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Book VII
Chapter 14
 

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and Her Invaders

by
Thomas Hodgkin


2nd edition
Oxford University Press
London
1896

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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Book VIII
Chapter II

Book VIII (beginning)

Vol. VII
p1
Chapter I

Introduction.
The Merovingian Kings. Early Frankish History.

Review of the state of Italy in the middle of the Eighth Century. We have reached a decisive point in the history of Italy and its relations to the rest of Europe. The Visigoth dealt a mortal blow to the Roman State: the Hun and the Vandal mocked its dying agonies; the Ostrogoth tried, but tried in vain, to resuscitate its life, breathing his Teutonic energy into its outworn frame; then the Lombard came, at first a ruthless barbarian, pillaging and destroying, but gradually won over to Christianity and civilisation by the unquenchable influence of the beautiful land. For nearly two centuries three powers were engaged in a struggle for supremacy in Italy: the Lombard king, the Byzantine Emperor, and the Pope of Rome. Between the last two, the relations were nominally relations of friendship and alliance, the Pope being in theory the submissive subject of the  p2 Emperor; but there had none the less been real opposition between them, sometimes breaking out into actual strife, and since the publication of the Iconoclastic decrees (726), there had been complete estrangement, though not as yet any formal renunciation of the Imperial sovereignty on the part of the Pope.

We are now about to see the balance of power which had been thus far maintained between these three opposing interests, roughly destroyed. Under the impact of the Lombard kings the Empire will lose Ravenna and all but disappear from the Peninsula. The Popes, thus left alone face to face with their hereditary enemies, the Lombards, will in their despair look beyond the Alps for help. The Frankish kings will answer to their call, and by blow upon blow, will lay the Lombard monarchy in the dust. Italy will thus be drawn into close political union with France and Germany, and those relations will be established with the latter country, which will subsist in one shape or another down to the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Finally, after the conquest of Italy by the Franks, the Roman Empire will be revived in the person of the Frankish King, and Mediaeval Europe will come into being.

Meagre character of our materials for history. The struggles which I have thus briefly described, and which will form the subject of the present volume, must have contained many elements of the highest human interest. The fall of Ravenna, the last fight of the Lombard nation for dominion in Italy, might each have furnished material for a noble epic poem: but unfortunately not only the 'sacred poet,' but even  p3 the humbler historian is almost entirely wanting. We hear absolutely nothing from the Byzantines as to the details of the capture of Ravenna. Owing to the silence of Paulus Diaconus — a silence which was no doubt politic, but which his readers must always regret — we hear nothing from Lombard sources as to any of the events after the death of Liutprand. The gallant Lombard nation 'dies and makes no sign.' We have to discover the course of events as best we can from the meagre notices of Frankish chroniclers, from the verbose and never graphic letters sent forth from the Pope Chancery, from the lives of the Popes included in the Liber Pontificalis. This last source does give us some interesting facts, and it is that from which we shall have mainly to draw; but it is very incomplete, leaving sometimes large spaces of time wholly without record, and its passionate unfairness to all who came into collision with the Papacy greatly lessens its historical value.

In accordance with the plan pursued in the previous volumes, a detailed history of the new Invaders, the Franks, should here precede the story of their conquest. So much, however, has already been said about them in several preceding volumes, that a slight retrospective sketch of their deeds will here be sufficient.

Early history of the Frankish Confederacy. The fierce tribes of the lower Rhine and Meuse, the Sicambri and Chatti, and probably some of their neighbours, Bructeri, Chamavi and Chasuarii, appear in the third century after Christ to have coalesced into one great confederacy, which took to itself the proud name of Franks or Free‑men. This confederacy however became divided, how or why we know not, into two smaller federations, the Salians and the  p4 Ripuarians. Salians. The Salian Franks probably derived their name from the river Yssel, the most northerly of the branches by which the Rhine flows westward into the German Ocean. In the middle of the fifth century they held the districts which now bear the names of Belgium, Artois, and part of Picardy. Ripuarians. The Ripuarian Franks settled on the left bank (ripa) of the Rhine, and occupied the pleasant vine-clad hills on the west of it between Mayence and Cologne, as well as the valley of the Moselle, from its confluence with the Rhine to its source in the mountains of the Vosges. The chief seat of their power seems to have been the Roman city, which under its modern name of Cologne still preserves the memory of Colonia Agrippina. There appears to have been a certain feeling of a common nationality, connecting, though loosely, these two great divisions of the Frankish nation; and each tribe, the Salians and the Ripuarians, was split up into many smaller fragments, obeying the sway of their own petty kings.1

