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Chapter 1

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd edition
Oxford University Press

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,
please let me know!


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Chapter 3

Book VIII (continued)

Vol. VII
Chapter II

The Early Arnulfings


p25 Sources:—

The Chronicle of the so‑called Fredegarius, a Burgundian scribe, reaching to the year 641, and composed about 660 (see vol. VI p149).

Gesta Francorum: º otherwise called Liber Historiae Francorum, the work of an anonymous author, composed in very barbarous Latin, and commenced in the year 725. For the events near the author's own times, this source, though very scanty, and with no literary excellence, is sometimes valuable. The Continuer of Fredegarius borrowed largely from it. It gives generally the Neustrian rather than the Austrasian view of things, and takes more account of Merovingian kings than of Arnulfing Mayors of the Palace.

Quite opposite in character are the Annales Mettenses, a compilation of a much later age, which is almost entirely devoted to the glorification of the Carolingian race. It is undoubted that this work in its present form belongs at earliest to the end of the tenth century, since the author quotes the Saxon history of Widukind, written about 967. There are, however, some indications of its having been composed at various dates: and in particular there is a certain fulness of detail about the life of Pippin of Heristal, which suggests the conjecture that possibly the author may have had before him some valuable contemporary authority which has since disappeared. Even here, however, the compiler has given free play to a lively imagination, as for instance when he puts into the mouth of Pippin, before the battle of Textri, a long oration modelled on the harangues reported by Caesar and Livy.

On the whole, though we cannot afford entirely to disregard  p26 the Annales Mettenses, we must regard with great suspicion any statement of facts which rests on their authority alone.

There is a very elaborate excursus on the Annales Mettenses in Bonnell's 'Anfänge' (pp157‑181). The writer comes to the conclusion that not Metz but Laon was the birthplace of these Annals, and that they were probably written by some adherent of Charles of Lorraine, the unsuccessful Carolingian rival of Hugh Capet.

For the life of Arnulf: —

Gesta Episcoporum Mettensium by Paulus Diaconus.

Vita Arnulfi, probably by a contemporary, but unfortunately so much taken up with the religious side of the saint's character and history that we get comparatively little information from it as to his political career. A later life, composed apparently in the early part of the tenth century, gives us more historical facts, but is of slender authority.

Guides: —

Bonnell: Die Anfänge des Karolingischen Hauses (Berlin, 1866) is a very learned though not very lucid work, and is the first of the valuable series of Jahrbücher der Deutschen Geschichte (published by Historical Commission of the Royal Academy of Sciences in Bavaria), to which I find myself under continual obligation. These Jahrbücher perform for early Carolingian history the same office which Tillemont has performed for the Roman Empire.

First appearance of the Arnulfings, 613. The first appearance of the ancestors of Charles the Great on the stage of history is in the year 613, when the long duel between the houses of Sigibert and Chilperic, kings respectively of Austrasia and Neustria, and husbands of Brunichildis and Fredegundis, was brought to a close.1 As has been said, Chlotochar II, son of Chilperic and Fredegundis, invaded Austrasia, then under the nominal rule of the infant Sigibert, really governed by his great grandmother, the once beautiful, always ambitious, and now vindictive Brunichildis. We are told that it was at the instigation of Arnulf and  p27 Pippin and the other nobles of Austrasia that this invasion was made.2 Partly by the help of those men, and partly by the devices of the Major domus Warnachar (who discovered that Brunichildis was plotting against him and turned conspirator to save his life), Chlotochar's invasion was crowned with complete success. The whole Frankish realm was reunited under the sceptre of the Neustrian king, and the son of Fredegundis doomed his mother's rival to a cruel and shameful death.

Who, then, were these two men who at a critical moment led the Austrasian aristocracy to victory in their lifelong struggle against the domineering but statesmanlike Brunichildis?

