Search This Blog

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Clovis,King of the Franks.Towards a New Chronology,Part Two

Chlodoveus Rex Bellorum1

Leader of the Provinces, protector of his homelands, conqueror of nations

By Dane R. Pestano ©2015
 435 - 470. Childeric and the Birth of Clovis.

Childeric and Basina
Little is known about Childeric and Basina, Clovis' parents. Gregory mixed annalistic fact with legend and mythology to create his story and so we must depend on him for the bones of the life of Childeric with some additional information provided by his grave in Tournai. Thankfully most of Gregory's factual story appears to come from an annal kept in Angers which can be tied up with secondary sources such as the Gallic Chronicle and the chronicle of Hydatius. His 'missing' later years can be reconstructed from near contemporary Vitae of Saints Genovefa and Severinus, and Roman records. The chronology is helped by Clovis himself who appears to have furnished his fathers grave with coins indicating not only his interest in his fathers treasury collection but also an interest in choosing coins relating to his fathers life. This recent study by Svante Fischer & Lennart Lind in The Coins in the Grave of King Childeric (2015) has proven that the hoard deposited with Childeric had been carefully cleansed (of the coins of illegitimate western emperors) and selected by Clovis and his advisors to present at the burial a coin collection that it's audience would appreciate and understand.

The known Solidi coins in Childerics grave below, analysed by Fischer and Lind. It can be clearly seen that the youngest coin dates to no later than 477, showing Childeric must have died in the early to mid 480's. Note the exceptions to the eastern mints at 435 and 474.

There were also at least three Consular Solidi in the group above. The first is from AD 435 for Valentinian III in Ravenna, the second is an issue from AD 441 for Theodosius II in Constantinople and the third an issue for Leo I struck in AD 457 in Thessalonica. These then appear to be the dates encoded into the hoard buried with Childeric - 435, 441, and 457. I will discuss these dates below.

The first thing we should bear in mind is that the Franks settled west of the Rhine in the Roman Belgic and Germanic provinces were not total barbarians. They had been there for over a hundred years years as Federates by the time Clovis was born. Many Franks had risen to high office within the Roman empire in the fourth century when they had been made federates under Julian in 358AD and allowed to cross the Rhine into Toxandria (northwestern Flanders). They were well acculturated to the Roman way of life and Christianity, although they had remained pagan. They were there to act as a buffer to protect the northern Gallic provinces from the incursions of tribes east of the Rhine, who were considered barbarians - Alamanni, Saxons, Frisians etc. The Romans during this same period had become Christian, although by the fifth century two branches had developed, Catholic Christianity and Arian Christianity.  The Gallo Romans, being Catholic Christian, and seeing the demise of the traditional Roman armies to Germanic Federate armies sought alliances with them for protection. The Visigoths, who had become Arian Christians were allowed to settle in Gaul in Aquitania to protect landowners in the early fifth century and had lived up to their status as federates when they helped Aetius defeat Attila the Hun in 451 (as had Franks, who fought on both sides). However in the second half of the fifth century, under their expansive King Euric, they extended their possessions all the way east to Clermont and northwards to the Orleans river by the time Euric died in 485. Euric was not very tolerant of Catholicism and there was a degree of persecution in his time of Catholic Bishops which continued to a lesser degree with his son Alaric II until the early sixth century. 

The Franks, in all of this were sidelined because they were still pagan, but they had expanded their own influence under their King Chlodio, who had pushed Frankish interests westwards to Tournai and Cambrai in the late 420's, being defeated and brought under control by the Roman general Aetius in around 428. Childerics coin hoard shows that  Aetius may have paid off the Franks in 435 before starting his war against the Burgundians, Fischer and Lind commenting :
 "The solidi in the Childeric hoard appear to have been gathered from at least two, perhaps three separate sources. One early western source contained specific western payments of the tenth vota of Valentinian III of 435. These solidi are very easy to recognize due to their peculiar iconography and coin legends and do not occur as single finds in northern Gaul at all, see the catalogue of Martin 2009)"
Chlodio had encroached further, sometime in the mid to late 440's, probably under pressure from Attilla's huns but was defeated by Aetius. Chlodio was eventually killed by the Huns as they moved into northern Gaul in 449-450 en route to Orleans. Christian Gallo Romans would rather have Arian's who understood Christianity protecting them rather than pagans who would be tempted to despoil and rob their churches. It was into this background that Clovis was born. His eventual choice of Catholicism was a masterful stroke of good fortune for the Franks. They were now acceptable in Gallo Roman society as protectors and even better they were Catholics. The days of the Arian Visigoths were numbered.

Childerici Regis - The Life of Childeric

Childeric's signet ring.
I am convinced that Clovis' father Childeric was the young prince adopted by Aetius on the death of his  father, Chlodio, who met his end at the hands of Attila on his way into northern Gaul. This may be reinforced by the fact that Childeric made his later home in Tournai and was buried there; this the very city that Chlodio, his possible father, had himself taken when extending Frankish interests. It is also notable that Childerics grave coins contained Solidi of this period (early 430's), probably paid to Chlodio to stop further incursions. It may be no coincidence then that Childeric then gives his own son a name based on that of his own father. Clovis was known by the name Chlodovech / Chlodoveo amongst the Franks and  Luduin amongst the Romans and Goths of Theoderic the Great. The coins deposited in Childeric's grave chosen by Clovis, his father or aides on death appear to show his fathers year of birth. Three exceptional consular coins were noted by Fischer and Lind in Childeric's grave, one dating to 435, one to 441 and to 457. They also pointed out the rarity of the silver coin collection in the grave which spanned three hundred years of Roman Denari. I would suggest that these Denari came from Valentinian himself when Childeric was in Rome being adopted by Aetius, given presents and made a federate of the empire. The Consular coin of 435 would suggest the year in which Childeric was born.

