Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Guest post: The Paris attacks and the abuse of history, by Mark Humphries

[This is an important post in many ways. The least significant is that it is the first guest post I have ever had on Historian on the Edge. I have always wanted this to be a space where others could write if they liked. I can't think of anyone I would like to have the putative or dubious distinction of being the author of my first guest post than my very good friend Prof Mark Humphries.  More importantly, though, The Paris attacks and the abuse of history is a super, intelligent, scholarly and clear riposte to 'Fire His Ass Ferguson's' diatribe in The Sunday Times. Most of all, I hope that as Mark is a reasonable, politic and subtle thinker rather than a raging, angry, oikish firebrand like me, this might actually cut some ice where it matters.  This has been tweeted and done the rounds on Facebook as it deserves, but I hope it will teach a further audience here. Over to Mark:]

Niall Ferguson, Laurence A. Tisch professor of history at Harvard and a senior fellow of Stanford’s Hoover Institution, does not shy away from controversy. His debate about the legacies of European colonialism with Pankaj Mishra in the pages of the London Review of Books is enough to show that. The recent horror visited on Paris has prompted from him another broadside, published in two Murdoch-owned titles, The Sunday Times and The Australian. In his op-ed, he argues that modern Europe, like the Roman empire in the 5th century AD, stands on the brink of collapse before insuperable external forces – but the 21st Europeans are too complacent to spot the obvious analogy. Where Rome faced barbarians, modern Europe faces Daesh. He quotes from Edward Gibbon’s lurid description of the sack of Rome by the Goths in 410, offering it as an obvious parallel to Friday’s massacre in Paris. Ferguson wants to push the parallel further: fifth century Rome was complacent about its frontier defences; so too, he argues on the basis of the recent influx of refugees, is modern Europe. The link he posits is causal: “Poor, poor Paris,” he concludes. “Killed by complacency.”

Ferguson admits he “do[es] not know enough about the fifth century” to trace what he would see as ancient parallels to the supine responses of modern European leaders to current threats. But I do know about the fifth century: it is my historical stomping ground, and I, along with others in the field (to judge by social media), have read Ferguson’s op-ed with dismay mounting to anger. He seriously misrepresents the historical experiences of the fifth century, which matters when a Harvard history professor purports to be presenting the past to a general audience.

For all his lack of knowledge, Ferguson claims to have done some cursory research. In addition to Gibbon, he cites two important studies of the end of the Roman empire, both published in 2005: Bryan Ward-Perkins’s The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization and Peter Heather’s The Fall of the Roman Empire.

But what he does with these works amounts to eye-wateringly simplistic distortion. For instance, basing his deductions on Peter Heather’s discussion of the economic attractions of the empire to its barbarian neighbours, he remarks: “Like the Roman empire in the early 5th century, Europe has allowed its defences to crumble. As its wealth has grown, so its military prowess has shrunk, along with its self-belief. It has grown decadent in its malls and stadiums. At the same time, it has opened its gates to outsiders who have coveted its wealth without renouncing their ancestral faith.” Notice the pernicious conflation there between economic migrants and refugees: it is a point Ferguson labours elsewhere in his article, when he remarks “Things in their own countries have become just good enough economically for them to afford to leave and just bad enough politically for them to risk leaving.” For Ferguson, all these people, no matter how desperate their circumstances, represent an undifferentiated external threat.

There are other conflations too, this time underscoring an “us” versus “them” mentality of fear. He writes begrudgingly: “It is doubtless true to say that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Europe are not violent. But it is also true the majority hold views not easily reconciled with the principles of our liberal democracies, including our novel notions about sexual equality and tolerance not merely of religious diversity but of nearly all sexual proclivities.” But this is a straw man argument, producing a caricature of “us” that fails to account for the wide variety of opinions on matters of inclusion and tolerance to be found across Europe. In equal fashion, his construction of a Muslim “other” is a caricature devoid of nuance.

