The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians
In the present case, Sidonius also furnishes a valuable clue for criticising the record of the Frank tradition. In the account of Gregory, Chlodio first seizes Cambrai, which implies that he penetrated through the Carbonarian forest, and then proceeds to reduce all the land as far as the Somme. These achievements are conceived in this tradition as a single great successful expedition. That this conception was not historical is shown by the story in Sidonius, from which we learn that the able Roman general was in the field against the Franks, and that he drove them back. We must therefore conclude that the conquests of Chlodio, if they did finally reach to the Somme, were achieved slowly and not in one glorious advance. That the national song should have pressed into a single enterprise events that were scattered over years is perfectly natural.
We have now two fixed points in the advance of the Franks; 358 for their advance from the island of Batavia into Flanders, and 430-431 for their next advance southward in the direction of the Somme. After this we lose sight of them again until the invasion of Gaul by the Huns in 451. At that crisis, as we saw, the Salians embraced the cause of Rome. They were still, of course, regarded as part of the Empire, living within its borders, and nominally subjects of the emperors. But we are not told who was king of the Salian Franks at the battle of the Mauriac plain. Now, according to the Frankish tradition as recorded by Gregory, King Chlodio was succeeded by Merovech or Meroveus, and Merovech by Childeric. About Childeric there is no difficulty or doubt; we know that he was already king in A.D. 457. But the intervening Merovech is surrounded by mystery. Our only definite notices of him are derived from Frank legend, and they hint at some curious secret about his origin. Gregory of Tours has no doubt about his existence; but he was in doubt about his birth. He says mysteriously "Some believe that Meroveus is of the seed of Chlodio"; but he does not mention any rival theory. Clearly he wished to believe that Merovech was Chlodio's son: but the Frank tradition raised such doubts that he felt himself unable to speak positively. Fredegarius teaches us what the legend was. Meorvech was the son of the queen, Chlodio's wife; but his father was a sea-god, bistea Neptuni. Perhaps you may think that the existence of this legend is sufficient to throw doubt on the very existence of Merovech. That would be a hasty conclusion. The fact that Merovech comes in between the historical Chlodio and the historical Childeric seems to be a certain guarantee of his reality. If he were merely, as has been supposed, the legendary founder of the Merovingian family, then legend would have placed him before, not after, Chlodio. The legend is probably simply an attempt to explain his name, which means Son of the Sea.
Childeric is a somewhat clearer figure than Chlodio, but around him too legends grew up in which popular imagination dealt freely with historical facts. These legends were known to Gregory of Tours and Fredegarius, and they have preserved not very much, but at least some indications which are of service. There was a tale which told how Childeric and his mother were led into captivity by the Huns, and how he was delivered by the loyalty and devotion of a Frank, Wiomad, who enabled him to escape. This was a common type of tale---we have other examples---escape from captivity achieved through the cunning of a faithful and crafty esquire or servant. But you observe that the historical setting is accurate; it is perfectly in accordance with probability that Childeric, then a youth, might have been captured when Attila invaded Gaul. In my opinion, so much of the story is probably true: an actual captivity of Childeric at the Hunnic court is the most likely explanation of the origin of the story, which must have had a historical motif. And if so, it will follow that it was not Childeric, but his father, Merovech, who was present at the Mauriac battle.
The other legend of Childeric to which I must refer is that of his marriage. The name of his wife was Basina; she was the mother of the great Clovis. As to her reality there can, I think, be no doubt. The name of Clovis's mother must have been remembered, and besides we know that at a later time Basina was a name in the Merovingian family. But a curious story was set afloat as to who Basina was and how Childeric came to marry her. It was related that Childeric led such a dissolute life, and committed so many acts of violence, that the Franks were roused to indignation against him and he was forced to flee. Before he fled, one of his friends, the faithful Wiomad, undertook to appease the people during his absence and prepare the way for his return. They split a piece of gold, and Wiomad was to send his half to Childeric as a token when the favourable time had come. Childeric found refuge in Thuringia with King Basinus and his wife Basina. The Franks then chose the Roman general Aegidius as their king. Through the machinations of Wiomad, the rule of Aegidius became heavy and unpopular, so that at the end of eight years the Franks regretted their exiled monarch. Wiomad then sent the token; Childeric returned to his land and resumed his kingship. Shortly afterwards Basina left her husband and fled to the homestead of Childeric. When he asked her why she had come so far, she replied, "Because I know your bravery. If I had thought that there was one braver than you, even beyond the sea, I would have sought him." Then Childeric took her to wife.
