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Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Clovis, Towards a New Chronology, Part Five.

Chlodoveus Rex Catholicus - Dating the Baptism of Clovis

By Dane R. Pestano ©2015. Hover cursor over reference numbers for reference text.

496. The Baptism of Clovis. 

The baptism of Clovis as a Catholic was one of the most important moments in the history of western Europe. The Franks were pressured on all sides by Arianism and had been contained by the Visigoths who had also supported their barbarian enemies over the Rhine, some of whom were nominally Arian Christian as well. The Byzantine empire though in the east had continued a policy of supporting the Franks since the time of Clovis' father Childeric making Clovis consequently a man of sufficient means to support an army to counter the Visigothic and Gothic threat. It was not in the interests of the eastern empire to have a western empire that was sufficiently strong enough to challenge them. Clovis had made closer ties with the Burgundians by marrying the niece of Gundobad, the Catholic Clotilda. Gundobad had no love for the Goths either having had his eye on Italy himself in the past when he had set up Glycerius as Emperor in 473, and having subsequently devastated Liguria in 490. Although Gundobad was himself Arian the Burgundian people were more likely a Catholic people, like Clotilda, her parents, her sister and the famous Avitus of Vienne were. He had also aligned and allied with the neighbouring Catholic Armoricans. In light of these political manoeuvrings Clovis' choice of Catholicism was the only sensible choice he could make. By doing so he would find acceptance for the Franks as Christian protectors in northern Gaul; he would align with the nominally Catholic Burgundians and Armoricans, and snub the Goths and their Arianism. He would also please the Eastern Empire by continuing anti Gothic policies. By having the support of the Church of Rome and the Pope in Italy, Clovis now had a back door influence there, in direct opposition to Theoderic in Ravenna. It was also to be a momentous choice for the future of Europe, as summarised by Lincoln, Baigent and Leigh:
“The pact between Clovis and the Roman church, in short, was one of momentous consequence to Christendom - not only the Christendom of the time, but also the Christendom of the next millennium. Clovis' baptism was deemed to mark the birth of a new Roman Empire – a Christian empire, based on the Roman church and administered, on a secular level, by the Merovingian bloodline. In other words an indissoluble bond was established between church and state, each pledging allegiance to the other, each binding itself to the other in perpetuity.” 1a
Indeed, but dating the baptism has been a matter of contention for some time with modern authors seeking to move the baptism to the early sixth century. It was fixed at 496 as Gregory had stated it took place after the battle of Tolbiac, which was, according to him or an interpolator, fifteen years after Clovis began to reign, basing the start of this reign in 481/2. However, as discussed in the introduction Van de Vyver and others soon realised that the battle of Tolbiac took place in around 506. So Clovis' conversion to Christianity could have happened then, (with this battle then conversion scenario) and his baptism was subsequently placed in 507/8,shortly after. However as discussed at the end of part four of this work, the conversion and baptism can be seperated from the Battle of Tolbiac.

Danuta Shanzer had, as early as 1998, proposed that the baptism be dated to 507 in her ground breaking work – Dating the Baptism of Clovis: the bishop of Vienne vs the bishop of Tours. Wood, in concert with Mathisen, in agreeing suggested that the baptism could have taken place as late as 507/8, when a date for the battle of Tolbiac is placed in 506. But the letter of Avitus and of Clovis and the profusion of evidence does not agree with this date. 
Shanzer also suggests a comment made by Theodoric the great shows or hints that he considered Clovis was still a pagan.1b This is the occasion when Theodoric was asking Boethius to find and send a harp to Clovis, probably in around 506. He used the words “facturus aliquid Orpheus, cum dulci sono gentilium fera corda domuerit,” which is commonly translated as, “he will be another Orpheus, taming the wild hearts of these foreigners [gentilium] with sweet music.”1c There is no hint of paganism here, in the non ecclesiastical context of the letter, the word means foreigners, which the Franks were to the Goths. If anything Theodoric is hinting that the Franks were not as yet fully Romanised and were still intent on war. In fact Gregory had got the date right in his scheme but had manufactured the event of his conversion to make Clovis appear as a new Constantine, converting and baptising after a tough battle. By the time the battle of Tolbiac took place in 506 Clovis had been a Catholic for ten years as we shall now see. 