But this caricature aids his simplistic argument about a Europe beset by hostile forces from without. Some of my fellow historians have asked the obvious question why Ferguson fixates on the fifth century, when the seventh century in the East, which saw the rise of Islam, might present more obvious food for thought. Perhaps Ferguson knows even less about that. But there is another point here, in that it enables Ferguson to construct a narrative that fixates on the West. Edward Gibbon, whom Ferguson cites with approval, pulled a similar trick. In his ‘General considerations on the decline of the empire in the west’ that concluded volume 3 of his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon made this European dimension explicit by considering how a similar chain of events might impact on the Europe of his own day.

Gibbon, then, saw the demise of the Roman empire in the fifth century as a peculiarly western tragedy; it was also one that risked happening again. No modern specialist of the period would accept Gibbon’s analysis as anything more than the posturing of an Enlightenment intellectual decrying the forces of “superstition” and “barbarism”. That Ferguson chooses to do so fits neatly with the primacy and ascendancy of the West in his historical vision. In this he is not alone: a string of right-wing commentators in the United States have expounded a similar vision equating modern America with ancient Rome, and issuing dire warnings that it risks a similar fate. This perspective has been subject to withering deconstruction by the late Jack Goody, who argued in his The Theft of History (2006) that much of world history has been shoehorned into a narrative framework derived from and designed to satisfy the experience of the West. It also purposefully leaves out of the picture the dynamic interactions and genuinely shared histories of the West and the rest of the world. But that is not a story that suits an agenda of “us” pitted against “them”.

Even Gibbon came to question the validity of his analysis and see that not everything could be blamed on an external barbarian foe crashing inwards towards a civilised centre. The final, sixth volume of his Decline and Fall was published in 1788. A year later, France was thrown into the convulsive horrors of revolution. Gibbon was compelled to acknowledge that he had completely missed the significance of internal problems, notably civil war, in bringing about Rome’s demise. In notes made for a never-realised seventh volume of his history, he wrote: “Should I not have deduced the decline of the Empire from the Civil Wars, that ensued after the fall of Nero or even from the tyranny which succeeded the reign of Augustus? Alas! I should: but of what avail is this tardy knowledge? Where error is irretrievable, repentance is useless.” Ferguson would do well to meditate on this.

Peter Heather, one of the modern historians of Rome’s fall cited by Ferguson, allows for a more nuanced analysis of the empire’s collapse. He writes: “there is no serious historian who thinks that the western Empire fell entirely because of internal problems, or entirely because of exogenous shock.” I’ve often wondered what the obvious opposite of Heather’s “serious historian” – a frivolous one – might write. Having read Ferguson’s ill-judged and shallow analogies between 5th century Rome and 21st century Europe, I think I now know.

Poor, poor Ferguson. Undone by complacency.

Mark Humphries

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Ethnic Transformations: A Rider

Although I had bumbled my own way to the conclusions reached in the previous article about the context for Æthelberht's Laws, Patrick Wormald had already reached them (or ones very similar) 20 years ago.  See The Making of English Law round about p.100.  This will go into a footnote, as will an acknowledgement to Dr Levi Roach for putting me onto it, though I really should have known to look there to start off with if I was any good... What I will make of this point, however, is likely to be rather different from what Wormald did.

Friday, 23 October 2015

The Ethnic Transformations of the Year 600 (A preliminary sketch): Part 2.

[Here is the second instalment of my thinking about ethnic change around 600.  As you will see, it is largely consists of somewhat rambling 'thinking aloud', which tends to be the way I formulate arguments and generate texts in their initial form, but any thoughts are as always welcome.]

One of the most important elements of these changes is the seemingly general demise of prestigious secular ‘Roman’ identities.  The ‘Roman’ dux Chramnelen listed by Fredegar points us at one potential exception, to which we shall return.  This must be one of the more dramatic consequences of Justinian’s wars and accompanying ideology.  As has been noted, in Lex Salica the romani represent a parallel free population to that of the franci within which three different strata can be noted: the tributarii, (tax-payers), the possessores (land-owners) and the members of the convivia regis (‘the kings dining companions’).  These strata have a lower wergild than, but otherwise seem broadly equivalent to, their Frankish counterparts: the francus (for the possessores) and the antrustio or member of the trustis regis (the royal bodyguard, for the members of the convivia regis).[1]  The names of the different strata make clear the functional division between the Franks and Romans, with the former occupying a military role and the latter paying taxes and handling the civil administration.  Outside a few specific cases relating to offences between people of different ethnic identities, however, the general term ingenuus seems to encompass freemen of any ethnicity.[2]  More than that, as in a number of other immediately post-imperial law-codes, ethnic identity seems primarily to apply to mature adult males.[3]  This appears to imply that a fully ethnic legal identity was achieved, presumably when a male married and established a household, with legal dependents. 