Arnulf, Archbishop of Metz. Arnulf, Archbishop of Metz, was sprung from a noble family among the Ripuarian Franks. More than this cannot be stated concerning his ancestry, though the imaginative zeal of later genealogists invented for him a pedigree adorned with the names of kings, saints, and senators.3 He seems to have been born about  p28 582, and to have come as a young and clever lad to the Austrasian Court when Theudebert was reigning there after the expulsion of his grandmother Brunichildis (599). He rose into high favour with Gundulf, the Austrasian Mayor of the Palace, showed himself an efficient servant of the Crown, both in peace and war, and was promoted, we are told, to the presidency over six 'provinces' which were usually assigned to as many governors. He married a noble lady, who bore him two sons, Anschisus4 and Chlodulf, and he formed what proved to be a lifelong friendship with another officer of the Court name Romaric. The talk of the two friends turned often on religious subjects, and they not unfrequently discussed a plan for renouncing the world, retiring to some convent, and there  p29 continuing their friendly dialogues till death should sever them.

It was during this period of immersion in worldly affairs, while his heart longed for the cloister, that the following incident is said to have happened. He was walking one day over the bridge at Metz, penitent for his sins and doubtful whether his repentance was accepted in the sight of God. Looking down into the deep currents of the Moselle, the bottom of which his eye failed to reach, he drew off the ring from his finger and cast it into the depths of the river. 'Then,' said he to himself, 'when I shall receive again this ring which I now cast away, shall I feel sure that I am loosed from the bonds of mine iniquities.' Years after, when he was sitting on the episcopal throne of Metz, a fish was brought to the palace and prepared for the evening meal. In the fish's intestines the cook found the well-known ring and brought it to his master, who received with joy this token of the Divine forgiveness, but felt himself bound thereby to a life of even greater austerity than aforetime.

This anecdote was related by the great Emperor Charles, Arnulf's descendant in the fifth generation, to his friend and secretary Einhard. It of course recalls to our mind the well-known storya of Polycrates, tyrant of Samos, but the moral of the two stories is quite dissimilar, and it may be doubted whether Einhard, and much more whether his master, had ever scanned the pages of Herodotus.

The holy conversations with Romaric continued, and the two friends were about to execute their purpose of retiring from the world. Arnulf's pious eagerness to divide his property among the poor was acquiesced  p30 in by his elder son Anschisus, but opposed by Chlodulf. Divine Providence, so it was held by later generations, rewarded each brother according to his works. Chlodulf, with his heart set on wealth, reached no higher dignity than that of Archbishop of Metz, and dying left no seed, while Anschisus became virtually chief ruler of Austrasia and was the progenitor of kings and Emperors.

When the two friends were at last on the point of retiring into the wilderness, the Archbishop of Metz died, and the citizens with one voice demanded that Arnulf, 'domestic and counsellor of the king,' should be ordained in his stead. There was the usual resistance on Arnulf's part, followed by his compulsory assumption of the dignity: and this elevation appears to have taken place about Christmas, 611, very shortly before the overthrow of Theudebert.

Though practising the usual austerities of a medieval saint, fasting for three days at a time, living on barley-bread and water, wearing a hair-shirt and working miracles, Arnulf did not lay down the office, whatever it was, which he held in the Austrasian Court.5 Pippin of Landen. And in his guidance of the affairs of the kingdom he was powerfully aided by his friend Pippin, who is usually known as Pippin of Landen,6 and who was an Austrasian  p31 nobleman with large possessions between the Meuse and the Moselle.

Between them these two statesmen succeeded in foiling the designs of Brunichildis to become regent of Austrasia after the death of her two grandsons Theudebert and Theodoric, and as we have seen, by their timely defection, they won a bloodless victory for Chlotochar II, who thus became sole monarch of the Frankish kingdom (613).

Advisers of Dagobert I in Austrasia. But the Austrasian spirit of independence required a separate ruler, and accordingly in 622 Chlotochar delegated the sovereignty of Austrasia to his son Dagobert, a young man of about twenty years of age. Arnulf and Pippin were recognised as chief advisers of the young king, and the latter nobleman probably held the office of Mayor of the Palace. On the testimony of historians who were their contemporaries, and who had therefore no especial reason for flattering the ancestors of Charlemagne,7 Dagobert's Austrasian sovereignty under the guidance of these two men was  p32 a time of wise and firm government. A certain Chrodoald, descended from the dukes of Bavaria, who like some turbulent baron of the Middle Ages was trampling on the rights of the lowly and setting himself against the administrators of the law, was by their advice condemned to death, and this sentence was carried into effect, notwithstanding the attempted mediation of Chlotochar on his behalf. This execution of Chrodoald perhaps brought to a head the discord between father and son. Dagobert had not received the kingdom of Austrasia in its fulness, but had been limited to the regions eastward of the Ardennes and the Vosges mountains.8 This limitation rankled in his mind and in that of the subjects and would perhaps have led to civil war, but the matter was referred to the arbitration of twelve Franks, Bishop Arnulf among them, by whom it was amicably arranged, Dagobert receiving all the Austrasian kingdom properly so‑called, but renouncing all claim to the outlying portions in Aquitaine and Provence, which had been hitherto held by his predecessors at Metz.

