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Friday, 23 October 2015

The Ethnic Transformations of the Year 600 (A preliminary sketch): Part 2.


[Here is the second instalment of my thinking about ethnic change around 600.  As you will see, it is largely consists of somewhat rambling 'thinking aloud', which tends to be the way I formulate arguments and generate texts in their initial form, but any thoughts are as always welcome.]

One of the most important elements of these changes is the seemingly general demise of prestigious secular ‘Roman’ identities.  The ‘Roman’ dux Chramnelen listed by Fredegar points us at one potential exception, to which we shall return.  This must be one of the more dramatic consequences of Justinian’s wars and accompanying ideology.  As has been noted, in Lex Salica the romani represent a parallel free population to that of the franci within which three different strata can be noted: the tributarii, (tax-payers), the possessores (land-owners) and the members of the convivia regis (‘the kings dining companions’).  These strata have a lower wergild than, but otherwise seem broadly equivalent to, their Frankish counterparts: the francus (for the possessores) and the antrustio or member of the trustis regis (the royal bodyguard, for the members of the convivia regis).[1]  The names of the different strata make clear the functional division between the Franks and Romans, with the former occupying a military role and the latter paying taxes and handling the civil administration.  Outside a few specific cases relating to offences between people of different ethnic identities, however, the general term ingenuus seems to encompass freemen of any ethnicity.[2]  More than that, as in a number of other immediately post-imperial law-codes, ethnic identity seems primarily to apply to mature adult males.[3]  This appears to imply that a fully ethnic legal identity was achieved, presumably when a male married and established a household, with legal dependents. 

The picture given by Ripuarian Law, as described earlier, is quite different.  In the territory within which the law applied, romani were half-free and required a Ripuarian to speak for them at law.  The Ripuarians, moreover, include men, women and children.  Ethnicity now appears to be something ascribed at birth.  The romani who can be tried by their own law, mentioned above, are those – presumably aristocrats – from other areas (mainly, one assumes, Aquitaine or Provence).  There were many reasons why one might adopt a Frankish identity in sixth-century northern Gaul: legal privilege, exemption from some forms of taxation, the greater prestige of military service (enabling one to attend the gatherings of the army, the most significant political assembly of the realm), and so on.  It is therefore not difficult to envisage a gradual drift towards Frankish identity over the period.  The shift seems to be rather more significant than that model would allow, however, accelerating dramatically in the late sixth century.  There had, after all, been cultural and other bases of Roman identity that could be deployed to counter the de facto political and military power of the Franks.  Mid-sixth-century Merovingian kings had continued to bestow patronage upon Roman aristocrats and the Church had remained an area wherein some form of Roman identity was important.  Most sixth-century churchmen, even in the north, have Roman names.[4]  It seems most plausible to see the ideological shifts associated with Justinian’s campaigns of ‘reconquest’ as finally cutting away the cultural or social benefits of Roman identity in much of the West.  As a result, as we have seen, ‘Romans’ in north-east Gaul effectively ceased to be a part of the free population. Another indication of the general collapse of a Roman identity can be seen in name-giving practices.  In the sixth century most churchmen had, or took, Roman names.  The bishop list of Metz is not untypical; after the accession of Agiulf sometime around 590-600 only three other bishops had Roman names during the Merovingian period.  Fredegar’s Roman dux Chramnelen had taken a Frankish name although the adoption of non-Roman names by Gallo-Romans entering the service of the Merovingian kings had begun much earlier.[5]

What, however, of those ‘Romans’ in parts of the Frankish realm that had never experienced significant settlement by people claiming a non-Roman identity, such as Aquitaine?  This area had always been a somewhat unusual part of the regnum.  The land-owners in the region, it would seem, were expected to perform military service as well as pay taxes from their estates.[6]  There was clearly some social cachet to their identity which could be played off against ‘Franks’ administering the region for the kings.[7]  Gregory was not above giving a certain pejorative, ‘barbarian’ sense to the label ‘Frank’ on occasion.  It is interesting, then, that Germanic names seem to have become almost as ubiquitous here as north of the Loire by the seventh century.  It is interesting too that in the Life of Saint Eligius the epithet romanus thrown at the saint by northern countryfolk is clearly derogatory - as indeed it would have been in the north by that date, if we can judge from Lex Ribvaria.  In this context then perhaps it is significant that was from the seventh century that a ‘Gascon’ (Basque) identity began to be important in southern Gaul, associated with a military élite.  Romanness was no longer adequate.

