The Burgundians or Burgundes were an East Germanic tribe which may have emigrated from mainland Scandinavia to the island of
Bornholm, whose old form in Old Norsestill was "Burgundarholmr" (the Island of the Burgundians), and from there to mainland Europe. In " Þorsteins saga Víkingssonar", Veseti settled in an island or holm, which was called Borgund's holm, i.e. Bornholm. Alfred the Great's translation of " Orosius" uses the name "Burgenda land". The poet and early mythologist Viktor Rydberg(1828–1895), ("Our Fathers' Godsaga") asserted from an early medieval source, "Vita Sigismundi," that the Burgundians themselves retained oral traditions about their Scandinavian origin.
The Burgundians' tradition of Scandinavian origin finds support in place-name evidence and archaeological evidence (Stjerna) and many consider their tradition to be correct (e.g. Musset, p. 62). Possibly because Scandinavia was beyond the horizon of the earliest Roman sources, including
Tacitus(who only mentions one Scandinavian tribe, the Suiones), Roman sources do not mention where the Burgundians came from, and the first Roman references place them east of the Rhine("inter alia", Ammianus Marcellinus, XVIII, 2, 15). Early Roman sources considered them simply another East Germanic tribe.
About 300, the population of
Bornholm(the island of the Burgundians) largely disappeared from the island. Most cemeteries ceased to be used, and those that were still used had few burials (Stjerna, in Nerman 1925:176).
In the year 369, the Emperor
Valentinian Ienlisted the aid of the Burgundians in his war against another Germanic tribe, the Alamanni(Ammianus, XXVIII, 5, 8-15). At this time, the Burgundians were possibly living in the Vistulabasin, according to the mid-6th-century historian of the Goths, Jordanes. Sometime after their war against the Alamanni, the Burgundians were beaten in battle by Fastida, king of the Gepidsand were overwhelmed and almost annihilated.
Approximately four decades later, the Burgundians appear again. Following
Stilicho’s withdrawal of troops to fight Alaric Ithe Visigoth in AD 406-408, the northern tribes crossed the Rhine and entered the Empire in the " Völkerwanderung", or Germanic migrations. Among them were the Alans, Vandals, the Suevi, and possibly the Burgundians. The Burgundians migrated westwards and settled in the Rhine Valley.
Conversion to Christianity
Somewhere in the east the Burgundians had converted to the Arian form of Christianity from their native
Germanic polytheism. Their Arianism proved a source of suspicion and distrust between the Burgundians and the Catholic Western Roman Empire. Divisions were evidently healed or healing circa AD 500, however, as Gundobad, one of the last Burgundian kings, maintained a close personal friendship with Avitus, the Catholic bishop of Vienne. Moreover, Gundobad's son and successor, Sigismund, was himself a Catholic, and there is evidence that many of the Burgundian people had converted by this time as well, including several female members of the ruling family.
Early Relationship with the Romans
Initially, the Burgundians seem to have had a stormy relationship with the Romans. They were used by the Empire to fend off other tribes, but also raided the border regions and expanded their influence when possible.
The Burgundian Kingdoms
The First Kingdom
In 411, the Burgundian king Gundahar or "Gundicar" set up a puppet emperor,
Jovinus, in cooperation with Goar, king of the Alans. With the authority of the Gallic emperor that he controlled, Gundahar settled on the left (Roman) bank of the Rhine, between the river Lauterand the Nahe, seizing Worms, Speyer, and Straßburg. Apparently as part of a truce, the Emperor Honorius later officially "granted" them the land. (Prosper, a. 386)
Despite their new status as "
foederati", Burgundian raids into Roman Upper Gallia Belgicabecame intolerable and were ruthlessly brought to an end in 436, when the Roman general Aëtius called in Hunmercenaries who overwhelmed the Rhineland kingdom (with its capital at the old Celtic Roman settlement of Borbetomagus/Worms) in 437. Gundahar was killed in the fighting, reportedly along with the majority of the Burgundian tribe. (Prosper; "Chronica Gallica 452"; Hydatius; and Sidonius Apollinaris)
The destruction of Worms and the Burgundian kingdom by the Huns became the subject of heroic legends that were afterwards incorporated in the "
Nibelungenlied"—on which Wagner based his Ring Cycle—where King Gunther (Gundahar) and Queen Brünhild hold their court at Worms, and Siegfried comes to woo Kriemhild. (In Old Norse sources the names are "Gunnar", "Brynhild", and "Gudrún" as normally rendered in English.) In fact, the "Etzel" of the "Nibelungenlied" is based on Attila the Hun.
