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Burgundians

1 Name
See also: Bornholm

The name of the Burgundians has since remained con-


nected 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, with
none of the changes having had anything to do with the
original Burgundians. The name Burgundians used here
and generally used by English writers to refer to the Bur-
gundiones is a later formation and more precisely refers
to the inhabitants of the territory of Burgundy which was
named from the people called Burgundiones. The de-
The Roman empire under Hadrian (ruled 117138), showing scendants of the Burgundians today are found primarily
the location of the Burgundiones Germanic group, then inhab- in historical Burgundy and among the west Swiss.
iting the region between the Viadua (Oder) and Visula (Vistula)
rivers (Poland)

The Burgundians (Latin: Burgundines, Burgund; Old 2 History


Norse: Burgundar; Old English: Burgendas; Greek:
) were a large East Germanic or Vandal 2.1 Background
tribe, or group of tribes, who lived in the area of mod-
ern Poland in the time of the Roman empire.
In the late Roman period, as the empire came under pres-
sure from many such barbarian peoples, a powerful
group of Burgundians and other Vandalic tribes moved
westwards towards the Roman frontiers along the Rhine
Valley, making them neighbors of the Franks who formed
their kingdoms to the north, and the Suebic Alemanni
who were settling to their south, also near the Rhine.
They established themselves in Worms, but with Roman
cooperation their descendants eventually established the
Kingdom of the Burgundians much further south, and
within the empire, in the western Alps region where mod-
ern Switzerland, France and Italy meet. This later be-
came a component of the Frankish empire. The name
of this Kingdom survives in the regional appellation, Location of the island of Bornholm
Burgundy, which is a region in modern France, repre-
senting only a part of that kingdom. The Burgundians had a tradition of Scandinavian origin
which nds support in place-name evidence and archae-
Another part of Burgundians stayed in their previous ological evidence (Stjerna) and many consider their tra-
homeland in Oder-Vistula basin and formed a contingent dition to be correct (e.g. Musset, p. 62). The Burgun-
in Attila's Hunnic army by 451.[1][2] dians are believed to have then emigrated to the Baltic
Before clear documentary evidence begins, the Bur- island of Bornholm (the island of the Burgundians in
gundians may have originally emigrated from mainland Old Norse). However, by about 250 the population of
Scandinavia to the Baltic island of Bornholm, and from Bornholm had largely disappeared from the island. Most
there to the Vistula basin, in the middle of modern cemeteries ceased to be used, and those that were still
Poland.[3] used had few burials (Stjerna, in Nerman 1925:176).