The clause of Ripuarian Law alluded to earlier, about the personality of the law, seems to be indicative of a general trend from around 600.  The prologues to the Pactus of Alamannic Law and the Bavarian Law refer to the creation of laws for these peoples in the early seventh century.  The Alamannic pactus claims to have been issued by a king Chlothar, generally seen as Chlothar II, whereas the preface to Lex Baiwariorum tells of how king Dagobert perfected earlier laws drawn up by earlier kings (Theuderic, Childebert and Chlothar are named[8]) and gave them to each people.[9]  Bavarian Law quotes the words of Isidore of Seville describing the people who gave the laws to the different peoples of history, down to the Theodosian Code, before saying that thereafter ‘each people chose a law for itself from its customs’ and quoting Isidore again on the distinctions between lex, mos, and consuetudo.  It seems very likely, then, that the association of peoples with their own law was a development of the period around 600.

In this connection it is interesting to reconsider some clauses of Chlothar II’s Edict of Paris, issued in October 614.  Clause 12 of the Edict requires that no iudex be appointed from outside the region in which he was to exercise his functions.  The judge would have to have property in the region from which he could compensate claimants in the case of any wrong-doing.  Seeing such an enactment in terms of a concern for (in modern terms) ‘accountable’ local government seems reasonable enough.[10]  The clause makes yet more sense, however, in a context where the different regions of the realm had their own law.  If, for example, a Burgundian was sent into Austrasia as a judge then, by the very terms of Ripuarian Law, he would be entitled to be tried by Burgundian Law rather than the law he was supposed to be administering and this would indeed cause problems in gaining restitution for any offences, especially if he was required to recompense any plaintiffs with property that lay in a different law’s area of jurisdiction.

The Pactus Legis Alemannorum, which claims to have been issued by King Chlothar (presumably Chlothar II, as noted), is an interesting text.  Unlike the near-contemporary Lex Ribvaria it makes no reference to internal ethnic divisions.  The term Alamannus itself appears but rarely; the concern of the law is much more with stratification within the free population.  Of course, the bulk of the area within which the Pactus applied lay outside the late Empire’s boundaries, so the absence of romani is a problem that probably does not arise.  We can at least say that not trace remained in the law of the Roman inhabitants of the agri decumates.  Whether the Pactus applied in Alsace (formerly a part of Germania Prima) of is moot: perhaps unlikely but not impossible.  The promulgation of the Pactus has been linked by some scholars to the presence of the king at Marlenheim near Strasbourg and the relationship between Alsace and the Austrasian court was troubled in the first decades of the seventh century but it is difficult to draw firm conclusions.  The implication nevertheless is that the seventh-century population of Alamannia shared a single ethnicity.

