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Tuesday, 9 June 2015

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

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

Part One.

By Dane R. Pestano ©2015


In these posts I will look at the chronological framework of the events of the life of Chlodovech, or Clovis as he is more commonly known, Catholic King of the Franks in early sixth century Gaul. In doing so the evidence of contemporary sources will be used exclusively to date and structure the chronological events of his life. The testimony of Gregory of Tours, in his 595 work The Histories in Ten Books, will be examined alongside these sources to determine where Gregory may have any useful information to add or where he actually placed events in the correct time-frame. Other later secondary sources, such as works by Fredegar, Marius of Avenches, letters, Vitae, Chronicles, Archaeology and the Liber Historia Francorum will also be considered. Historians have long noticed and mentioned many of the problems I will discuss. Halsall, being the most recent to raise serious doubts about the early chronology in his 2001 paper Childeric's Grave, Clovis' succession and the origins of the Merovingian kingdoms, which has been a great help. He comments :
“As has long been recognized, however, Gregory’s knowledge of Clovis was sketchy and his chronology of the reign entirely artificial. Thirty years was a convenient and appropriate length for the reign of a great king, with suitable biblical precedent. Furthermore, Gregory’s approach to numbers was such that, like many of his contemporaries, he worked in multiples of five (using poetic lustra as a unit of chronological measurement), but more usually in simple multiples of ten. It is difficult, therefore, to take Gregory’s statement that Clovis reigned thirty years literally. By the same token, one must be sceptical of the bishop’s statement of Clovis’ age at death: forty-five. This may have been derived from the age at which Merovingian kings appear to have come of age (fifteen), but it seems more likely that Gregory has once again thought of a suitable age given as a multiple of five (in this case, Clovis had lived nine lustra). Gregory is simply saying that Clovis died in his prime. The placing of events at five-yearly intervals has been shown to be the work of a later interpolator.
Halsall's comment citing Krusch, regarding an interpolator, will be examined later. Shanzer, writing her foreword in 20121, had already seen the strange obits for Clovis in Gregory's work commenting ...but if one collates Gregory's claims about when Clovis died, one comes up with no fewer than three different dates: 509, 511 and 518.In fact, the obit of 511 for Clovis may not actually be indicated in his work for reasons we will discuss, showing either that he was quite inaccurate or that a proposed interpolator confused the chronology. The first date of 509 is a simple mathematical mistake by Gregory, miscalculating the number of years from the death of St Martin to the death of Clovis. The final obit of 518 appears to be much too late when the evidence of later religious Councils are taken into account, which contain the regnal years of some of Clovis' sons. Unfortunately, no contemporary source mentions the death of Clovis.

Current Chronology 511, henceforth CC511, places Clovis' father Childeric's death, between 482 and 484 and hence the beginning of the reign of Clovis to one of these dates. So popular sources make Clovis reign from 481/482 to 511 or even 513. Some modern authors make him reign from 486 to 5112, dismissing, probably with good cause, the idea that Clovis reigned thirty years according to Gregory. Patrick Geary goes as far as to say that Childeric's grave confirms the death of Childeric in 482, It was in 481 or 482 that Clovis succeeded his father. The date of his father's death is corroborated by the signet ring.” The problem is that he follows this by mentioning the coins of the emperor Zeno which were also found in Childeric's grave. Emperor Zeno didn't die until 491. So this is actually the terminus ante quem.3 

Confusion has also arisen as to when Clovis converted and was baptised as a Catholic, with dates ranging from 496 to 506/508. The conversion has also been separated from the baptism by some authors, who rightly see no reason for them to be necessarily linked. Then there is the question of whether Clovis was an Arian Christian before his baptism, an impossibility, or perhaps an Arian Catechumen. Letters show he was well acquainted with Christianity.

Finally there is confusion over when several of Clovis' battles occurred, such as the battle of Tolbiac and the battle against Thuringians. Contemporary evidence seemingly at odds with Gregory's chronology. Only three events in the life of Clovis can be dated with any certainty up until now, the battle of Vouillé in 507 against the Visigoths, the Burgundian civil war in 500 and the Council of Orleans in 511. With so many differing opinions existing as to the periods and events of his life, a look at Chlodovean chronology in a new light is long overdue.

