into Gaul and Spain (469). He opened hostilities in Gaul with a sudden attack on the Bretons whom the Emperor had sent to the town of Bourges; at Déols, not far from Chateauroux, a battle took place in which the Bretons were overthrown. Yet the Goths did not succeed in pushing forward over the Loire to the north. Count Paulus, supported by Frankish auxiliaries, successfully opposed them here. Euric therefore concentrated his whole strength partly on the conquest of the province of Aquitanica Prima, partly on the annexation of the lower Rhone valley, especially the long-coveted Arles. The provinces of Novempopulana and (for the most part) Narbonensis Prima had been probably already occupied by the Goths under Theodoric II. An army which the West-Roman Emperor Anthemius sent to Gaul for the relief of Arles was defeated in the year 470 or 471, and for the time being a large part of Provence was seized by the Goths. In Aquitanica Prima, also, town after town fell into the hands of Euric's general Victorius; only Clermont, the capital city of Auvergne, obstinately defied the repeated attacks of the barbarians for many years. The moving spirits in the resistance were the brave Ecdicius, a son of the former Emperor Avitus, and the poet Sidonius Apollinaris, who had been its bishop from about 470. The letters of the latter give us a clear picture of the struggle which was waged with the greatest animosity on both sides. Euric is said to have stated that he would rather give up the much more valuable Septimania than renounce the possession of that town. The wholly impotent Western Empire was unable to do anything for the besieged. In the year 475 peace was at last made between the Emperor Nepos and Euric by the intervention of Bishop Epiphanius of Ticinum (Pavia). Unfortunately the conditions are not more accurately known, but there can be no doubt that, besides the previously conquered territory in Spain, the district between the Loire, the Rhone, the Pyrenees, and the two seas was relinquished to Euric in sovereign possession. Thus Auvergne, so fiercely contended for, was surrendered to the Goths.

But in spite of this important success the king of the Goths had by no means reached the goal of his desires; it may be seen from the line of policy he followed later that the present moment seemed to him fit, for carrying out that subjection of the whole of the West which had long since been the aim of Alaric I.

For this reason peace only lasted for a year, which was spent in settling internal affairs. The most important event under Euric’s government at this time is the publication of a Code of Law which was intended to settle the legal relations of the Goths, both amongst themselves and with the Romans who had come under the Gothic dominion. The deposition of the last West-Roman Emperor, Romulus, by the leader of the mercenaries, Odovacar (Sept. 476), gave the king a welcome reason for renewing hostilities, as he looked upon the treaty made with the Empire as dissolved. A Gothic army crossed the Rhone and obtained final possession of the whole of southern Provence as far as the Maritime Alps, together with the cities of Arles and Marseilles, after a victorious battle against the Burgundians, who had ruled over this district under Roman suzerainty. But when Euric also marched a body of troops into Italy it suffered defeat from the officers of Odovacar. Consequently a treaty was concluded by the East-Roman Emperor Zeno and the king of the Burgundians whereby the newly conquered territory in Gaul (between the Rhone and the Alps south of the Durance) was surrendered by Odovacar to the Goths, while Euric evidently pledged himself to undertake no further hostilities against Italy (c. 477).

Euric was incessantly harassed by the difficulties of defending this mighty conquest from foes without and within. In particular, very frequent cause for interference was given by the conduct of the Catholic clergy, who openly showed their disloyalty, and in the Vandal kingdom did not shrink from the most treacherous actions. Yet they seem only in rare instances to have been answered by violence and cruelty. The Saxon pirates who, according to old custom, infested the coast of Gaul were vigorously punished by a fleet sent out against them. In the same way it seems that an invasion of the Salian Franks was warded off successfully. It is not strange that, owing to the prestige of the Visigoth power, Euric’s help was repeatedly requested by other peoples, as by the Heruli, Warni, and Tulingi who, settled in the Netherlands, found themselves threatened by the overwhelming might of the Franks and owed to the intervention of the Gothic king the maintenance of their political existence. The poet Sidonius Apollinaris has left behind a vivid description of the way in which, at that time, the representatives of the most diverse nations pressed round Euric at the Visigoth Court, even the Persians are said to have formed an alliance with him against the Eastern Empire. It seems that envoys from the Roman population of Italy also appeared at Toulouse to ask the king to expel Odovacar, whose rule was only reluctantly endured by the Italians.

We do not know if Euric intended gratifying this last request, in any case he was prevented from executing any such designs through death, which overtook him in Arles in December 484. Under his son Alaric II the Visigoth power fell from its height. To be sure, the beginning of the decline originated at a time further back. Ataulf's political programme, as already observed, had originally contemplated the establishment of a national Gothic State in the place of the Roman Empire. Yet not one of the Visigoth rulers, in spite of honest purpose, could accomplish this task. It is to their credit that they succeeded at last, after severe fighting, in freeing themselves from the suzerainty of the Emperor and obtaining political autonomy, but the State which thus resulted resembled a Germanic National State no more than it did a Roman Imperium, and it could not contain the seeds of life because it was in a great measure dependent on foreign obsolescent institutions. The Goths had entered the world of Roman civilization too suddenly to be able either to resist or to absorb the foreign influences which pressed on them from all sides. It was fortunate for the progress of Romanization that the Goths, cut off from the rest of the German world, could not draw thence fresh strength to recuperate their nationality or to replace their losses, and moreover that through the immense extension of the kingdom under Euric the numerical proportion between the Roman and Gothic population had altered very much in favour of the former. So under the circumstances it was a certainty that the Gothic kingdom in Gaul must succumb to the rising and politically creative power of the Franks. Neither the personality of Alaric, who was little fitted for ruling, nor the antagonism between Catholicism and Arianism caused the downfall, they only hastened it.