I need hardly point out to you the legendary shape of this narrative, whatever facts underlie it. It can be shown that two distinct legends and motifs have been combined. You observe the incongruity of the dialogue between Childeric and Basina with what goes before. Childeric has been living for eight years at her court, and yet he asks her why she has come, as if he had not the faintest suspicion. The dialogue, in fact, presumes no previous acquaintance. This suggests that originally the story of Childeric's meeting with Basina had no connection with the story of his exile in Thuringia. The combination of the two stories was a later thought. And of course it is an absurdity, or at the best highly improbable, to suppose that Basina was the wife of Basinus the Thuringian king. Basinus and Basina ought to be the names of brother and sister, but it was not likely to happen that they should be the names of king and queen. Basinus, or rather Bisinus, the king of Thuringia, was a historical person; we have indisputable evidence of his existence; but Kurth is perhaps right in his view that it was just the resemblance of names between the historical Basina and the historical Basinus (each of whom came into a story about Childeric) that suggested the interlacing of the two stories. How much historical fact may we glean from these traditions? From the one, we can only infer that Basina was the name of Childeric's wife and Clovis's mother. The original legend represented her as coming to the king of the Franks, somewhat like the Queen of Sheba to Solomon; but we do not know whence she came. The other tradition, which represents Childeric as exile in Thuringia and the Franks submitting to the sway of the Roman general Aegidius, has undoubtedly an historical motif, and I venture to think that we can disengage its main significance. Observe, to begin with, that the introduction of Aegidius is quite in harmony with the historical circumstances of Childeric's reign, for just as Chlodio's Roman antagonist was Aetius, so Childeric's Roman antagonist was Aegidius. The story that the Franks voluntarily elected Aegidius as thier ruler can be nothing more than the legendary explanation of Roman success at their expense. If Aegidius drove back the limits of their encroachment, regained for the Empire territory which they had occupied, forced them to give tokens of submission to the imperial authority, such humiliation, puzzling to national pride, was presently explained in their poetical tradition by the flight of their king and their own free choice of the Roman conqueror. The main fact which we can determine is that in the days of Childeric there was, for a brief space, a rolling back of the Frankish advance, a revival of the imperial power in north-eastern Gaul. But it is certain that the legendary exile of Childeric to Thuringia must also have had a motive. Can we determine that too? I suggest that we can. If the Franks were decisively driven back by Aegidius, what did that mean but that the territory over which Chlodio had extended his power was recovered by the Empire, and the authority of Childeric was restricted to their old seats in the land north of the Carbonarian forest, the land which the Franks themselves, as we saw, knew as Thuringia. here, I suggest, is the clue. The repulse of the Franks into the western, the Frankish Thuringia, from their more recently acquired territory, which passed from under their king's authority, was the motive of the story of their king's exile, and the double meaning of Thuringia was the circumstance which determined the character of the legend. The Childeric of history had to retreat into Thuringia, that was the historical starting-point of the legendary invention; only Thuringia was counted as the eastern Thuringia; and hence the retreat of Childeric was transformed into an exile at a foreign court. For this exile a motive was found in the tyrannical government of the king; and it in turn furnished a motive for the choosing of Aegidius by the Franks as their ruler.
THE REIGN OF CHILDERIC THE FRANK
We must now turn to consider whether anything is known of Childeric's reign from sober historical sources, unmoulded and untinged by popular fancy. Gregory of Tours is our sole informant about Childeric, but fortunately he has derived some facts from the Annals of Angers to which I referred above. In the first place, we learn that Childeric fought at Orleans before the death of Aegidius. Now there is no doubt what this means. It means that Childeric and his Franks fought as the federates of the Romans in the great battle of Orleans, at which Aegidius defeated the Visigoths, in 463 or 464. As to this, I think all good authorities are agreed. And you see how this fact harmonises with the inference which we drew from the legendary tradition---namely, that Aegidius had reasserted imperial authority over the territory on which the Franks had encroached. The Franks are now under imperial influence.
The next operations in which we find Childeric engaged are also on the Loire, after the death of Aegidius, but still as a Roman ally, a Roman federate. This time it is not against the Visigoths that his aid is needed, but against another foe---a foe whom we do not associate with Gaul but with our own island. It is a notable fact that the Saxons in the fifth century attempted to found kingdoms in Gaul as well as in Britain; they sailed for the Loire as well as for the Thames. They failed in Gaul, but in other circumstances they might have succeeded, and there might have been a Gallic Saxony. It was a remarkable anticipation of what happened in the ninth century, when the Northmen did what the Saxons had tried to do and had only partly done. Yet the Saxons did leave a mark, though it was a small mark, in Gaul. Some of the settlements remained distinct until late times, especially in the Bessin, in the region of Bayeux. But in the time of Childeric they were a terror to the cities of the Loire. Soon after the battle of Orleans they seem to have plundered Angers (under a leader named Adovaerius---a name clearly the same as that of Odovacar, the ruler of Italy). On the death of Aegidius, which happened about this time, the defence of the Roman provinces in north Gaul devolved on a certain Count Paulus; and his task was to withstand the encroachments of the Visigoths and to defend the land against the Saxons. Childeric and his Franks helped Paulus as they had helped Aegidius, and fought against both Goth and Saxon. The first object was to prevent the Saxons from capturing Angers, and Childeric successfully held the city. This success was followed up by active operations against the Saxons, and finally Adovaerius was forced to submit and enter Roman service. The general fact then to remark is this: that the rise of a Saxon power in north Gaul was arrested at an early stage and fustrated by the united action of the imperial authority and Childeric.
After this, Syagrius, the son of Aegidius, is the representative of the Empire in Gaul, and we hear nothing as to the relations subsisting between him and Childeric. But we may consider it certain that there was no further territorial advance on the part of the Salian Franks so long as Childeric lived. Childeric died in 481, and he was buried at Tournai, which was his chief place. His tomb was discovered there in 1653, and in it were found the remains of his royal cloak, his arms, and many gold ornaments.