The picture given by Ripuarian Law, as described earlier, is quite different.  In the territory within which the law applied, romani were half-free and required a Ripuarian to speak for them at law.  The Ripuarians, moreover, include men, women and children.  Ethnicity now appears to be something ascribed at birth.  The romani who can be tried by their own law, mentioned above, are those – presumably aristocrats – from other areas (mainly, one assumes, Aquitaine or Provence).  There were many reasons why one might adopt a Frankish identity in sixth-century northern Gaul: legal privilege, exemption from some forms of taxation, the greater prestige of military service (enabling one to attend the gatherings of the army, the most significant political assembly of the realm), and so on.  It is therefore not difficult to envisage a gradual drift towards Frankish identity over the period.  The shift seems to be rather more significant than that model would allow, however, accelerating dramatically in the late sixth century.  There had, after all, been cultural and other bases of Roman identity that could be deployed to counter the de facto political and military power of the Franks.  Mid-sixth-century Merovingian kings had continued to bestow patronage upon Roman aristocrats and the Church had remained an area wherein some form of Roman identity was important.  Most sixth-century churchmen, even in the north, have Roman names.[4]  It seems most plausible to see the ideological shifts associated with Justinian’s campaigns of ‘reconquest’ as finally cutting away the cultural or social benefits of Roman identity in much of the West.  As a result, as we have seen, ‘Romans’ in north-east Gaul effectively ceased to be a part of the free population. Another indication of the general collapse of a Roman identity can be seen in name-giving practices.  In the sixth century most churchmen had, or took, Roman names.  The bishop list of Metz is not untypical; after the accession of Agiulf sometime around 590-600 only three other bishops had Roman names during the Merovingian period.  Fredegar’s Roman dux Chramnelen had taken a Frankish name although the adoption of non-Roman names by Gallo-Romans entering the service of the Merovingian kings had begun much earlier.[5]

What, however, of those ‘Romans’ in parts of the Frankish realm that had never experienced significant settlement by people claiming a non-Roman identity, such as Aquitaine?  This area had always been a somewhat unusual part of the regnum.  The land-owners in the region, it would seem, were expected to perform military service as well as pay taxes from their estates.[6]  There was clearly some social cachet to their identity which could be played off against ‘Franks’ administering the region for the kings.[7]  Gregory was not above giving a certain pejorative, ‘barbarian’ sense to the label ‘Frank’ on occasion.  It is interesting, then, that Germanic names seem to have become almost as ubiquitous here as north of the Loire by the seventh century.  It is interesting too that in the Life of Saint Eligius the epithet romanus thrown at the saint by northern countryfolk is clearly derogatory - as indeed it would have been in the north by that date, if we can judge from Lex Ribvaria.  In this context then perhaps it is significant that was from the seventh century that a ‘Gascon’ (Basque) identity began to be important in southern Gaul, associated with a military élite.  Romanness was no longer adequate.

The clause of Ripuarian Law alluded to earlier, about the personality of the law, seems to be indicative of a general trend from around 600.  The prologues to the Pactus of Alamannic Law and the Bavarian Law refer to the creation of laws for these peoples in the early seventh century.  The Alamannic pactus claims to have been issued by a king Chlothar, generally seen as Chlothar II, whereas the preface to Lex Baiwariorum tells of how king Dagobert perfected earlier laws drawn up by earlier kings (Theuderic, Childebert and Chlothar are named[8]) and gave them to each people.[9]  Bavarian Law quotes the words of Isidore of Seville describing the people who gave the laws to the different peoples of history, down to the Theodosian Code, before saying that thereafter ‘each people chose a law for itself from its customs’ and quoting Isidore again on the distinctions between lex, mos, and consuetudo.  It seems very likely, then, that the association of peoples with their own law was a development of the period around 600.