Retirement of Arnulf. After Dagobert had been for five years on the Austrasian throne, he lost the more eminent of his two counsellors. Arnulf's desire for solitude and seclusion could be no longer repressed, and in the year 6279 he announced to the king that he was about to lay down his episcopal dignity and depart to the wilderness.  p33 Enraged at this threatened desertion, Dagobert said, 'Unless thou stayest with me, I cut off the heads of thy two sons.' 'My sons' lives,' said the bishop, 'are in the hands of God, nor will thy life be long if thou takest away the life of the innocent.' Dagobert in his anger began to pluck at the dagger which hung from his belt; but the saint, not heeding his wrath, said, 'What are you doing, most miserable of men? Would you repay evil for good? If you will, stain that dagger with my blood. I do not fear to die in obedience to the commands of him who died for me.' A courtier intervened: the queen came upon the scene, and soon the royal pair were kneeling at the bishop's feet, beseeching him with tears to go to the wilderness, to do what he would, if only he would grant them forgiveness for Dagobert's wicked words.

Emerging from the palace, Arnulf met a sight which doubtless shook his resolution more than all the threats of his master. The lame and blind, the widows and orphans, of the city, who had heard of his intended abdication to see, crowded round the palace gates, crying with doleful voices, 'O good shepherd! who will give us food and clothing when thou art gone? We pray thee, in Christ's name, do not leave us.' Arnulf generally assured them that some good and merciful man would be found, to be his successor, and comforted them with the story of Lazarus, as miserable as any of them, yet carried by angels into Abraham's bosom. So he passed through the weeping throng, and gained the haven of his oratory.

A successor named Goeric or Abbo, a man somewhat of his own type of character, was found to fill his place. The faithful Romaric, who had long before retired  p34 from the world, came to escort his friend to the place which he had prepared for his reception in the wilderness. But a miracle was to be wrought ere the late bishop could leave his cathedral city. A fire broke out in Metz the night before the day fixed before his departure. The royal store-house10 was already consumed: the house in which Arnulf was dwelling was threatened. Romaric and his friends burst into the house, found the saint singing psalms, told him that the horses were at the door, and adjured him to fly. 'Not so,' said Arnulf. 'Take me hence, and set me where I can see this impious conflagration. If it be God's will that I be burned, I am in His hand.' They went together to the burning house; they knelt in prayer: the saint raised the banner of the Cross against the raging flames, which at once began to die down. Arnulf and his friends having sung matins, returned to their beds and passed the rest of the night in sleep.

Having disposed of all his worldly goods — now it must be supposed, with the consent of both his sons — Arnulf retired into the wilderness, apparently somewhere among the solitudes of the Vosges mountains, and there with his friend Romaric passed the last fourteen years of his life. He had a few monks with him, as well as certain lepers, upon whom he waited, performing the most repulsive and menial offices for them with alacrity. He died in July or August, 641; and his body, at first buried by his friend Romaric at the place which, called after that friend, still bears the name Remiremont, was carried with great solemnity by his successor Goeric, to the city of Metz, where the  p35 great cathedral of St. Arnoul preserves his memory to this day.

