The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians
THE CONVERSION OF CLOVIS
Not long after the conquest of the Alamanni an event happened of still greater moment, viz. Clovis's conversion to Christianity. Ecclesiastical tradition connected the two events, representing that Clovis had resolved to embrace his wife's religion in case he were victorious. There may indeed be a certain measure of truth in this tradition. We must, however, realise the circumstances of Clovis. Christianity had already made some progress among the Franks. His kinsman, the Salian king Chararic, seems to have been a Christian. Two of his sisters---one of whom married King Theodoric the Ostrogoth---were Christians, though of the Arian creed; another remained a pagan. His wife, Clotilda, was a Catholic, though her uncle, King Gundobad, was an Arian; possibly her father had been a Catholic. Thus in the king's own household there were warring faiths----a state of thing which we so frequently find in the barbaric kingdoms---on the eve of the conversion of the king. A ruler of Clovis's intelligence could not have failed to discern the immense support he would derive from the Gallo-Roman Church by his conversion. His policy towards the Church, as illustrated by the incident of the vase of Soissons, indicates clearly that he was conscious of the importance of its support. But it was equally manifest that his Christianity would be worse than useless if it were Christianity of the Arian form. To embrace the Arian creed might have seemed the obvious course, seeing that this German neighbours---Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Burgundians---were all Arian. That would have been a fatal mistake; and we may be sure that it was neither an accident nor his own religious preferences, but his political perceptions, that helped him to avoid it. It would be absurd to suppose that he weighed in the balance of judgement the Arian against the Catholic doctrine, and decided on grounds of reason or theory in favour of the former. That is not the way barbarians are converted. On the other hand, the influence of his wife Clotilda is supposed to have counted for much, and it might be argued that his choice of Catholicism was determined by the accident that Clotilda was not an Arian. I think we may safely impute much to Clotilda's influence in hastening Clovis's conversion---we have analogous cases in Kent and Lombardy---we have analogous doubt whether the existence of this influence was accidental. If we remember that the Burgundians were largely Arian, that King Gundobad was an Arian, and Clotilda was exceptionally a Catholic, it is certainly remarkable, if it were mere chance, that Clovis's choice should have fallen on one of the Catholic exceptions. I think I am not rash in suggesting that it was just because she was a Catholic that Clovis chose her out. If I am right in this conjecture the policy and conversion of Clovis appear in a new light. He still hesitated to become a Christian himself, but, appreciating the power of the Church, he saw what an enormous help it would be towards securing its confidence to have a Catholic wife; he saw of what use she could be in negotiations with the ecclesiastics. In this light his marriage to Clotilda has less bearing on Clovis's relations to Burgundy than on his relations to the Church. It was deliberately intended as a substitute for becoming a Christian himself, and it made clear what form of Christianity he would embrace, if he ever embraced any. But why did he hesitate? Here is the point where there comes in another influence, which has so often prevailed over statesmanship---the influence of superstition. Clovis had not the smallest doubt of the existence of the God of the Christians, but, believing in the existence of his own gods too, the question was, which was the more powerful? Could he safely abandon his own? It took him some years, and we need not wonder at it, to decide between two opinions, and perhaps to experiment. It was a question perhaps of testing the rival claims by what the rival claimants could do for him. It is related that the first-born son of Clotilda was baptised with the king's consent and then fell sick and died. Well, there was an experiment, and one which in the king's eyes must have seemed unfavourable to the claims of Clotilda's deity. It may well be that circumstances induced him to regard his victory over the Alamanni as secured with the help of the Christian God, and that this may have been, as tradition records, the final test which caused him to consummate his previous policy by joining the Catholic Church. Clovis was baptised, some think, in the church of St. Martin at Tours, A.D. 496; he had recently taken that city from the Visigoths---a fact which has only recently been proved. The prevailing view, however, has been that he was baptised at Reims.