In this connection it is interesting to reconsider some clauses of Chlothar II’s Edict of Paris, issued in October 614.  Clause 12 of the Edict requires that no iudex be appointed from outside the region in which he was to exercise his functions.  The judge would have to have property in the region from which he could compensate claimants in the case of any wrong-doing.  Seeing such an enactment in terms of a concern for (in modern terms) ‘accountable’ local government seems reasonable enough.[10]  The clause makes yet more sense, however, in a context where the different regions of the realm had their own law.  If, for example, a Burgundian was sent into Austrasia as a judge then, by the very terms of Ripuarian Law, he would be entitled to be tried by Burgundian Law rather than the law he was supposed to be administering and this would indeed cause problems in gaining restitution for any offences, especially if he was required to recompense any plaintiffs with property that lay in a different law’s area of jurisdiction.

The Pactus Legis Alemannorum, which claims to have been issued by King Chlothar (presumably Chlothar II, as noted), is an interesting text.  Unlike the near-contemporary Lex Ribvaria it makes no reference to internal ethnic divisions.  The term Alamannus itself appears but rarely; the concern of the law is much more with stratification within the free population.  Of course, the bulk of the area within which the Pactus applied lay outside the late Empire’s boundaries, so the absence of romani is a problem that probably does not arise.  We can at least say that not trace remained in the law of the Roman inhabitants of the agri decumates.  Whether the Pactus applied in Alsace (formerly a part of Germania Prima) of is moot: perhaps unlikely but not impossible.  The promulgation of the Pactus has been linked by some scholars to the presence of the king at Marlenheim near Strasbourg and the relationship between Alsace and the Austrasian court was troubled in the first decades of the seventh century but it is difficult to draw firm conclusions.  The implication nevertheless is that the seventh-century population of Alamannia shared a single ethnicity.

With this in mind, then, it might not be surprising either that the first Anglo-Saxon law-code, that of Æthelberht of Kent, also belongs to the reign of Chlothar II.  The acquisition of a bishop with the pallium, direct from Rome may have been a means of cementing Æthelberht’s new dominance in English politics and an independence from the powerful rulers across the Channel.  The issuing of a set of laws for his people might be another element of such a strategy, or it could be seen in the context of broader developments within the area of Frankish hegemony.  All the ‘peoples’ of the Frankish regnum should have their own law.  However, ethnic labels of any sort are strikingly absent from Æthelberht’s code (as they are from all of the seventh-century Kentish codes), even in the description of the kingdom.[11]  This fact is difficult to interpret.  Given Bede’s famous statement about the origins of the various kingdoms of the English, with Kent being founded by Jutes, the absence of any reference to Jutes in Kentish documents is immediately striking.  Was ‘Jute’ an outside appellation?  It has been suggested plausibly enough that the Eucii who appear alongside the Saxones in Theudebert I’s letter to Justinian could be the ‘Jutes’ of Kent.[12]  Was it rather that the ethnonym disappeared from use in southern England by the early seventh century?  By the time our records appear the Kentish kingdom and its inhabitants seem exclusively to be associated with the Roman civitas of the Cantii.  If so, it is intriguing to speculate on the sort of process that might have brought this about.  Perhaps, for example, only one civitas of a once-larger sixth-century ‘Jutish’ realm remained?  This might explain why the other ‘Jutish’ region in Bede’s view was the Isle of Wight and the coastline opposite, a quite separate region.  Ethnic labels of a higher, ‘gentile’[13] level might have been lost in the process.  Either way, in Æthelberht’s Code the distinctions among the free population are entirely based upon status within a legal hierarchy that makes no reference to ethnic differences.  In this – and in other aspects – the law interestingly resembles its close contemporary, the Pactus Legis Alemannorum.  Unlike the area within which the pactus applied, however, the absence of a Roman population cannot be so easily bracketed. Were we to assume that, instead of simply talking about freemen, the text spoke of ‘freemen of the Cantwara’, the code would show some similarity to Ripuarian Law, which likewise uses a ‘regional’ ethnic signifier for its subjects.[14]  It could be that the local Roman population had – again as in Lex Ribvaria – either adopted the general identity of the free population or sunk into the semi-free classes and so required no separate legislation.  The only indication that this might be the case is the appearance of the term laet, from the Latin laetus, to denote an evidently half-free category.[15]  Quite how or why laeti (originally barbarians captured in war and settled inside the Empire) would come to refer to people of provincial Roman origin is difficult to imagine, however.