The Second Kingdom
For reasons not cited in the sources, the Burgundians were granted "foederati" status a second time, and in 443 were resettled by Aëtius in the region of "Sapaudia". ("Chronica Gallica 452") Though the precise geography is uncertain, "Sapaudia" corresponds to the modern-day
Savoy, and the Burgundians probably lived near "Lugdunum", known today as Lyon. (Wood 1994, Gregory II, 9) A new king Gundioc, or "Gunderic", presumed to be Gundahar's son, appears to have reigned from his father's death. (Drew, p. 1) In all, eight Burgundian kings of the house of Gundahar ruled until the kingdom was overrun by the Franks in 534.
As allies of Rome in its last decades, the Burgundians fought alongside Aëtius and a confederation of Visigoths and others in the battle against Attila at the
Battle of Chalons(also called "The Battle of the Catalaunian Fields") in 451. The alliance between Burgundians and Visigoths seems to have been strong, as Gundioc and his brother Chilperic I accompanied Theodoric IIto Spain to fight the Sueves in 455. (Jordanes, "Getica", 231)
Aspirations to the Empire
Also in 455, an ambiguous reference "infidoque tibi Burdundio ductu" (
Sidonius Apollinarisin "Panegyr. Avit". 442.) implicates an unnamed treacherous Burgundian leader in the murder of the emperor Petronius Maximusin the chaos preceding the sack of Rome by the Vandals. The Patrician Ricimeris also blamed; this event marks the first indication of the link between the Burgundians and Ricimer, who was probably Gundioc's brother-in-law and Gundobad's uncle. (John Malalas, 374)
The Burgundians, apparently confident in their growing power, negotiated in 456 a territorial expansion and power sharing arrangement with the local Roman senators. (Marius of Avenches)
In 457, Ricimer overthrew another emperor,
Avitus, raising Majorianto the throne. This new emperor proved unhelpful to Ricimer and the Burgundians. The year after his ascension, Majorian stripped the Burgundians of the lands they had acquired two years earlier. After showing further signs of independence, he was murdered by Ricimer in 461.
Ten years later, in 472, Ricimer–who was by now the son-in-law of the Western Emperor
Anthemius–was plotting with Gundobad to kill his father-in-law; Gundobad beheaded the emperor (apparently personally). ("Chronica Gallica 511"; John of Antioch, fr. 209; Jordanes, "Getica", 239) Ricimer then appointed Olybrius; both died, surprisingly of natural causes, within a few months. Gundobad seems then to have succeeded his uncle as Patrician and king-maker, and raised Glyceriusto the throne. (Marius of Avenches; John of Antioch, fr. 209)
In 474, Burgundian influence over the empire seems to have ended. Glycerius was deposed in favor of
Julius Nepos, and Gundobad returned to Burgundy, presumably at the death of his father Gundioc. At this time or shortly afterward, the Burgundian kingdom was divided between Gundobad and his brothers, Godigisel, Chilperic II, and Gundomar I. (Gregory, II, 28)
Consolidation of the Kingdom
Gregory of Tours, the years following Gundobad's return to Burgundy saw a bloody consolidation of power. Gregory states that Gundobad murdered his brother Chilperic, drowning his wife and exiling their daughters (one of whom was to become the wife of Clovisthe Frank, and was reputedly responsible for his conversion). [Gregory, II, 28. Gregory's chronology of the events surrounding Clovis and Gundobad has been questioned by Bury, Shanzer, and Wood, among others. Gregory was somewhat of a Frankish apologist, and commonly discredited the enemies of Clovis by attributing to them some fairly shocking acts. As with Godegisel, he also commonly refers to the treachery of Clovis' allies, when in fact Clovis seems to have bought them off (e.g., in the case of the Ripuarians).] This is contested by, e.g., Bury, who points out problems in much of Gregory's chronology for the events.
C.500, when Gundobad and Clovis were at war, Gundobad appears to have been betrayed by his brother Godegisel, who joined the Franks; together Godegisel's and Clovis' forces "crushed the army of Gundobad." (Marius a. 500; Gregory, II, 32) Gundobad was temporarily holed up in Avignon, but was able to re-muster his army and sacked Vienne, where Godegisel and many of his followers were put to death. From this point, Gundobad appears to have been the sole king of Burgundy. (e.g., Gregory, II, 33) This would imply that his brother Gundomar was already dead, though there are no specific mentions of the event in the sources.