Clovis, now around twenty-three years of age, decided to be baptised on Christmas Day 496, probably at Reims by Remigius, as suggested by Fredegar and then Hincmar1. He may have delayed this event since his marriage in 492 for a number of reasons. The first, as Gregory hints, is that he had lost his first son soon after baptism and he was worried that his fellow Franks would not support him if he accepted the faith at this time, but now after several victory's he was more secure of his command. The second reason was the problems of the Acacian schism that was affecting the church at the time. This had begun in 484 and was not solved until 519. When Clovis had possibly chosen Christianity in 492 the schism was tearing the church apart and these are probably part of the perverse doctrines that Avitus described in his letter to Clovis. When Pope Gelasius took power in 492 he tried to heal the schism and it is during his reign that Clovis decided to be baptised. As it was, he became a competens only days before Gelasius died in November 496. The third reason was the allure of Arianism which may still have been on his mind in the years before he was baptised.

But why now, what had changed, what prompted his choice of faith as Avitus puts it? Gregory may have given us a subtle negative clue. He tells us that Clovis' first son Ingomer was baptised a catholic but then soon died. Clovis, after this event, was in no hurry to profess his faith to Clotilda's Catholicism. However, over the next four years Clotilda had successfully given birth to Chlodomer around 494, Childebert in 495 and possibly Clothar by 496 who had all survived baptism and thrived. More than this the Catholic Clotilda had successfully given him three healthy sons! A daughter was to follow in the next couple of years. He had also in the interval expanded his kingdom and driven the Visigoths from the Loire. In his mind therefore, his conversion to Christianity in 492 had not brought him any bad luck and in fact his alliances with Catholics had brought him only good luck and an extended kingdom! We will proceed to the letter of Avitus to Clovis on his baptism shortly, which will confirm this chronology, but let us first read of how Gregory described the baptism :
He (Clovis) met with his followers, but before he could speak the power of God anticipated him, and all the people cried out together: "O pious king, we reject our mortal gods, and we are ready to follow the immortal God whom Remi preaches.” This was reported to the bishop, who was greatly rejoiced, and bade them get ready the baptismal font. The squares were shaded with tapestried canopies, the churches adorned with white curtains, the baptistery set in order, the aroma of incense spread, candles of fragrant odour burned brightly, and the whole shrine of the baptistery was filled with a divine fragrance: and the Lord gave such grace to those who stood by that they thought they were placed amid the odours of paradise. And the king was the first to ask to be baptised by the bishop. Another Constantine advanced to the baptismal font, to terminate the disease of ancient leprosy and wash away with fresh water the foul spots that had long been borne. And when he entered to be baptised, the saint of God began with ready speech: "Gently bend your neck, Sigamber; worship what you burned; burn what you worshipped...And so the king confessed all-powerful God in the Trinity, and was baptised in the name of the Father, Son and holy Spirit, and was anointed with the holy ointment with the sign of the cross of Christ. And of his army more than 3000 were baptised. His sister also, Albofled, was baptised, who not long after passed to the Lord ”
Avitus, the Burgundian bishop of Vienne had written to Clovis in 497 to congratulate him on his recent baptism. The dating of this letter has been much debated and the strange references to the Greek Emperor and a chosen leader have puzzled historians, mainly because without the correct reading of the letter they were placing his baptism in the early sixth century as late as 508, instead of where it belongs in the late fifth century. Wood in concert with Mathisen suggested that the baptism could have taken place as late as 508, when a date for the battle of Tolbiac is placed in 506. But the letter and the profusion of evidence does not agree with this date as we shall find. Shanzer makes the comment that the baptism took place late in Clovis' life, just three years before he died. We should therefore now examine the letter of Avitus to prove the baptism was over ten years earlier in 496. Here is the letter in full :
Bishop Avitus to King Clovis