[1] Notably PLS 42.
[2] Halsall Settlement and Social Organisation, pp.27-29, for more detailed discussion.
[3] Halsall, Barbarian Migrations, pp.
[4] A letter from Gogo, the nutritor of Childebert II, to Bishop Petrus of Metz (c.580) provides an interesting snapshot of local ecclesiastical personnel, listing seven office-holders among the latter’s circle.  Four have Germanic names; three have Roman.  This might indicate the shift towards Germanic names already under way.  One may be a civic official, however.  Theodemund is described as civium praesidium, which is especially interesting as the description is a literal translation of his name.  However one reads it, this suggests some knowledge of Germanic language in the Moselle valley.  Either Gogo was punning on Theodemund’s name, or Theodemund took a name that described his position. Ep.Aust. 22.
[5] Gregory of Tours’ maternal great-uncle, Gundulf, who had been one of the domestici at the Austrasian court, is perhaps the best-known example.  The penetration of the fashion for non-Roman names more generally into southern Gaulish society is visible in Gregory’s works during the 570s-90s.
[6] Halsall, Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West 450-900 (London, 2003), pp.
[7] Seen classically in Gregory of Tours’ dealings with Leudast, the count of Tours.  Leudast, said Gregory, was a low-born Poitevin but had risen in the service of the Frankish kings and had been given, or had adopted, a Frankish name.
[8] This statement was one of the admittedly slender bases for Eckhardt’s identification of different recensions of Salic Law associated with these rulers in the manuscripts of the PLS.
[9] Pactus Legis Alemannorum preface; Lex Baiwariorum preface.
[10] See James, The Origins of France (London 1982), p.140-1.
[11] Æthelberht’s eventual successors and fellow law-makers, Hlothhere and Eadric, and Wihtræd are all styled kings of the Cantwara.  Æthelberht is simply ‘Æthelberht the king’.
[12] I.N. Wood, The Merovingian North Sea (Alingsas)
[13] I have used this admittedly problematic term to denote an ethnic identity which relates to a ‘people’, like the Franks, the Alamans or the Bavarians.
[14] As I have argued elsewhere (Barbarian Migrations), and intimated above, it is analytically mistaken to assume that what might look like regionally- or geographically-based signifiers are less ‘ethnic’ than those that derive from the names of ‘peoples’ – not least because the former can become the latter, as in the case of the Cantwara.
[15] This is one of the few points of similarity between Æthelberht’s Code and the Pactus Legis Salicae, and the latter’s half-free class of liti.  That the laets might have been Romano-British has been suggested by several authorities, such as Whitelock.

Friday, 16 October 2015

The Ethnic Transformations of the Year 600 (A preliminary sketch): Part 1

["Not talkin' 'bout the roots in the name/ talkin' 'bout the roots in the man', sang Lamont Dozier (and, later and more famously, Odyssey). When I started working on the 'Transformations of the Year 600', I thought that there would be little or nothing to say about ethnicity, unlike in its predecessor, Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, where it is an important element of the analysis.  This was because I accepted the view, which seems general, that that was, if not 'the' period of ethnogenesis, certainly a period when ethnic identity was very important in political transformation.  Now I am wondering whether this was in fact the case.  Thinking about the nature of post-imperial polities either side of 600, and the processes of subjectification, made me reconsider this.  Here are my current, very preliminary thoughts on this issue.  These, clearly, deal only with the Frankish kingdom.  Whether things might be different in the Visigothic, Lombard or Anglo-Saxon realms remains to be seen.]