Childeric and Clovis appear to have been a mixture of Salian Franks and Sicambrian/ Sygambrian Franks. Claudian separated these two Frankish peoples in the late fourth century when writing about Stilicho : “ didst thou compel the threatening Rhine to learn gentleness with shattered horns, that the Salian now tills his fields, the Sygambrian beats his straight sword into a curved sickle, and the traveller, as he looks at the two banks, asks over which Rome rules..” Then Sidonius in the late 470's describes an old Frankish warrior “..We see thee, aged Sygambrian warrior, the back of thy head shaven in sign of thy defeat; but now thou guidest the new-grown locks to the old neck again..” Then of course Gregory of Tours describes Clovis himself as a Sicambrian at his baptism “ Gently bend your neck, proud Sicamber; worship what you burned; burn what you worshipped..” So there does appear to have been a difference between Salians and Sicambrians that was discernible even until the late sixth century. The mythical story of Merovech and the sea monster may derive therefore from the Salian Franks rather than the Sicambrian, which might explain the confusion surrounding the parents of Childeric. We can see from the depiction of Childeric on his signet ring that he tied his long hair into knots at the ends which again was a Sicambrian custom (Martial, Liber de spectaculis, epigram 3, line 9. "With locks twisted into a knot, are come the Sicambrians..."). Perhaps as they were close neighbours they eventually merged with the Salians when they became Federates of the empire. The alternative is that Sycambrian was a poetic term used of the Salians.

Priscus tells us about the the death of Chlodion and the two Frankish princes in around 449-4502. The younger prince courted the favour of the Romans and the elder one courted the favour of Attila. The younger went to Rome where Aetius adopted him as a son and the emperor heaped presents on him and sent him back an ally and a federate. Priscus described this young Frank as having long blond hair that fell upon his shoulders and was just starting to sprout hair on his chin3. So he was probably around 14/15 at the time, which meant he was born in around 435 and if he was Childeric, died in his fifties in the 480's. Perhaps the other prince was Merovech, killed when the Hun fought Aetius. In support of this conjecture may be the strange late genealogy which makes Childeric the son of one Genniodus, MacGeorge (2003,p.175) suggesting this may be derived from a similar Roman name such as Gennadius. She doesn't quite see the significance though that this may simply be a corrupted rendering of Genus Aetius, 'of the family of Aetius'. If he was the adopted son of Aetius it might explain why Remigius is so gushing about Clovis' noble ancestors.

When Aegidius became Magister Militum of Gaul in 450 he had assumed authority over northern Gaul as well which must have included the Frankish federate forces settled in Belgica II and Germania II. Childeric by this time in Rome had become 15 in 450 and so inherited his place as a king of the Salien Franks in around 451-452 when he returned to Belgica II (presuming here that the elder brother had died at Chalons assisting the Hun). However when Aetius died in 455 and Avitus became emperor it appears a Count Agrippinus may have been magister militum of Gaul (possibly subservient to Aegidius as Comes), whose allegiances appear to have been with the Visigoths. Marjorian became emperor in 457 and had been an associate of Aetius and Aegidius. Aegidius helped Marjorian restore order to southern Gaul which had been under Visigothic attack. Aegidius accused Agrripinus of various crimes and Aggripinus was sent to trial in Rome but released when Marjorian died in 461. Aegidius' worries about Aggripinnus were vindicated when Agrippinus returned to Gaul as Comes and handed over Narbonne to the Visigoths in 462. Aegidius by this time, stripped of his command, had fallen out with Ricimer who had killed Marjorian and appointed Severus as Emperor. These events led up to the Visogths under Frederick attacking Orleans in 463. Ricimer was stiring things up and encouraging the Visigoths so as to make it difficult for Aegidius and his large army to venture towards Italy.

It appears it was no coincidence then that Gregory's story of Childeric being removed and Aegidius taking control of the Franks took place at this very time in around 457. But does this story old up? Childeric was still a mere boy in 450 when Aegidius became Magister Militum of Gaul. Childeric therefore can never have been in control of the Federate Franks at this time and his 'exile' would have been during this period until the year in which he is said to have fled Gaul, ie when Marjorian became emperor and Aegidius came back into favour in 457. Clovis placed a consular coin in the grave marking the year of 457. This year is the traditional year given for when Childeric became king of the Franks. Instead it looks like, as Gregory asserted (II.12), that Childeric was already king in name but was then given authority over the remaining Frankish federate forces when Majorian became emperor in 457 as Aegidius was needed in the south, where the Visigoths and possibly Burgundians were causing problems. Aggripinus having been removed to Rome under charges by Aegidius. Was Childeric then given some Roman officers post at this time?