Alaric ascended the throne on 28 December 484. The king was of an indolent weak nature, altogether the opposite of his father, and without energy or warlike capacity, as immediately became evident. For example, he submitted to give up Syagrius, whom he had received into his kingdom after the battle of Soissons (486), when the victorious king of the Franks threatened him with war. The inevitable settlement by arms of the rivalry between the two principal powers in Gaul was of course only put off a little longer by this compliance. About 494 the war began. It lasted for many years and was carried on with varying success on both sides. Hostilities were ended through the mediation of the Ostrogoth king Theodoric—who in the meanwhile had become Alaric’s father-in-law —by the conclusion of a treaty of peace on the terms of Uti possidetis (c. 502), but this condition could not last long, for the antagonism was considerably aggravated by the conversion of Clovis to the Catholic Church in the year 496 (25 Dec.). Consequently the greatest part of Alaric's Roman subjects, with the clergy of course at their head, adhered to the Franks, and jealously endeavoured to bring about the subjection of the Visigoth kingdom to their rule. Alaric was obliged to adopt severe measures in some instances against such treasonable desires, but usually he tried by gentleness and the granting of favours to win over the Romans to his support, an attempt which, in view of the prevalent and insurmountable antagonism, was of course quite ineffectual and even defeated its own ends, being regarded only as weakness. Thus he permitted the bishoprics kept vacant under Euric to be again filled, he moreover permitted the Gallic bishops to hold a Council at Agde in September 506, and—of the ambiguous attitude of the clergy—it was opened with a prayer for the prosperity of the Visigoth kingdom. The publication of the so-called Lex Romana Visigothorum, also named Breviarium Alaricianum, represented the most important act of conciliation. This Code of Law, which had been composed by a commission of lawyers together with prominent laymen and even clergy, and was drawn from extracts and explanations of Roman law, was sanctioned by the king at Toulouse, 2 Feb. 506, after having received the approval of an assembly of bishops and distinguished provincials, and was ordered to be used by the Roman population in the Gothic kingdom.

Why the explosion was delayed until the year 507 is unknown. That the king of the Franks was the aggressor is certain. He easily found a pretext for beginning the war as champion and protector of Catholic Chris­tianity against the absolutely just measures which Alaric took against his treacherous orthodox clergy. Clovis had sufficiently appreciated the by no means despicable power of the Visigoth kingdom, and had summoned a very considerable army, one contingent of which was furnished by the Ripuarian Franks. His allies, the Burgundians, approached from the east in order to take the Goths in the flank. Among his allies Clovis probably also counted on the Byzantines, who placed their fleet at his disposal. On his part Alaric had not looked upon coming events idly, but his preparations were hampered by the bad state of the finances of his kingdom. In order to obtain the necessary funds he was obliged to coin gold pieces of inferior value, which were soon discredited everywhere. Apparently the fighting strength of the Gothic army was inferior to the army of Clovis, but if the Ostrogoth troops, who had held out prospects of coming, should arrive at the right time Alaric could hope to oppose his foe successfully. The king of the Franks had to endeavour to bring about a decisive action before the arrival of these allies. In the spring of 507 he suddenly crossed the Loire and marched towards Poitiers, where he probably joined the Burgundians. On the Campus Vocladensis, ten miles from Poitiers, the Visigoths had taken up their position. Alaric put off beginning battle because he was waiting for the Ostrogoth troops, but as they were hindered by the appearance of a Byzantine fleet in Italian waters he determined to fight instead of beating a retreat, as it would have been wise to do. After a short engagement the Goths turned and fled. In the pursuit the king of the Goths was killed, it was said by Clovis' own hand (507). With this overthrow the rule of the Visigoths in Gaul was ended forever.

The principal town of the Gothic kingdom was Toulouse, where the royal treasure was also kept; Euric from time to time also held court in Bordeaux, Alaric II in Narbonne. The Gothic rule originally stretched, as has been already mentioned, as far as the province of Aquitanica Secunda and some bordering municipalities, among which was the district of Toulouse, but later on it extended not only over the whole territory of the Gallic provinces, but in addition to several parts of the provinces Viennensis, Narbonensis Secunda, Alpes Maritimae, and Lugdunensis Tertia. The Gothic possessions included also the greater part of the Iberian peninsula, i.e. the provinces of Baetica, Lusitania, Tarraconensis, and Carthaginensis. The provinces named were in Roman times, in so far as it was a question of civil administration, governed by consulares or presides, and they were again divided into city-districts (civitates or municipia). Under the sovereignty of the Goths this constitution was maintained in its chief features.

The inhabitants of the kingdom of Toulouse were composed of two races—the Goths and the Romans. The Goths were regarded by the Romans as foreigners so long as the federal connection remained in force, yet both peoples lived side by side, each under its own law and jurisdiction: intermarriage was forbidden. This rigid line of separation was adhered to even when the Goths had shaken off the imperial suzerainty and the Gothic king had become the sovereign of the native population of Gaul. Theoretically, the Romans had equal privileges in the State; thus they were not treated as a conquered people without rights, as the Vandals and Langobards (Lombards) dealt with the inhabitants of Africa and Italy. That the Goths were the real rulers was clearly enough made manifest to the Romans.

The domestic condition of the Visigoths before the settlement in Gaul was undoubtedly on the same level as in their original home; private property in land was unknown, agriculture was comparatively primitive, and cattle-rearing provided the principal means of subsistence. A national change began with the settlement in Aquitaine. This was done on the principle of the Roman quartering of troops, so that the Roman landowners were obliged to give up to the Goths in free possession a portion of their total property together with the coloni, slaves, and cattle appertaining to it. According to the oldest Gothic codes of law the Goth received two-thirds of the tilled land and, it seems, one-half of the woods. The wood and the meadow land which was not partitioned belonged to the Goths and the Romans for use in common. The parcels of land subjected to partition were called sortes, the Roman share, generally, tertia, their occupants hospites or consortes. The Gothic sortes were exempt from taxation. As the invaders were very numerous compared with the extent of the province to be apportioned, there is no doubt that not only the large estates, but also the middle-sized and smaller properties were partitioned. Nevertheless it is evident that not every Goth can have shared with a Roman possessor, because there would certainly not have been estates enough; we must rather assume that in the share given up larger properties were split up among several families, as a rule among kinsmen. As the apportionment of the single lots undoubtedly took place through the decisive influence of the king, it is natural that the nobility (i.e. nobility by military service) was favoured in the partition above the ordinary freemen. The landed property of the monarch’s favourites must have gained considerably in extent, as elsewhere, through assignments from state property. The very considerable imperial possessions, both crown and private property, as a rule fell to the share of royalty.

