[While I was at the Austrasia conference, a number of people mentioned the problem of knowing why Metz was chosen as the capital, or chief urban royal residence, of that realm. As part of my on-going, irregular attempt to put all my unpublished 'back-catalogue' on-line I present this paper from 2001, in which I attempt to answer that question by looking at why Trier was not established as the capital, given its imperial past. The argument is essentially that the very Romanness and imperial pretensions of Trier made it very difficult for the Merovingians to inscribe their political identity over that. More to the point, the bishops of Trier had a tradition of standing up to secular power, most stridently visible, perhaps, in the career of the long-live St Nicetius. After the Justinianic wars (this is one of the earliest, tentative steps towards the argument I have been espousing more recently) it was easier for the Merovingians, and other post-imperial rulers, to choose lesser Roman towns that had the trappings of a royal capital but without too heavy baggage from an imperial past. It was originally the last in a series of seminars on towns held at the Institute of Classical Studies and notionally co-organised by me and Richard Alston (in fact Richard did about 80% of the organisation), so the specific references here and there to other scholars works is to their papers in the series. Naturally it is pretty much viva voce and lacks any apparatus, but I hope you might find it of interest.]
The reasons for this paper are several. On the one hand I thought it would be as well for me to get away from talking about Metz – indeed when they heard I was speaking in this series, more than one person commented ‘I suppose you’ll be talking about Metz then’. Well, how better to avoid this unfortunate pigeon-holing than by getting completely away from that city, writing about another city and its region entirely? And where better than Trier, which is a good seventy-five kilometres away from Metz, as the crow flies, significantly more if you go via the Mosel?
More seriously, Trier features prominently in the secondary literature, often as a sort of paradigmatic north-east Gaulish city, largely as a result of the fact that it has been so often, so thoroughly and so well worked over by very prominent Romanists and medievalists, historians, numismatists, epigraphers and archaeologists: Edith Wightman, Eugen Ewig, Kurt Böhner, Nancy Gauthier, H.H. Anton and so on. And this in turn is largely because Trier is very well served with evidence of diverse kinds. Yet when I was writing my doctoral thesis on Metz I noticed that Trier was different from Metz; at the time, and when I wrote the book based upon the thesis, I thought this was because Metz was unusual (which it is), but what has struck me increasingly since then is just how profoundly different and unusual – indeed just plain weird – Trier itself is, far more so than Metz. This individuality, and it seems to be a conscious individuality, would seem to be a theme running throughout late antique and early medieval Trier: The city is, obviously, important in the Late Roman period, and its distinctiveness remains very clear in the Merovingian period, as I shall argue, but it doesn’t stop there; in the Carolingian period, the Trierer aristocracy is very self-consciously independent, and by the end of the first millennium this area is at the heart of a new regional identity, that of Lotharingia, the Middle Kingdom. Thus what I am going to say today represents very much, not even work in progress, but some initial ideas, formulations and questions.
Something else, which has intrigued me for a long time, ever since my Metz work, has been why the Merovingian kings of Austrasia settled upon Metz as their principal urban seat. After all, why not Trier, the former imperial capital, just down the Mosel? Then it has become apparent to me that this is only part of a wider phenomenon: post-Roman kings did not choose leading Roman political centres as the capitals of their kingdoms. The Visigoths in Spain chose Toledo, not the more important cities of Cordoba, or Mérida, or Tarragona, or Barcelona. The Lombards in Italy could not, obviously, use Rome or Ravenna, but nor did they make much use of Milan. Instead Pavia became their royal centre. And the Merovingians eschewed Trier, Rheims, Arles or Lyons, in favour of Paris and Metz, neither of which (it may come as a surprise to Parisiens) was very significant at all in the Roman period. Now this seems to be true mainly for the later phase of post-Roman kingdoms. The Ostrogoths in Italy used Ravenna, and the Vandals made their base in Carthage. Kingdoms of the sixth century, however, as stated, seem to have steered clear of the major Roman political centres. Given the general quest by early medieval kings for that modern commodity, Romanitas, this seems all the more surprising, but the case of the Merovingians and Trier may permit a way into exploring this problem. And the distinctiveness of the Triererland turns out not to be unrelated to this issue. Alas, this does mean talking somewhat about Metz. It is difficult to talk about why one town was not adopted as a capital without some discussion of the neighbouring city which was chosen.
Finally, I must state at the outset that I was inspired, and put on to the track towards much of what I am about to say today, by examining the PhD thesis of Mark Handley, on the early medieval inscriptions of Gaul, Spain and Britain. What I am going to say regarding inscriptions is derived from his work, and I’d like to make that debt clear from the outset.