Clovis, 481‑511. One of these petty kings, or rather chieftains, Hlodwig, Ludovicus, Louis, or Clovis, in 481 began to bear rule over the Salian Franks at Tournai. He was then fifteen years of age, His ancestry. and he succeeded his father Childeric, hero of some strange Frankish sagas, who twenty-four years previously had succeeded his father Merovech. Merovech, from whom the line of Clovis took its well-known name of Merovings, was himself fabled to be the son of a Frankish queen,  p5 begotten by a sea‑monster or demi‑god. So near still to the age of mythology was the heathen nation of the Franks when the young Clovis, himself heathen, began to lead forth its armies to battle.

We may mark five stages in the career of this extraordinary man, who beginning life as regulus of a small fragment of the Salian Franks, ended it as unquestioned lord of two‑thirds of France and of no small part of Germany.

His victory over Syagrius, 486. I. First came his victory over Syagrius, the Roman king (so called) of Soissons, the correspondent of Apollinaris Sidonius, the eager student of the language of his German neighbours; Syagrius, whom all his state-craft and all his linguistic accomplishments availed not to save from the conquering battle‑axe of the young Merovingian.2 This conquest took place in 486 and gave to Clovis the remainder of Picardy, the greater part of the Isle of France including Paris itself, Champagne and a considerable portion of Lorraine. A glance at the map will show what a mighty stride towards dominion over Gaul was thus made by the son of Childeric, who was still only twenty years of age. After history proved that his people felt the immense importance of this conquest. In the division of his realm among his sons and grandsons the kingdom of Syagrius was evidently always regarded as the head of the Frankish dominion.3

Victories over Thuringians and Alamanni. II. Secondly, came the great victories won by Clovis over the Thuringians and the Alamanni, victories which apparently were won in the years 491 and 496. The  p6 Thuringians, here mentioned, are probably a detachment of the nation settled on the left bank of the Rhine.4 The Alamanni occupied and gave their name to the region which is otherwise known as Swabia (Alsace, Baden, and Würtemberg).

Conversion to Christianity, 496. This victory over the Alamanni, however important in itself (since it opened up to Clovis the whole country of the Upper Rhine and carried him to the sources of the Danube), was yet more important for its indirect results. The Frankish king, who had long resisted the entreaties of his wife, the Burgundian princess Clotilda,5 that he would embrace Christianity, when he saw himself in danger of being overwhelmed by the dense masses of the Alamanni, lifted up to heaven his tear-streaming eyes and said, 'O Jesus Christ, whom Clotilda affirms to be Son of the living God, and who art said to give victory to them that trust in Thee; if Thou wilt grant me the victory of these mine enemies, I will believe and be baptized in Thy name. For I have called on my own gods and had no help from them, wherefore I believe that they have no power.'

It was probably at the Christmas of 496 that Clovis stood in the white robes of a Catechumen in the Basilica of Rheims, and heard from bishop Remigius the often-quoted words, 'Mitis depone colla Sicamber: adora quod incendisti: incende quod adorasti.'6

Conquest of Visigothic Gaul, 507. III. The baptism of Clovis by bishop Remigius  p7 proclaimed him a champion of the Catholic faith against the Arian forms of Christianity, which was at this time dominant among the Teutonic invaders of the Roman Empire. The Vandal in Africa, the Ostrogoth in Italy, the Burgundian in the valley of the Rhine, the Visigoth in Spain and Aquitaine were all upholders of that which the orthodox denounced as 'the Arian pravity.' Now that the fierce heathen, whose example was at once followed by three thousand of his followers, had become not merely Christian but a professed believer in the doctrine of the Homo-ousion, every Catholic priest, at any rate in Gaul, felt that here was one who by throwing his sword into the scale of orthodoxy might ensure its early triumph.