To recap then, it was Aegidius who was the leader of the Frankish Federates in Belgica II from 450, leaving the 17 year old Childeric, king from 452, dispossessed and relegated to a residence probably in Tongres, near the Rhine border of the Thuringians. When Majorian was made emperor in 457 he must have made Childeric, now 22, leader of the remaining federate Franks in Belgica II and Germania II, perhaps on reccomendation from Aegidius wo was now Comes. 
Gregory states that Aegidius had occupied Soissons and it would have been a sensible spot to utilise, giving easy access to the Paris basin and the provinces of Lugdunensia and eastwards to the Belgic and Germanic provinces in the earkly years after Chalons. According to Gregory, Childeric went to northern Gaul/Tongres/Thuringia for around seven years (which I place above from 451/2-457/8) returning in the eighth4. Although this episode could be true, as Childeric appears to have married a Thuringian, there are difficulties with Gregory's tail of sexual licentiousness. Halsall has pointed out that a church was built over Childeric's grave dedicated to St. Brictius. The same St. Brictius, who Gregory states was also sexually licentious and who had been expelled from Tours for seven years. There is a suspicion therefore that Gregory was attaching a similar motif to Childeric due to the Church there in Tournai5. For this reason we do not need to assign a seven to eight year period of a supposed exile to Childeric. It appears that Childeric probably didnt arrive in northern Gaul until after the Battle of Chalons, ie in around 452 when aged 17, marked with another coin in his grave collection.

Gaul around 507. Thuringians and Alamanni would been next to upper Rhine in the 490's and some Thuringians west of the Rhine.
Childeric was just a young man of around twenty-two in 457 and it's quite possible he remained a federate leader in the north being given authority in Germania II subservient to Aegidius6 who was busy in the south. He then spent the next six years defending the Rhine frontier against the Thuringians, Alamanni, Heruli, Varni, Saxons and Frisians. Arranging a marriage later with a princess of the Thuringians would not present any problems and would be a good dynastic move for both parties. 

When the Visigoths, stirred up probably by Ricimer, threatened Orleans in 463 Aegidius called on Childeric, now twenty-seven years old, to help. Being the loyal federate he was, he turned up with his Frankish army inflicting a serious defeat on the Visigoths, where the king's brother Frederic was killed 8. According to the Liber Historia Francorum in Germania II the Franks, probably under a young Sigibert or his father, attacked and took Roman possessions, Cologne on the Rhine and Trier on the Moselle, forcing Aegidius to face them. According to the Liber he was unsuccessful in this and fled to die soon afterwards (MacGeorge, 2003, P.107). Unfortunately there is no contemporary evidence to suggest Aegidius was involved in the defence of these cities so far east so dating this event had proven difficult. MacGeorge stating that the Liber "..does not allow us to establish a precise chronology.." (P.108). According to Wolfram following this offensive the Salian Franks may have also crossed the Rhine within a year or two attacking the Heruli, Varni and Thuringians (Wolfram, H., Dunlap, T. History of the Goths, University of California Press; 1992, p.190).

By 464 though, the beleagured Aegidius had died, due to plague, assassination or killed in ambush9Count Paul took over.  After Aegidius had died the Visigoths took their chance to move forward towards the Loire attacking the city of Bourges in around 464/5 and killing it's garrison of Romano Britons defending it, some of whom fled and were slaughtered at Deols. Count Paul with Childeric's Franks then came against the Visigoths and defeated them again, moving onwards then to Angers that Saxons had taken. The Saxons had settled on islands at the mouth of the Loire and had been causing problems up and down the coasts of Gaul. In Britain they had been recruited as mercenaries in around 464 and rebelled a few years later. Sidonius Apollinaris tells us about the Saxons raiding western Gaul in one of his letters to his friend Namatius who was charged with defending the coast in Novempopulana (south-western Gaul ) with his own fleet :
I whiled away some time talking with him about you; and he was very positive that you had weighed anchor, and in fulfilment of those half military, half naval duties of yours were coasting the western shores on the look-out for curved ships; the ships of the Saxons, in whose every oarsman you think to detect an arch-pirate. Captains and crews alike, to a man they teach or learn the art of brigandage; therefore let me urgently caution you to be ever on the alert. For the Saxon is the most ferocious of all foes. He comes on you without warning; when you expect his attack he makes away. Resistance only moves him to contempt; a rash opponent is soon down. If he pursues he overtakes; if he flies himself, he is never caught. Shipwrecks to him are no terror, but only so much training. His is no mere acquaintance with the perils of the sea; he knows them as he knows himself. A storm puts his enemies off their guard, preventing his preparations from being seen; the chance of taking the foe by surprise makes him gladly face every hazard of rough waters and broken rocks.

Moreover, when the Saxons are setting sail from the continent, and are about to drag their firm-holding anchors from an enemy's shore, as is their usage thus homeward bound, they abandon every tenth captive to the slow agony of a watery end, casting lots with perfect equity among the doomed crowd in execution of this iniquitous sentence of death. This custom is all the more deplorable in that it is prompted by honest superstition. These men are bound by vows which have to be paid in victims, they conceive it a religious act to perpetrate this horrible slaughter, and to take anguish from the prisoner in place of ransom; this polluting sacrilege is in their eyes an absolving sacrifice...”
We also have a vision of what these Saxons looked like at the time, again from Sidonius : “ We see in his courts the blue-eyed Saxon, lord of the seas, but a timid landsman here. The razor's keen blade, content no more to hold its usual course round the head's extremity, with clean strokes shearing to the skin, drives the margin of the hair back from his brow, till the head looks smaller and the visage longer".  