To understand how the chronology has become so confused we need to briefly examine the chronology of Gregory's Histories and come to some conclusions about them. These chronologies have been much discussed over the last one hundred years. Ian Wood tackled some of the problems in his work Gregory of Tours and Clovis (1985). He gives a fine summary of the debate at that time4: 
“For over a century the chronology of the reign of Clovis has been the subject of debate. The onslaughts on Gregory of Tour's account, especially those directed by Krusch and van de Vyver, exposed the weaknesses of the chapters associated with the king's conversion in Book Two of the 'Libri Historiarum', but a host of major scholars continued to defend the traditional outline of Clovis's reign, and prevented any alternative interpretation from securing unanimous support. Indeed the arguments over Clovis's baptism were so indecisive that Tessier proposed a truce, insisting that the exact date did not matter. Nevertheless historians have continued to argue about the chronology, with Weiss upholding the attitude of acute scepticism towards Gregory's account , while Reydellet has asserted his acceptance of the bishop of Tour's narrative... Much of the best work on Gregory has preferred not to discuss the precise factual problems created by his reconstruction of events. Meanwhile the defenders of Gregory's account of Clovis have tended to treat it as a primary source, although Books One and Two of the Libri Historiarum are secondary narratives written a considerable time after the events concerned.”
Gregory had placed quite precise dating in the framework of the chronology he set down in his work – The Histories in Ten Books (commonly known as the History of the Franks). He states that Clovis reigned for thirty years and died at the age of forty-five. Histories II.435:
“He passed away in the fifth year after the battle of Vouillé, and all the days of his reign were thirty years, and his age was forty-five. From the death of St. Martin to the death of king Clovis, which happened in the eleventh year of the episcopate of Licinius, bishop of Tours, one hundred and twelve years are reckoned.”
Unfortunately, even this reign length and obit chronology is as questionable as the rest of Gregory's work concerning Clovis, when contemporary evidence is consulted. It has been suggested that Gregory was creating a hagiographical story of Clovis' life, re-ordering events to present Clovis as a Catholic saviour, converting to the faith early on in his career to justify defeating the nasty Arian Christians. Richard Fletcher sums up this line of thinking:
 “If we confine ourselves to what Gregory had to say about Clovis, we need to take into account three things. First, Gregory felt concern about the squabbling kings of his own day and their endless internecine wars: he wished to uphold their ancestor before them as an example of strenuous valour. Second, Gregory wanted to show how God had helped the Catholic Clovis in all his wars, not just some of them; this affected his chronology of the kings reign and conversion. Thirdly, we must make a large allowance for ignorance; like every historian Gregory was at the mercy of his sources, which were meagre.”6
A study of those contemporary sources will show that Gregory's chronology is a confusion, some due to his own errors and some probably due to later interpolation. However his overriding message of Clovis as a warrior of the Catholic faith deserves some reconsideration in the light of the sources we will discuss. Gregory appears to have many of the events in nearly the right order, but the dating of these events are corrupted by various dating mechanisms within the work. There appear to be two strands of chronology within the Histories, one agreeing roughly with CC511 for his birth in 466 and obit in 511 and one quite different; Gregory's interpolated chronology 518 henceforth GC518, placing his birth in 474 and obit in 518, as mentioned above.

To determine how these two chronological strands came about we must look at Gregory's own words. In the above quote from Gregory one small error crept in when describing the end of Clovis' reign; Gregory miscalculating by two to ten years the number of years from the death of St Martin in 397 7to the death of Clovis, which he gives as CX11 - 112 years, when it should have been CXIV -114 years (to 511) or CXXII – 122 years (to 518). We can see here the obvious error point CXII/CXXII. In the very same sentence where he gives this date he states that it was also in the eleventh year of Bishop Licinius of Tours (508-519), which is 518. Gregory, earlier in his work indicated the 397 obit of St. Martin which would place Clovis' death 112 years later in 508/509, obviously a mistake.