Either Gundobad and Clovis reconciled their differences, or Gundobad was forced into some sort of vassalage by Clovis' earlier victory, as the Burgundian king appears to have assisted the Franks in 507 in their victory over
Alaric IIthe Visigoth.
During the upheaval, sometime between 483-501, Gundobad began to set forth the "Lex Gundobada" (see below), issuing roughly the first half, which drew upon the "Lex Visigothorum". (Drew, p. 1) Following his consolidation of power, between 501 and his death in 516, Gundobad issued the second half of his law, which was more originally Burgundian.
The Fall of the Second Kingdom
The Burgundians were extending their power over southeastern
Gaul; that is, northern Italy, western Switzerland, and southeastern France. In 493 Clovis, king of the Franks, married the Burgundian princess Clotilda (daughter of Chilperic), who converted him to the Catholic faith.
At first allies with Clovis'
Franksagainst the Visigothsin the early 6th century, the Burgundians were eventually conquered by the Franks in 534. The Burgundian kingdom was made part of the Merovingiankingdoms, and the Burgundians themselves were by and large absorbed as well.
The Burgundian Laws
The Burgundians left three
legal codes, among the earliest from any of the Germanic tribes.
The Liber Consitutionum sive Lex Gundobada ("The Book of the Constitution following the Law of Gundobad"), also known as the "Lex Burgundionum", or more simply the "Lex Gundobada" or the "Liber", was issued in several parts between 483 and 516, principally by Gundobad, but also by his son, Sigismund. (Drew, p. 6-7) It was a record of Burgundian customary law and is typical of the many Germanic law codes from this period. In particular, the "Liber" borrowed from the "
Lex Visigothorum" (Drew, p. 6) and influenced the later " Lex Ribuaria". (Rivers, p. 9) The "Liber" is one of the primary sources for contemporary Burgundian life, as well as the history of its kings.
Like many of the Germanic tribes, the Burgundians' legal traditions allowed the application of separate laws for separate ethnicities. Thus, in addition to the "Lex Gundobada", Gundobad also issued (or codified) a set of laws for Roman subjects of the Burgundian kingdom, the "
Lex Romana Burgundionum" ("The Roman Law of the Burgundians").
In addition to the above codes, Gundobad's son Sigismund later published the "Prima Constitutio".
Origin of Burgundy
BornholmThe name of the Burgundians has since remained connected to the area of modern France that still bears their name: see the later history of Burgundy. Between the 6th and 20th centuries, however, the boundaries and political connections of this area have changed frequently; none of those changes have had anything to do with the original Burgundians. The name "Burgundians" used here and generally used by English writers to refer to the Burgundes is a later formation and more precisely refers to the inhabitants of the territory of Burgundy which was named from the people called Burgundes. The descendants of the Burgundians today are found primarily among the west Swiss and neighbouring regions of France.
Nibelung(later legends of the Burgundian kings).
King of Burgundy
Duchy of Burgundy
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*Dalton, O.M. "The History of the Franks, by Gregory of Tours." Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1927.
*Drew, Katherine Fischer. "The Burgundian Code." Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972.
*Gordon, C.D. "The Age of Attila." Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961.
*Murray, Alexander Callander. "From Roman to Merovingian Gaul." Broadview Press, 2000.
*Musset, Lucien. "The Germanic Invasions: The Making of Europe AD 400-600." University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1975.
*Nerman, Birger. "Det svenska rikets uppkomst". Generalstabens litagrafiska anstalt: Stockholm. 1925.
*Rivers, Theodore John. "Laws of the Salian and Ripuarian Franks." New York: AMS Press, 1986.
*Rolfe, J.C., trans, "Ammianus Marcellinus." Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1950.
*Shanzer, Danuta. ‘Dating the Baptism of Clovis.’ In "Early Medieval Europe," volume 7, pages 29-57. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1998.
*Shanzer, D. and I. Wood. "Avitus of Vienne: Letters and Selected Prose. Translated with an Introduction and Notes." Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2002.
*Werner, J. (1953). "Beiträge sur Archäologie des Attila-Reiches", "Die Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaft. Abhandlungen." N.F. XXXVIII A Philosophische-philologische und historische Klasse. Münche
*Wood, Ian N. ‘Ethnicity and the Ethnogenesis of the Burgundians’. In Herwig Wolfram and Walter Pohl, editors, "Typen der Ethnogenese unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Bayern," volume 1, pages 53–69. Vienna: Denkschriften der Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1990.
*Wood, Ian N. "The Merovingian Kingdoms." Harlow, England: The Longman Group, 1994.
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