The incalculable importance of Clovis's adhesion to the Catholic faith has been fully recognised by historical writers. They emphasise it strongly as an event of ecumenical consequence---Welthistorische Bedeutung. What they have not seen clearly enough is that the event was not an accident or a sudden inspiration. It was, so far as I can see, the crown of a consistent, calculated policy, which displays Clovis's high intelligence and eminently statesmanlike perception. To suppose that he was not conscious of the political bearings of what he did, to believe that it was the toss of the dice or a freak of circumstance whether he became a Catholic or an Arian, is to hold an opinion of Clovis's mental power which is inconsistent with his great achievements. For observe that this was not a case of foreseeing future contingencies; or discerning the small germs of great developments; no second sight was necessary; it was simply a case of taking a wide and statesmanlike view of the political situation, estimating the conditions in which his kingdom was placed, and choosing the policy which would best tend to its consolidation. It was the sort of problem which has often occured and has often been solved. But it is solved by reflection and craft, not by chance or the happy hits of an unthinking ruler. What makes us prone to misapprehend and misrepresent to ourselves the intellectual calibre of a statesman like Clovis is the circumstance that the barbarians, the Franks of Clovis's time, Clovis himself, had a naive side, and that this side---a certain simplicity and childishness, combined with cunning---is what is chiefly reflected in the traditions as recorded by Gregory of Tours and Fredegarius. And so an idea is shaped of a bold warrior, primitive and childlike in his notions, capable of astuteness and cunning in his dealings, but one with whom are associated no higher qualities of statesmanship, such as become the founder of a great state. Such a conception of Clovis cannot but be untrue; the paucity of our material unfortunately has suffered the error to exist.
I have given you the usually received account of Clovis's conversion, depending on the account of Gregory of Tours. It is, I think, in the main points correct, with the explanations which I have suggested. But I have still to tell you that a document exists which is, so far as it goes, of much higher authority than Gregory of Tours, and which creates a considerable difficulty. It is nothing less than a letter from Regimius, bishop of Reims, to Clovis himself; in fact, a political document of incontrovertible authority; but we must be sure that we understand it. Two letters of this Bishop Remigius to Clovis are extant; one of them, the less important, is an epistle of condolence on the death of the king's sister, Albofledis, who was a Christian, and from its tone one would certainly never suspect that the person to whom it is addressed was not a Christian. But the other letter to which I have to direct your attention suggests very strongly that Clovis was a Christian when it was written. The bishop exhorts him always to resort to the advice and counsels of his priests: Sacerdotibus tuis debebis deferre, et ad eorum consilia semper recurrere. He tells him: hoc imprimis agendum ut Domini judicium a te non vacillet. So long as there was nothing to determine the date of this letter, there was no difficulty, for it could be taken for granted that it was subsequent to 496 and Clovis's conversion. But it has recently been suggested that the letter contains an indication of its date. The bishop states his motive for writing to the king in his opening words. As they stand in the MSS. they are extremely obscure and indeed obviously corrupt. Rumor ad nos magnum pervenit administrationem vos secundum bellice suscepisse. Rumor magnum---I am not responsible for the gender, and I suspect neither was Remigius, but what the bishop meant was: "An important piece of tidings has reached us that you have undertaken the administration of"---something. Secundum bellice makes nonsense. The usual resort has been to insert rei after bellice, and the meaning is supposed to be "that you have undertaken for the second time the administration of military affairs". Such a statement is unintelligible in reference to Clovis. The words secundum bellice have been brilliantly emended by Bethmanns into Secunde Belgice, "that you have undertaken the administration of the Second Belgica". But if this simple correction is right, it would seem to follow, as Gundlach has pointed out, that the letter was dated soon after the victory of Soissons, which brought the province of Belgica Secunda under Clovis's power. That is, it would be written in 486 or 487, ten years before the date assigned by Gregory of Tours for Clovis's conversion. But the letter seems almost necessarily to imply that Clovis was a Christian when it was written. Therefore, concludes Gundlach, the story in Gregory of Tours which connects that conversion with the victory over the Alamanni is false. Clovis was a Christian before the battle of Soissons.