Land partition in the districts conquered later followed the same plan as in Aquitaine; seizures of entire Roman estates certainly occurred, but they were exceptions and happened under special circumstances. As a rule the Romans were protected by law in the possession of their tertiae, even if it were only for fiscal reasons. The considerably extended range of the Gothic kingdom offered the people ample space for colonization, so it was not necessary to encroach on the whole of the Roman territory as had been the case in Aquitaine. It is to be assumed that in the newly won territories only the superfluous element of the population had to be provided for; we are not to suppose a general desertion of the home-land.

The social economy proceeded, on the whole, on the same lines as before, i.e. through coloni and slaves, from whose toil the owners derived their principal support, at least in so far as it was a question of food. For the Goths, whose favourite occupations were warfare and the chase, had no inclination to devote themselves to arduous agricultural toil. They only wanted to control directly the rearing of cattle, as they did of old; animal food seems to have been provided principally by means of large herds of swine. The revolution which the partition of land brought about in the habits of the Goths was too powerful not to exert the deepest influence on all the conditions of life. The rich revenues led to the display of a wanton and indolent way of living; the close contact with the Romans, who were for the most part morally decadent, was bound to affect injuriously a people so famous in earlier times for its austere manners. The old national bonds of union, besides having been relaxed through the migration, now from the scattering of the mass in colonization lost more and more of their original importance, since kinsmen need no longer be companions on the farmstead in order to obtain a living. The adoption of the Roman conditions of land-holding obliged the Goths to accept numerous legal arrangements which were foreign to their national law and altered its principles considerably. Nevertheless the national consciousness was strong enough to prevent it from merging itself quickly and completely in the Roman system; in contrast to the Ostrogoths who did nothing but carefully conserve the Roman institutions which they found, the Visigoths are remarkable for an attitude in many respects independent towards the foreign organization.

The entire power of government lay in the hands of the king, but the several rulers did not succeed in making their power absolute. Outwardly the Visigoth king was only slightly distinguished from the other freemen; like them he wore the national skin garment, and long curly hair. The raised seat as well as the sword appear as tokens of royal power, the insignia such as the purple mantle and the crown do not come till later. The succession to the throne follows the system peculiar to the old German constitution of combined election and inheritance. After the death of Alaric I his brother-in-law Ataulf was chosen king; thus a kindred connection played an important part in this choice. Ataulf’s friendliness to Rome had placed him in opposition to the great mass of the people; therefore his successor was not his brother, as he had wished, but first Sigerich and then Wallia, who both belonged to other houses. The elevation of Theodoric I is also an instance of free election; the royal dignity remained in his house for over a century. Thorismund was appointed king by the army; the succession of Theodoric II, Euric, and Alaric II, on the other hand, was only confirmed by popular recognition.

Just as the people regularly took a part in the choice of the successor to the throne, so their influence was often brought to bear on the sovereign's conduct of government. After the settlement in Gaul there could certainly no longer be any question of a national assembly in the old sense of the word, especially after the great expansion of territory under Euric. Meetings of all the freemen had become impossible on account of the expansion of the Gothic colonies. The circle of those who could obey the call to assemble became, therefore, smaller and smaller, while in carrying out the principal public functions, such as the coronation of the king, only those of the people who happened to be present at the place of election or who lived in the immediate neighbourhood, could as a rule take part. The importance which the commonalty hereby lost was gained by the nobility, an aristocracy founded on personal service to the king. It was only in the army that the greater part of the people found opportunity of expressing its will. It is certain that among the Visigoths, as among the Franks, regular military assemblies were held, which at first served the purpose of reviews and were under the command of the king. In these assemblies important political questions were discussed but the decision of the people was not always for the welfare of the State.

The kingdom was subdivided very nearly on the lines of the previous Roman divisions into provinciae, and these again into civitates (territoria). At the head of the province was the dux as magistrate for Goths and Romans. He was also, as his title implies, in the first place the commander of the militia in his district, and he provided also the final authority and appeal in matters of government, corresponding to the Praefectus Praetorio or vicarius of imperial times. The centre of gravity of the government lay in the municipalities whose rulers were comites civitatum. They took exactly the place of the Roman pro­vincial governors, so that the city-districts also appear under the title of provinciae. Their authority extended even to the exercise of jurisdiction with the exception of such cases as were reserved to the civic magistrates, and included control of the police and the collection of taxes. The dux could at the same time becomes of a civitas in his district. At the head of the towns themselves were the curiales who, as hitherto, were bound by oath to fill their offices; and they were personally responsible for collecting the taxes. The most important official was the defensor, who was chosen from among the curiales by the citizens and only confirmed by the king. He exercised, in the first instance, jurisdiction in minor matters, but his activity extended over all the branches of municipal administration. Side by side with this Roman magistrature existed the national system which the Goths had brought with them. The Gothic people formed themselves into bodies of thousands, five hundreds, hundreds, and tens, which also remained as personal societies after the settlement. The millenarius, as of old, led the thousand in war and ruled over it jointly with the heads of the hundreds both in war and in peace. The comes civitatis and his vicar originally only possessed jurisdiction over the Romans of his own circuit, but in Euric's time that had so far changed that he now possessed authority to judge the Goths as well in civil suits in conjunction with the millenarius: thus the later condition was prepared in which the millenarius appears only as military official. On the other hand the defensor remained a judiciary solely for the Romans.

We know but little about the officers of the central government. The first minister of Euric and of Alaric II was Leo of Narbonne, a distinguished man of varied talents. His duty comprised a combination of the functions of the quaestor sacri palatii and of the magister officiorum at the imperial Court; he drew up the king's orders, conducted business with the ambassadors, and arranged the applications for an audience. A higher minister of the royal chancery was Anianus, who attested the authenticity of the official copies of the Lex Romana Visigothorum and distributed them; he seems to have answered to the Roman primicerius notariorum or referendarius.