It seemed as though the Burgundian kingdom would be the first to fall under the blows of the Frankish convert. In 500, Gundobad, the Burgundian king who reigned at Lyons, fled before the army of Clovis which came to the assistance of his traitorous brother Godegisel of Geneva. But by a sudden change in the fortune of war, Godegisel was defeated and slain, and Gundobad regained his throne. The end of Burgundian independence was not yet.7

Seven years later, however, came the most important conquest effected by Clovis in the name of Catholic orthodoxy. Having announced to his assembled warriors that 'he took it ill that those Arians should hold so large a part of Gaul,' he crossed the Loire, met the Visigoths in battle near Poitiers, defeated them and slew their king Alaric II, and after two years of warfare succeeded in adding to his dominions the whole of the fair region of Aquitaine, while Gallia  p8 Narbonensis and Provence remained under the rule of Alaric's Ostrogothic kinsman, Theodoric of Italy.8

Sole monarch of the Salian IV. The chieftain who had thus carried far and wide over Gaul the terror of the Frankish arms, was not likely to remain a mere member of a partnership of kings in his own nation. At some time or other in his career, probably towards the beginning of his reign, he succeeded in sweeping off the board the other petty kings of the Salian Franks. Ragnachar, who reigned at Cambrai, had helped Clovis in his war against Syagrius, but when the time came for removing him he was forced into war, conquered in fight and then killed for disgracing his royal house by permitting himself to be beaten. Chararic, another Salian king, was craftily captured, shorn of his long Merovingian locks and turned into a priest. His son, who was at the same time shorn of his hair and ordained deacon, was overheard comforting his weeping father by the reflection that leaves might yet sprout forth from their lopped branches, and thereupon both father and son were put to death.

and Ripuarian Franks. V. Lastly, Sigibert, king of the Ripuarians, who had been the ally of Clovis in his war against Alaric the Visigoth, had to be put out of the way. His son was incited to murder him and then was himself assassinated by one of the henchmen of Clovis. It is strange after reading the plain unsoftened story of the crimes by which this 'baptized Pagan' hewed his way to solitary dominion over all Frankish men, to read the following sentence in the pages of Gregory, bishop of Tours, 'Thus did God daily humble his enemies under his hand and increase his kingdom,  p9 because he walked before Him with righteous heart and did those things which were pleasing in His sight.' Fascinated, apparently, by the very wickedness of his hero, Gregory, after describing some more royal murders, goes on to say, 'Having slain these and many other kings and their noble relations, of whom he was jealous, lest they should rob him of the kingdom, Clovis extended his sway over the whole of Gaul. However, having on a certain occasion collected his followers together, he spoke concerning his relations whom he had himself destroyed, "Woe is me, that I remain as a stranger in a strange land and have none of mine own kindred who could help me if adversity came upon me." But he said this not in real sorrow for their death, but in guile, and in order that, if he could by chance find any such surviving him, he might kill him.'9

Thus, then ere he had passed middle life, the petty chieftain of the Salian Franks whose principality had been once almost bounded by the horizon of Tournai, had become ruler of the larger part of the lands between the Atlantic and the Rhine. In 508, after Clovis had overthrown the Visigothic kingdom in Gaul, he received from the Emperor Anastasius a letter conferring upon him the dignity of Consul;10 and donning in the basilica of St. Martin the purple  p10 tunic and the chlamys of a Roman senator, rode through the streets of Tours, scattering largesse among the crowd. This letter from Anastasius was the first of a series of courtesies — ending in something quite other than courtesies — which passed between the Roman Emperors and the orthodox kings of the Franks.

Death of Clovis. Clovis died at Paris in 511, having only attained the age of forty-five years. He was certainly a scoundrel, but he was a successful scoundrel and he had some of the qualities of a statesman. Moreover, he was the first of the long line of 'the most Christian kings of Francia.'

Division of his Kingdom. The only conceivable palliation for any of the crimes which Clovis committed would have been the advantage of securing the unity of the Frankish state. Yet that unity was immediately impaired by the division of his dominions between his four sons. By one means or another, partly by events which happened in the course of nature and partly by fratricidal crimes, the monarchy thus divided became one again under Chlotochar I, the last survivor of the sons of Clovis; but it remained united for only three years, and was then again divided among his four sons,11 not to be reunited till the year 613, under Chlotochar II, great grandson of Clovis. Thus, throughout the whole of the sixth century we may think of 'Francia' as generally divided into four parts, which corresponded in the main with the four great natural divisions of the realm, Austrasia, Neustria, Aquitaine, and Burgundy.