By 465/66 these Saxons had been defeated by Count Paul who was unfortunately killed taking  Angers just as Childeric's Franks had arrived. There is a suspicion that following the death of Aegidius, Childeric considered himself his natural successor and he may have killed count Paul himself to assume overall command. Bishop Remegius though shows in his letter to Clovis that Childeric was held in quite high regard by the Romans and so with this evidence in mind it is doubtful he was involved in the demise of Aegidus. If perhaps Count Paul was involved though and Childeric took revenge and killed Paul for this reason, then that is another scenario. Childeric then continued the campaign against the Saxons, destroying their settlements at the mouth of the Loire. With the Saxons defeated this may have inadvertently opened up possibilities for the Visigoths. For Euric, king in 466 was soon to expand his influence in Novempopulana, according to Sidonius persecuting Catholic churches and Bishops there and eventually moving against the Auvergne.  As we have seen, he was also now able to send his fleet all the way round Gaul to the upper Rhine.

Childeric then, if we follow an account in the vita Genuvefa11, turned back eastward in around 466 and captured and occupied Paris for ten years, until 476 12. Syagrius, as Kurth, writing in 1874 surmised, would have probably been too young in 466 to challenge Childeric14, probably being only around twenty, although he suggested there may have been a dispute after the death of Paul. Halsall also suggested the same.15 I would agree that Syagrius would have been too inexperienced at this time, so the conflict came ten years later when Childeric had left for Italy, rather than at the death of Paul.

This would all suggest Childeric's 'Kingdom' was based mainly in the provinces of the Tractus Armoricanus (that incorporated some of the earlier provinces of the Lugdunensii) and a portion of Belgica II. Wood along with James16 suggested that there is no evidence that the kingdom of Syagrius and possibly Childeric extended beyond the Seine, but someone would have to have had authority there, so it's likely he or the Visigoths did or there was a mixture of Counts holding various cities independently.The Archeaology suggests Childeric had advanced materially to only the Seine.

Then in around 468 Childeric married Basina, (after he had become famous as a great warrior and leader and occupied Paris), most likely the daughter, rather than wife of the Thuringian king Bisinus. Gregory seems to place their marriage during the time that Childeric and Aegidius ruled together, ie from 457-464. Gregorys chronology seems to place it as early as 460 but this seems too early as Childeric had not yet proven himself a great warrior and he was quite busy fighting Visigoths and Saxons until 466. Gregory may have been trying to fit this event into his scheme where Clovis is given the age of 45 at death. So I date the marriage shortly after in 468. Basina's birth may have been in 441, a consular coin marking this year placed in Childerics grave. During the next few years Clovis and his sisters were born in Paris.

According to Gregory, in around 476 Childeric was called upon by Odoacer, the new Patrician of the west and king of Italy, to help him eradicate the problems caused by the collapse of Roman authority in the provinces north of Italy17. Odoacer is said to have been of the Turcilingi, a little known tribe probably of Scirian or Hunnic origin18. He had worked his way up in Roman service and supported the Magister Militum Orestes who deposed the Roman Emperor Nepos. Orestes then set up his young son Romulus as Emperor. However Odoacer soon rebelled when Germanic Federates were not allowed to settle in Italy, deposing Romulus, killing Orestes and making himself King of Italy in 476.  

There were no troubles from the Alamanni in northern Italy at this time so the troubles were actually those in Noricum, along the river Danube, just north-east of Italy. This would make some sense of Childeric's grave which showed much Danubian influence. It's a little puzzling though as to why Childeric would venture out of northern Gaul to help Odoacer take control of Noricum Ripense, an eastern province that wasn't his to be involved with19. Odoacer though was at this time still closely alligned with the eastern emperor Zeno, who had made him Patrician, so he was most likley calling Childeric at his bidding. Coin Evidence from Childerics grave and Gregory's statement that Childeric made a foedus with Odoacer shows that Childeric arrived in Noricum soon after Odoacer became king of Italy in 476. Fischer and Lind show that he paid Childeric in Solidi minted in the east between 471-474. Some of these coins then would have arrived in Rome at the latest around 475/76. This gives us direct evidence of when the battle against the Allamani must have been (477-480). In Gregory's time he may not have known that Noricum was once an eastern Province. Noricum had previously been part of the Praetorian Prefecture of Italy before it was handed over to the eastern empire in the early fifth century. It had been brought back into western hands by Theoderic the Great in the late fifth century.

Noricum with Batavis and Lauriacum in bold.