      The followers of error have in vain, by a cloud of contradictory and untrue opinions, sought to conceal from your extreme subtlety the glory of the Christian name. While we committed these questions to eternity and trusted that the truth of each man's belief would appear at the Future Judgement, the ray of truth had shone forth even among present shadows. Divine Providence has found the arbiter of our age. Your choice is a general sentence. Your Faith is our victory. Many others, in this matter, when their bishops or friends exhort them to adhere to the True Faith, are accustomed to oppose traditions of their race and respect for their ancestral cult; thus they culpably prefer a false shame to their salvation. While they observe futile reverence for their parents (by continuing to share their unbelief) , they confess that they do not know what they should choose to do. After this marvellous deed, guilty shame can no longer shelter behind this excuse.
     Of all your ancient genealogy you have chosen to keep only your own nobility, and you have willed that your race should derive from you all the glories which adorn high birth. Your ancestors have prepared a great destiny for you; you willed to prepare better things (for those who will follow you). You follow your ancestors in reigning in this world; you have opened the way to your descendants to a heavenly realm.
     Let Greece indeed rejoice that she has chosen our Princeps, that she is no longer one who alone deserves the gift of so great an office. Your sphere burns with its own brilliance, and in the person of a king , the light of a rising sun shines over the western lands. It is right that this light began at the Nativity of our Redeemer, so that the waters of rebirth have brought you forth to salvation the very day the world received the the birth of its redemption, the Lord of Heaven. The day celebrated as the Lord's nativity is also yours, in which you have consecrated your soul to God, your life to your contemporaries, your glory to posterity.
     What should be said of the glorious solemnity of your regeneration? If I could not assist in person among the minsters (of the rite) I shared in it's joy. Thanks to God, our land took part in the thanksgiving, for, before your baptism, a messenger of Your Most Subtle Humility informed us that you were “competens” (that is, to be baptised within forty days). Therefore the sacred night (of Christmas) found us sure of what you would do. We saw (with the eyes of the spirit) that great site, when a crowd of bishops around you, in the ardour of their holy ministry, poured over your Royal limbs the water of life; when that head, feared by the masses, bowed down before the servants of God; when your royal locks, hidden under a helmet, were steeped in holy oil; when your breast relieved of it's cuirass, shone with the same whiteness as your baptismal robes. Do not doubt most flourishing of kings, that this soft clothing will give more force to your arms; whatever Fortune has given up to now, this sanctity will bestow.
     I would wish to add some exhortations to your praises if anything escaped either your knowledge or your attention. Should we preach the faith to the convert who perceived it without a preacher; or humility, which you have long shown towards us (Bishops), although you only owe it to us now, after your profession of faith; or mercy attested, in tears and joy to God and men, by a people once captive, now freed by you?
     One wish remains for me to express. Since God, thanks to you, will make your people His own possession, offer a part of the treasure of faith which fills your heart to the peoples living beyond you, who, still living in natural ignorance, have not been corrupted by the seed of perverse doctrine. Do not fear to send them envoys and to plead with them the cause of God, who has done so much for your cause. So that the other pagan peoples at first being subject to your kingdom for the sake of religion, while they still seem to have another ruler, may be distinguished rather by their race than by their prince. [end of letter missing.]
The first comment Avitus makes is that Clovis has averted the choice of a perverse doctrine. This could be Arianism and the argument against Catholicism at the time could have been the troubles due to the Acacian schism causing divisions within the Catholic church. Clovis though had made the right choice in the eyes of Avitus. This adulation of Clovis by a Burgundian Bishop would make no sense after 500CE when Clovis had invaded Burgundy to help Godigisel take on Gundobad and brought the Burgundians to submission and tribute. But in 496, with the Franks and Burgundians on good terms and Clovis married to a Burgundian Catholic princess, all was well between the two nations and this correspondence shows it. 
The next major statement Avitus makes is that which will ultimately date the letter and which has caused so much confusion. Due to it's importance it requires a close study and for that we must turn to Shanzer, whose important work provides us with all the answers. Only the final solution eluded her, which I will produce here. The traditional reading of this came from Hilgarth, writing in 19692:
Gaudeat equidem Graecia principem legisse nostrum, sed non iam quae tanti muneris donum sola mereatur
“Let Greece indeed rejoice that she has elected an emperor who shares our faith; it is no longer alone in deserving such a favour”
Shanzer had already compiled a close study of the Latin and the manuscript variants and states that this reading is from the oldest manuscript 'L'. She dismissed the word elected as a viable translation of legisse but suggested that it should rather be translated as chosen. So she translates the first part of the sentence as “As far as I am concerned let Greece rejoice in having chosen our ruler”. However having come to a nearly correct reading she fails to understand the context of the message. She poses the question “who is the Princeps?” After discussing some alternatives suggested by other historians, such as it referring to Anastasius or even Clovis, she cannot come to a conclusion as to who could be meant. With no conclusion she must dismiss the idea that this person was chosen:
L's text principem legisse nostrum simply does not mean much in itself. It is insufficiently transparent. Chosen our ruler for what? The purpose of choosing, or else the object of choice, must be deducible from the context or explicitly stated. It is not.”
It is perfectly deducible as I will soon show. As she was unable to explain the context of the sentence she dismissed it entirely, but before she did she thankfully also explained the feminine case involved in the reading, translating the second part as “..but she is no longer the one to deserve so great a gift alone”. Not coming to a viable context she then dismissed the 'L' reading and suggested we use a much later variant of the text by Sirmond, the 'S' manuscript from 1647CE:
“Gaudeat ergo quidem Graecia habere se principem legis nostrae, sed non iam tanti muneris dono sola mereatur illustrari” which she translates as :
“Therefore let Greece be sure to rejoice, that she has a ruler who is orthodox, but she is no longer the only one to bask in the illumination of such a great gift.”
Unfortunately Shanzers translation of Sirmonds corrupted reading does little to enhance our understanding of the context. The emperor Anastasius was far from Orthodox. He had Miaphysite tendencies and there was an Acacian schism between the churches of east and west during his time. He was not well regarded in the west because of this and so the choice of this emperor has fallen by the wayside. In fact all it shows is that Sirmond was as confused about the meaning of the original reading as all historians have been.