The organization of the Catholic Church was not disturbed by the Visigoth rule: rather it was strengthened. The ecclesiastical subdivision of the land as it had developed in the last years of the Roman sway corresponded on the whole with the political: the bishoprics, which coincided in extent with the town districts, were grouped under metropolitan sees, which corresponded with the provinces of the secular administration. Since the middle of the fifth century the authority of the Roman bishop over the Church had been generally recognized. Next to the Pope the bishop of Arles exercised over the Gallic clergy a theoretically almost unlimited disciplinary power. A bishop was chosen by the laity and the clergy of his see, and was ordained by the metropolitan bishop of the province together with other bishops. Although the boundaries of the Visigoth kingdom now in no way coincided with the old provincial and metropolitan boundaries, the hitherto existing metro­politan connection was nevertheless not set aside, nor were the relations of the bishops with the Pope interfered with. The Gothic government as a rule showed great indulgence and consideration to the Catholic Church, which only changed to a more severe treatment when the clergy were guilty of treasonable practices, as happened under Euric. No organized and general persecution of the Catholics from religious fanaticism ever took place. The Catholic Church enjoyed particularly favourable conditions under Alaric II, who in consideration of the threatening struggle with Clovis acknowledged the formal legal position of the Roman Church according to the hitherto existing rules.

Hardly anything is known of the ecclesiastical organization of the Arians in the kingdom of Toulouse. Probably in all the larger towns there were Arian bishops as well as orthodox ones, and no doubt in earlier times they had been appointed by the king. Under the several bishops were the different classes of subordinate clergy; presbyters and deacons are mentioned as in the orthodox Church. The endowment of the Arian Church was probably as a rule allowed for out of the revenue; now and then confiscated Catholic churches as well as their endowments were also made over to it. The church service was of course held in the vernacular as it was in other German churches; the greater number of the clergy were therefore of Gothic nationality. The opposition between the two creeds was also certainly a very sharp one. Both sides carried on an active propaganda, which on the Arian side not unfrequently seems to have been urged by force, but such ebullitions scarcely had the support and approval of the Gothic government.

Very scanty indeed is our knowledge of the civilization of the kingdom of Toulouse. That the Romance element was foremost in almost every department has already been observed. The Goths however held to their national dress until a later period; they wore the characteristic skin garment which covered the upper part of the body, and laced boots of horse-hide which reached up to the calf of the leg; the knee was left bare. There is no doubt that the Gothic tongue was spoken by the people in intercourse with each other; unhappily no vestiges remain of it except in proper names. It is certain however that a great part of the nobility, especially the higher officials, understood Latin well. Most of the Arian clergy undoubtedly were also masters of both languages. Latin was the language of diplomatic intercourse and of legislation. Theodoric II was trained in Roman literature by Avitus; Euric however understood so little of the foreign language that he was obliged to use an interpreter for diplomatic correspondence. Yet this king was in no way opposed to the knowledge and significance of classical culture. The Visigothic Court therefore formed a haven of frequent resort for the last representatives of Roman literature in Gaul. And the kings, from various motives, but especially from a fondness for Roman models, would employ the art of these men to celebrate their own deeds. Here may be named in the first place the poet Sidonius Apollinaris who for a long time lived, first in the Court of Theodoric II and then in that of Euric. Euric’s minister Leo also is said to have distinguished himself as a poet, historian, and lawyer, but no more of his writings have been preserved than of the rhetorician Lampridius, who sang the fame of the Gothic royal house at the Court of Bordeaux. But the decay of literature and of culture in general, which had been for so long in progress in spite of the support of the still existent schools of rhetoricians, could assuredly not be stayed by the patronage of the Gothic kings.






Tacitus, in the de Moribus Germanorum, tells us that the Germans claimed to be descended from a common ancestor, Mannus, son of the earth-born god Tuisco. Mannus, according to the legend, had three sons, from whom sprang three groups of tribes: the Istaevones, who dwelt along the banks of the Rhine; the Ingaevones, whose seat was on the shores of the two seas, the Oceanus Germanicus (North Sea) and the Mare Suevicum (the Baltic), and in the Cimbric peninsula between; and, lastly, more to the east and south, on the banks of the Elbe and the Danube, the Herminones. After indicating this general division, Tacitus, in the latter part of his work, enumerates about forty tribes, whose customs presented, no doubt, a strong general resemblance, but whose institutions and organization showed differences of a sufficiently marked character.

When we pass from the first century to the fifth, we find that the names of the Germanic peoples given by Tacitus have completely disappeared. Not only is there no mention of Istaevones, Ingaevones, and Herminones, but there is no trace of individual tribes such as the Chatti, Chauci, and Cherusci; their names are wholly unknown to the writers of the fourth and fifth centuries. In their place we find these writers using other designations: they speak of Franks, Saxons, Alemans. The writers of the Merovingian period not unnaturally supposed that these were the names of new peoples, who had invaded Germany and made good their footing there in the interval. This hypothesis found favour especially with regard to the Franks. As early as Gregory of Tours, we find mention of a tradition according to which the Franks had come from Pannonia, had first established themselves on the right bank of the Rhine, and had subsequently crossed the river. In the chronicler known under the name of Fredegar the Franks are represented as descended from the Trojans. “Their first king was Priam; afterwards they had a king named Friga; later, they divided into two parts, one of which migrated into Macedonia and received the name of Macedonians. Those who remained were driven out of Phrygia and wandered about, with their wives and children, for many years. They chose for themselves a king named Francion, and from him took the name of Franks. Francion made war upon many peoples, and after devastating Asia finally passed over into Europe, and established himself between the Rhine, the Danube and the sea”. The writer of the Liber Historiae combines the statements of Gregory of Tours and of the pseudo-Fredegar, and, with a fine disregard of chronology, relates that, after the fall of Troy, one part of the Trojan people, under Priam and Antenor, came by way of the Black Sea to the mouth of the Danube, sailed up the river to Pannonia, and founded a city called Sicambria. The Trojans, so this anonymous writer continues, were defeated by the Emperor Valentinian, who laid them under tribute and named them Franks, that is wild men (feros), because of their boldness and hardness of heart. After a time the Franks slew the Roman officials whose duty it was to demand the tribute from them, and, on the death of Priam, they quitted Sicambria, and came to the neighborhood of the Rhine. There they chose themselves a king named Pharamond, son of Marcomir. This naïf legend, half-popular, half-learned, was accepted as fact throughout the Middle Ages. From it alone comes the name of Pharamond, which in most histories heads the list of the kings of France. In reality, there is nothing to prove that the Franks, any more than the Saxons or the Alemans, were races who came in from without, driven into Germany by an invasion of their own territory.