The Alamanni in concert with other barbarians had persistently raided Noricum Ripense from north of the Danube in the 470's so Childeric took his Franks to help restore order. The Vita of Saint Severinus tells us about the constant raids of the Alamanni and Thuringians and later Rugians into the province of Noricum20. Encouraged by Bishop Severinus the 'Romans' won a victory at Batavis over the Alamanni sometime before Severinus died in 48221. If Childeric assisted, then it is this victory that I would associate with Gregory's note of a battle to defeat the Alamanni. Most late Roman armies were at this time Germanic, but we know that the cities of Noricum had also been guarded by soldiers from Italy, although their ethnicity is unknown22. Batavis was defended by the last Roman IXth Batavian Cohort in Noricum acting as Limitanei, although it had lost 40 men to a barbarian raid on the town. It is debabtable then as to how many men were left and whether they could on their own defeat an Alamannic army in open battle. If Childeric's Franks were not involved here then perhaps they were in the province somewhere assisting in clearing up the Alamanni.The Vita of St. Severinus was written around 511 so there is the possibility that Eugippius, its author, was enhancing the value of the Saint and played down the extent of the Roman army available. Suffice to say, we no longer hear of the Alammani as a threat in Noricum.

With the Alamanni defeated the Thuringians continued to raid Noricum. The Rugians had originally acted as defenders of the Roman Danube border, but encouraged by Zeno they started to raid Noricum themselves in around 485. They were eventually defeated by Odoacer in 487, suggesting Childric has left with his Frankish forces long before. Odoacer then sent his brother to engage in further battles before moving the people of Noricum en mass to safety in Northern Italy in 488.

The battle of Batavis then, was probably in around 477-479. This chronology would make sense of Gregory's synchronisms where he places his next paragraph II.20 (after Childeric going to Italy) with notice of Euric's Duke Victorius going to Clermont in 47923. The people of Batavis were subsequently evacuated to Lauriacum further east which was safer, as the Christian Rugians north of the Danube were still acting as a buffer to the hostile barbarians. Batavis had then fallen to the Thuringians in around 480. If the Federate-Franks were involved they may have consolidated in Lauriacum with the rest of the people. Childeric's death is usually placed in 481/2, but as we can see, if this were the case he may have been killed or injured in these very wars in Noricum. Death seems unlikely as his body would have needed to be transported all the way back to Tournai and his grave goods suggest he made it back intact. It is difficult to know how long Childeric remained in Noricum helping with the efforts but the idea of an alliance with Odoacer and Zeno may make sense in the early years of Odoacer's reign when he was still aligned with the Eastern Emperor, although, as said above, it looks like Zeno was the instigator. Odoacer and Zeno fell out in 485 so I would suggest that Childeric must have  returned to the north before this time at the latest where he subsequently died, possibly defeated by Syagrius. Perhaps he may have been injured in 481/2 and returned to Tournai then? There is not enough information to make a safe judgement on this, suffice to say Gregory appears to place Clovis' accession in the late 480's. Bearing in mind the coin evidence, I would say Childeric returned shoirtly before his death between 482-484.

Gregory has no more to say regarding Childeric until he mentions his death in the 480's and the succession of Clovis. He is silent about how the Franks lost Soissons to Syagrius and how Childeric subsequently ended up in Tournai. The paragraph of Histories mentioning the death of Childeric (Childeric having died, Clovis reigned in his stead) and the following events are clearly dated to the 490's. First the death of Bishop Perpetuus is mentioned (491), then others such as Volusianus in 497, so Gregory clearly places Clovis acession in around 489-490. However, as said above, we cannot depend on Gregory for these dates, but once the sources are examined it will become clear that this date, of around 489, appears sound for the time when Clovis started his offensives as King. However this does not mean that this was neccesarily the time of his accession. Halsall came to a similar tentative date for the accession although a bit too late in my view:
“ There thus is evidence to support a ‘short chronology’ for Clovis’ reign, beginning around 490. This is worth pointing out, given how much of the archaeology and the political history of late fifth-century is based upon the possibly spurious date of 481/2.”24

The Birth of Clovis. What year? 

In GC518, Clovis was born in around 474 during the interlude Childeric had between defeating the Goths and Saxons in 466 and then helping Zeno/Odoacer defeat the Alamanni sometime around 477-479. If Clovis died in 518 and lived 45 years then yes, his birth would be placed in 474. The problem is that earlier in the Histories II.12, when describing the early life of Childeric, the period Gregory covers is ten years, between 453 and 463, during which Childeric is expelled, returns, marries Basina and gives birth to Clovis. So this paragraph is no help in solving when Clovis was born. The traditional assumption is that he was born in around 466 due to CC511 (counting back 45 years). So we have a date range therefore of 466 to 474. The problem with 474 is that the birth of Theuderic, his first son by a concubine, would occur when Clovis was only sixteen or seventeen which is actually possible.Then Theuderic's son Theudebert was old enough by 521 to defeat a Danish raid. The possibility of an interpolation of Clovis' age though in Histories II.43 is high when the original Latin seems to indicate the addition of this part :
“Fueruntque omnes dies regni eius anni triginta; [aetas tota XLV anni]. A transitu ergo sancti Martini usque ad transitum Chlodovechi regis, qui fuit XI. annus episcopatus Licini Toronici sacerdotes”

So Gregory's orginal was most likley "He passed away in the fifth year after the battle of Vouillé". This would suggest 511 counting from 507 as first year. The interpolator has added the rest including reign length, trying to give Clovis seven years more life so that he could die in 518. It is imperative we understand the significance of this. The year of Clovis' birth and reign is dependent on this interpolation. This means that he was not aged 45 at death, seven years having been added to satsify 518, so he was in effect 38, meaning he was born in around 473. His reign length has therefore been altered by seven years as well, meaning he reigned 23 years. This would put the start of his reign to 488.