Austrasia. Austrasia (otherwise called Auster, or Austria)  p11 seems to have included all the lands which had belonged to the Ripuarian Franks, together with those conquered from the Thuringians, and with those wherein the Bavarians and Alamanni had been made subject to Frankish rule. But it must also have included at least the Eastern half of the old 'kingdom' of Syagrius, since the countries which were afterwards called Champagne and Lorraine formed part of the Austrasian kingdom.

Neustria. As Austrasia was the land of the Ripuarians, so Neustria seems to have been specially identified with the territory of the Salian Franks, and hence it had what appears on the map as a curious prolongation north-eastward to the river Scheldt, and in fact must have included at least half of the modern kingdom of Belgium. All western France, north of the Loire, belonged theoretically to the Neustrian kingdom, though the sovereignty which its rulers were able to assert over the restless Bretons of Armorica was a perpetually changing quantity.

Aquitaine. Aquitaine was the former kingdom of the Visigoths in Gaul, and it had its well-marked boundaries in the great river Loire and the mountains of the Cevennes. The Roman influence, strong in Neustria, was yet stronger here, and it may be doubted how far it was ever bound except by bonds of fear and compulsion to the Frankish monarchy.

Burgundy. Burgundy, which included the valleys of the Rhine and the Saone, and which reached up to the western slopes of the Alps, was, as we have seen, still unconquered at the death of Clovis. Its annexation to the Frankish state was the work of his sons, one of whom fell in battle in the second campaign. The story of the  p12 conquest (523‑534) has been told with some detail in a previous volume, on account of its connection with the family history of Theodoric whose daughter was married to Sigismund, king of Burgundy.12

The Franks in Italy, 536‑538. The connection of the Franks with the history of Italy, during the period of this first partition of the Frankish kingdom, brought little glory to the descendants of Clovis, but much disaster to the Italian peninsula. When Belisarius began his brilliant enterprise for the recovery of Italy, the Frankish kings seized the opportunity to threaten the Ostrogothic possessions in Gaul. They were quieted for the time by the surrender of those possessions (consisting of Provence and part of Dauphiné), which were ceded to them by Witigis in 536. But three years later, Theudebert, king of Austrasia, a grandson of Clovis, crossed the Alps, and his savage warriors poured like a torrent over Northern Italy. They made war alike upon the Goths and the soldiers of the Empire: they sacked cities and ravaged vineyards, till at last disease, the result of their own brutal excesses, and a threatening message from the indignant Belisarius, caused them to return to their own land.

When Totila raised again the standard of Gothic independence, the Franks, whose manifest policy it was to fish in troubled waters, again intervened in Italy; and owing to the reluctance of both parties to engage with another antagonist, succeeded in making the greater part of the three northern provinces (Liguria, Alpes Cottiae, and Venetia),13  p13 subject to tribute. All Italy north of the Po, both slopes of the Maritime Alps, except some seaport towns which were held by the Empire, and a few scattered fortresses still garrisoned by the Goths, were thus added to the Frankish dominion.

This state of things probably lasted for about ten years. When the powerful and aspiring Theudebert was succeeded by his son, the sickly Theudebald, the reins of sovereignty were relaxed, and hence it came  p14 to pass that the Alamannic brethren, Leuthar and Butilin, were allowed to make their objectless and ill‑managed raid into Italy. The utter failure of this expedition (554) doubtless weakened the hold of the Franks on the valley of the Po, and three years afterwards we learn that under the rule of Narses the Empire recovered all that portion of Italy which Theudebert had once held.14

It was, however, probably in consequence of this temporary possession of Northern Italy, that the Franks held so much of the northern half of Raetia as we find them to have possessed a few years later on, when they came into collision with the Lombards.

Lombard invasions of Gaul. In 558, a year after the Empire had reconquered the territory north of the Po, Chlotochar I (as has been already said) became, by the death of his last surviving brother, sole monarch of the Franks. Three years afterwards he died, and his kingdom was divided between his four sons, whose number was reduced to three in the year 567 by the death of Charibert, king of Paris. And now we are upon the threshold of the Lombard invasion of Italy which, as the reader may remember, occurred in the year 568. Thenceforward, for nearly two hundred years, the Frankish kings had a Lombard state touching them as their south-eastern frontier, and the intervening Alps did not prevent the two powers from meeting, sometimes in friendship but more often with the clash of battle. In the first eight years of their sojourn in Italy (568‑ p15 575), the Lombards made five invasions of Frankish territory. These invasions, which harried the districts of Dauphiné and Provence, were conducted without military skill or generalship, and were without much difficulty repelled by the soldiers of Guntram, the Frankish king of Burgundy. This senseless and wanton warfare had one permanent effect, which proved eventually disastrous for the Lombard state, since it left the valleys of Aosta and Susa, on the Italian side of the Alps, in the possession of the Franks.15