Some modern scholars have thought that the origin of the Franks, and of other races who make their appearance between the third century and the fifth, might be traced to a curious custom of the Germanic tribes. The nobles, whom Tacitus calls principes, attached to themselves a certain number of comrades, comites, whom they bound to fealty by a solemn oath. At the head of these followers they made pillaging expeditions, and levied war upon the neighbouring peoples, without however involving the community to which they belonged. The comes was ready to die for his chief; to desert him would have been an infamy. The chief, on his part, protected his follower, and gave him a war-horse, spear, etc. as the reward of his loyalty. Thus there were formed, outside the regular State, bands of warriors united together by the closest ties. These bands, so it is said, soon formed, in the interior of Germany, what were virtually new States, and the former princeps simply took the title of king. Such, according to the theory, was the origin of the Franks, the Alemans, and the Saxons. But this theory, however ingenious, cannot be accepted. The bands were formed exclusively of young men of an age to bear arms; among the Franks we find from the first old men, women, and children. The bands were organized solely for war; whereas the most ancient laws of the Franks have much to say about the ownership of land, and about crimes against property; they represent the Franks as an organized nation with regular institutions.

The Franks, then, did not come into Germany from without; and it would be rash to seek their origin in the custom of forming bands. That being so, only one hypothesis remains open. From the second century to the fourth the Germans lived in a continual state of unrest. The different communities ceaselessly made war on one another and destroyed one another. Civil war also devastated many of them. The ancient communities were thus broken up, and from their remains were formed new communities which received new names. Thus is to be explained why it is that the nomenclature of the Germanic peoples in the fifth century differs so markedly from that which Tacitus has recorded. But neighbouring tribes presented, despite their constant antagonisms, considerable resemblances. They had a common dialect and similar habits and customs. They sometimes made temporary alliances, though holding themselves free to quarrel again before long and make war on one another with the utmost ferocity. In time, groups of these tribes came to be called by generic names, and this is doubtless the character of the names Franks, Alemans, and Saxons. These names were not applied, in the fourth and fifth centuries, to a single tribe, but to a group of neighbouring tribes who presented, along with real differences, certain common characteristics.

It appears that the peoples who lived along the right bank of the Rhine, to the north of the Main, received the name of Franks; those who had established themselves between the Ems and the Elbe, that of Saxons (Ptolemy mentions the Saxones as inhabitants of the Cimbric peninsula, and perhaps the name of this petty tribe had passed to the whole group); while those whose territory lay to the south of the Main and who at some time or other had overflowed into the agri decumates (the present Baden) were called Alemans. It is possible that, after all, we should see in these three peoples, as Waitz has suggested, the Istaevones, Ingaevones, and Herminones of Tacitus.

But it must be understood that between the numerous tribes known under each of the general names of Franks, Saxons, and Alemans there was no common bond. They did not constitute a single State but groups of States without federal connection or common organization. Sometimes two, three, even a considerable number of tribes, might join together to prosecute a war in common, but when the war was over the link snapped and the tribes fell asunder again.

Documentary evidence enables us to trace how the generic name Franci came to be given to certain tribes between the Main and the North Sea, for we find these tribes designated now by the ancient name which was known to Tacitus and again by the later name. In Peutinger’s chart we find Chamavi qui et Pranci and there is no doubt that we should read qui et Franci. The Chamavi inhabited the country between the Yssel and the Ems; later on, we find them a little further south, on the banks of the Rhine in Hamaland, and their laws were collected in the ninth century in the document known as the Lex Francorum Chamavorum. Along with the Chamavi we may reckon among the Franks the Attuarii or Chattuarii. We read in Ammianus Marcellinus (xx. 10) Rheno transmisso, regionem pervasit (Julian in AD 360) Francorum quos Atthuarios vocant. Later, the pagus Attuariorum will correspond to the country of Emmerich, of Cleves, and of Xanten. We may note that in the Middle Ages there was to be found in Burgundy, in the neighbourhood of Dijon, a pagus Attuariorum, and it is very probable that a portion of this tribe settled at this spot in the course of the fifth century. The Bructeri, the Ampsivarii, and the Chatti were, like the Chamavi, reckoned as Franks. They are mentioned as such in a well-known passage of Sulpicius Alexander which is cited by Gregory of Tours (Historia Francorum, II. 9). Arbogast, a barbarian general in the service of Rome, desires to take vengeance on the Franks and their chiefs—subreguli—Sunno and Marcomir. It is this Marcomir, chief of the Ampsivarii and Chatti, whom the author of the Liber Historiae makes the father of Pharamond, though he has nothing whatever to do with the Salian Franks.

Thus it is evident that the name Franks was given to a group of tribes, not to a single tribe. The earliest historical mention of the name may be that in Peutinger’s chart, supposing, at least, that the words et Pranci are not a later interpolation. The earliest mention in a literary source is in the Vita Aureliani of Vopiscus, cap. 7. In the year 240, Aurelian, who was then only a military tribune, immediately after defeating the Franks in the neighbourhood of Mainz, was marching against the Persians, and his soldiers as they marched chanted this refrain:


Mille Sarmatas, mille Francos semel et semel occidimus;

Mille Persas quaerimus.


It would be in any case impossible to follow the history of all these Frankish tribes for want of evidence, but even if their history was known it would be of quite secondary interest, for it would have only a remote connection with the history of France. Offshoots from these various tribes no doubt established themselves sporadically here and there in ancient Gaul, as in the case of the Attuarii. It was not however by the Franks as a whole, but by a single tribe, the Salian Franks, that Gaul was to be conquered; it was their king who was destined to be the ruler of this noble territory. It is therefore to the Salian Franks that we must devote our attention.