Trier, in many ways, needs no introduction but some reminder of the background will still be useful. Situated on the right bank of the Mosel, it was one of the great cities of Roman Gaul. For today’s purposes it is worth noting at the outset that the Treveri were always a rather unusual group within Roman Gaul. They were one of the very few northern civitates to produce senators, and in the third century the prosperity of the region’s aristocracy seems to be manifest in the large, and much debated, monuments which they erected, such as the famous Igelsaüle.
Trier was at the heart of the late Roman Empire. From the late third century and the period of the Gallic emperors through to 388 and the suppression of the usurper Magnus Maximus Trier was frequently the capital of the western Empire. Indeed its use as a capital can be argued to have been a key factor in the continuing survival of the western Empire. As a result of imperial presence, the city was endowed with several splendid monuments: the Kaiserthermen, built by Constantine, and the famous Aula Palatina. Here we see the Aula Palatina, built, according to a coin of Severus found in a wall, some time shortly after 305. In some ways I think the Aula Palatina stands as a metaphor of the late Roman Empire and its historiography. Seen here it seems, especially alongside the rather twee baroque Archbishop Elector’s palace, like a huge imposing monolith, a building to sum up the A.H.M. Jones image of the late Roman state. However, just as subsequent generations have been less impressed by the efficiency of the late Roman Empire or taken in by its rhetoric, it is as well to remember that originally, the interior of the Aula Palatina was covered with frescoes and mosaics, and the outside was plastered, whitewashed, painted with false joinery, and appointed with all sorts of, to use the technical term, twiddly bits, making it look much less of a monster. Even more of the time, I imagine, it looked a bit shabby and run down. This was part of a huge palatine complex at Trier, including a circus, refurbishment to the amphitheatre and the construction of a large double-cathedral. The provision of imperial ceremonial and spectacle was clearly very important; the association of palace and the other elements is reminiscent of the slightly later new imperial capital at Constantinople. Other building associated with the imperial presence took place under Valentinian I and Gratian, involving riverside warehouses and modifications to the other major structures, with the imperial baths possibly being used as a palatine barracks.
|The Aula Palatina, Trier|
The imperial presence was a decisive factor, just as Hugh Kennedy showed that the difference between the fates of Scythopolis and Gerasa was related to the presence of imperial government and its money. Other northern Gallic towns, as was mentioned last week, are, in the late Empire characteristically much reduced with small walled administrative redoubts at their core. Very little, if any, new public building was done and the extent to which the areas outside the walled circuits were still occupied is still debated and, though it was doubtless more common than was once supposed, we should remember that the walls usually enclosed areas of 20 Ha or less. At Paris the defended areas were the Île de la Cité and the left bank’s forum. The centrality of imperial patronage is also, as it happened, graphically demonstrated at Metz, the next city on Trier’s lifeline to the south. Here there is an unusually large walled circuit, possibly the largest late Roman circuit in the north, given that Trier’s enormous walled circuit was built early in the Roman period, and may well have been more a curse than a blessing; it would be difficult to defend it all. Metz also has fourth-century public building, this civic basilica at St-Pierre-aux-Nonnains being constructed probably in the reign of Valentinian I and clearly modelled upon the Trier basilica. It may well be the last such piece of new civic building in the western Roman Empire north of the Alps at least.
This continued prosperity was carried over into the rural areas of the region. The Treveri, like the Mediomatrici to their south, survived the crises of the late third century pretty well. Overall, about half of the villas known in the region continue to be occupied through the fourth century, although there are regional variations, with the west of the civitas suffering worse than the areas immediately around Trier itself. Fourth-century occupation is particularly well attested in the lower Eiffel. More to the point, perhaps, some of the late Roman villas of the Trier region are very impressive affairs. There is the palatial, possibly imperial villa at Konz, the three-storey and defensible, if not fortified, villa at Pfalzel, Welschbillig, Nennig and Echternach. Imperial ownership has been suggested for Konz and possibly Pfalzel. Welschbillig appears to be the focus for the huge estate surrounded by the Langmauer. Since this earthwork was constructed by troops (primani), an imperial connection of some sort seems likely, though it could also (if perhaps with less likelihood) have been access to imperial patronage by a leading palatine aristocrat which produced this source of labour. Again, this repays comparison with neighbouring regions, and may very well have a bearing on later developments. The well-known changes in ideology which so affected Roman towns after the third century, and which were revisited by John Haldon in the first paper in this series, may have been less important here. The local aristocracy may have otherwise been as unwilling as another to invest in their city – the impressive private monuments are an index of that change from private money going on public monumental munificence to private houses – but they were just as keen to acquire imperial patronage, and the heart of the distribution of that patronage was at their city. The vici in the region also survive the third-century crisis fairly well.