Veneration for St. Arnulf. The veneration for the canonised bishop of Metz soon spread over Gaul, and he was accounted in an especial manner the patron of the Frankish nation. We who read his life with colder sympathies, can yet see that here was a man who deserved to be held in reverence, a statesman and one acquainted with courts, who nevertheless held the joys and the rewards of the life eternal more precious than worldly rank and station. In reading his life, one cannot but feel that in some way the Frankish nation, or at least the Austrasian portion of it, has groped its way upwards since the fifth century. Bishop Arnulf's is an utterly different type of character from the greedy, turbulent, licentious prelates who deface the pages of Gregory of Tours. And when we study the deeds of the great race of statesmen and of kings who sprang from the loins of Arnulf, we shall be often reminded how different was their original from that of the Merovingian race. The half-heathen and wholly vicious Clovis, descendant of the sea‑monster, was a fitting ancestor of the Chilperics and Childerics, who slew their kinsfolk when they were strong and their own manhood when they were weak. The saintly and yet wise-hearted Arnulf was a worthy progenitor of the Pippins and Charleses, who were for two centuries among the foremost men in Europe, and whose lives, whatever might be their faults, were one long battle on behalf of Christianity and civilisation.

Pippin of Landen. Of the other great ancestor of Charlemagne, Pippin 'of Landen,' there is less to tell than of Arnulf.

In the year 628, very shortly after Arnulf's retirement  p36 from the Court, Chlotochar II, king of Neustria and Burgundy, died, and his son Dagobert went from the Rhine-land to Paris to wield the sceptre over the whole Frankish realm.11 His advent was hailed with acclamation, for all Neustria had heard of the young king's wise and just rule over the Austrasian kingdom.

But it was soon and sadly seen how much of that reputation was really due to his counsellors Arnulf and Pippin. The air of Neustria, the influence of the corrupt Gallo-Roman civilisation, awoke the slumbering vices of the Merovingian. Three queens at once, and more concubines than the chronicler cares to enumerate, flaunted it in the Court of Paris, and to supply their extravagances and his own craving for luxury, Dagobert laid greedy hands on the property both of his leudes12 and of the Church. This latter charge (as the story of his life is written by churchmen) perhaps requires us not to give too implicit faith to the harsh judgment which they have pronounced on his character.

Pippin's disgrace. The relation borne by Pippin of Landen to Dagobert after the death of his father is not very clear. He seems to have followed his young sovereign to Paris, and to have sought to continue to guide him in the administration of his kingdom. But doubtless there was jealousy in Neustria of the influence of the Austrasian counsellor, and strangely enough from Austrasia also came a growl of rage against the too powerful minister. Probably the turbulent nobles  p37 against whom he had asserted the royal prerogatives, now saw their opportunity of revenge. The chronicler tells us 'The fury of the Austrasians against him grew so vehement that they even sought to render him odious to Dagobert in order that he might be slain.'13 These evil designs were foiled, but Pippin seems to have lost all power at Court, and to have passed the next eight years (630‑638) in retirement, possibly at Orleans, where he was perhaps charged with the education of Dagobert's young son, Sigibert.14

Marriage of Arnulf's son and Pippin's daughter. It was during this time of obscuration, probably near its commencement, that the fortunes of the two retired ministers were linked together by the marriage of their children. Somewhere about the year 630, Ansegisel (or Anschisus), the younger son of St. Arnulf, married Becga, daughter of Pippin and sister of the sainted Gertrude, who was the first abbess of the convent of Nivelles in Brabant, founded by her mother.

Pippin's return to Austrasia, and death. On the death of Dagobert in 638, we are told that Pippin and the other leaders of the Austrasians, who up to the king's death had been kept in control,15 unanimously asked for Sigibert as their king. Pippin renewed his former strong friendship with Cunibert, bishop of Cologne, drew to his side all the Austrasian  p38 leudes, and by his prudent and gentle rule obtained their friendship, and kept it to the end. Apparently we have here the story of something like a counter-revolution after the death of Dagobert, by which Pippin, now a man of about fifty years of age, was recalled amid the acclamations of his countrymen to undertake the duties of Major Domus for the young king. In this capacity he accomplished the important task of dividing the treasures unjustly accumulated by Dagobert. Along with Bishop Cunibert and other Austrasian nobles, he met at the 'villa' of Compendium16 the widowed queen Nantildis and the magnates of Neustria. One‑third of the treasure was assigned to Clovis, the boy‑king of Neustria, one‑third to the queen dowager, and the remaining third, allotted to Sigibert, was carried by Cunibert and Pippin to the palace at Metz. Shortly after this transaction, in the year 639 or 640, Pippin died, 'and by his death caused great sorrow to all the people of Auster (Austrasia), because he had been loved by them for his goodness and his zeal on behalf of justice.'17 His friend St. Arnulf, who doubtless heard of his death in his wilderness abode, followed him to the tomb in little more than a year.

