Barbarian Gaul

At the time of Avitus’ birth, the Western Roman Empire had become multiple barbarian kingdoms, although mechanisms of government were still in place and many would still think of themselves as within the Empire.


Gaul was divided between the Visigoths, south of the Loire in Aquitaine, the Burgundians in the east, and the Franks, north of the Loire. Avitus was born in the barbarian kingdom of the Visigoths. “Barbarian” did not mean barbaric in the modern sense of the word. In fact it derives from a Greek word for “someone who burbles”, meaning someone you cannot understand. To the Romans it meant “foreign”.


There were three separate incursions into the Roman Empire known as the Barbarian invasions. The Goths from Eastern Europe were first in 376. They applied for and were granted entry, crossing the Danube from, what is now, Romania. The second migration was an invasion by Germanic tribes who crossed the frozen Rhine in 406; they were an invasion of a people rather than an army. Then, in about 450, the Franks began, what might be considered as the third invasion, to expand and create an empire in Northern France.


The Visigoths emerged as a distinct people after the merging of several Gothic tribes. They settled in Aquitaine in the Roman Empire after they were granted land in the Garonne Valley in return for helping the Roman army rid Gaul of the Vandals. It was common practice for barbarians to fight for the Romans; there were barbarian legions and even many of the Roman generals were barbarians. The Romans welcomed this relationship, but did not encourage immigration.


The Visigoths created their kingdom by exploiting the developing weakness in the Roman Empire, expanding it as far north as the Loire River; in 456, they invaded Spain. They learned to speak latin and took over the Roman administration several generations before Avitus’ birth. They were Arian Christian, having converted to Christianity as a condition of coming into the Roman Empire in 376. Arianism was heresy; it denied the divinity of Christ arguing that Christ was younger than God and not eternal. Therefore, to the Roman Gauls the Visigoths were heretics. As a minority in the region, the Visigoths seemed to have respected Gallo-Roman land rights and it has been suggested that their invasion of Spain was partly in search of land for settlement.


It is this that gives us our first clue of the culture Avitus was born into and what might have influenced the kind of person he became.


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