‘It wearies me to record the diverse civil wars that beset the people and kingdom of the Franks [francorum gentem et regnum]...’[1]

One of the biggest areas of research in early medieval history in recent decades has been the study of ethnicity and its role in the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire.  Indeed Walter Goffart, an outspoken opponent of the ‘ethnogenesis’ approach, begins one book with a statement that the Roman Empire ran into a ‘wave of ethnicity’ in Late Antiquity.[2]  The often vitriolic debate has overwhelmingly concerned the period between the late fourth and the sixth centuries, that of the ‘fall of the Roman Empire’; the period covered by the present book has featured very much less prominently except, perhaps, in discussions of the Lombards and Avars.  In this chapter, however, I will suggest that in fact it was precisely in the decades around 600 that ethnic identity really came to the fore as a politically significant factor. 

I have offered a fairly full discussion of the nature of ethnicity before[3] but it will be helpful to offer a résumé of the conclusions reached there. There is no single feature that can be used to define an ethnicity, other than the belief in one’s membership of a group and in the distinctiveness of that group.  Ethnicity is subjective, multi-layered (one can have more than one level of identity that functions in an ‘ethnic’ way), performative (ethnic identity is not immanent but is activated by performance), situational (it, or certain levels of an actor’s ethnicity, is performed in certain situations) and dynamic (what an ethnic identity means, or the effects achieved in its performance, change through time). The principal means by which I would modify this view today would be in which the identity being performed is seen.  In the 2007 book there is insufficient theorisation of what is meant by an ‘identity’, although this flaw is very common across the innumerable studies of identity in early medieval history.[4]  It seems too strongly implied that the identity, however mutable, is some sort of self-present entity or at least a set of unproblematically, mutually-understood roles and images.  The point to be stressed though is that any identity is a mental image of an ideal, comprised not only of what the social actor sees as its advantages and disadvantages but also what they perceive to be others’ expectations of the correct performance of the identity.  That mental image will of course constantly be changing as a result of the myriad ongoing performances of social interactions between people of particular identities.  The mental ideal image associated with the identity can, furthermore, never be attained but is always striven towards.  There is also no guarantee that that image, as perceived by one actor, will correspond exactly to that imagined by other parties in the interaction.  That gives the decision to perform a particular identity in a social interaction some of the characteristics of a wager rather than something of which the outcome can be entirely predicted in terms of the relative prestige or privilege associated with particular identities.

In the fifth and early sixth centuries it can be argued that ethnic identity was particularly fluid and multi-layered.  This should not be assumed to mean that one could pick and choose identities at will.  The ethnic shifts that can be observed are best explained in terms of the acquisition, and reordering through time, of new identities within the ethnic field.  Thus a provincial Roman (and one must remember that ‘Roman’ identity was itself multi-layered, with regional and various civitas identities beneath the general ’Roman’ heading) might acquire a new, ‘barbarian’ ethnicity, such as Goth or Frank, related to various activities or functions within the realm.  Over time that identity might come to be stressed more than the others, until it was his primary means of identification.  There can be no doubt that politics in this period could be seen as the interaction of ethnic identities. 

That said, however, ethnicities at that time appear very often to have been functional.  Famously, for example, barbarian ethnic identities were associated with the military, across the west, while the ‘Roman’ identity was linked more heavily to educational culture, to civic administrative roles, to the Church, and so on.  The implication of this is that ethnicity remained ‘nested’ within and authorised by a particular conception of the Roman or post-imperial state.  What shaped the social role of, for example, Gothic identity was the perception of the military function of the Goths.  This can be seen very clearly in the writings of Cassiodorus and the ‘civilitas’ ideology to which he gave voice.  Goths defended the realm, allowing Romans to maintain their traditional civilised way of life, which included serving in the administrative offices of the kingdom.  The two identities were largely defined by their interrelationship within that structure and any power associated with them was ultimately legitimated by a link to the king.  In many regards, this simply continued the late Roman distinction between the civil and military arms of imperial service.  None of this denies that the relationship between such ethnic identities was dynamic and that the relative standing of each was subject to change.  This was one factor that led to particular social actors adopting other identities.