Grimwald, son of Pippin. For sixteen years after the death of Pippin of Landen, the foremost figure in Austrasian history was his son Grimwald. His name and some points in his history remind us of his more famous contemporary, Grimwald the Lombard, duke of Benevento, and, by a successful stroke of treason, king of the Lombards.18 There was, as we have seen, some friendly intercourse between  p39 Franks and Lombards in the early part of the sixth century, but apparently there is nothing to justify us in considering the Austrasian duke as namesake of the Lombard king.19

Not immediately on the death of the elder Pippin did Grimwald obtain the position of Major Domus in the Austrasian kingdom. That position seems to have been at first held by a certain Otto, who had been tutor20 to the new king Sigibert in his childhood, but after two or three years of struggle, Otto was slain by Leuthar, duke of the Alamanni, who was 'of the faction of Grimwald,' and the son of Pippin was recognised by all as Major Domus in his father's place. As to Grimwald's government during the thirteen or fourteen years that followed (643 or 642 to 656), we know very little. We are told that he was loved like his father, and it is conjectured that he fostered the pious inclinations of his young king, and was, like him, a liberal friend to the Church:21 but it is by his premature attempt to turn Major-domat into sovereignty that he is alone famous in history. When Sigibert, king of Austrasia, died in 656, at the age (for a Merovingian king, the advanced age) of twenty‑six, Grimwald had the long locks of his son Dagobert shorn off, and sent him to lead a holy life in an Irish monastery, proclaiming his own son, to whom he had given the Merovingian name Childebert, king of the Franks.

Abortive attempt to dethrone the Merovingians. But the time was not yet ripe for such a revolution;  p40 neither had the family of Pippin, though wealthy, powerful, and perhaps popular, yet done any such deeds as justified them in claiming, as of hereditary right, the allegiance even of Austrasia, much less of all the Frankish kingdoms. 'The Franks,' we are told by a chronicler,22 'being moved with great indignation, laid snares for Grimwald, and taking him prisoner carried him to Clovis [the Second, brother of Sigibert] for condemnation. Being confined in prison in the city of Paris, and afflicted with the agony of chains, he, who was worthy of death for his practices against his lord, ended his life in mighty torments.'

Anschisus, son of St. Arnulf. The result of this premature attempt at revolution was for a time to obscure the fortunes of the two great Austrasian houses. Anschisus, or Ansegisel, Grimwald's brother-in‑law, who is the least noticeable figure among the Arnulfings, after holding the office of Major Domus for a few years (632‑638), before the return of the elder Pippin, subsides into obscurity, and we hear no more concerning him save for a late and doubtful statement that he was treacherously slain in 685 by a certain Gunduin, and that his death was gloriously avenged by his son. To the deeds of that son, Pippin 'of Heristal,' grandson of St. Arnulf on his father's side, grandson of Pippin 'of Landen' on his mother's side, we now turn: for now, at last, the shadows are beginning to disperse, and we begin to see something of the well-known

'shapes that must undergo mortality.'

The Author's Notes:

1 See vol. VI pp 109 and  130.

2 'Chlotharius factione Arnulfo et Pippino vel citeris (sic) procerebus (sic) Auster ingreditur.' Fredegarius, IV.40.