Frankish invasions of Italy, 576‑590. The return visits of the Franks to Italy under Chramnichis, about 576, and under Childebert between 584 and 590, were like those of the Lombards, ravaging and plundering expeditions, effectual doubtless for the devastation of the country, but powerless for its conquest.16 A noticeable fact about the later invasions of Childebert is that they were undertaken at the suggestion of the Byzantine Court and to some extent in co‑operation with the Byzantine armies, the lever which the Imperial Court used with the king of Austria being the presence at Constantinople of the unfortunate child Athanagild, the son of Childebert's sister, Ingunthis. This conjunction of Imperial and Frankish power might, had it been often repeated, have proved disastrous for the Lombard state: but, partly owing to ill‑planned combinations, it effected nothing of importance in 590 (when Maurice was Emperor and Childebert Frankish king), nor was it repeated at any later time. Peace between Franks and Lombards. At the close of the seventh century, Agilulf, king of the Lombards, concluded  p16 'a perpetual peace' with the Franks,17 both Italy and Germany being then menaced by the invasions of the barbarous Avars; and this peace, probably owing to the increasing importance of the Merovingian kings, actually endured for a century and a half. We must however except one trifling interruption soon after the accession of Grimwald (662), when a Frankish army (perhaps espousing the cause of the banished Perctarit) entered Italy from Provence, but was easily defeated by the Lombard king near Asti in Piedmont.18

Alliance against the Wends, 630, The peace thus long maintained between the once hostile nations was not only peace but sometimes alliance. Thus in the year 630, when Dagobert the Frank through the insolence of his ambassadors, had become involved in a war with Samo, a Frankish merchant who had cunningly raised himself to the position of king of the Wends or Sclaves on Dagobert's eastern frontier, the Lombards sent soldiers to the assistance of the Franks. These auxiliaries together with the Alamanni, were victorious, and carried off a multitude of captives, while Dagobert himself appears to have suffered a disastrous defeat.19

and against the Saracens, 737 (?). And again, when Charles Martel (about 737) was somewhat hardly pressed by a Saracen invasion of Provence, he called on his brother-in‑law, Liutprand,  p17 for help, and called not in vain. Liutprand led a great army across the Maritime Alps, and at his approach the Saracens fled in terror.

During this century and a half of peace between the Franks and Italy, Merovingian royalty had been sinking ever lower and lower into mere fatuity and impotence, while the power of one great Austrasian house, which furnished a succession of hereditary Prime Ministers to the State, had been almost as steadily rising.

The Fainéant Merovingians, 638‑751. As to the Merovingians, the lifelong duel between the two queens, Fredegundis and Brunichildis, the vices of Chilperic of Neustria, 'the Nero and Herod of his time' (the husband of Fredegundis), and the fierce energy of Theodoric II, king of Burgundy (grandson of Brunichildis), shed a sort of lurid light over the royalty of the descendants of Clovis at the close of the sixth century. Chlotochar II, king of Neustria, son of Fredegundis, succeeded in uniting all the Frankish kingdoms under his own sceptre (613), and annihilated the rival Austrasian line.20 He and his son, Dagobert I, showed some energy and power of rule, but after Dagobert's death (638) the royal line became utterly effete, and for a hundred years, kings rightly named Do‑nothings (Fainéants) nominally reigned over Gaul and Germany. The short lives of these kings sufficiently indicate the decay of their vital powers, caused by their vicious habits. The following are the ages at which the kings died who reigned between Dagobert I and the last of his line, Childeric III: twenty‑six, twenty-four, twenty-seven, eighteen, the twenty, thirty-eight, seventeen, fifty (but this king only reigned five years, and had the advantage of spending most of  p18 his life in exile), thirty‑six, twenty-four, and twenty‑one.

The manner of life of these hapless inheritors of dignity divorced from duty is described for us by Einhard, the biographer of Charlemagne, in a passage which has been often quoted,a and which, though modern criticism finds in it somewhat to object to on the score of strict accuracy, may be quoted once again.