Historians realised that the battle of Vouillé occurred in 507, and they added on Gregory's statement that Clovis died five years later, so placing his death in 511, which appears correct. As Clovis had convened the Council of Orleans in 511, he must have been alive then, so that then must have been the year Clovis died when the evidence from later Church Councils are considered8. All that needed to be done then was to count back all chronological event dates given by Gregory from that date, so creating a chronology that has Clovis start to reign thirty years previously in 481.

However, this was not quite as simple as it looks. Gregory appears not to have dated the battle of Vouillé to 507; or an interpolator created a secondary strand of dating. This alternative piece of information was overlooked. In his Histories he mentions that Euric had reigned twenty-seven years (instead of seventeen) and hence had died in 492 instead of 485, Histories, II.20 9
 “Euric, king of the Goths, in the 14th year of his reign, placed duke Victorius in command of seven cities. And he went at once to Clermont (this is 479 as Euric started to reign in 466)..He was at Clermont nine years..(so 488)...Euric reigned four years after Victorius's death, and died in the twenty-seventh year of his reign (so 492 in both instances).... There was also at that time a great earthquake..”
Gregory (or interpolator) certainly meant 492 as he also mentions an earthquake at that time, which did indeed occur in 493 at Gargano, Italy10. Perhaps he confused Euric with Odoacer, who died in 492. He also states that Alaric, Euric's son, reigned twenty-two years11, which is correct; hence Alaric in GC518 did not die until 513 (492+22nd year). Which is confirmed when Gregory says in II.37 that Vouillé was around the twenty-fifth year of Clovis' reign, so 513. He then links a statement to this saying that Clovis died in the fifth year after this date for the battle of Vouillé, i.e. in 518. Quite clearly then, a secondary (interpolated) strand had placed Clovis' death in 518 and hence his accession as king to 489, thirty years earlier. This obit of 518 though is far beyond the accepted date for his death in 511. These two strands then became confused. One where his accession as King appears to be placed in around 489 and one where he died in 511. Combine both and we might be nearer the truth.

This seven year error caused Wood to comment Thus Gregory's hagiography reveals that the exile of Quintianus of placed a decade earlier in the Histories12. It possibly wasn't. In the secondary strand it occurred just before Vouillé in 512. Which is actually around the correct time for his exile from Rodez. We will return to Quintianus later but this chapter of Gregory actually covered a wide period of time.

Gregory's chronology appears to work in multiples of five. Five years to Syagrius, ten years to Thuringian battle, fifteen years to the Battle of Tolbiac, twenty-five years to Vouillé, thirty years reign and forty-five years at death. Halsall, agreeing with Handley, has suggested that Gregory was working to a poetic lustra pattern with his event dating mechanism, numbering them in multiples of five, but then appears to dismiss this hypothesis when he states that Krusch has shown that the numbering system was a later interpolation13. Looking at the Latin14, some of the year numbering could indeed be interpolations, year fifteen and year twenty five, and nearly all of the detail in II.43 could be an interpolation after the first sentence saying he died five years after Vouillé. If we also look carefully at the Latin in II.20 about Euric, some of the dating there could be later additions.

If they were interpolations, then the interpolator was working to a scheme to re-adjust the life of Clovis. This is evident as we can see above in II.20 where the interpolator was clearly placing Euric's death in 492; hence Alaric must have died in 513 in this scheme; hence the interpolator's statement that Vouillé was around the twenty-fifth year from 489 is actually correct for the scheme he was creating. What is not explained is why the proposed interpolator created an adjusted life for Clovis and why he missed out a twentieth year in the supposed lustra scheme. The answer to these questions will dealt with later.  

Let us then present three strands of chronology, side by side. One is the interpolated chronology based on the given synchronism of years and dates within this and one the old combined chronology from 482, based on a combined effort of sources and the Gregory/interpolated chronology. The third is based on an accession date of 484. Dates in brackets are more up to date suggestions for events.
Interpol. Chronology
Combi. Chronology CC511
Death of Childeric Start of Clovis
Siagrius 5th year
Thuringians 10th year
Marriage to Clothilda
Birth of Chlodomer
Battle of Tolbiac 15th year
496 (506)
Clovis converts /Baptism
496 (508)
Godigisel and Gundobad
Gundobad converts (dubious)
Meeting with Alaric
Battle of Vouillé 25th year.
506 (507)
Clovis Consul /Patrician
Defeat of Frankish kings
514 - 517
509 - 510
Death of Clovis, five years after Vouillé.