Shanzer's examination of the 'L' manuscript has shown that nostrum means ours / belonging to us, i.e. someone who Avitus, a Burgundian, considers a western leader on equal terms to Anastasius in the East. She says nostrum must be separated from Graecia3 and indeed this is the correct reading of the Latin. So, if we actually look at the original reading again we can see how it should have been translated, as I have used in the above translation of the letter , i.e.:
“Let Greece indeed rejoice that she has chosen our Princeps, that she is no longer one who alone deserves the gift of so great an office”
The keys here are the words principem and muneris The meaning of muneris is commonly office4, the less used meaning favour making no sense in the context. Shanzer seems to overlook the word completely. Principem therefore refers to a leader, chosen by Anastasius in the East, that Avitus would consider a leader in the west on nearly equal terms with Anastasius. This can only be Theoderic the Great himself.5 Theoderic had grown up in Constantinople as a hostage and had become thoroughly Romanised by the time he was eighteen. He commanded his Goths in the service of the Eastern Empire becoming Magister Militum and then Consul by 483. The emperor Zeno sent Theoderic in 488 to overthrow the Patrician Odoacer, who had become king of Italy, but was now disrespecting the Eastern Empire and causing conflict. Theoderic eventually killed Odoacer with his bare hands and took control of Italy in 493. By this time Zeno had died in 491 and in his place Anastasius ruled as Eastern Emperor. Theoderic was then in 497 sent the imperial regalia by Anastasius who formally recognised him as Princeps of the Western Roman Empire based in Italy.6