After the suppression of Maximus, no legitimate emperor ever returned to Trier. The fifth century is an obscure period. The Roman infrastructure of the region survives better than in other areas, which is probably related to the wealth and power of the aristocracy. In the late fifth century, Trier was ruled by a Count, Arbogast, who received a letter from Sidonius Apollinaris praising his Roman-ness, and a praise poem from the bishop of Toul. This apparently independent Roman rule is important for our purposes.
This part of the world was incorporated into the Merovingian realms at some point before 511, though we have no way of knowing when: the old methods of trying to map Frankish conquest by plotting the distribution of certain types of grave, or even artefact, although still employed in some quarters, are unacceptable. For one thing, these burial styles cannot be equated with the Franks; for another the one chronological fixed point in these archaeological attempts at political history, the burial of king Childeric in Tournai in 481/2 has been shown (by me) to be nothing of the sort. Childeric could have died five years before, or ten years after, this date. When Clovis died in 511, however, the Moselle valley was under Frankish control. His eldest son, Theuderic ruled the area. Indeed, Theuderic may have been ruling the region even before his father’s death. In the seventh century, Fredegar said that Theuderic had Metz as his capital, but he appears to have been projecting the situation of his own day back to the 511 division. Merovingian kings never developed the idea of a permanent capital as their Lombard and Visigothic contemporaries did, but a principal urban base seems to have been chosen. As far as we can tell, Theuderic’s was Trier. This is the town in which he is mentioned as ruling by Gregory of Tours in the Vita Patrum.
Theuderic’s son and successor Theudebert, rex magnus francorum is associated with Trier as well, but he also appears to have had some connection with Verdun. When he died, there was rioting in Trier and the stoning to death of his tax-collector, Parthenius, but the implication of Gregory’s account, which is puzzling, interesting and amusing in equal measure, is that the king was not there when he died, even if some of the administrative machinery may have been. Theudebert’s son and successor, Theudebald held court at Metz. With the death of Theudebald, the conveniently alliteratively-named first Austrasian dynasty came to an end, and the kingdom passed to his great uncle, Chlothar I. Chlothar too had some connection with Trier, but as king, by this stage, of most of Gaul, he spent most time elsewhere and is mostly associated with Soissons. When, by that time king of the whole regnum francorum, he died in 561, in the eventual division of the kingdom between his four sons, Austrasia fell to Sigibert, and Sigibert moved his court to Rheims. By 566, however, he was holding church councils and celebrating his marriage to Brunhild at Metz, and Metz remained the principal Austrasian royal urban residence for as long as we have information on the subject.
Thus, although the Austrasian kings flirted with the idea of establishing themselves in the old Imperial capital, their association with the city was brief and, as we’ll see, unhappy; they appear to have toyed with various other capitals, including, briefly, the other principal northern city of Roman Gaul, Rheims, but within fifty years or so had definitively settled upon Metz, and equally definitively abandoned Trier. So pronounced was this shift that by the end of the Merovingian period Trier even lost its Metropolitan status, and the bishops of Metz briefly became archbishops. So what had gone wrong? Why did the Frankish kings give up on Trier?
The principal reasons are episcopal and ideological; more particularly they are Nicetius of Trier, or Nicetius of the Treveri as Gregory of Tours calls him in his Vita Patrum, which is possibly significant, as we shall see. Nicetius, possibly of Aquitanian origin, was appointed bishop of Trier by Theuderic in about 525, and remained bishop for the next forty years or so. When Nicetius became bishop he felt a weight settling upon his neck, which he realized was the burden of episcopal dignity. However he may have been weighed down by the responsibilities of his office, Nicetius was never unduly burdened by doubts about his own importance. According to Gregory, or his informant Aredius of Limoges, Nicetius’ former assistant, even before he was bishop Nicetius used to berate King Theuderic for his sinful behaviour. In Gregory’s Life of the bishop, this was allegedly why Theuderic made him bishop. This is rather odd, not just because it seems to be asking for trouble, but also because Theuderic usually comes across as a nasty piece of work in Gregory’s writing. By contrast his son Theudebert is usually given a glowing write up by the bishop of Tours but in the Life of Nicetius he is the bishop’s most sinful royal adversary. This is revealed most clearly by the showdown in the cathedral described in Gregory’s Life of the Fathers, where Nicetius excommunicated the king and his fellow debauchees. The king refused to leave the church whereupon a possessed man proclaimed that the king was indeed a sinner and too proud, whereas the bishop was a holy and humble man, and God would decide this in due course. After this display, the king, unsurprisingly, stalked out of the church and Nicetius healed the possessed man, although he could nowhere be found afterwards. Many people, says Gregory, said this showed that he had been sent by the Lord. We might wonder, perhaps too rationally, if it wasn’t just that the king’s men found him first...