1
2 2 HISTORY

In orsteins saga Vkingssonar (The Saga of Thorstein, some Burgundians. A part of Burgundians migrated
Vikings Son), the Veseti settled in an island or holm, westwards and settled as foederati in the Roman province
which was called Borgunds holm, i.e. Bornholm. Alfred of Germania Secunda along the Middle Rhine. Another
the Great's translation of Orosius uses the name Bur- part of Burgundians stayed in their previous homeland
genda land to refer to a territory next to the land of in Oder-Vistula interuvial and formed a contingent in
Sweons (Swedes).[4] The poet and early mythologist Attila's Hunnic army by 451.[1][2]
Viktor Rydberg (18281895), (Our Fathers Godsaga)
asserted from an early medieval source, Vita Sigismundi,
that they themselves retained oral traditions about their 2.2 Kingdom
Scandinavian origin.
Main article: Kingdom of the Burgundians
Early Roman sources such as Tacitus and Pliny the El-
der knew little concerning the Germanic peoples east
of the Elbe river, or on the Baltic Sea. Pliny (IV.28)
however mentions them among the Vandalic or Eastern 2.2.1 Establishment
Germanic Germani peoples, including also the Goths.
Claudius Ptolemy lists them as living between the Sue- In 411, the Burgundian king Gundahar (or Gundicar) set
vus (probably the Oder) and Vistula rivers, north of the up a puppet emperor, Jovinus, in cooperation with Goar,
Lugii, and south of the coast dwelling tribes. Around king of the Alans. With the authority of the Gallic em-
the mid 2nd century AD, there was a signicant migra- peror that he controlled, Gundahar settled on the left (Ro-
tion by Germanic tribes of Scandinavian origin (Rugii, man) bank of the Rhine, between the river Lauter and
Goths, Gepidae, Vandals, Burgundians, and others)[5] to- the Nahe, seizing Worms, Speyer, and Strassburg. Ap-
wards the south-east, creating turmoil along the entire parently as part of a truce, the Emperor Honorius later
Roman frontier.[5][6][7][8] These migrations culminated in ocially granted them the land, (Prosper, a. 386) with
the Marcomannic Wars, which resulted in widespread de- its capital at the old Celtic Roman settlement of Borbe-
struction and the rst invasion of Italy in the Roman Em- tomagus (present Worms).
pire period.[8] Jordanes reports that during the 3rd cen-
tury, the Burgundians living in the Vistula basin were al- Despite their new status as foederati, Burgundian raids
most annihilated by Fastida, king of the Gepids, whose into Roman Upper Gallia Belgica became intolerable and
kingdom was at the mouth of the Vistula. were ruthlessly brought to an end in 436, when the Ro-
man general Atius called in Hun mercenaries who over-
In the late 3rd century, the Burgundians appear on the east whelmed the Rhineland kingdom in 437. Gundahar was
bank of the Rhine, confronting Roman Gaul. Zosimus killed in the ghting, reportedly along with the majority
(1.68) reports them being defeated by the emperor Probus of the Burgundian tribe. (Prosper; Chronica Gallica 452;
in 278 in Gaul. At this time they were led by a Vandal Hydatius; and Sidonius Apollinaris)
king. A few years later, Claudius Mamertinus mentions
them along with the Alamanni, a Suebic people. These The destruction of Worms and the Burgundian kingdom
two peoples had moved into the Agri Decumates on the by the Huns became the subject of heroic legends that
eastern side of the Rhine, an area today referred to stillwere afterwards incorporated in the Nibelungenliedon
as Swabia, at times attacking Roman Gaul together and which Wagner based his Ring Cyclewhere King Gun-
sometimes ghting each other. He also mentions that the ther (Gundahar) and Queen Brnhild hold their court at
Goths had previously defeated the Burgundians. Worms, and Siegfried comes to woo Kriemhild. (In Old
Norse sources the names are Gunnar, Brynhild, and Gu-
Ammianus Marcellinus, on the other hand, claimed that drn as normally rendered in English.) In fact, the Etzel
the Burgundians were descended from Romans. The Ro- of the Nibelungenlied is based on Attila the Hun.
man sources do not speak of any specic migration from
Poland by the Burgundians (although other Vandalic peo-
ples are more clearly mentioned as having moved west 2.3 Settlement in Savoy
in this period), and so there have historically been some
doubts about the link between the eastern and western For reasons not cited in the sources, the Burgundians were
Burgundians.[9] granted foederati status a second time, and in 443 were
In 369/370, the Emperor Valentinian I enlisted the aid of resettled by Atius in the region of Sapaudia. (Chron-
the Burgundians in his war against the Alemanni. ica Gallica 452) Though the precise geography is uncer-
tain, Sapaudia corresponds to the modern-day Savoy, and
Approximately four decades later, the Burgundians ap-
the Burgundians probably lived near Lugdunum, known
pear again. Following Stilicho's withdrawal of troops to
today as Lyon. (Wood 1994, Gregory II, 9) A new
ght Alaric I the Visigoth in AD 406-408, the north-
king Gundioc or Gunderic, presumed to be Gundahars
ern tribes crossed the Rhine and entered the Empire in
son, appears to have reigned following his fathers death.
the Vlkerwanderung, or Germanic migrations. Among
(Drew, p. 1) The historian Pline tells us that Gonderic
them were the Alans, Vandals, the Suevi, and possibly
reigned the areas of Sane, Dauphiny, Savoie and a part
2.3 Settlement in Savoy 3

Ten years later, in 472, Ricimerwho was by now the son-


in-law of the Western Emperor Anthemiuswas plotting
with Gundobad to kill his father-in-law; Gundobad be-
headed the emperor (apparently personally). (Chronica
Gallica 511; John of Antioch, fr. 209; Jordanes, Getica,
239) Ricimer then appointed Olybrius; both died, surpris-
ingly of natural causes, within a few months. Gundobad
seems then to have succeeded his uncle as Patrician and
king-maker, and raised Glycerius to the throne. (Marius
of Avenches; John of Antioch, fr. 209)
In 474, Burgundian inuence 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)

The Second Burgundian Kingdom between 443 and 476 2.3.2 Consolidation of the Kingdom

of Provence. He set up Vienne as the capital of the king-


dom of Burgundy. 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 Atius and a confederation of Visig-
oths and others in the battle against Attila at the Battle
of Chlons (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 II to Spain to
ght the Sueves in 455. (Jordanes, Getica, 231)