If Clovis was born in 466 he would be too old ( aged 41) in 507 when Theoderic the great calls him (and Alaric) 'Regii Juvenes' , a term meaning a young person in the flower of their age between twenty and forty. A date of 473 for his birth, would satisfy Theoderic's juveni comment as Clovis would then be around thirty-four years of age. His three sisters Albofleda, Audofleda and Lentichilde were born before or over the following few years. If he was born sometime around 473 then he would most certainly have been a minor (nine years old) when Childeric died in 481/2 and unable to become king until he was 15 in 488. The traditional date of 466 is untenable in my view. Theoderic was probably in his early fifties when he made this statement in 507 so highly unlikley he would consider a 41 year old Clovis a Juvenis. Clovis could only have been in early to mid thirties. Alaric is said to have been born in 470, so he would certainly satisfy this rule being 36.

During this interlude where Clovis was born, Childeric had apparently occupied Paris for ten years hence Clovis and his sisters were more than likely born in Paris. Clovis was eventually to make Paris his capital after defeating the Visigoths. He may have met St. Genevieve at this time growing up in the region and she may have made an impression on his young enquiring mind, as he was, many years later, to build a Church over her grave in Paris. Her Vita claims that they later met and that because of her protestations he was lenient with some of his prisoners25, but this seems to be a common motif in her hagiography, also applied to Childeric.

Between 476-484, with Childeric away in Italy helping Zeno/Odoacer secure Noricum, Syagrius took his chance and assumed control of Soissons and territory as far as the Seine and Paris and the south of Belgica Secunda with the help of the Visigoths, forming his own little dominion for about ten years. This may make sense by the fact that as the Federate Franks had left for Italy the Gallo Romans would have needed alternative protection. That appears to have come from the Visigoths. This may seem a bold statement to make concerning the Visigoths, but Perin and Dierkens have shown that there was Visigothic influence in the area at this time in their 2003 paper The 5th-century advance of the Franks in Belgica II: history and archaeology. Note that it was after Childerics sojourn in Paris that the setback happened. Ernst Taayke sums up their findings:
“Basing their argument on the distribution of some distinctive sword and fibula types, they make a reasonable case for Childeric reaching the Seine long before Clovis did. Afterwards he was forced to retreat to the Somme and was buried in Tournay. In this setback phase a contingent of Visigothic troops played a rather obscure role. According to the distribution of a certain fibula type, their presence at the time is unquestionable, but whether they served the Roman general Syagrius or actually obeying Childeric fought against him, remains open to debate.”26

The Visigoths has taken Clermont in 475 and extended their power to the cities of the Loire, so a move further north eastward to support Syagrius against the Franks makes good sense. The Goths had in fact already intervened before 475 against the Franks. When the Salian Franks had taken Cologne and Trier in around 465 they consolidated for a while before launching attacks across the Rhine against the Heruli, Thuringians and Varni in around 467. Wolfram writes that in response to this Euric sent a Gothic fleet to the north Rhine to intervene and support the barbarians against the Franks. It seems the Goths had already had allegiances with these barbarians across the Rhine which would continue all the way up to Theoderic the Great who also called on their support against the Franks in 507. The Franks were therefore hemmed in on both sides by Visigothic support for the barbarians and by their support of Syagrius. Wolfram also states that Euric had negotiated a Feodus with either the Franks or Barbarians but he suggests it was the barbarians which makes sense of later Gothic efforts to enlist their help (Woolfram, 1992, p.190).

It's therefore unlikely that the Visigoths fought for Childeric. Gallo Romans had long tried to broker deals with the Visigoths to cooperate with them. Avitus had briefly risen to the height of Emperor with Gothic help in the 450's and Arvandus had failed in the attempt of enlisting Euric to divide Gaul between the Visigoths and Burgundians in 468, when the power he was concerned with at the time was the Britons north of the Loire. These Britons however, on the instigation of the emperor Anthemius, failed in their attempt at overthrowing Euric in 470. Seronatus had also suffered the wrath of Sidonius for overtly favouring the Goths in around 469 and a Gallic Count Agrippinus had handed over Narbonne to the Visigoths in 462. At the trial of Arvandus in Rome in 469 many Gallo Romans were implicated in the treason and the famous Sidonius Apollinaris himself, closely linked to them, decided it was best to make himself scarce and so returned to Clermont, becoming Bishop as an added precaution. Cassiodorus suggested that Arvandus had “wished to seize the throne”27 and become emperor himself. This may have been a possibility but it was also a possiblity for Syagrius. MacGeorge has pointed out (2003, p.119) that the eastern historian Candidas wrote that when the Gauls of the west had revolted against Odoacer, they and Odoacer had both sent embassies to Zeno, but Zeno had supported Odoacer. This was later than when Odoacer actually took power in 476, as embassies were also sent at that time by Nepos and Odoacer. This must though have been fairly early in Odoacer's reign then, before Zeno and Odoacer fell out in 485.
If Childeric had left in around 476 for Noricum then we can place this power struggle in Gaul with Odoacer to 477-484. Precisely around the time that Childeric died as well. If the Gallo Romans of Syagrius had rejected Odoacer then their second choice appears to have been to cosy up with the Christian Arian Visigoths rather than the pagan Franks. We may therefore now have a better understanding of why Clovis was to direct so much of his energies to defeating the Visigoths. It looks like Childeric returned on hearing the news of the Gallo Roman faction under Syagrius jostling for power with Odoacer and Zeno. But with Visigothic help and his Frankish auxilliaries depleted from their recent battles in Noricum he was defeated and probably killed. Basina had probably taken the children to Tournai. With Childerics army decimated, the young Clovis, only eight years old in 481, would have to wait patiently to retake his inheritance. 