|Reconstruction of the late antique double cathedral in Trier|
This, is possibly a good place to revisit Mark Humphries’ theme of the provision of spectacle. We assume that the Merovingian kings had set up in the former imperial palace. As we have seen, this was a complex which included amphitheatre and circus but also the bishop’s cathedral. The two were close neighbours and thus in competition for control of this vital component of the city. What, if any, spectacles were put on in the former amphitheatre, which may have been turned into a form of stronghold in this period, or the circus, is unknown. Childebert II staged bear-baiting in Metz, presumably in the small amphitheatre there; another Merovingian king allegedly restored the circuses at Paris and Soissons because he wanted to present spectacles to the people; Theudebert himself is said by Procopius to have staged horse races in the circus at Arles. Whatever these games were, they appear to have been trumped by great religious spectacles, especially those which involved the dramatic humbling of the king and miraculous healings – even if any rash ‘volunteers from the audience’ may have found themselves sleeping with the fishes shortly afterwards. In terms of the competition of impresarios, there can be little doubt about who won here.
And maybe it wasn’t just the bishop but the community which he had won over who presented the problems. Theudebert had been betrothed to a Lombard princess called Wisigard but instead ran off with a Roman noblewoman from the south called Deuteria. The Merovingians’ irregular marital practices do not generally appear to have alarmed people, other than a very small number of bold, and possibly over-self-confident, clerics. Yet, according to Gregory, Theudebert eventually put aside Deuteria and made good his promise to Wisigard, because ‘the Franks’ thought this was, in Lewis Thorpe’s translation, a ‘scandalous situation’. I have suggested elsewhere that this outrage may have stemmed from a resentment of the fact that the Merovingians studiously avoided intermarriage with their Frankish aristocrats. More significantly for us, perhaps, is the fact that the next time that Gregory mentions ‘the Franks’ in the context of the reign of Theudebert, it is as the mob at Trier who stone to death Parthenius the tax collector – who must, Simon Loseby was telling me last week, have been aged about eighty at the time: he’s a grandson of the emperor Avitus. The Franks hated Parthenius because he had taxed them during Theudebert’s reign. Gregory hated him partly because he was a member of Avitus’ family, of whom he had no great opinion, but also, rather charmingly, because he was a great glutton and used to ‘fart in public without any consideration for those present’. Some would say that stoning him to death was going a little far... Some, and in this case I would include myself, would say that it was a bit churlish to kill Parthenius because of the king’s almost certainly entirely legal – if possibly more rigorous than expected – taxation policy.
Either way, Theudebert cannot have felt that Trier, its bishop and its locals, was a welcoming place. This was unfortunate because Theudebert was one of those Merovingians with real pretensions to Romanitas. He minted solidi with his own image on them, much to the disgust of Procopius, sent letters to Justinian which styled himself in such a way as to compete with the Emperor in titles, and indeed to deny the Emperor his assumption of various titles, not least francicus! There seems to be a real competitive dialogue between the two in this correspondence. He sent an embassy to Constantinople including examples of all the peoples over whom he claimed overlordship. The Angiloi present caused merriment by falling off their horses: the awkwardness of being an Englishman in New Rome. Theudebert led an army in the Italian wars with some success, taking advantage of both the Ostrogoths and the Byzantines: he adopted the not untypically Frankish policy of getting round the fact that he had made an alliance with both the Goths and the East Romans as King of the Franks, by initially dispatching an army of subject Burgundians and Alamans! In Arles, as mentioned, he put on a display of horse racing in the circus, which was probably as close as he could get to an imperial display in the last capital of the Gallic prefecture. How galling, then, if you’ll excuse the pun, that he could never make Trier his own. Small wonder, perhaps, that he decided to move to Verdun, a small town – indeed only a civitas capital since Diocletian’s reforms – with no such grandiose pretensions.