2.3.1 Aspirations to the Empire

Also in 455, an ambiguous reference indoque tibi Bur- Kingdom of the Burgundians in around 500
dundio ductu (Sidonius Apollinaris in Panegyr. Avit.
442.) implicates an unnamed treacherous Burgundian According to Gregory of Tours, the years following Gun-
leader in the murder of the emperor Petronius Maximus
dobads return to Burgundy saw a bloody consolidation
in the chaos preceding the sack of Rome by the Vandals. of power. Gregory states that Gundobad murdered his
The Patrician Ricimer is also blamed; this event marks
brother Chilperic, drowning his wife and exiling their
the rst indication of the link between the Burgundians daughters (one of whom was to become the wife of
and Ricimer, who was probably Gundiocs brother-in-law Clovis the Frank, and was reputedly responsible for his
and Gundobad's uncle, (John Malalas, 374) conversion).[10] This is contested by, e.g., Bury, who
The Burgundians, apparently condent in their grow- points out problems in much of Gregorys chronology for
ing power, negotiated in 456 a territorial expansion and the events.
power sharing arrangement with the local Roman sena- C.500, when Gundobad and Clovis were at war, Gun-
tors. (Marius of Avenches) dobad appears to have been betrayed by his brother
In 457, Ricimer overthrew another emperor, Avitus, rais- Godegisel, who joined the Franks; together Godegisels
ing Majorian to the throne. This new emperor proved un- and Clovis forces crushed the army of Gundobad.
helpful to Ricimer and the Burgundians. The year after (Marius a. 500; Gregory, II, 32) Gundobad was tem-
his ascension, Majorian stripped the Burgundians of the porarily holed up in Avignon, but was able to re-muster
lands they had acquired two years earlier. After show- his army and sacked Vienne, where Godegisel and many
ing further signs of independence, he was murdered by of his followers were put to death. From this point, Gun-
Ricimer in 461. dobad appears to have been the sole king of Burgundy.
4 5 CULTURE

(e.g., Gregory, II, 33) This would imply that his brother 3 Physical appearance
Gundomar was already dead, though there are no specic
mentions of the event in the sources. The 5th century Gallo-Roman poet and landowner
Either Gundobad and Clovis reconciled their dierences, Sidonius, who at one point lived with the Burgundians,
or Gundobad was forced into some sort of vassalage by described them as a long-haired people of immense phys-
Clovis earlier victory, as the Burgundian king appears to ical size:
have assisted the Franks in 507 in their victory over Alaric
II the Visigoth. Why... do you [an obscure senator by the
During the upheaval, sometime between 483-501, Gun- name of Catullinus] bid me compose a song
dobad began to set forth the Lex Gundobada (see below), dedicated to Venus... placed as I am among the
issuing roughly the rst half, which drew upon the Lex long-haired hordes, having to endure Germanic
Visigothorum. (Drew, p. 1) Following his consolidation speech, praising often with a wry face the song
of power, between 501 and his death in 516, Gundobad of the gluttonous Burgundian who spreads ran-
issued the second half of his law, which was more origi- cid butter on his hair? ... You don't have a
nally Burgundian. reek of garlic and foul onions discharged upon
you at early morn from ten breakfasts, and you
are not invaded before dawn... by a crowd of
giants.[11]

2.3.3 Fall
4 Language
The Burgundian language belonged to the East Ger-
manic language group. It appears to have become extinct
during the late sixth century.[12]
Little is known of the language. Some proper names of
Burgundians are recorded, and some words used in the
area in modern times are thought to be derived from the
ancient Burgundian language,[12] but it is often dicult to
distinguish these from Germanic words of other origin,
and in any case the modern form of the words is rarely
suitable to infer much about the form in the old language.

5 Culture

5.1 Religion

Somewhere in the east the Burgundians had converted to


the Arian form of Christianity from their native Germanic
Burgundy as part of the Frankish Empire between 534 and 843
polytheism. Their Arianism proved a source of suspicion
and distrust between the Burgundians and the Catholic
Western Roman Empire. Divisions were evidently healed
The Burgundians were extending their power over south-
or healing circa AD 500, however, as Gundobad, one of
eastern Gaul; that is, northern Italy, western Switzer-
the last Burgundian kings, maintained a close personal
land, and southeastern France. In 493 Clovis, king of
friendship with Avitus, the bishop of Vienne. Moreover,
the Franks, married the Burgundian princess Clotilda
Gundobads son and successor, Sigismund, was himself a
(daughter of Chilperic), who converted him to the
Catholic, and there is evidence that many of the Burgun-
Catholic faith.
dian people had converted by this time as well, including
At rst allied with Clovis Franks against the Visigoths several female members of the ruling family.
in the early 6th century, the Burgundians were eventually
conquered at Autun by the Franks in 532 after a rst at-
tempt in the Battle of Vzeronce. The Burgundian king- 5.2 Law
dom was made part of the Merovingian kingdoms, and
the Burgundians themselves were by and large absorbed The Burgundians left three legal codes, among the earliest
as well. from any of the Germanic tribes.
7.2 Sources 5