The Salian Franks are mentioned for the first time in AD 358. In that year Julian, as yet only a Caesar, marched against them. What is the origin of the name? It was long customary to derive it from the river Yssel (Isala), or from Saalland to the south of the Zuiderzee; but it seems much more probable that the name comes from sal (the salt sea). The Salian Franks at first lived by the shores of the North Sea, and were known by this name in contradistinction to the Ripuarian Franks, who lived on the banks of the Rhine. All their oldest legends speak of the sea, and the name of one of their earliest kings, Merovech, signifies sea-born.

From the shores of the North Sea the Salian Franks had advanced little by little towards the south, and at the period when Ammianus Marcellinus mentions them they occupied Toxandria, that is to say the region to the south of the Meuse, between that river and the Scheldt. Julian completely defeated the Salian Franks, but he left them in possession of their territory of Toxandria. Only, instead of occupying it as conquerors, they held it as foederati, agreeing to defend it against all other invaders. They furnished also to the armies of Rome soldiers whom we hear of as serving in far distant regions. In the Notitia Dignitatum, in which we find a sort of Army List of the Empire drawn up about the beginning of the fifth century, there is mention of Salii seniores and Salii juniores, and we also find Salii figuring in the auxilia palatina.

At the end of the fourth and beginning of the fifth century the Salian Franks established in Toxandria ceased to recognize the authority of Rome, and began to assert their independence. It was at this period that the Roman civilization disappeared from these regions. The Latin language ceased to be spoken and the Germanic tongue was alone employed. Even at the present day the inhabitants of these districts speak Flemish, a Germanic dialect. The place-names were altered and took on a Germanic form, with the terminations hem, ghem, seele, and zele, indicating a dwelling-place, loo wood, dal valley. The Christian religion retreated along with the Roman civilization, and those regions reverted to paganism. For a long time, it would seem, these Salian Franks were held in check by the great Roman road which led, by way of Arras, Cambrai, and Bavay, to Cologne, and which was protected by numerous forts.

The Salians were subdivided into a number of tribes each holding a pagus. Each of these divisions had a king who was chosen from the most noble family, and who was distinguished from his fellow-Franks by his long hair—criniti reges. The first of these kings to whom we have a distinct reference bore the name of Clogio or Clojo (Clodion). He had his seat at Dispargum, the exact position of which has not been determined—it may have been Diest in Brabant. Desiring to extend the borders of the Salian Franks he advanced southwards in the direction of the great Roman road. Before reaching it, however, he was surprised, near the town of Helena (Hélesmes-Nord), when engaged in celebrating the betrothal of one of his warriors to a fair-haired maiden, by Aetius, who exercised in the name of Rome the military command in Gaul. He sustained a crushing defeat; the victor carried off his chariots and took prisoner even the trembling bride. This was about the year 431. But Clodion was not long in recovering from this defeat. He sent spies into the neighbourhood of Cambrai, defeated the Romans, and captured the town. He had thus gained command of the great Roman road. Then, without encountering opposition, he advanced as far as the Somme, which marked the limit of Frankish territory. About this period Tournai on the Scheldt seems to have become the capital of the Salian Franks.

Clodion was succeeded in the kingship of the Franks by Merovech. All our histories of France assert that he was the son of Clodion; but Gregory of Tours simply says that he belonged to the family of that king, and he does not give even this statement as certain; it is maintained, he says, by certain persons. We should perhaps refer to Merovech certain statements of the Greek historian Priscus, who lived about the middle of the fifth century. On the death of a king of the Franks, he says, his two sons disputed the succession. The elder betook himself to Attila to seek his support; the younger preferred to claim the protection of the Emperor, and journeyed to Rome. “I saw him there”, he says; “he was still quite young. His fair hair, thick and very long, fell over his shoulders”. Aetius, who was at this time in Rome, received him graciously, loaded him with presents, and sent him back as a friend and ally. Certainly, in the sequel the Salian Franks responded to the appeal of Aetius and mustered to oppose the great invasion of Attila, fighting in the ranks of the Roman army at the battle of the Mauriac Plain (AD 451). The Vita Lupi, in which some confidence may be placed, names King Merovech among the combatants.

Various legends have gathered round the figure of Merovech. The pseudo-Fredegar narrates that as the mother of this prince was sitting by the sea-shore a monster sprang from the waves and overpowered her; and from this union was born Merovech. Evidently the legend owes its origin to an attempt to explain the etymology of the name Merovech, son of the sea. In consequence of this legend some historians have maintained that Merovech was a wholly mythical personage and they have sought out some remarkable etymologies to explain the name Merovingian, which is given to the kings of the first dynasty; but in our opinion the existence of this prince is sufficiently proved, and we interpret the term Merovingian as meaning descendants of Merovech.

Merovech had a son named Childeric. The relationship is attested in precise terms by Gregory of Tours who says cujus filius fuit Childericus. In addition to the legendary narratives about Childeric which Gregory gathered from oral tradition, we have also some very precise details which the celebrated historian borrowed from annals now no longer extant. The legendary tale is as follows. Childeric, who was extremely licentious, dishonoured the daughters of many of the Franks. His subjects therefore rose in their wrath, drove him from the throne, and even threatened to kill him. He fled to Thuringia—it is uncertain whether this was Thuringia beyond the Rhine, or whether there was a Thuringia on the left bank of the river—but he left behind him a faithful friend whom he charged to win back the allegiance of the Franks. Childeric and his friend broke a gold coin in two and each took a part. “When I send you my part”, said the friend, "and the pieces fit together to form one whole you may safely return to your country”. The Franks unanimously chose for their king Aegidius, who had succeeded Aetius in Gaul as magister militum. At the end of eight years the faithful friend, having succeeded in gaining over the Franks, sent to Childeric the token agreed upon, and the prince, on his return, was restored to the throne. The queen of the Thuringians, Basina by name, left her husband Basinus to follow Childeric. "I know thy worth", said she, "and thy great courage; therefore I have come to live with thee. If I had known, even beyond the sea, a man more worthy than thou art, I would have gone to him". Childeric, well pleased, married her forthwith, and from their union was born Clovis. This legend, on which it would be rash to base any historical conclusion, was amplified later, and the further developments of it have been preserved by the pseudo-Fredegar and the author of the Liber Historiae.