Not much of a surprise either that his son Theudebald who, by all account, would not have seen eye-to-eye with the morally rigorous bishop of Trier, set up shop in Metz. Theudebald, however, reigned only a few years, whereupon the north-east passed to the formidable Chlothar I. Even an old savage like Chlothar could not expect an easy ride from Nicetius, however. Nicetius continued to denounce Chlothar and excommunicate him, even as the king responded by threats, eventually carried out, to send the bishop into exile. Again there is a comment in Gregory’s Histories which possibly fleshes out the account in the Vita Patrum. When he took over Theudebald’s kingdom – the Kingdom of Francia, as Gregory calls it, interestingly – Chlothar also took over Theudebald’s widow, Vuldetrada (who, incidentally, was the sister of the Wisigard who had been married to Theudebald’s father Theudebert: such are the labyrinthine Merovingian marital politics). Says Gregory (or rather Lewis Thorpe) in another marvellous, if unintentionally hilarious, phrase, ‘he began to have intercourse with Vuldetrada but he stopped when the bishops complained.’ Again I think we can detect Nicetius’ role here. As Nicetius was leaving for exile, accompanied by a sole deacon, whom we might suppose was Aredius of Limoges, messengers arrived from Chlothar’s son Sigibert saying that Chlothar had died, just as Nicetius had predicted. Sigibert invited the bishop, by these letters, to return to his see. Sigibert, however, made his capital at Rheims and then Metz, as we have seen. He was astute enough to court Nicetius’ favour, but far too astute to want him as a near neighbour.
Nicetius’ ex cathedra fulminations against the kings were not the whole story, either. He also declared that he had had a vision in which he saw a great and many-windowed tower with God at the summit. Through one of the windows, an angel read out from a book and declared the names of the Kings of the Franks and how long they would reign, the nature and length of their life. Nicetius did not keep this to himself for, as Gregory says, ‘And for each king it happened just as Nicetius declared in his revelation.’ Romanists, especially late Romanists, amongst you will appreciate that this was a startlingly dangerous dream to own up to having had, let alone to keep harping on about in public. Yet Nicetius does not appear to have been bothered by this.
Nicetius, it must be said, took a maximalist interpretation of his pastoral responsibilities. In 564 he wrote to Chlodosind, queen of the Lombards and daughter of his recently deceased adversary Chlothar, to enjoin her to convert her pagan husband, Alboin. This letter gives us an interesting alternative account of Clovis’ conversion from that given by Gregory. Nicetius also saw no problem in writing to the Emperor Justinian, accusing him of falling into the Eutychian and Nestorian heresies. This letter is interesting largely for the fact that it shows that Nicetius had got completely the wrong end of the stick, doubtless confirming Byzantinist views of the uncouth West. None of this, however, would prevent someone as grand as the metropolitan bishop of Belgica Prima from writing a hectoring, if ill-informed, tract to the mere ruler of the Roman Empire. Justinian’s response is unrecorded. What chance did a mere rex francorum have? I think now we begin to understand the exasperation of Theudebert and Chlothar.
Nicetius also worked as an impresario of cult. Mark Handley has shown quite clearly how the church and the cult of SS Maximinus and Paulinus were promoted in the sixth century by Nicetius, although he also makes the interesting point that the bishop may have been building upon an existing local veneration of these saints. Handley makes a persuasive case that the relics of Paulinus were translated to Trier before 550, during Nicetius’ long episcopate. He also makes clear that the church and cemetery of St-Maximinus took over from that of St Eucharius as the post popular choice of burial place. Epigraphic evidence from this cemetery underlines the growing popularity of the cults of Maximinus and Paulinus in the sixth century. This cemetery was, as Handley demonstrates, growing in popularity by the fifth century but I think its dominance can be put down to Nicetius, who is associated with the church of Maximinus in several miracles, and in the end chose to be buried there. The growth in popularity of the northern cemetery may be down to the fact that it was closer to the cathedral, and to the fact that occupation appears to have been concentrated in the northern part of the walled zone. Nicetius was thus adapting to his environment. Nicetius used the cult of Maximinus in a struggle with one of his deacons. Given that his own cult became popular too, this only strengthened the importance of this site. We shall return shortly to consider why Nicetius should have chosen to favour Maximinus and Paulinus instead of the first bishop of Trier, Eucharius, who appears to have been venerated by some at least of Nicetius’ predecessors. For now, the power of Nicetius over his flock is what should be stressed.