Andrew Gillett has argued that ethnicity was not politicised in the immediately post-imperial period.[5]  This immediately, of course, begs the question of what is meant by ‘politicised’.  Gillett appears to take the political to mean the level of political units and their leaders, which is too restrictive an interpretation.  Clearly, within any kingdom the interplay of ethnic identities was political.  Nonetheless, at that high level of politics, his argument is forceful.  Terms that associated royal titles or realms with people, like those that appear in the epigram from Gregory of Tours with which this chapter opened, do seem to be rare before the late sixth century.  The preceding discussion perhaps suggests why this was.  The realm itself was not associated with a single dominant ethnicity or ethnic group and the ruler was the ruler of all groups within a territory.  As we have just seen, it was the overarching structure of the territory or state and its government and ruler that legitimised, and created a frame for, the performance of ethnic identities. 

The place of ethnic identity in society and politics may, however, have changed in the later sixth century.  Two documentary references might give us a way into examining this.  The first comes in Fredegar’s Chronicle (IV.78), describing a punitive campaign launched in 636/7 by the Franks against the Basques.  King Dagobert sent an army led by ten dukes: ‘Arinbert, Amalgar, Leudebert, Wandalmar, Wandelbert, Ermen, Barontus, Chairard ex genere francorum, Chramnelen ex genere romano [sic], Willibad the patrician genere burgundionum, Aighyna genere saxsonum [sic]’ and many other counts. 

The second comes from Ripuarian Law.  Lex Ribvaria’s date is difficult to establish with any precision; it lacks an identifying prologue and the manuscripts, as is so often the case, are later than its presumed date of issue.  Nonetheless, the communis opinio, based on cross-reference from the prologues to the late Alamannic and Bavarian codes, seems to be that it was issued in the reign of Dagobert.  Whether the promulgation of the law would date to the beginning of his sole rule (629) or, as I have proposed before, associated with the council of Clichy (626) and the defusing of tensions between Dagobert and his father, is uncertain.  We might nevertheless accept an early seventh-century date.  The law might then belong to more or less the same time as the Basque campaign described by Fredegar.  Clause 40 of the law sets out the penalties to be paid if a Ripuarian Frank kills another freeman of varying ethnic identities: Frank, Burgundian, Roman, Alaman, Frisian, Bavarian and Saxon are listed.  More significantly for the development and historiography of early medieval law, clause 35 says that someone of Ripuarian, Frankish, Burgundian, Alamannic ‘or whatever other’ origin can be tried by the law of the place (or of the people into which) they were born.  This is the first reference to the much discussed ‘personality of the law’ in the Merovingian world.

The two texts appear to suggest that different ethnic identities were important within the ‘kingdom of the Franks’.  The analysis, however, may require us to look at the two levels of kingship within the Merovingian world: the regional Teilreiche and the broader regnum francorum made up of all of the different kingdoms and occasionally unified under a single ruler (such as Chlothar I at the very start of our period or his grandson Chlothar II between 613 and 621). If we start with the lower of these two levels, represented by Ripuarian Law, it is difficult to imagine any ordinary freeman making effective a claim to a non-Ripuarian Frankish identity and thus to be tried by the law of his own people in a typical Frankish rural mallus or court.  The title guaranteeing the right to be tried by one’s own law seems more plausibly to be aimed at the higher ranks of society.   Within the Austrasian Teilreich, then, an aristocrat could effectively employ an ethnic identity from outside the kingdom.

This is underlined by Fredegar’s account, which shows that when the aristocracy of the different Teilreiche came together within the aristocracy in the politics of the broader Frankish kingdom, their different ethnicities were noted.  The context of Fredegar’s description, moreover, makes it clear that aristocrats of all of these different identities (including Roman) were involved in leading the army.[6]  Simple administrative function within the realm’s governmental structures, then, does not explain ethnic difference, as had been the case in the sixth century.  Fredegar’s Chronicle regularly notes which of the various Frankish Teilreiche a particular nobleman came from.  Fredegar particularly mentions those from Burgundy, evidently his own region, for whom he occasionally uses the term Burgundaefarones (loosely: the clans of the Burgundians).  These features are generally absent from the writings of Gregory of Tours, who commonly identifies the actors in his account by the civitas of origin or simply qualifies them as a Frank.  While the Frankish label is clearly ethnic, it can also function, for Gregory, as a description of the highest political levels of the realm. On the other hand, an identity focused on a city-district is more than a geographical denomination;[7] it is a form, or level, of ethnicity.  What seems different in Fredegar’s vocabulary is the increasing stress laid upon broader identities within the ‘kingdom of the Franks’.