Anastasius though considered him as merely a viceroy and Theoderic appears to have honoured this position in the early years, becoming more independent as the years progressed, so much so that by 507 Anastasius had sent a fleet of 200 ships to Italy to distract Theoderic whilst Clovis and Gundobad defeated the Visigoths. Anastasius needed a counterbalance to the increasing power and influence of Theoderic. That man was Clovis. The date of being chosen then by Anastasius is 497, it cannot be when he first entered Italy in 488 as he was then merely sent by Zeno. The west was overjoyed, as Avitus exclaims, it had it's own leader again, at last, after a period of four years when Anastasius ruled alone. Anastasius was no longer alone, the West had a man in an office equal to that of Anastasius. Avitus was writing therefore in around 497 and so Clovis' baptism was in December 496. The old chronology had got this one right.

Avitus then speaks about the timing of Clovis' baptism, which was on Christmas day 496. He next mentions the humility that Clovis has long shown to us Bishopswhich must once again show that Clovis had been Christian for some years. He continues this same exhortation by mentioning “a people once captive, now freed by you”. Who were the much debated populus captivus? Shanzer helps us by defining the phrase. It means a Christian people, perhaps recently conquered, but not the Allamani of course who were pagan7. She rejects Reverdy's idea that it could have been the Frankish people, which has some merit, many of whom had baptised with Clovis, as they were previously pagan. She then returns to the idea that they were actual captives and suggest they were prisoners of the Visigothic war in 507-508 as this is where she wants to place the baptism. However, she does mention that they could be a Catholic people who were religiously captive, as they would be under Arian Visigothic control. She admits the possibility of this being very good, but then dismisses this obvious solution8. The captive people were the Catholic populations of the provinces of the Tractus Armoricanus who had been under Visigothic control, that Clovis had recently freed. Bishops such as Volusanius of Tours were persecuted by Alaric's Arian government and he was taken captive and died in exile in Toulouse or Spain9.

About fifty years after Clovis died Bishop Nicetius of Trier wrote to Clotsinda, granddaughter of Clovis trying to get her to convert her husband, the Lombard King Alboin to Catholicism. In this letter he mentions how Clovis had prostrated himself before the tomb of St Martin, was then baptised and then mentioned his subsequent exploits against Gundobad and Alaric:
“...You have frequently heard how your grandmother Clotilda, of blessed memory, came to the kingdom of the Franks and how she brought King Clovis to the Catholic Faith. As he was a man of good understanding, he declined to accede to her wishes until he had fully grasped the truth of our doctrines. Once convinced, he prostrated himself before the tomb of St Martin, and promised to receive baptism without delay. You have been told of his subsequent exploits against the heretics Alaric and Gondebald ; you cannot have forgotten the noble gifts that fell even in this world to the lot, both of him and of his sons...”
Therefore the Bishop of Trier placed the baptism before the Burgundian civil war. But when exactly? Tours was back in Visigothic hands by 49710, so this must have occurred shortly before in 496. Another indicator in this letter is that Clovis had taken some time before acceding to the wishes of Clotilda to be Baptised, and had chosen the truth of 'our doctrines', i.e. Catholicism rather than Arianism.