Thus far I have dwelt upon Nicetius’ spiritual and high political activities, but it is worth drawing attention to other aspects of his work, which equally spelt difficulty for any competitors for authority in the Triererland. In a poem addressed to Nicetius, Venantius Fortunatus dwells at length about Nicetius’ ‘castellum’ on the Mosel. This place, called Mediolanum, is ringed by walls with thirty towers and sits overlooking the Mosel on a dominant crag. The bishop has organized mills to grind flour, to feed his flock, and has planted vines to ensure wine. Quite where this castellum was is not entirely clear. If Ross Samson is right, however, rather than being a newly constructed private fortification, it was the site of a Roman castellum or burgus. This seems to be the more common way of reading this passage and, though there is no decisive evidence, it seems plausible enough. If so, then we see the bishop’s famed humilitas at work again. A Roman castellum would, presumably, have been public land and thus have passed to the king. Nicetius appears to have taken over this land and used it to his own purposes, especially providing bread and wine for the locals. Again, this is precisely the sort of thing which, as Richard said in his paper, might undercut other attempts to create links of patronage and dependence.
The burdens of episcopal office could be considerable, as Nicetius said. However, there was no automatic reason why a bishop should feel duty bound to be such a thorn in the side of his kings. The Merovingian Church seems to have generally adopted a somewhat flexible approach to the demands of its rulers. In this, as well as drawing upon traditions of having to work with possibly pagan Frankish rulers in the fifth century, after 507 it took up the baton from the Visigothic Gallic church, which had found similar theological elasticity (or, in Gregory of Tours term, ‘flattery’) to encompass close working relationships with Arian kings. Nor, as we shall see, was it a foregone conclusion that bishops who took a more ideologically rigorous line would win out. Theuderic wanted a saintly cleric as bishop for his capital, and apparently imported other southern Gallic clergy to staff the Trierer churches. However, I think he expected that the bishop would be beholden to him for this, and become a yes man, or perhaps, to borrow a joke first cracked I think by Paul Kershaw a ‘yes minister’. What was it that made Nicetius so awkward?
Here we must return to why Nicetius chose to promote the cults of Maximinus and Paulinus, fourth-century bishops of Trier. Both had been outspoken critics of Arianism, and thus of emperors. Gregory of Tours says that Maximinus was a powerful bishop in the reign of Constans, information possibly derived from his Trier sources. He was a vocal supporter of the anti-Arian party. Paulinus died in exile. As Handley says, it seems to have been Nicetius who brought his relics back for burial in Trier, though whether it was his ill-judged letter to Justinian which facilitated this is perhaps less likely. When he (if it was he) acquired or invented relics of Paulinus it is important to note that, unlike Kate Cooper’s Roman cult impresarios, Nicetius ‘discovered’ not a martyr, but a local bishop who had been exiled for his firm stance against worldly rulers. Furthermore, Nicetius had an attachment to the cult of St Martin, another saint who, by the late sixth century had acquired anti-Arian credentials. In his letter to Chlodosind, he says that it was because of miracles at the church of St Martin in Tours that Clovis was converted. As he will have known from the highly influential Life of Martin by Sulpicius Severus, Martin was an outspoken critic of backsliding Emperors, not fearing to tackle Magnus Maximus. And where did Martin do this, other than at Trier? For a naturally zealous prelate like Nicetius, these traditions, in the physical environment, however run down, of the old imperial capital and palace, could indeed settle heavily upon your neck.
Nicetius was not just a problem whilst he was alive. After his death some time in the mid 560s, his cult rapidly became very popular. Gregory tells us, in the Glory of the Confessors of the many miracles which took place at his tomb. These included the freeing of prisoners from their chains, so even from beyond the grave, Nicetius could present difficulties for the agents of secular law and order. Nicetius’ cult, obviously, was promoted by his successors, and they inherited the burden of tradition, obviously even heavier for Nicetius’ sterling efforts during his forty-year episcopate. His successor Magneric, though he does not appear to have been a particularly politically effective figure, outside Trier at any rate, nevertheless also intervened in royal efforts to control the church. When Theodore of Marseille – an unfortunate, though, it has to be said, politically inept prelate – was brought north on one of his periodic trials, Magneric intervened on his behalf, praying for his release and putting about stories which claimed how demons had pronounced this bishop to be a holy man: the resonance with the story of Nicetius’ clash with Theudebert is fairly clear. He also tried to save the life of Guntramn Boso but with less success. His opponent, Childebert II, despite or because of his tender years, being only 18 or 19 at the time, had a more robust approach to dealing with difficult bishops than his relatives. He ordered his troops to set fire to Guntramn’s house, and if Magneric didn’t come out, well, then he could go up in smoke too. The church where Magneric prayed for the release of Theodore was the Church of Maximinus, so he too was continuing to promote this cult, now of course strengthened by having Nicetius’ remains interred there.