We can see from this an obvious hiatus in the GC518 scheme. The interpolator has completely removed six years between 506 and 512 and placed them in 512-518. We can also see that CC511 is based on actual events and a usage of the interpolated chronology. Accurately speaking, if we dated the reign of Clovis from 481 the numbered years would not work with known events so they need to start from 482. Hence why the other date for the beginning of his reign in some sources is 484 and death in 513. His death in 513 though appears to be untenable. So we are left with three chronologies which fail to work because they are dependent on Gregory or the interpolator's synchronisms, although CC511 is closest to getting it right.

Then there is the date of 486 for his accession in some modern works as discussed. 484 would, in effect, reduce Clovis' reign by three years and 486 by five years. A thirty year reign is now twenty-five. What is evident is that the date for the accession of Clovis has been slowly creeping up and I will continue in this direction with some caveats. CC511 is actually fairly accurate in it's dating but has been confused by more recent ideas as to when the baptism and certain wars took place. What we now require is a new chronology based on the sources rather than this combined confusion.

When we examine the rest of Gregory's statements concerning Childeric and Clovis and the letters of Cassiodorus, Avitus, St. Remigius and other characters we will discover that Clovis must have died in 511, but this does not mean that his rule began in 482, as we cannot take for granted anything that Gregory or the interpolator has said about the thirty year reign length. It has been questioned by Halsall, who expressed his scepticism15. I would agree with that scepticism, as only contemporary evidence can show us an approximate reign length and I will propose that this was instead, around twenty-three years..

The second assertion that we must dismiss is that Clovis was forty five years old at the time of his death. Letters of Cassiodorus on behalf of King Theoderic the Great, show that Clovis was a young king under the age of forty at the time letters were written to him in 507. Theoderic calls Alaric II and Clovis “Regii Juvenes”. Clovis therefore cannot have been born in 466 as this would make him about forty-one at that time.16 His correct age must have been early to mid thirties. When we examine the life of his father Childeric we will be able to better place his birth in the context of events at that time.

As there is no contemporary annalistic evidence for Clovis' death, much later Gallic annalistic evidence wildly differs. Some sources support the interpolated chronology obit of 518 but these annals are not known for their accuracy so we can only mention them as insignificant sources17. In the Gallic Annals of Flaviniacenses, a ninth century annal which covers the period 384CE to 853CE, it gives the year of the start of Clovis' reign as 488 and states he reigned thirty years (Clodoveus annis XXX), hence 517/518 for his death. In the continuation of these annals – the Annals of Luasonensibus, (ninth to tenth century) Clovis' obit is given as 517 (Chlodoveus rex obiit). There are another fifty or more annals or chronicles that mention obits for Clovis, many placing his obit after 511. Such as the Chronicle of Saint Claude, obit 524, Annales of Saint Gregoire's Abbaye, (14th century), obit, 514. Annals of Saint Denis, (11th century to 13th century), obit 524. This secondary annalistic evidence must therefore be dismissed.

The Chronicle of Marius of Avenches (late sixth century) only gives some details about Clovis' attack on the Burgundian Gundobad with Godigisel, dating it to around 500CE. In the Gallic Chronicle of 511, no mention is made of the death of Clovis, a strange omission. 

In conclusion, it is clear that there was an effort to place the death of Clovis in 518. It follows therefore, that the interpolator, to make this appear correct, would have to have added on seven years to Clovis' age at death and seven years to his reign length. Remove these spurrious assertions and we will see that Clovis was actually born in 473, became King in 488 at the age of 15 and died aged 38 in 511.  So let us now examine a full life of Clovis to prove this and see how events can be placed in the correct time-frame when the sources are examined, in part two.