The fact that Clovis turned his attention first to Syagrius and then concentrated his efforts against the Visigoths supports this conjecture. This was the last stand of the Gallo Roman nobility and it lasted just over ten years.

488. The accession of Clovis 

As discussed above Childeric was in Noricum for some time helping Odocacer and returned to die, probably defeated by Siagrius in around 481. If Clovis was eight in 481 and Childeric died at that time, then Clovis would have to have waited until 488 before becoming King at the age of fifteen. This may also explain why Syagrius was able to continue command. We have now arrived at the year that some place his accession, between 486-489. Removing the seven year addition discussed in the introduction though gives us our correct date for his accession 488.

In 488, Clovis, aged fifteen, was at first was in no position to challenge Syagrius who by now was around forty, and after Childeric, probably considered himself the rightful adult heir to the kingdom of Soissons as his father Aegidius had been28 and with Visigothic support was a formidable foe. 

The youngest coin in Childeric's grave, according to Fischer and Lind is dated 'probably to 477' (the oldest to 431). From this we can assume that Childeric died fairly early in the 480's. The traditional date of 481  would appear safe. As discussed above, Clovis could not take his place as King of the Franks at this time as he was too young. My proposal therefore is that Clovis was a minor when Childeric died and this is why there is so much confusion over when his reign started and how long it was. He didnt start his offensives until a few years later as he matured into a man.

Around this time Clovis had a son via a concubine and named him Theuderic, lets place his birth around 489, when Clovis would have been about sixteen. This would work well, making Theuderic about eighteen in 507 when he supported his father against the Visigoths.

His father Childeric had died and a lavish grave was prepared for him which showed both western and eastern influences. The 'Thuringian' nature of the grave has been commented on and much debated. Halsall sees it as unique from a Frankish perspective, and it was, but it was not quite so unique from a Thuringian or Hunnic perspective, with examples of similar burials in the Danubian east, although not on the same scale. Halsall and other scholars suggests it was Clovis who arranged the burial and if so it was done with purpose and intelligence but as he was so young there must have been other advisors including his mother.  However, events around this time plunged the whole of Gaul and Italy into turmoil. 

 In a couple of years Clovis would take advantage of this and pursue his own glory, in part three

Childeric's Sword Hilt.

1Vita Genofeva - “king by right of war”.

2“At Francos bello lacessendi, illi causa fuit regum ipsorum obitus: & de regno inter liberos controversia. Seniori Attila studebat, juniorem Aetius tuebatur, quem Romea vidimus legationem obeuntem, nondum lanugine efflorescere incipiente flava coma. & capillis propter densitatem & magnitudinem super humerum effusis. Hunc etiam Aetius in filium adoptaverat & plurimis donis ornatum ad imperatorem, ut amicititam & societatem cum eo faceret, miserat.” English translation below:

3“The Franks were provoked to war with him (Attila) and it caused the death of their king (Chlodio) and there was a dispute among the royal children of the (Frankish) kingdom. The eldest son pursued the favour of Attila. Aetius supported the younger, whom we saw in Rome during my ambassadorial duties. He was just sprouting down (hair on chin, in his early teens) and had thick blonde hair in abundance, which fell over his shoulders loosely. Aetius adopted him as a son and showered him with imperial gifts and sent him back a friend and federate.

4Gregory states that it was because of Childeric's wanton ways with the women of the realm, but it was possibly a measure to remain beyond the clutches of Aegidius or more likley that he was given authority in Germania II.

5Halsall, Guy. Cemeteries and Society in Merovingian Gaul: Selected Studies in History and Archaeology, 1992-2009, Brill's Series on the Early Middle Ages, 2010, p.193

6Gregory may hint this in II.12 “..Now when these princes were reigning, the Basina whom we have mentioned above left her husband and came to Childeric..” However Gregory was placing Basinas journey therefore before Aegidius died in 464. As Childeric only returned in 463 then it could only have occurred in Gregory's scheme in 463-464, which would agree with a Clovis being born in 466 to agree with Gregory's own synchronisms with his age at death in 511. I will reject this synchronism though as will be explained.

7Gregory seems to place them west of the Rhine.

8 Hydatius Chronicle 463 “In Armorica, Frederic, the brother of King Theoderic (II), rose up against Aegidius, count [and master] of both services, a man who enjoyed an excellent reputation and who pleased God with his good works. Frederic and his men were defeated and killed”

9Hydatius Chronicle. 464. “Aegidius died as a result of deception: some say that he was the victim of a trap, some that he was poisoned. With him gone, the Goths soon fell upon the regions he had protected in the name of Rome”.

10Greg. Histories II.18-19. Probably from a Chronicle of Angers, see MacGeorge, P. Late Roman Warlords, 2002.

