Avitus and the Franks

Clovis had married Clothilde, a Burgundian princess who was a Christian. She tried to convert him but failed. He did convert eventually but nobody knows quite when. The manner of his conversion was reported to have been so like the conversion of Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor, that Gregory of Tours called him “a second Constantine”.


Whether this account is true or not, his decision to convert to the religion of Aquitaine was clearly a political decision. This may account for the relatively benign treatment of Avitus who is said to have become a valued member of the household into which he was sold as a slave.


Slaves were valued in Frankish society. The Franks had a law code that set a comprehensive list of fines that had to be paid for damage to people and property. This system of damages was called “weregild”. (“Were” meaning man and “gild” meaning debt or payment). Weregild was a payment to the person damaged. Slaves were treated as property, alongside cattle and cart horses and valued at 35 “solidi”, although slaves with particular skills could be valued at more than twice this sum, at 75 “solidi”. Unlike slaves in the Roman Empire, there is no evidence that slaves were mistreated. (Although absence of evidence is not evidence of absence)


It has been claimed that Avitus was converted by Clothilde. If so, he had access to Clovis’ household but this may well have been a claim inserted into his legend to increase his value as a saint.


Clovis died in 511, three years after Avitus was captured and yet he did not return to Aquitaine for another eleven years. It is possible that Aquitaine was in an unsettled state for some years as resistance to the Franks continued sporadically. It is also possible that, for part of this time, he was taking religious instruction.


When Avitus returned to Aquitaine, it was because of his decision to become a monk and it is here that we have the explanation for his release and the explanation for his “conversion”, the apparent discrepancy in the legend. According to RHC Davies (author of “A History of Medieval Europe”), when someone decided to become a monk, he was said to have been “converted to religion”.

Follow with Avitus Monk and Hermit