Difficult though the episcopal tradition at Trier was for Merovingian kings to deal with, it still is not the whole story. Bryan Ward Perkins discussed the problems which might arise from attempting to impose a new ideology upon the built remains of a previous one, to which one was opposed. I think Bella Sandwell’s discussion of Antioch demonstrated clearly why temples might not have been such a huge problem as Bryan supposed. In Trier the Altbachtal cult site appears to have simply been allowed to fall down, and have private houses built all over it by the Merovingian period. In the west, buildings associated with spectacle appear to have been more problematic, as I mentioned after Bryan’s paper and as Mark Humphries’ paper showed much more lucidly. In the Trier context, the diatribe of the ex-pat Treverus Salvian against his former compatriots and their hankering after circuses in the dark days of the fifth century takes on particular importance. Here, the fact that the circus and amphitheatre lay next to the cathedral was probably a boon to Nicetius, but not to his royal rivals, as we have seen. Yet the problem of the existing built environment did not only arise where one wished to impose a new and antagonistic ideology. It could arise when one wanted to adopt but adapt the old ideology. As many commentators have shown, and is increasingly the standard view, Merovingian royal ideology was very Roman, but the very fact that Trier had been the Roman capital itself made difficulties. In his poems composed during various visits to the north-east, Venantius Fortunatus described Trier as ‘noble capital of a noble people’ and ‘the noble capital of ancient times.’ In, or perhaps amidst, an environment so clearly and so obviously imperial, how could post-Roman kings inscribe their own political identity?
Then I wonder if there was not a general case of what we might term, again using technical historical vocabulary, the post-Justinianic jitters? Patrick Amory has demonstrated clearly the very real political importance of the new Constantinopolitan ideology about the ‘lost west’ and the need for reconquest from the 520s onwards. These ideas were translated into bloody reality in the middle decades of the century, with the expulsion of the Vandals from Carthage and of the Ostrogoths from Italy. Indeed mention of the Ostrogoths and the well-known buildings of Ravenna might bring up very clearly the problem of imposing new ideologies on old ones. All this may well have made post-Roman kings, who were no less keen on Romanitas than their predecessors, somewhat less easy about inhabiting the ideological centres of the Roman Empire. After all, that Empire had just waged dreadful war against such interlopers. All this might help us understand why the Anglo-Saxon kings seem later to have had less of a problem with using York. As we saw last week, there was – or seems to have been – a significant break between York’s existence as a Roman city and its reuse by the Romanising kings of Northumbria.
The jitters can be seen as late as the 580s, long after the Empire had ceased to have any real ability to interfere militarily in the west, during the Byzantine-backed revolts of Hermenegild and Gundovald. This may well be why after the middle of the sixth century ‘barbarian’ kings stopped living in major Roman centres. The case of the embattled Lombards, perpetually at war with the Empire is particularly unsurprising; the Visigoths, who now adopted Toledo had also been on the receiving end of Justinian’s ideology. To this one might add that the bishops of Milan obviously had their own highly significant model of forthright intervention against secular rulers: Ambrose himself. Roger Collins has demonstrated the problems which the Visigoths had in dealing with the bishops of Mérida. The Visigoths also had recent problematic confrontations with Roman aristocratic groups.
All this was particularly acute for the Lombards and Visigoths, both of whom had to contend with imperially controlled territories providing rival political foci and, especially in Italy, rather more convincing claims to Roman identity. Yet it was clearly a problem for the Franks too. Here we return to the Treveri themselves. The priest confounded by St Maximinus in a miracle during the reign of Theudebert was called Arbogast. It does not seem unlikely that the dynasty descended from the fourth-century usurper and fifth-century count was still present in the city and proclaiming its identity. Arbogast’s opponent was just ‘a Frank’, another intriguing reference to ‘Franks’ in Trier in Theudebert’s reign. More usually, however, the Treveri took a particularly Roman identity. It is interesting to note that Gregory calls Nicetius ‘Bishop of the Treveri’ and not Bishop of Trier. I think it does suggest his link with a particular, Romanising community. The wealth of the Trierer aristocracy was noted at the beginning of my paper. It is possibly demonstrated by the continuing frequent use of Roman names throughout the Merovingian period on Trier epitaphs. It is also shown by those epitaphs themselves. If one plots the distribution of Merovingian epitaphs in northern Gaul we have a few here, a few there, as many as twenty or so in Metz, but, at the latest count, over 800 in Trier. Mark Handley says that this is over a third of the entire corpus of Gallic late antique inscriptions. This was a community which proclaimed an adherence to Roman traditions in death and I would argue one which proclaims a greater confidence in status and identity. This was going to be the competing communities part of this project, because I wanted to compare this tradition with the burial of grave-goods in the rural areas of the civitas. There are interesting comparisons and contrasts between these forms of competitive memorialisation. As is clear though, I don’t have time to go into this.
