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Death: Clovis (511)

Submitted by Ludwig von Rege... on November 27, 2014 - 12:00am
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On this day in 511 died Clovis, King of the Franks.

Whilst tribes like the Goths, Vandals and Suevi undertook great migrations in antiquity, the Franks stayed more-or-less put, to the right of the lower and middle Rhine.  There they set long-haired kings over themselves to rule them.  Occasionally acting as the limit of Roman expansion, sometimes raiding deep into Roman territory, on a few occasions being the Imperial whipping boy, and, if need be, fighting on both sides, the Franks were eventually settled as foederati.

When the tide went out on Imperial power in the West, it left behind Aegidius, Magister Militum per Gallias.  He invited a group of Franks, lead by Childeric, over the Rhine; and using the Franks as muscle, Aegidius maintained a Roman stronghold in Northern Gaul, with his capital at Soisson.  In time, Aegidius handed his petty kingdom over to his son, Syagrius; and Childeric's authority passed on to his son, Clovis, who saw no reason Syagrius' kingdom should not be his own.

Clovis' army defeated Syagrius' loyalists in 486, sending Syagrius fleeing to the south.  He sought protection from the Visigothic king, Alaric II, who -- "after the craven habit of the Goths" -- promptly handed him back to Clovis, who had him secretly executed.  As barbarians (and still pagans, or possibly Arians, which is just as bad), they did their barbarian things, which included looting churches.  The bishop of one church petitioned Clovis to recover a stolen ewer for him.  When the booty was divided, Clovis asked that he be given the ewer, on top of his share.  One highly strung warrior was quite upset by this proposal, and chopped the ewer in two rather than cede it.  Clovis
demonstrated his kingly qualities by being quite unfazed by this tantrum.  For the moment.  Next March, when his men were assembled for inspection, he picked out the warrior and went the full sergent-major on him.  Clovis threw the man's axe on the ground; then, when the warrior bent to pick it up, he chopped the man's head in two.  "Thus didst thou treat the ewer!"

Having thoroughly established his credentials as a homicidal maniac, Clovis set about increasing his power.  This included marrying a Burgundian princess, Clotild, who was a Catholic.  She therefore nagged him incessantly about her God.  This eventually proved useful when, struggling against the Alemanni at Zulpich, Clovis -- in Constantinian fashion -- promised to convert if God gave him victory.  The Alemanni ran away, and Remigius, Bishop of Rheims, was called in to make good the bargain.  Clovis' adoption of Catholicism no doubt made him more acceptable to the Romano-Gallic people he was (increasingly) governing, but caused conflict amongst his own people, and broke the pattern of Germanic peoples adopting Arianism.  Hearing for the first time the story of the crucifiction, Clovis declared, "If I had been there with my Franks, I would have avenged the wrong done him", thus demonstrating that his religious education could take a while.

Alaric, seeing Clovis expanding his realm, decided to shore up his northern border by diplomacy.  The two kings met on an island in the Loire, where they spoke, ate, drank and parted in peace.  Clovis then got his men and attacked Alaric near Poitiers.  With Alaric slain, Clovis went on to plunder his
capital at Toulouse.  Thereafter, the Visigoths retreated to Spain. 

With no more external enemies to fight, Clovis turned to internal ones, killing any competing kings, and then anyone he suspected of growing his hair out.  To be absolutely sure, he would go around saying, "Woe unto me who remain as a traveller among strangers, and have none of my kin to help me in the evil day."  Thus he tried to flush out fresh relatives to kill.

Clovis' decendents would rule Gaul with mayhem and murder for more than 200 years, but none of them were quite as good at it as he was.

p.s. If you're hanging out for the next _Game of Thrones_ book, you might try Gregory of Tours, _Ten Books of History_.  Fewer dragons, but otherwise its much the same.

 

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