3 It is not worth while to go more fully into the thoroughly discredited 'Domus Carolingicae genealogia' which is published in the Monumenta of Pertz (Scriptores), II p308 n. This pedigree makes Arnulf son of Arnoald, who is son of Ansbert and Blithild, the latter a daughter of Chlotochar I. The name of Feriolus, brother of Arnoald, is probably meant to imply a connection with the senatorial family of Tenantius Ferreolus, the friend of Sidonius (see vol. II pp 318 and  473). Firminus, Deotarius, Modericus (Munderic), and other names of Aquitanian ecclesiastics and saints, are freely interspersed in the genealogy, and by these Bonnell is led to the conclusion that it was probably invented in Aquitaine, about the beginning of the ninth century, by some ecclesiastical courtier of the young king Louis the Pious anxious to recommend his master to the affections of his patriotic Aquitanian subjects. The imaginary link with this old Merovingian line would be supposed in some sort to justify the usurpation of the king's grandfather Pippin. After all, the really important fact, though a negative one, is that Paulus Diaconus, the friend and courtier of Charles the Great, writing his book on the succession of the bishops of Metz, distinctly in the Carolingian interest, can only say of St. Arnulf that he was 'splendore generis clarus' and 'ex nobilissimo fortissimoque Francorum stemmate ortus'; words which might have been used of any well-born Frankish warrior. This silence of his is the more marked because he has just mentioned Bishop Agiulf, 'qui fertur, patre ex nobili senatorum familia orto, ex Chlodovici regis Francorum filia procreatus.' If Paulus could have said anything like this of the ancestors of his patron he would certainly not have withheld it. The fact is manifest that Charles the Great did not know the names of his ancestors beyond the fifth generation: not at all a surprising fact in an unlettered age and in a family which had not then reached the royal rank.

4 Or Ansegisus or Ansegisel. Paulus, according to the literary fashion of his time, traces in this name a remembrance of Anchises, the father of Aeneas, and makes it an argument for the descent of the Franks from the Trojans.

5 'Nec tamen primatum, says St. Arnulf's biographer, 'quem in palatio gerebat, deserere permissus est.' This looks as though Arnulf was at this time actual Major Domus of Austrasia.

6 Bonnell (pp49‑85) combats at great length the surnames of 'Landen' and of 'Heristal,' usually given to the first and second Pippin. His chief point is that both these places are in Brabant, on the left bank of the Meuse, and that the cradle of the race of Pippin is to be sought on the right bank of that river, and between it and the Moselle, in the provinces which have since borne the names of Louvain, Namur, and Luxemburg. He certainly produces a large number of grants to monasteries in that region made by the earlier Carolingians, and he is entitled to lay stress on the late date at which the surnames of Landen and Heristal appear in history. But though he may have thrown a certain amount of suspicion on the familiar surnames, his argument so far as I understand it (for it is not very lucidly stated), seems to me to stop a long way short of proof. Especially I am struck by the frequency with which Heristal is mentioned as the place where Charles the Great held his Court between 769 and 783 before he had taken up with Aachen. So long as the surnames of Landen and of Heristal are not absolutely disproved, I prefer to use them rather than the numbers, first, second, third, which suggest incorrectly the idea of regal succession. The modern German usage, 'Pippin der Alte, der Mittlere and 'der Junge,' seems to me very awkward.

7 Especially the so‑called Fredegarius who wrote about 660.

8 This would apparently cut off both Luxemburg and Lorraine, but it is not easy to see exactly what is meant by the words of Fredegarius (IV.47), 'retinens sibi [Chlothario] quod Ardinna et Vosacos versus Neuster et Burgundia excludebant.'

9 This is the date fixed on by Bonnell, p189. In the Introduction to the Vita S. Arnulfi, in the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, p427, the year 629 is chosen by the Editor (Krusch).

10 'Prumtuarium regis.'

11 Except a small kingdom which was carved out in Aquitaine for his half-brother Charibert, who, however, died three years after his accession.

12 Retainers.

13 'Zelus Austrasiorum adversus eodem vehementer surgebat, ut etiam ipsum conarint cum Dagobertum facere odiosum ut pocius interficeretur'; 'Fredegarius,' IV.61. The reader will remember that this chronicler is super grammaticam. But however incorrect his style may be, I cannot think it possible to translate as Bonnell proposes, 'Zelus Austrasiorum adversus eodem,' 'Der Eifer der Austrasier für Pippin.'

14 Bonnell's conjecture, founded on Fredegarius, IV.61, 62.

15 'Dicione retenti'; (Ibid. 85). The phrase does not seem to imply absolute imprisonment.

16 Compiègne.

17 Fredegarius, IV.85.

18 See vol. VI pp 53, 79, 239‑292.

19 In fact the Austrasian was probably not much younger than the Lombard. Grimwald of Forum Julii was probably born about 600, and Grimwald of Austrasia perhaps ten years later.

20 Bajulus.

21 See Dahn's Urgeschichte, III.659.

22 Liber Historiae Francorum, 43.

Thayer's Note:

a Herodotus, III.40‑43.

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