Einhard's picture of the Merovingian kings. 'The Merovingian race, from which the Franks were wont to choose their kings, is considered to have lasted down to king Childeric, who by order of Stephen21 the Roman pontiff was deposed and tonsured and thrust into a monastery. But though it may seem to have ended in him, it had for a long while possessed no real vigour, nor had had anything to show for itself except the empty title of king: for all the wealth and power of the kingdom were centred in the Prefects of the Palace, who were called Majores Domus, and to whom supremacy in the State belonged. For nothing else was left to the king except this, that satisfied with the mere royal name, with his long locks and flowing beard, he sat upon the throne and played at sovereignty, receiving the ambassadors who came to him from all quarters, and returning to them on their departure the replies which he had been taught or ordered to deliver, as though they came from his own decision. Thus, except the useless name of king and a precarious allowance which the Prefect of the Palace afforded him as he thought fit, he possessed nothing else of his own, save one estate (villa) with a very poor revenue, on which he had his house, and out of which he kept the slender train of servants  p19 who performed the necessary services for him and gave him a show of obedience. When he must needs go on a journey, he went in a wagon, which was drawn by yoked oxen with a rustic cowherd driving them. Thus he went to his palace, thus to the public assembly of the people, which was held once a year to deliberate on the affairs of the realm, and thus was he wont to return to his home. As for the administration of the kingdom and all those things which had to be done or arranged for at home or abroad, they were all provided for by the Prefect of the Palace.'

This picture may be slightly over-coloured. It is possible that some of the details, such as the oxen drawing the rude royal chariot, may really be due only to the inherent conservatism of the Teutonic race, which preserved in the king's household at Soissons or Paris archaic usages derived from bygone centuries when the king dwelt in a rustic hut on a forest-clearing in the heart of Germany. But the broad outline of the picture is undoubtedly correct. The Merovingian kings in the fifth generation from Clovis had sunk into mere ciphers. Intent on drinking their cup of muddy pleasure to the dregs, they left all the hard work of life, and all the duties of royalty, in war, in judgment, in finance, to the servants who clustered round the Court; and of these servants one, foremost in rank and position, gathered up the reins of government as they fell from the nerveless hands of the Merovingians, and became king in fact, while they for a hundred years remained kings in name. This all‑powerful servant was the Mayor of the Palace, and when his power was once firmly established, it was too late for the descendants of Clovis, even had a man  p20 of energy and virtue arisen among them, to recover the lost dominion.

Office of Mayor of the Palace. The institution of Mayor of the Palace was not peculiar to the Frankish nation. Traces of it may be found among the Ostrogoths, Burgundians, Lombards, perhaps even among the Vandals,22 but nowhere else had it the same great development which it attained in the Frankish people. That some such official should emerge out of chaos, that many of the powers of the State should crystallise round him, was however inherent in the nature of things. Clovis and his sons, men of ruthless will and barbarous energy, had formed a State whose corner-stone was military conquest. Apparently the old liberties, the ancient germs of self-government, which had existed among the Franks as in nearly all the Teutonic peoples, had been crushed out under the centralising sway of these barbarian kings, flattered and caressed as they had been by the Catholic ecclesiastics of Gaul. The old tribal nobility of the Salians and Ripuarians had probably also disappeared, and had been replaced by a new order of nobility who drew all their splendour from the royal majesty in whose rays they basked.23 The Palace had become the State, and he who was great in the king's household was great in the Frankish realm.

The inevitable limitation of autocracy comes from the love of ease. After all, government means work, and though for a few generations men may be found so lustful of power that they will 'spurn delights and  p21 live laborious days,' in order to rule with uncontrolled power over a mighty empire, in the course of time this tremendous energy wears itself out. Some member of the royal family comes to the throne who finds that 'slumber is more sweet than toil,' and that power is not worth having at the price of an utter sacrifice of all the restful pleasures of life. He hands over the reins of government to some obsequious servant who is only too glad to take them from him and to govern in the king's name. The Merovingian has found his Mayor of the Palace, the Bourbon king his Richelieu or his Alberoni, the Mikado of Japan his Taicoon.b

