Archive for March, 2014

Paulinus of Pella was a fifth-century Gallo-Roman aristocrat. He is known to us purely because in his old age, having suffered much and living in penury, he wrote a long verse story of his life. It is usually called Eucharisticos (‘Thanksgiving’). Here I’d like to tell something of Paulinus’s life and times.

‘I know that among famous men there have been some who, in right of their brilliant qualities and to immortalise the eminence of their renown, have handed down to posterity a memoir of their doing compiled in their own words. Since I am of course as far removed from these in their outstanding worth as in point of time, it is certainly no similar reason and design which has induced me to put together a little work almost identical in subject…’ (Paulinus of Pella)

Early life

The ruins of Pella

The ruins of Pella

Paulinus was born in the year 377 in Pella in Macedonia, the town which was, as he says, ‘the nursery of King Alexander, near Salonika’s Wall’. His father was the deputy to the provincial Roman prefect. When Paulinus was just nine months old his father took the family with him to Carthage in North Africa, where he was to take up a new appointment as proconsul. They travelled ‘across snowy ridges and torrent-riven ranges, across the main and the waves of the Tyrrhenian flood.’ Eighteen months later the family was on the move again, this time ‘to behold the famed bulwarks of all-glorious Rome on the world’s heights’.

All this Paulinus was later told, as he had been too young to remember anything of it. Another move followed, this time to his grandfather’s house in Bordeaux in Aquitaine, in south-western Gaul. Bordeaux was, he says, ‘the land of my forefathers’. Paulinus’s grandfather was the rich poet Ausonius who had been made a consul in Bordeaux in the same year his son’s family arrived back home.

A Roman mosiac from Bordeaux

A Roman mosiac from Bordeaux

We can already see that Paulinus was the scion of a rich, powerful and educated provincial Gallo-Roman family. His was a privileged childhood. His parents were keen to educate their son. They mingled learning with enticements, and tried to instill in him ‘the means of good living’, and alongside learning to read and write to ‘shun the ten special marks of ignorance and equally to avoid vices’.

At first Latin was an ‘unknown tongue’ to Paulinus because he had grown up talking with his ‘Greek servants’. So in addition to reading Socrates and Homer he mastered the Latin works of Maro as well.

The years passed under ‘the constant care of Greek and Latin tutors’, but then fate took a hand. Young Paulinus became very ill with a fever, possibly because of his unhealthy studious life. His parents realized, he says, that his recovery was more urgent than ‘the training of my tongue in eloquence’. The doctors advised a regime of gaiety and amusement. In earlier days his father had enjoyed hunting but had recently stopped, so in order to help his son get better he started to hunt again and took Paulinus with him.

These pursuits, long continued during the slow period of my sickness, caused in me a distaste for study, thenceforward chronic, which persisting afterwards in time of health, harmed me when love of the false world made way and the too pliant fondness of my parents gave way, charmed with delight at my recovery.

Hunting and whoring

As he started to grow Paulinus ‘waywardness increased’ and he started to pursue his ‘youthful desires’:

Wherefore, as my growth, so my waywardness increased, readily settling down to the pursuit of youthful desires — as to have a fine horse bedecked with special trappings, a tall groom, a swift hound, a shapely hawk, a tinselled ball, fresh brought from Rome, to serve me in my games of pitching, to wear the height of fashion, and to have each latest novelty perfumed with sweet-smelling myrrh of Araby. Likewise when I recall how, grown robust, I ever loved to gallop riding a racing steed, and how many a headlong fall I escaped, ’tis right I should believe I was preserved by Christ’s mercy; and pity ’tis that then I knew it not by reason of the world’s thronging enticements.

A Gallo-Roman Villa in Bordeaux

A Gallo-Roman Villa in Bordeaux

Of course during all these years of study and hunting, Paulinus, living with his rich parents and grandparents, would have been surrounded by countless servants and slaves, including his ‘tall groom’ to keep his ‘fine horse bedecked with special trappings’.

His parents were mostly concerned, Paulinus says, with the ‘renewal of their line through me’. But as he reached adolescence Paulinus felt ‘new fires and… broke out into the pleasures of harmful wantonness’. In other words he discovered women and sexual desire. To try to check his wilful wantonness he made a rule for himself:

That I should never seek an unwilling victim, nor transgress another’s rights, and, heedful to keep unstained my cherished reputation, should beware of yielding to free-born loves though voluntarily offered, but be satisfied with servile amours in my own home; for I preferred to be guilty of a fault rather than of an offence, fearing to suffer loss of my good name.

If I may be permitted to put this in modern parlance, this means that Paulinus swore that he wouldn’t rape women against their will, nor have sex with other men’s wives. Not only that but he would not have sex with ‘free-born’ women even if it were ‘voluntarily offered’. Rather, he would limit himself to having sex with women slaves in his ‘own house’. Whether they had much say in the matter can be doubted.

Despite all these good intentions however Paulinus had, he admits, ‘one son I know (who) was born to me at that time’. He never saw this son, who soon died, and, he says,  he never met ‘any bastards of mine afterwards’. How many did he have with the household slaves?