But alongside of this legendary story we have some definite information regarding Childeric. While the main centre of his kingdom continued to be in the neighbourhood of Tournai, he fought along with the Roman generals in the valley of the Loire against all the enemies who sought to wrest Gaul from the Empire. Unlike his predecessor Clodion and his son Clovis, he faithfully fulfilled his duties as a foederatus. In the year 463 the Visigoths made an effort to extend their dominions to the banks of the Loire. Aegidius marched against them, and defeated them at Orleans, Friedrich, brother of King Theodoric II, being slain in the battle.

Now we know for certain that Childeric was present at this battle. A short time afterwards the Saxons made a descent, by way of the North Sea, the Channel, and the Atlantic, under the leadership of a chief named Odovacar, established themselves in some islands at the mouth of the Loire, and threatened the town of Angers on the Mayenne. The situation was the more serious because Aegidius had lately died (October 464), leaving the command to his son Syagrius. Childeric threw himself into Angers and held it against the Saxons. He succeeded in beating off the besiegers, assumed the offensive, and recaptured from the Saxons the islands which they had seized. The defeated Odovacar placed himself, like Childeric, at the service of Rome, and the two adversaries, now reconciled, barred the path of a troop of Alemans who were returning from a pillaging expedition into Italy. Thus Childeric policed Gaul on behalf of Rome and endeavored to check the inroads and forays of the other barbarians.

The death of Childeric probably took place in the year 481, and he was buried at Tournai. His tomb was discovered in the year 1653. In it was a ring bearing his name, CHILDIRICI REGIS, with the image of the head and shoulders of a long-haired warrior. Numerous objects of value, arms, jewels, remains of a purple robe ornamented with golden bees, gold coins bearing the effigies of Leo I and Zeno, Emperors of Constantinople, were found in the tomb. Such of these treasures as could be preserved are now in the Bibliotheque Nationale at Paris. They serve as evidence that these Merovingian kings were fond of luxury and possessed quantities of valuable objects. In the ensuing volume it will be seen how Childeric's son Clovis broke with his father's policy, threw off his allegiance to the Empire, and conquered Gaul for his own hand. While Childeric was reigning at Tournai, another Salian chief, Ragnachar, reigned at Cambrai, the town which Clodion had taken; the residence of a third, named Chararic, is unknown to us.


The Salian Franks, as we have said above, were so called in contra­distinction to the Ripuarians. The latter doubtless included a certain number of tribes, such as the Ampsivarii and the Bructeri. Julian, in the year 360, checked the advance of these barbarians and forced them to retire across the Rhine. In 389 Arbogast similarly checked their inroads and conquered all their territory in 392, as we have already said. But in the beginning of the fifth century, when Stilicho had withdrawn the Roman garrisons from the banks of the Rhine, they were able to advance without hindrance and establish themselves on the left bank of the river. Their progress however was far from rapid. They only gained possession of Cologne at a time when Salvian, born about 400, was a man in middle life; and even then the town was retaken. It did not finally pass into their hands until the year 463. The town of Treves was taken and burned by the Franks four times before they made themselves masters of it. Towards 470 the Ripuarians had founded a fairly compact kingdom, of which the principal cities were Aix-la-Chapelle, Bonn, Juliers, and Zülpich. They had advanced southwards as far as Divodurum (Metz), the fortifications of which seem to have defied all their efforts. The Roman civilization, the Latin language, and even the Christian religion seem to have disappeared from the regions occupied by the compact masses of these invaders. The present frontier of the French and German languages, or a frontier drawn a little further to the south—for it appears that in course of time French has gained ground a little—indicates the limit of their dominions. In the course of their advance southwards, the Ripuarians came into collision with the Alemans, who had already made themselves masters of Alsace and were endeavoring to enlarge their borders in all directions. There were many battles between the Ripuarians and Alemans, of one of which, fought at Zülpich (Tolbiacum), a record has been preserved. Sigebert, king of the Ripuarians, was there wounded in the knee and walked lame for the rest of his life; whence he was known as Sigebertus Claudus. It appears that at this time the Alemans had penetrated far north into the kingdom of the Ripuarians. This kingdom was destined to have but a transient existence; we shall see in the following volume how it was destroyed by Clovis, and how all the Frankish tribes on the left bank of the Rhine were brought under his authority.

While the Salian and Ripuarian Franks were spreading along the left bank of the Rhine, and founding flourishing kingdoms there, other Frankish tribes remained on the right bank. They were firmly established, especially to the north of the Main, and among them the ancient tribe of the Chatti, from whom the Hessians are derived, took a leading place. Later this territory formed one of the duchies into which Germany was divided, and took from its Frankish inhabitants the name of Franconia.

If we desire to make ourselves acquainted with the manners and customs of the Franks, we must have recourse to the most ancient document which has come down from them—the Salic Law. The oldest redaction of this Law, as will be shown in the next volume, probably dates only from the last years of Clovis (507-511), but in it are codified much more ancient usages. On the basis of this code we can conjecture the condition of the Franks in the time of Clodion, of Merovech, and of Childeric. The family is still a very closely united whole; there is solidarity among relatives even to a remote degree. If a murderer could not pay the fine to which he had been sentenced, he must bring before the mâl (court) twelve comprobators who made affirmation that he could not pay it. That done, he returned to his dwelling, took up some earth from each of the four corners of his room, and cast it with the left hand over his shoulder towards his nearest relative; then, barefoot and clad only in his shirt, but bearing a spear in his hand, he leaped over the hedge which surrounded his dwelling. Once this ceremony had been performed, it devolved upon his relative, to whom he had thereby ceded his house, to pay the fine in his place. He might appeal in this way to a series of relatives one after another; and if, ultimately, none of them was able to pay, he was brought before four successive mâls, and if no one took pity on him and paid his debt, he was put to death. But if the family was thus a unit for the payment of fines, it had the compensating advantage of sharing the fine paid for the murder of one of its members. Since the solidarity of the family sometimes entailed dangerous consequences, it was permissible for an individual to break these family ties. The man who wished to do so presented himself at the mâl before the centenarius and broke into four pieces, above his head, three wands of alder. He then threw the pieces into the four corners, declaring that he separated himself from his relatives and renounced all rights of succession. The family included the slaves and liti or freedmen. Slaves were the chattels of their master; if they were wounded, maimed, or killed, the master received the compensation; on the other hand, if the slave had committed any crime the master was obliged to pay, unless he preferred to give him up to bear the punishment. The Franks recognized private property, and severe penalties were denounced against those who invaded the rights of ownership; there are penalties for stealing from another's garden, meadow, corn-field, or flax-field, and for ploughing another's land. At a man's death all his property was divided among his sons; a daughter had no claim to any share of it. Later, she is simply excluded from Salic ground, that is from her father's house and the land that surrounds it.