11Vita, p. 226, cap. 26, r. “It is beyond my power to describe the amicable esteem in which the pagan Childeric held her when he was king of the Franks. It was so great that once, when he was planning to execute some prisoners, he left Paris in order to prevent Genevieve from getting them away from him. As he did so, he ordered the city gate closed. But a report of the king's plan reached Genevieve through a trusted go-between (per fidus internuntius ) and she rushed off without delay to free these human beings. It was no slight miracle when, as onlookers marveled, she unlocked the gate without a key in her hands. Having reached the king by these means, she won his consent not to behead the prisoners.” From Daly, 1994 below.

12See Daly, William M., Clovis: How Barbaric, How Pagan?, Speculum, Vol. 69.3 1994, pp 619-644, p.628, “Literally, "bis quinos.. annos" ecclesiastical Latin obsidio could mean occupation, the more likely sense here.”

13Greg. Histories II.27. Gregory States that Clovis had previously held Soissons before he retook it from Syagrius.

14“Egidius laissait un fils, qui était peut-être en bas âge au moment de sa mort, mais à qui le père léguait l'héritage de sa gloire et de son influence. Après être resté dans l'ombre pendant les premières années, Syagrius aura profité de la mort du comte Paul pour dresser en face du général barbare l'autorité d'un civilisé , d'un Romain , d'un tils d'.Egidius. Nous ne savons pas s'il y eut une lutte for- melle entre les deux rivaux, mais on serait porté à le croire.”

15Ibid Halsall 2010 “And if Syagrius had been very young at his father’s death, it would explain why he had not been able to challenge Childeric.” p.183

16Ibid Wood 1994 p.41

17Greg.Histories II.19 : “Odoacer made an alliance with Childeric, and they subdued the Alamanni, who had overrun that part of Italy”

18See Reynolds Robert L. and Lopez, Robert S. Odoacer: German or Hun? The American Historical Review, Vol. 52, No. 1 (Oct., 1946), pp. 36-53 Odoacer is described as from the gens of Rogus, a Hunnic leader.

19See Thompson, E.A. Romans and Barbarians: The Decline of the Western Empire,University of Wisconsin Press; New edition edition, 2002, pg.70. Who mentions Primenius, who fled there from Orestes, showing that it was not under western Italian Authority.

20Eugippius, The Life of St. Severinus (1914) pp. 13- 113. English translation. Alamanni: XIX, XVII, XIX, XXV, XXXI,,

21Ibid Eugippius 1914, XXVII : “At the same time the inhabitants of the town of Quintanis, exhausted by the incessant incursions of the Alamanni, left their own abodes and removed to the town of Batavis. But their place of refuge did not remain hidden from the Alamanni: wherefore the barbarians were the more inflamed, believing that they might pillage the peoples of two towns in one attack. But Saint Severinus applied himself vigorously to prayer, and encouraged the Romans in manifold ways by examples of salvation. He foretold that the present foes should indeed by God's aid be overcome; but that after the victory those who despised his admonitions should perish. Therefore the Romans in a body, strengthened by the prediction of the saint, and in the hope of the promised victory, drew up against the Alamanni in order of battle, fortified less with material arms than by the prayers of the saint. The Alamanni were overthrown in the conflict and fled..”

22As some of them tried to return to Italy to demand their pay. They were slaughtered by barbarians on the way. Ibid Eugippius 1914. Their actual ethnicity though is unknown.

23Greg.Histories II.20

24Ibid Halsall 2010, p.173

25“And then, of course, there was Clovis of glorious memory, a king justly formidable for his wars, who out of love for her repeatedly granted remission to persons confined in his workhouse. And when Genevieve pleaded for criminals, he often let them go free, even at the moment when the sword was about to strike them, rather than execute them for their offences. Furthermore, out of respect for her, he had begun to build the church which after his death was completed with a lofty roof through the devotion of his most excellent queen, Clotild” Ibid Daley 1994, P.630

26Taayke, Ernst, Editor. Essays on the Early Franks, Barkhuis, 2003, p.XIII

27Mathisen Ralph. 1998 :

28We are again at the mercy of Gregory for this relationship between Aegidius and Syagrius at Soissons, with no contemporary evidence to support it. Gregory may have merely been using a sixth century genealogical list of Frankish ancestors up to Syagrius: “Alanus genuit Pabolum, Pabolus Egetium, Egetius genuit Egegium, Egegius genuit Syagrius (and one Fadiru)”, which translates as “Alan produced Paulus, Paulus Aetius, Aetius produced Aegidius, Aegidius produced Syagrius and possibly one Fadiru”. We can see that Aegidius is made a son of Aetius, who in turn is made a son of Paulus. None of these are in fact true, they are a common way that ancestral genealogies were created. We do know however, that Aetius was a leader in Gaul, as was Paulus, as was Aegidius as was Syagrius. (The 'fadiru' – father – patrician? in this list is probably Childeric). The idea therefore that Syagrius was a son of Aegidius rests on very shaky ground if this is the kind of source Gregory used for his information. We don't know however that this is how he derived his information, so for the sake of continuity I will assume he was the son of Aegidius.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your article. I found this as an informative and interesting post, so i think it is very
    useful and knowledgeable. I would like to thank you for the effort you have made in writing this article.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.