The Liber Constitutionum sive Lex Gundobada (The [7] Germanic peoples. Encyclopdia Britannica Online.
Book of the Constitution following the Law of Gundobad), Encyclopdia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved January 16,
also known as the Lex Burgundionum, or more simply the 2015.
Lex Gundobada or the Liber, was issued in several parts
[8] Germany: Ancient History. Encyclopdia Britannica
between 483 and 516, principally by Gundobad, but also Online. Encyclopdia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved January
by his son, Sigismund. (Drew, p. 67) It was a record 16, 2015.
of Burgundian customary law and is typical of the many
Germanic law codes from this period. In particular, the [9] Smith, William (1854), Dictionary of Greek and Roman
Liber borrowed from the Lex Visigothorum (Drew, p. 6) Geography
and inuenced the later Lex Ribuaria. (Rivers, p. 9) [10] Gregory, II, 28. Gregorys chronology of the events sur-
The Liber is one of the primary sources for contempo- rounding Clovis and Gundobad has been questioned by
rary Burgundian life, as well as the history of its kings. Bury, Shanzer, and Wood, among others. Gregory was
Like many of the Germanic tribes, the Burgundians le- somewhat of a Frankish apologist, and commonly discred-
ited the enemies of Clovis by attributing to them some
gal traditions allowed the application of separate laws for
fairly shocking acts. As with Godegisel, he also commonly
separate ethnicities. Thus, in addition to the Lex Gun-
refers to the treachery of Clovis allies, when in fact Clo-
dobada, Gundobad also issued (or codied) a set of laws vis seems to have bought them o (e.g., in the case of the
for Roman subjects of the Burgundian kingdom, the Lex Ripuarians).
Romana Burgundionum (The Roman Law of the Burgun-
dians). [11] Heather 2007, pp. 197198

In addition to the above codes, Gundobads son Sigis- [12] W.B. Lockwood, A Panorama of Indo-European Lan-
mund later published the Prima Constitutio. guages

6 See also 7.2 Sources


Bury, J.B. The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians.
Nibelung (later legends of the Burgundian kings). London: Macmillan and Co., 1928.
King of Burgundy Dalton, O.M. The History of the Franks, by Gregory
Duchy of Burgundy of Tours. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1927.

Franche-Comt Drew, Katherine Fischer. The Burgundian Code.


Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,
Dauphin (Dauphiny) 1972.
List of Germanic tribes Gordon, C.D. The Age of Attila. Ann Arbor: Uni-
versity of Michigan Press, 1961.

7 References Guichard, Rene, Essai sur l'histoire du peuple bur-


gonde, de Bornholm (Burgundarholm) vers la Bour-
gogne et les Bourguignons, 1965, published by A. et
7.1 Notes J. Picard et Cie.
[1] Sidonnius Appolinarius, Carmina, 7, 322 Heather, Peter (11 June 2007). The Fall of the
[2] Luebe, Die Burgunder, in Krger II, p. 373 n. 21, in Her- Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and
bert Schutz, Tools, weapons and ornaments: Germanic the Barbarians. Oxford University Press. ISBN
material culture in Pre-Carolingian Central Europe, 400- 0195325419. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
750, BRILL, 2001, p.36
Murray, Alexander Callander. From Roman to
[3] Burgundy: History. Encyclopdia Britannica Online. Merovingian Gaul. Broadview Press, 2000.
Encyclopdia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved January 17,
2015. Musset, Lucien. The Germanic Invasions: The Mak-
ing of Europe AD 400-600. University Park, Penn-
[4] http://www.gutenberg.org sylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press,
[5] History of Europe: The Germans and Huns. 1975. ISBN 978-0-271-01198-1.
Encyclopdia Britannica Online. Encyclopdia Bri-
tannica, Inc. Retrieved January 16, 2015. Nerman, Birger. Det svenska rikets uppkomst. Gen-
eralstabens litagraska anstalt: Stockholm. 1925.
[6] Ancient Rome: The barbarian invasions. Encyclopdia
Britannica Online. Encyclopdia Britannica, Inc. Re- Rivers, Theodore John. Laws of the Salian and
trieved January 16, 2015. Ripuarian Franks. New York: AMS Press, 1986.
6 7 REFERENCES

Rolfe, J.C., trans, Ammianus Marcellinus. Cam-


bridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press,
1950.

Shanzer, Danuta. 'Dating the Baptism of Clovis.'


In Early Medieval Europe, volume 7, pages 2957.
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). Beitrge sur Archologie
des Attila-Reiches, Die Bayerische Akademie
der Wissenschaft. Abhandlungen. N.F. XXXVIII
A Philosophische-philologische und historische
Klasse. Mnche
Wood, Ian N. 'Ethnicity and the Ethnogenesis of
the Burgundians. In Herwig Wolfram and Walter
Pohl, editors, Typen der Ethnogenese unter beson-
derer Bercksichtigung der Bayern, volume 1, pages
5369. Vienna: Denkschriften der sterreichische
Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1990.
Wood, Ian N. The Merovingian Kingdoms. Harlow,
England: The Longman Group, 1994.
7

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