The Mayor as Bailiff. It is possible that at first the duties of the Mayor of the Palace were strictly those of a master of the household. Merovingian royalty owned vast domains, cultivated for the most part by slave labour. The king and his great train of courtiers went in progress from one villa, or big estate, to another, consuming the produce of each villa in succession, and then moving on to that which was nearest. The mere superintendence of the receipts and expenditure of one of these great domains was in itself a considerable business, and may at first have been the chief concernment of the Mayor of the Palace, for in his humbler days it is possible that there may have been one Major Domus to every residence of a Frankish king.24 In the course of time, however — and by this I mean within a century from the death of Clovis — the Mayor had become such an important person that there was only one of his class in each of the four kingdoms, into which the Frankish monarchy generally fell apart, one for  p22 Austrasia, one for Neustria, one for Burgundy, one (perhaps) for Aquitaine.

As Chief Minister of Finance. And what were the duties of the Mayor of the Palace when he had thus emerged from the condition of a head-servant into that of a great official of the State? Perhaps we may say that still his chief functions were financial. Like the Comes Rerum Privatarum of the later empire, it was his business to administer the revenues, not now of one villa or palace, but of all the royal domains within the limits of his master's kingdom. A most important part of his functions in this capacity was that of confirming alienations of the royal domain. Throughout the seventh century, as we have reason to believe, the new landed aristocracy which was forming itself was getting grants of beneficia either from the Church or the Crown; and a weak Merovingian king was under great temptation to strengthen his party by lavish grants of the Crown lands to importunate and blustering petitioners. Just at this point, therefore, the control exercised by the Mayor of the Palace would have an important effect on the fortunes of the aristocracy, since it was in his power to forbid all grants of beneficia to his foes and to encourage similar grants to his friends.

He had, moreover, such power over the collection of the taxes (however rude and undeveloped the Merovingian system of taxation may have been) as gave him great opportunities for enriching himself while professing to serve the royal exchequer. Thus it was matter of bitter complaint against Protadius, Mayor of the Palace of Burgundy under Theodoric (grandson of Brunichildis), that though a man of great ability and energy, he committed grievous injustice  p23 against individuals, straining the rights of the royal fisc, ingeniously striving to fill the royal treasury at the expense of private persons and at the same time to enrich himself.25 The general attitude which the mayor of the palace at first assumed, especially in Neustria, was that of championship of the rights of the Crown against the aristocracy, though in the end he became strong enough to set Crown and aristocracy alike at defiance.

As Commander of the Army. Lastly, in addition to the powers of administration and finance which the Mayor of the Palace exercised, he must have eventually gathered into his hands the supreme command of the nation-army of the Franks, though apparently we have but little information of the steps by which a Grand Chamberlain was thus transformed into a Commander-in‑Chief.

After this brief sketch of the general character of the office of Major Domus, let us trace the fortunes of that Austrasian family which more than all others made it illustrious.

Note. In this introductory chapter, and in fact throughout the whole of this volume, I am constantly indebted to Waitz's 'Verfassungs-Geschichte' and Dahn's 'Urgeschichte der Germanischen und Romanischen Völker.' Having made this acknowledgment here, I shall not repeat it in my list of 'Guides' at the head of each chapter.


The Author's Notes:

1 The condition of the Franks thus subdivided under the sway of various reguli, well illustrates and to a certain extent confirms Dahn's theory of Gau-königthum (or as we might say, kingship of a county), as the normal condition of early Teutonic royalty.

2 See vol. II pp358, 444 (358, 437, second edition).

3 Three out of the four capitals of the divided kingdom, Metz, Soissons, and Paris, belong to the kingdom of Syagrius.

4 Not the Thuringians of the Thüringer-Wald. See Waitz, Verfassungs-Geschichte, II.1.59 (ed. 1882).

5 See vol. III p359 (327, second edition).

6 'Meekly bow thy neck, O Sicambrian, adore what thou hast heretofore burned, and burn what thou hast adored.'

7 See vol. III pp386‑389 (349‑351, second edition).

8 See vol. III pp392‑404 (353‑365, second edition).

9 This passage from the Historia Francorum (II.42) reminds us of the well-known death‑bed saying of the Spanish politician Narvaez, when the priest exhorted him to forgive his enemies, 'My father; that is easy, I have shot them all.'

10 But his name is not found in any of the Consular Fasti. Junghans (Die Geschichte Childerich und Chlodovich, p127), relying on a passage in the prologue to the Lex Salica, argues that the title conferred on Clovis was really that of Proconsul.