Now, if this view were true, we should be met by a considerable difficulty. Why should ecclesiastical tradition, which gloried in Clovis as the first Christian king of the Franks, have conceived the thought of injuring his reputation by representing him as a pagan during the first fifteen years of his reign, if he was in reality for all or most of that period a Christian? This seems to me a very grave difficulty, and I cannot help thinking that the general tenor of the ecclesiastical tradition must be correct. How then are we to interpret the letter? Are we to say that the tone of the letter and the expressions in it which seem to imply Clovis's Christianity are delusive, and that the bishop designedly adopted that tone with the purpose of suggesting that Clovis should no longer be content with showing goodwill towards Christianity, but should now adopt that religion himself? Foreseeing the probability of the king's ultimate conversion, the bishop might have taken upon himself, proleptically as it were, to address him as if he were a Christian. This is just conceivable, but I hardly think we could without distinct evidence admit it as a probable explanation.
Of course the simplest way out is to say that, after all, Secunde Belgice is only an emendation. But it is an emendation of a very high order of probability. The context requires the designation of a territory or province, and as the MSS. give Secundum bellice, it seems quite impossible to escape the conviction that Secunde Belgice is what the bishop wrote, seeing that the bishop's own see of Reims was in that province. We must admit, in my opinion, that Bishop Remigius in this letter did refer to the Second Belgica, but I am not prepared to accept Gundlach's conclusion as the only possible one. On the contrary, the evidence points, I think, to another conclusion of great interest and importance. Accepting the general truth of the ecclesiastical tradition that Clovis's conversion was not brought about till 496, it follows that this letter of Remigius in which the king's Christianity is implied was written after that year. Therefore it was after that year that Clovis undertook the administration of the Second Belgica.
It follows then that after the victory at or near Soissons in 486, Clovis did not immediately take into his own hands the direct administration of the provinces included in the so-called regnum of Syagrius; he left the administration to the imperial functionaries; he allowed the old organisation to remain unchanged; he contented himself with exerting a controlling influence.
Now, in the first place, this conclusion is probable in itself; it would show that the growth of the Frankish power under Clovis was more gradual than is generally supposed; not until after his great victory over the Alamanni did he feel in a position to exert direct and immediate rule over the Belgic province in which he had overthrown the regime of Syagrius, and to incorporate it fully in his dominion. In the second place, this conclusion seems to me more in harmony with the contents of the letter of Remigius. I find it very difficult to believe that that letter could have been written immediately after the victory of Soissons. It does not contain a syllable of reference to the battle, or to Syagrius. It is the letter of one who sympathises with Clovis, not of one who has just received the news of a very unwelcome fact of which he has to make the best. If it were really written just after the defeat of Syagrius, we should have to believe that the bishop was a traitor to the Roman government, and secretly favoured the Frankish invader: we should have to assume that the expression "You have undertaken the administration of Belgica Secunda" is a nicely calculated euphuism for "You have defeated our general".
THE CONQUEST OF VISIGOTHIC GAUL
Once the Franks and Visigoths came into close quarters on the Loire, war between them was inevitable. The decisive struggle was postponed for twenty years after the conquest of Syagrius, but the two kingdoms were never on good terms, and serious hostilities were not lacking. The Franks seem to have been always the aggressors. They were in possession of the city of Tours in A.D. 496. They seem to have seized the city of Santones (Saintes) and also the city of Bordeaux, before the end of the century. The policy of the great Theoderic, king of the Ostrogoths and lord of Italy, was to preserve the peace among the barbarian kingdoms in the west. He was allied by marriage with Alaric, king of the Visigoths, and probably his authority was instrumental in deferring a Franco-Gothic war. The opposition between the two kingdoms was accentuated when Clovis embraced Christianity in its Catholic form, and, when the time was ripe, he could profess to go forth as a champion of Catholic orthodoxy to drive the Arian heretics from Gaul. It was in the year 507 that he declared war and led his army south of the Loire. The enemies met not very far from Poictiers, in the Campus Vocladensis; the Goths were routed, and their king, Alaric, fell; slain, it would appear, by the king of the Franks himself. Then Clovis sent his son Theodoric to subjugate all the land as far as the frontier of Burgundy. He himself seized Alaric's treasure at Toulouse, and transferred it to Bordeaux, where he spent the winter.