However, while this does seem, as mentioned, to be a largely aristocratic phenomenon on the texts, that may be because of the greater ability of the more powerful strata of society to move within the realm and come into contact with each other.  Returning to the level of the regional Teilreiche it may be that the free population came to share the same regional identity.  Ripuarian Law uses the term francus to mean a Frank from outside the region.  Sometimes it employs romanus to mean an outsider as well.[8]  The standard member of the free population (man or woman) is called a Ripuarian.  It may be significant that this regional label is used, rather than a more obviously ‘ethnic’ term or qualifier like ‘Frank’ (or Ripuarian Frank).  That would fit with the use of identities based upon regional kingdom used in Fredegar’s Chronicle.  When discussing society from within the territory of the Ripuarians, however, the ‘Romans’ are no longer an element of the free population, divided into grades roughly equivalent to those of the Franks, as in Pactus Legis Salicae.  Instead, they have slipped down the scale to being a semi-free social category, needing Ripuarians to speak for them at law.  One exception to this rule may have lain in the region of Trier, where some of the local population clung on to a Roman identity.  According to his biographer, Saint Gaugeric (later Bishop of Cambrai) was born in the late sixth century into a family of ‘Romans’ of the middling sort.  In the seventh century, another holy man from the same civitas, Saint Germanus of Grandval, was born into a family of ‘senators’.  It may, however, be suggestive that Germanus’ familial identity was based upon senatorial rank rather than a Roman ethnicity.  Perhaps even here the cachet of Roman identity had been seriously weakened.  An increasing stress on rank rather than ethnicity would tie in with other developments.

The ethnic structure of the Frankish kingdoms seems, therefore, subtly but importantly different in the seventh century.  Regional, ‘kingdom’ ethnicities appear to be important and, within those regions, the free population appears to share that identity.  Furthermore, whereas ethnic identity in the sixth-century Merovingian realm had largely related to function within the realm and could thus be brought together in the kingdom itself, there is no such mechanism that similarly ties Neustrians to Austrasians, to Burgundians within the overarching structure of the regnum francorum.  These look more like regional factions or interest-groups within the ‘kingdom of the Franks’, a feature that seems to be underlined by repeated Austrasian demands to have a king located within their region.  Even the other Teilreich, however, remained divided into Burgundians and Neustrians.  In its broader sense, the seventh-century kingdom seems, in a very real sense, to be significantly more ‘polyethnic’ than its sixth-century predecessor.


[1] Gregory of Tours, LH 5.Preface.
[2] W. Goffart, Barbarian Tides
[3] Halsall, Barbarian Migrations, pp.35-45.
[4] Most significantly and ironically, there is, as far as I can see, no sufficient examination or theorisation of what an identity is in the volume Texts and Identities in the Early Middle Ages, ed. R. Corradini, R. Meens, C. Pösel & P. Shaw (Vienna, 2006).
[5] A. Gillett, ‘Was ethnicity politicised?’
[6] Note that the names do not give a very clear indication of origin.  The sole ‘Roman’, Chramnelen, has a Germanic name whereas one of the ‘Franks’, Barontus, has a Roman name.
[7] In the same way that today, if one says that someone ‘comes from’ Jamaica or Germany that is more than a simple account of their geographical origins.  Halsall, Barbarian Migrations, p.39.
[8] For a similar use, to mean someone from the south, see Life of Eligius.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Awkward Identities in Merovingian Trier

[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?   
Now rather old plan of Trier by Kurt Böhner
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.   
St-Pierre-aux-Nonnains, Metz

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.