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Definition: Clovis I from Philip's Encyclopedia

Frankish king of the Merovingian dynasty. He overthrew the Romanized kingdom of Soissons and conquered the Alemmani near Cologne. He and his army later converted to Christianity in fulfilment of a promise made before the battle. In 507 he defeated the Visigoths under Alaric II near Poitiers. By the time Clovis died, he controlled most of Gaul and had firmly established Merovingian power.


Summary Article: Clovis I (ca. 466–511)
from The Encyclopedia of War

Clovis was the first king to impose the rule of the Merovingian Dynasty over all the Frankish tribes. The kingdom he founded would prove to be the most enduring of all the successor states to be established in the territory of the West Roman Empire.

He succeeded his father Chilperic, who died in ca. 481 and was buried at Tournai in modern Belgium. Gregory of Tours, a Gallo-Roman historian writing in the late sixth century, narrates Clovis' defeat of the Roman general Aegidius in the fifth year of his reign; a victory against the Thuringians in the tenth; a defeat of the Alamans, with which he associated the king's conversion to Christianity; a campaign against the Burgundians (which can be dated to 500); and the defeat of the Visigoths under Alaric II, which can be dated to 507. According to Gregory, Clovis died in the thirtieth year of his reign.

For the first two campaigns against Syagrius and against the Thuringians, Gregory is our sole source, though there is no reason to doubt the basic information that he supplies. The main problem in assessing the campaign against Syagrius concerns the size of the Roman's “kingdom.” It may have not have stretched far beyond the city of Soissons.

Modern scholarship places Clovis' campaign against the Burgundians before that against the Alamans. The Burgundian campaign is attested in other sources, notably the Chronicle of Marius of Avenches. In 500 Clovis attacked the Burgundian king Gundobad, whose brother Godegisel joined the Franks. As a result Gundobad was defeated and retreated to Avignon, where he came to terms with Clovis. As soon as the latter was out of the way, Gundobad attacked his brother and reestablished himself as king, although for a while he paid tribute to Clovis.

The next major Frankish campaign would seem to have taken place in 506, when Clovis heavily defeated the Alamans. The reason for placing the campaign later in Clovis' career than does Gregory of Tours is that there are references to the battle and to the presence of Alaman refugees in Italy in 506. In all probability there were several Frankish campaigns against the Alamans, not all of them waged by Clovis. We know, for instance, of a battle between Franks and Alamans at Tolbiac/Zülpich, but we have no reason to think that it should be equated with Clovis' victory, and indeed we do not know that Clovis was present on that occasion. Gregory would seem to have antedated Clovis' great victory against the Alamans because he wished to place the king's conversion, which was associated with the battle, as early as possible in his career.

Although Clovis seems to have become a Christian in 506, he was certainly not immediately baptized. Indeed, it was apparently not clear which Christian sect he intended to join. This only became clear in the course of his attack on the Visigothic kingdom in 507. Clovis apparently chose Catholic Christianity in part because that was the doctrine followed by his Burgundian wife, and partly because Alaric and his Visigothic followers were Arian Christians. Even so, his Catholicism seems to have played little role in his military successes: he continued to be allied to Arians, and at the same time there is little to suggest that his conversion attracted Catholics to his cause.

Alaric was defeated and killed at the Battle of Vouillé, outside Poitiers. For the ensuing months Clovis remained in southwestern France, although the final Frankish annexation of this region did not occur until the 520s. In 508 he returned north, and at Tours he was greeted by an emissary of Emperor Anastasius, who conferred some honorary title on him. The following Christmas Clovis was baptized as a Catholic.

The last three years of his reign were probably dominated by his suppression of Frankish rivals, whose petty kingdoms had survived up until that time. In the last months of his life he called a church council at Orléans. He died in 511.

SEE ALSO: Barbarian invasions of Europe (fifth century).

Further Reading
  • Gregory of Tours (1951) Decem Libri Historiarum, ed. B. Krusch; W. Levison. Hanover.
  • Gregory of Tours (1974) History of the Franks, trans. Thorpe, L. . Penguin Harmondsworth.
  • James, E. (1988) The Franks. Blackwell Oxford.
  • Marius of Avenches (1991) La Chronique de Marius d'Avenches (455-581), ed. Favrod, J. . Cahiers lausannois d'histoire médiévale Lausanne.
  • Wallace-Hadrill, J. M. (1962) The Long-Haired Kings. Butler and Tanner London.
  • Wood, I. N. (1985) “Gregory of Tours and Clovis”, Revue Belge de Philologie et d'Histoire, 63: 249-272.
  • Wood, I. N. (1994) The Merovingian Kingdoms 450-751. Longman London.
  • Ian Wood
    Wiley ©2012

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