With this in mind, then, it might not be surprising either that the first Anglo-Saxon law-code, that of Æthelberht of Kent, also belongs to the reign of Chlothar II.  The acquisition of a bishop with the pallium, direct from Rome may have been a means of cementing Æthelberht’s new dominance in English politics and an independence from the powerful rulers across the Channel.  The issuing of a set of laws for his people might be another element of such a strategy, or it could be seen in the context of broader developments within the area of Frankish hegemony.  All the ‘peoples’ of the Frankish regnum should have their own law.  However, ethnic labels of any sort are strikingly absent from Æthelberht’s code (as they are from all of the seventh-century Kentish codes), even in the description of the kingdom.[11]  This fact is difficult to interpret.  Given Bede’s famous statement about the origins of the various kingdoms of the English, with Kent being founded by Jutes, the absence of any reference to Jutes in Kentish documents is immediately striking.  Was ‘Jute’ an outside appellation?  It has been suggested plausibly enough that the Eucii who appear alongside the Saxones in Theudebert I’s letter to Justinian could be the ‘Jutes’ of Kent.[12]  Was it rather that the ethnonym disappeared from use in southern England by the early seventh century?  By the time our records appear the Kentish kingdom and its inhabitants seem exclusively to be associated with the Roman civitas of the Cantii.  If so, it is intriguing to speculate on the sort of process that might have brought this about.  Perhaps, for example, only one civitas of a once-larger sixth-century ‘Jutish’ realm remained?  This might explain why the other ‘Jutish’ region in Bede’s view was the Isle of Wight and the coastline opposite, a quite separate region.  Ethnic labels of a higher, ‘gentile’[13] level might have been lost in the process.  Either way, in Æthelberht’s Code the distinctions among the free population are entirely based upon status within a legal hierarchy that makes no reference to ethnic differences.  In this – and in other aspects – the law interestingly resembles its close contemporary, the Pactus Legis Alemannorum.  Unlike the area within which the pactus applied, however, the absence of a Roman population cannot be so easily bracketed. Were we to assume that, instead of simply talking about freemen, the text spoke of ‘freemen of the Cantwara’, the code would show some similarity to Ripuarian Law, which likewise uses a ‘regional’ ethnic signifier for its subjects.[14]  It could be that the local Roman population had – again as in Lex Ribvaria – either adopted the general identity of the free population or sunk into the semi-free classes and so required no separate legislation.  The only indication that this might be the case is the appearance of the term laet, from the Latin laetus, to denote an evidently half-free category.[15]  Quite how or why laeti (originally barbarians captured in war and settled inside the Empire) would come to refer to people of provincial Roman origin is difficult to imagine, however.



[1] Notably PLS 42.
[2] Halsall Settlement and Social Organisation, pp.27-29, for more detailed discussion.
[3] Halsall, Barbarian Migrations, pp.
[4] A letter from Gogo, the nutritor of Childebert II, to Bishop Petrus of Metz (c.580) provides an interesting snapshot of local ecclesiastical personnel, listing seven office-holders among the latter’s circle.  Four have Germanic names; three have Roman.  This might indicate the shift towards Germanic names already under way.  One may be a civic official, however.  Theodemund is described as civium praesidium, which is especially interesting as the description is a literal translation of his name.  However one reads it, this suggests some knowledge of Germanic language in the Moselle valley.  Either Gogo was punning on Theodemund’s name, or Theodemund took a name that described his position. Ep.Aust. 22.
[5] Gregory of Tours’ maternal great-uncle, Gundulf, who had been one of the domestici at the Austrasian court, is perhaps the best-known example.  The penetration of the fashion for non-Roman names more generally into southern Gaulish society is visible in Gregory’s works during the 570s-90s.
[6] Halsall, Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West 450-900 (London, 2003), pp.
[7] Seen classically in Gregory of Tours’ dealings with Leudast, the count of Tours.  Leudast, said Gregory, was a low-born Poitevin but had risen in the service of the Frankish kings and had been given, or had adopted, a Frankish name.
[8] This statement was one of the admittedly slender bases for Eckhardt’s identification of different recensions of Salic Law associated with these rulers in the manuscripts of the PLS.
[9] Pactus Legis Alemannorum preface; Lex Baiwariorum preface.
[10] See James, The Origins of France (London 1982), p.140-1.
[11] Æthelberht’s eventual successors and fellow law-makers, Hlothhere and Eadric, and Wihtræd are all styled kings of the Cantwara.  Æthelberht is simply ‘Æthelberht the king’.
[12] I.N. Wood, The Merovingian North Sea (Alingsas)
[13] I have used this admittedly problematic term to denote an ethnic identity which relates to a ‘people’, like the Franks, the Alamans or the Bavarians.
[14] As I have argued elsewhere (Barbarian Migrations), and intimated above, it is analytically mistaken to assume that what might look like regionally- or geographically-based signifiers are less ‘ethnic’ than those that derive from the names of ‘peoples’ – not least because the former can become the latter, as in the case of the Cantwara.
[15] This is one of the few points of similarity between Æthelberht’s Code and the Pactus Legis Salicae, and the latter’s half-free class of liti.  That the laets might have been Romano-British has been suggested by several authorities, such as Whitelock.

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