The comparative power of the Treveri aristocracy might also be shown by the comparatively better rate of survival of villas and other sites into the fifth century. Largely the evidence is not very good and still only seems to go as far as the mid century, but this is still better than the areas all around – here we’re still talking about the Mosel valley rather than the peripheral regions of the civitas. And the evidence of continued occupation at Trier itself, though hardly deafening, is better than that for certain other Gallic towns I could mention, or any British town. Most interestingly of all is the reference in the Vita Germani Grandivallensis to the fact that Germanus came from a family of ‘senators’. This reference to senators is, as far as I am aware, unique in Merovingian northern Gaul, and note, again, his Roman name. Not quite as interesting, but still fairly interesting, is the Vita Gaugerici with its statement that Gaugeric came from a family of ‘Romans’ of middling status in the civitas of Trier. Here, however, his parents gave him a Germanic name. Another point is the survival of Roman place-names in the region and the fact, long known, that the area of Trier was a bastion of Romance language, another index of self-conscious, socio-culturally powerful Roman identity in the post-Roman world.
I wonder if the repeated reference to ‘Franks’ in Trier in Gregory’s works is suggestive. Gregory’s sources for Trier were almost entirely to do with Nicetius, probably almost entirely Aredius of Limoges. Nicetius probably, and Aredius certainly, were Aquitanian Romans, like the Arvernian Gregory himself. Nicetius and Aredius possibly felt some common identity with the Roman Treveri. Given the Roman names and collective identity of the Treveri, it may be that the stories about ‘Franks’ which made it back to Gregory were stories about ‘outsiders’. After all, the Frank in the miracle involving the deacon Arbogast is at the end of the story simply called ‘barbarus’.
The Trierer aristocracy appears to have remained powerful and comparatively wealthy throughout the Merovingian period. The power of the Merovingian realm was largely based upon the importance of royal patronage and office. The Treveri do not appear to have felt they needed this, and yet were sufficiently self-assured to feel they belonged at the centre of power. Possibly the best way to combat this and bring them to heel was to adopt the solution which bound the even more powerful and confident southern Gallic Roman aristocracies into the Merovingian polity: to remove them from the centres of politics.
With all this in mind it is perhaps easy to see why the ‘King of the Franks’ may not have felt at ease in Trier, especially after Justinian’s wars. Thus he moved to Metz. Brief study of Metz sheds extra light on the problem, not least because it highlights its complexities. Metz was a large city and a prosperous one as we’ve seen, central within Austrasia and more easily defended than Trier. It did not, furthermore, have Trier’s Roman ideological baggage. It did have, like Toledo, the merit of absolute blandness. This allowed the kings to proclaim their Romanitas but to inscribe their own political identity on the town. Now, interestingly, they seem to have tried to recreate a royal complex very similar to that at Trier. It had a centre for spectacle in the small amphitheatre, probably like that at Trier, incorporated into the walls. It had a large basilical building, which was probably the centre of the palace complex, and it had the cathedral of St Stephen in close proximity. But bishops weren’t a problem at Metz. There were no awkward local saints or traditions of episcopal antagonism. What’s more, the Merovingians, practically as soon as they moved to Metz, simply installed trusted former palatine officials as bishops. Practically every bishop of Metz that we know anything at all about has a close link with the royal court. The most problematic bishop, Arnulf does not appear to have been popular with the locals and seems to have been driven out. His cult did not take off until his descendants, the Carolingians, gained political control, and it took them a while to bring Metz to heel. The difficulties of bishops were still revealed, however. Although the evidence is almost non-existent, it seems that Charles Martel, when he gained control of Metz, had to put up with a bishop, Sigibald, who had been a member of the opposing faction, and was clearly venerated in the region. Sigibald inconveniently remained bishop for the rest of Charles’ period of rule. When he died Charles’ successors quickly installed one of their followers, Chrodegang, who assiduously refounded Sigibald’s monastic foundations.
The Messin aristocracy was also less wealthy than that in neighbouring regions. The king and the bishop would appear to have retained tight control of the lands of the Plateau Lorrain throughout the Merovingian region, and the region remained socially and politically dependent upon Metz and the patronage dispensed there. This was much more like it.
So, post-Roman kings liked to act the Roman Emperor but they didn’t want any latter day Ambroses on their doorsteps stealing the show. Merovingian kings liked to take role of Roman ruler; they were not keen on the supporting cast playing the part of the citizens of the res publica with too much gusto.