One small puzzle in all of this is that Burgundian Sigismund, son of Gundobad is said by historians to have converted from Arianism to Catholicism sometime around 502-50611. The reason for suspecting this is that Avitus had written to Pope Hormisdas following the accession of Sigismund in 516. Shanzer states that Sigismund “had made a further visit to Rome in the time of Pope Symmachus, more importantly, the Bishop of Vienne apparently places Sigismund's conversion from Arianism to Catholicism in the context of this second visit”, Symmachus was pope from 498 to 514, so we are talking of events during this time. Shanzer continues, “In addition, he seems to indicate that it took place before the conversion of Clovis”. Shanzer then explains the evidence from the letter, so that according to Avitus, Sigismund was the only one of the kings who was not ashamed to convert”. As some historians thought Clovis's baptism did not occur in 496 but perhaps in 503 or later, Sigismund's conversion was placed earlier than this. What Avitus meant of course, was that Sigismund was the only one of the Arian kings to convert from Arianism to Catholicism, not that he had converted before Clovis. In effect, Clovis had never been an Arian Catechumen. 

There is no need therefore to try and squeeze Sigismunds conversion to Catholicism as early as 502, which was unlikely anyway whilst his father still lived. It couldn't have been early in the sixth century because there was civil disturbance in Rome between rival factions to the Pope from 502, the Laurentian schism, where there were two Popes, which did not end until 506. Following this was the Visigothic war in 507-508 and then Theoderic's invasion of Provence and Burgundy in 509-510. If Sigismund did convert as a result of his second visit to Rome in the time of Symmachus it was probably around 513-14, as he founded his first monastery at Agaune in 51512. Michael Moore, agreeing with Wood suggests that Sigismund came to the throne soon after his conversion13.

The last point is one that has been noted many times before. Avitus in his letter to Clovis does not mention the honorary consulate awarded to Clovis by the Emperor Anastasius. For Woods, Mathisen and Shanzer this is problematical, as it would have taken place the very year of his baptism in their revised dating of 508, so we should expect Avitus to mention it, if only in passing, but he doesn't. The reason then is clear why he didn't; it wasn't to happen until another eleven years had passed.

Clovis' baptism was unfortunately overshadowed in the annalistic record by two events; the death and selection of a new Pope in 496 and the elevation of Theoderic to imperial status in 497. Next part six.


1 Lynch, Joseph H. Christianizing Kinship: Ritual Sponsorship in Anglo-Saxon England,Cornell University Press, 1998, p.39

1a Lincoln, H, Baigent, M, Leigh, R. The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Arrow; New edition, 2006, p.265 

1b Shanzer, Danuta, Vouille 507: Historiographical, Hagiographical, and Diplomatic Reconsiderations and Fortuna ,- The Battle of Vouillé, 507 CE Where France Began p.68, 2012.

1c See O'Donnell, James J. Cassiodorus, chp.3, University of California Press, 1979.

2 Ibid Shanzer 1998, p.37, fn.59.

3 Ibid Shanzer 1998, p.40, “In that case, whatever nostrum means is clearly opposed to what Greacia means” Greece of course represents the Byzantine Empire.

4 From the Perseus Latin word study tool : `a service, office, post, employment, function, duty'

5 Principem Nostrum could also be a referral to the Pope. It had been used in this context as early as the fifth century. The new Pope in 496 was named Anastasius, the same as the Emperor. However the Emperor in the East did not choose this Pope.

6 See Arnold, J., Theoderic and the Roman Imperial Restoration Cambridge University Press, 2014.

7 Shanzer :”These people cannot be the recently conquered Allamani” ibid Shanzer 1998, p.44

8 Shanzer writes : “while I would agree that the idea is problematic, if one takes it literally, it is perfectly possible, if understood figuratively.” Ibid Shanzer 1998, P.45

9 Greg. Histories II.26

10 As Volusanius had been deposed and sent to Toulouse in 497.

11 Favrod and Shanzer as examples, Shanzer, Avitus of Vienne, p.18

12 Dunn, Maralyn., Belief and Religion in Barbarian Europe c. 350-700, Continuum Publishing, 2013, P.61

13 Moore, Michael E., A Sacred Kingdom: Bishops and the Rise of Frankish Kingship, 300-850, The  Catholic University of America Press, 2011, p.142 

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