Footnotes :

1 Mathisen-Shanzer, The First Franco-Visigothic War and the Prelude to the Battle of Vouillé, Battle of Vouillé, Brill, 2012, 3-10

2 See works of Walter Goffart, Barbarian Tides: The Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire, 2006. David Rollason - Early Medieval Europe 300-1050: The Birth of Western Society, 2014 and Christopher Tadgel The West: From the Advent of Christendom to the Eve of Reformation, 2013, to name just a few.

3 Also pointed out by Halsall.

4 Wood, Ian N. Gregory of Tours and Clovis. In: Revue belge de philologie et d'histoire. Tome 63 fasc. 2, 1985. Histoire médiévale, moderne et contemporaine — Middeleeuwse, moderne en hedendaagse geschiedenis. pp. 249-272

5 II.43: His ita transactis, apud Parisius obiit, sepultusque in basilica sanctorum apostolorum, quam cum Chrodechilde regina ipse construxerat. Migravit autem post Vogladinse bellum anno quinto. 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, supputantur anni CXII. Chrodechildis autem regina post mortem viri sui Toronus venit, ibique ad basilica beati Martini deserviens, cum summa pudititia atque benignitate in hoc loco commorata est omnibus diebus vitae suae, raro Parisius visitans

6 Fletcher, Richard. The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity University of California Press; First Edition edition, 1999, P.103

7 Greg, Histories I.48. “In the second year of the reign of Arcadius and Honorius, Saint Martin, bishop of Tours, departed this life”. Arcadadius became Empeor in 395, Honorius was already Western Emperor from 393. So date is 397.

8 The fifth Council of Orleans is dated to the thirty-eighth or thirty-ninth year of Childeric in 550.

9 Hist.II.29: Eoricus autem Gothorum rex Victorium ducem super septem civitatis praeposuit anno XIIII, regni sui. Qui protinus Arvernus adveniens, civitatem addere voluit, unde et criptae illae usque hodie perstant. Ad basilicam sancti Iuliani colomnas, quae sunt in aede positae, exhibere iussit. Basilicam sancti Laurenti et sancti Germani Licaniacensis vici iussit aedificare. Fuit autem Arvernus annis novem. Super Euchirium vero senatorem calumnias devolvit; quem in carcere positum nocte extrahi iussit, ligatumque iuxta parietem antiquum, ipsum parietem super eum elidi iussit. Ipse vero dum nimium esset in amore mulierum luxoriosus et ab Arvernus veriritur interfeci, Romam aufugit, ibique similem timptans exercere luxoriam, lapidibus est obrutus. Post cuius excessum regnavit Euricus annus IIII; obiit autem anno vicissimo septimo regni sui. Fuit etiam et tunc terrae motus magnus.

10 Gianfreda,F., Mastronuzzi, G., Sanso P., Impact of historical tsunamis on a sandy coastal barrier: an example from the northern Gargano coast, southern Italy, Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences (2001) 1: 213–219, P.218 “The second event had a similar magnitude and was responsible for the development of the Foce Cauto fan at 1550 years BP (488±55 cal AD). It was caused by the strong earthquake that occurred on the Gargano Promontory in 493AD and reported by a medieval sacred legend”. We could of course now add that it was mentioned by Gregory.

11 Hist II.37: Regnavit autem Alaricus viginti duos annos. There is plenty of evidence for Alaric's reign length.

12 Wood, Ian N. The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450 – 751. London, 1994, P.14

13 Halsall, Guy. Cemeteries and Society in Merovingian Gaul: Selected Studies in History and Archaeology, Brill's Series on the Early Middle Ages 1992-2009 p.171


15 Ibid Halsall 2009 Pgs. 170-171

16 Halsall comes to the same conclusion.”by the same token one must be sceptical about the Bishop's statement of Clovi's age at death: 45....Gregory guessed that Clovis had been forty-five when he died which, as noted above, was certainly a shorthand for ‘in his prime, but not old.” ibid Halsall 2009, p.171
17 See study by Santschi, C. Les évêques de Lausanne et leurs historiens des origines au 18e siècle: érudition et société, Société d'histoire de la Suisse romande. Mémoires et documents, 1975

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