11 See vol. V pp200‑204, for description of this second partition.

12 See vol. III pp294, 415, 592 (265, 373, 533, second edition).

13 The chief if not the only information which we possess as to this Frankish occupation of Northern Italy is given us by Procopius, who says (De Bello Gotthico, III.33): Ἐπεὶ δὲ τὰ Γότθων τε καὶ Τωτίλα καθυπέρτερα τῷ πολέμῳ ἐγένετο, Φράγγοι Βενετίων τὰ πλεῖστα σφίσι προσεποιήσαντο οὐδενὶ πόνῳ, οὔτε Ῥωμαίων δυναμένων ἔτι ἀμύνεσθαι οὔτε Γότθων οἵων τε ὄντων τὸν πόλεμον πρὸς ἑκατέρους διενεγκεῖν. 'But when the Goths under Totila began to get the upper hand in the war [against the Empire], the Franks acquired the greater part of Venetia without any trouble, since the Romans were no longer able to defend themselves, nor were the Goths able to wage war against two enemies at once.' And again (Ibid. IV.24), describing the death of Theudebert, king of Austrasia (548): Θευδίβερτος δέ, ὁ Φράγγων ἀρχηγός, οὐ πολλῷ ἔμπροσθεν ἐξ ἀνθρώπων ἠφάνιστο νόσῳ, Λιγουρίας τε χωρία ἄττα καὶ Ἄλπεις Κοττίας καὶ Βενέτων τὰ πολλὰ οὐδενὶ λόγῳ ἐς ἀπαγαγὼν φόρου ὑποτελῆ ποιησάμενος. Τὴν γὰρ ἀσχολίαν τῶν μαχομένων οἰκείαν οἱ Φράγγοι εὐκαιρίαν πεποιημένοι τοῖς ἐκείνων περιμαχήτοις αὐτοὶ ἀκινδύνως ἐπλούτουν. Καὶ Γότθοις μὲν πολίσματα ὀλίγα ἐν Βενετίαις διέμεινε, τὰ δὲ ἐπιθαλασσίδια χωρία Ῥωμαίοις. Τὰ δὲ ἄλλα ὑποχείρια σφίσιν ἅπαντα πεποίηντο Φράγγοι. 'But Theudebert, leader of the Franks, had not long before died of disease, after making certain districts of Liguria, not Alpes Cottiae, and most of Venetia subject to tribute. And this he did without any right; for the Franks, making the extremity of the combatants their own opportunity, enriched themselves without any danger with the prizes for which they were contending. Thus to the Goths there remained a few towns in Venetia, and the seaside places to the Romans, and all the rest the Franks had made subject to them.' Procopius then goes on to say that the Goths and Franks had come to an agreement to act on the principle of uti possidetis till Totila's war with the Empire should be over, and then if Justinian were beaten they would make such arrangements as might seem to be for their mutual advantage.

14 Marius the Chronicler, S. A. 556 (= 557), says: 'Eo anno exercitus Reipublicae resumptis viribus partem Italiae quam Theudebertus rex adquisierat occupavit.'

15 See vol. V pp215‑227.

16 See vols. V pp 227‑228, 258, 267‑271; VI pp27‑33.

17 Vol. V p423.

18 Vol. VI p252.

19 This event, if it happened at all, must have happened under the reign of Ariwald, which is a blank in the pages of Paulus Diaconus (see vol. VI p161). The authority for it is 'Fredegarius' IV.68, who attributes the defeat of Dagobert to the dissatisfaction of the Austrasian nobles with his oppressive rule. It should be stated that Zeuss (Die Deutschen &c. p637) proposes to substitute 'Bavarians' for 'Lombards' in this passage: only, however, on a priori grounds.

20 See vol. V pp204‑214; vol. VI pp108‑109, 130.

21 Strictly of Zacharias.

22 See the passages collected in Waitz, Verfassungs-Geschichte, II.2.84.

23 In the language of German historians, the Volksadel had been replaced by a Dienstadel.

24 So Waitz, Verfassungs-Geschichte, II.2.87.

25 Fredegarius, IV.27.


Thayer's Notes:

a The opening paragraph of Einhard's Vita Karoli: original Latin text.

b More correctly: "the Emperor of Japan his shōgun".


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