We find also in the Salic Law some information about the organization of the State. The royal power appears strong. Any man who refuses to appear before the royal tribunal is outlawed. All his goods are confiscated and anyone who chooses may slay him with impunity; no one, not even his wife, may give him food, under penalty of a very heavy fine. All those who are employed about the king's person are protected by a special sanction. Their wergeld is three times as high as that of other Franks of the same social status. Over each of the territorial divisions called pagi the king placed a representative of his authority known as the grafio, or, to give him his later title, the comes. The grafio maintained order within his jurisdiction, levied such fines as were due to the king, executed the sentences of the courts, and seized the property of condemned persons who refused to pay their fines. The pagus was in turn subdivided into "hundreds" (centenae). Each "hundred" had its court of judgment known as the mâl; the place where it met was known as the mâlberg. This tribunal was presided over by the centenarius or thunginus—these terms appear to us to be synonymous. Historians have devoted much discussion to the question whether this official was appointed by the king or elected by the freemen of the "hundred". At the court of the "hundred" all the freemen had a right to be present, but only a few of them took part in the proceedings—some of them would be nominated for this duty on one occasion, some on another. In their capacity as assistants to the centenarius at the mâl the freemen were designated rachineburgi. In order to make a sentence valid it was required that seven rachineburgi should pronounce judgment. A plaintiff had the right to summon seven of them to give judgment upon his suit. If they refused, they had to pay a fine of three sols. If they persisted in their refusal, and did not undertake to pay the three sols before sunset, they incurred a fine of fifteen sols.

Every man’s life was rated at a certain value; this was his price, the wergeld. The wergeld of a Salian Frank was 200 sols; that of a Roman 100 sols. If a Salian Frank had killed another Salian, or a Roman, without aggravating circumstances, the Court sentenced him to pay the price of the victim, the 200 or 100 sols. The compositio in this case is exactly equivalent to the wergeld; if, however, he had only wounded his victim he paid, according to the severity of the injury, a lower sum proportionate to the wergeld. If, however, the murder has taken place in particularly atrocious circumstances, if the murderer has endeavoured to conceal the corpse, if he has been accompanied by an armed band, or if the assassination has been unprovoked, the compositio may be three times, six times, nine times, the wergeld. Of this compositio, two thirds were paid to the relatives of the victim; this was the faida and bought off the right of private vengeance; the other third was paid to the State or to the king: it was called fretus or fredum from the German word Friede peace, and was a compensation for the breach of the public peace of which the king is the guardian. Thus a very lofty principle was embodied in this penalty.

The Salic Law is mainly a tariff of the fines which must be paid for various crimes and offences. The State thus endeavoured to substitute the judicial sentences of the courts for private vengeance, part of the compensation being paid to the victim or his family to induce them to renounce this right. But we may safely conjecture that the triumph of law over inveterate custom was not immediate. It was long before families were willing to leave to the judgment of the courts serious crimes which had been committed against them, such as homicides and adulteries; they flew to arms and made war upon the guilty person and his family. The forming in this way of armed bands was very detrimental to public order.

The crimes mentioned most frequently in the Salic Law give us some grounds on which to form an idea of the manners and characteristics of the Franks. These Franks would seem to have been much given to bad language, for the Law mentions a great variety of terms of abuse. It is forbidden to call one’s adversary a fox or a hare, or to reproach him with having flung away his shield; it is forbidden to call a woman meretrix, or to say that she had joined the witches at their revels. Warriors who are so easily enraged readily pass to violence and murder. Every form of homicide is mentioned in the Salic Law. The roads are not safe, and are often infested by armed bands. In addition to murder, theft is very often mentioned by the code — theft of fruits, of hay, of cattle-bells, of horse-clogs, of animals, of river-boats, of slaves, and even of freemen. All these thefts are punished with severity and are held by all to be base and shameful crimes. But there is a punishment of special severity for robbing a corpse which has been buried. The guilty person is outlawed, and is to be treated like a wild beast.

The civilization of these Franks is primitive; they are, above all else, warriors. As to their appearance, they brought their fair hair forward from the top of the head, leaving the back of the neck bare. On their faces they generally wore no hair but the moustache. They wore close-fitting garments, fastened with brooches, and bound in at the waist by a leather belt which was covered with bands of enamelled iron and clasped by an ornamental buckle. From this belt hung the long sword, the hanger or scramasax, and various articles of the toilet, such as scissors and combs made of bone. From it too was hung the single-bladed axe, the favourite weapon of the Franks, known as the francisca, which they used both at close quarters and by hurling it at their enemies from a distance. They were also armed with a long lance or spear formed of an iron blade at the end of a long wooden shaft. For defence they carried a large shield, made of wood or wattles covered with skins, the centre of which was formed by a convex plate of metal, the boss, fastened by iron rods to the body of the shield. They were fond of jewellery, wearing gold finger-rings and armlets, and collars formed of beads of amber or glass or paste inlaid with colour. They were buried with their arms and ornaments, and many Frankish cemeteries have been explored in which the dead were found fully armed, as if prepared for a great military review. The Franks were universally distinguished for courage. As Sidonius Apollinaris wrote of them: “from their youth up war is their passion. If they are crushed by weight of numbers, or through being taken at a disadvantage, death may overwhelm them, but not fear”.