Marriage, leisure and luxury

Paulinus's grandfather Decimus Magnus Ausonius

Paulinus’s grandfather Decimus Magnus Ausonius

And so this was how the privileged Paulinus’s life went on from his eighteenth year until he was thirty; hunting and whoring we might call it. But much against his will his parents pushed him to ‘mate with a wife’, which he did. It seems his wife came from a prestigious Gallo-Roman family but that much of the family’s land had been neglected and gone to seed due to the ‘lethargy’ of her grandfather. Reluctantly Paulinus and his ‘thralls’, his slaves, went to work to improve his wife’s estate; ‘inciting such as I could by the example of my own labour, he said, ‘but compelling some against their will with a master’s sternness’.  He and his slaves brought land back under tillage and renewed the vines; he even paid his taxes, a thing he was quite proud of as an old man. But the good intentions and work didn’t last too long. Paulinus was too much an aristocrat and too intent on leisure and luxury, things that were ‘much prized by me’, he says. He became:

Only concerned that my house should be equipped with spacious apartments and at all times suited to meet the varying seasons of the year, my table lavish and attractive, my servants many and those young, the furniture abundant and agreeable for various purposes, plate more preeminent in price than poundage, workmen of divers crafts trained promptly to fulfil my behests, my stables filled with well-conditioned beasts and, withal, stately carriages to convey me safe abroad. And yet I was not so much bent on increasing these same things as zealous in preserving them, neither too eager to increase my wealth nor a seeker for distinctions, but rather — I admit — a follower of luxury, though only when it could be attained at trifling cost and outlay and without loss of fair repute that the brand of prodigality should not disgrace a blameless pursuit.

Crossing the Rhine, 31st December 405

Crossing the Rhine, 31st December 405

This is how Paulinus’s life would most likely have gone on, living from the work of the slaves on his wife’s estate in Bordeaux and later inheriting the large properties of his parents and grandfather, not only around Bordeaux but also elsewhere in Aquitaine, in Provence and even back in Greece, his place of birth. More lands, more slaves, more hunting, more feasts with guests and no doubt children to carry on the family line. It was a life that countless members of the provincial Roman elite enjoyed in their villas throughout Gaul, in Spain, in Britain and right across the Roman world. A good life to be sure, but one based entirely on the work of slaves.

Yet this was not to be because Paulinus had the misfortune to be born around 377 and while he was still enjoying his hunting and whoring in 406, the year before his marriage, tens of thousands of Vandals, Sueves and Alans had crossed the Rhine, brushed aside the Empire’s Frankish allies, and started blazing a trail of destruction through Gaul. This famous crossing of the Rhine took place near Mainz on the 31st December 405 (not 406 as used to be commonly believed) has been seen by many of Europe’s greatest historians as a pivotal date in the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.

Yet the Vandals and Sueves, as well as many of the Alans, soon moved on, crossing into Spain in 409, from where the Vandals went on to north Africa, capturing and devastating the Roman province of Carthage, part of Rome’s ‘bread basket’. Although Paulinus would soon have some dealings with the Alans, what was more decisive for him and for Aquitaine was the arrival of another Germanic tribe, the Goths, who first arrived at the walls of Bordeaux in 414 when Paulinus was about thirty-seven.

Roman slaves

Roman slaves

Before I tell of this I’d like to say a few words about slavery in Roman Gaul at this time. That the Roman Empire had been supported by slave labour is well known and documented. Some historians have suggested that in the late Roman period in which Paulinus lived it was much less prevalent. All the evidence suggests that this was not so. Not only did the Gallo-Roman villa owners in the early fifth century have domestic or household slaves, but as historian R. Samson has shown convincingly the terms, ancillae, servi and mancipia that are used constantly in the sources (and indeed by Paulinus), referring to those who ‘performed every imaginable task, as bakers, millers, physicians, cooks, spinners, swineherds, or porters…. and above all…. agricultural workers’, were indeed slaves. When you read Paulinus’s own story this is, I suggest, blindly clear, as we have already seen and will see again.

Here is how Paulinus tells of how his life changed:

Of this life would that the enjoyment granted by Christ’s rich bounty had continued longer for us, the former times of peace enduring likewise! In many ways could my youth have profited by frequent application of my father’s spoken counsel and by the growth in my training won from his good example! But after the third decade of my life was passed, there followed hopeless sorrow caused by a double burden — a general grief at public calamity, when foes burst into the vitals of the Roman realm, together with personal misfortune in the end and death of my father; for the last days which closed his life were almost continuous with the days when peace was broken.

Paulinus tells us that on his father’s death his ‘wilful’ brother tried to annul his father’s legal will regarding certain ‘benefits’ granted to their mother, but he doesn’t tell us of the arrival of the Goths in Bordeaux.

The Battle of Adrianople

The Battle of Adrianople

The Goths had first entered the Roman Empire in 378 after they had defeated the Roman emperor Valens at the battle of Adrianople, in present-day Bulgaria. The subsequent years saw them loyally serving the Empire in the Balkans before in 410, under their king, Alaric, they sacked Rome for reasons I will not go into here. Eventually in 412 the Emperor Honorius induced the Goths, under Alaric’s successor, his brother-in-law Athaulf, to leave Rome by granting them Roman federate status in Aquitaine in southwest Gaul. Part of the deal was that they were also expected to fight the short-lived imperial pretender Jovinus and his brother Sebastian, which they soon did and sent their heads to Honorius’ court in Ravenna. The heads were forwarded for display among other usurpers on the walls of Carthage. Partly because of this service Honorius allowed Athaulf to marry his sister Galla Placidia in Narbonne in Gaul with much pomp and ceremony on the first day of 414.

It was Narbonne from which Athaulf’s Goths then progressed along the River Garonne from Toulouse to Bordeaux. Toulouse would later become the capital of the Goths’ Gaulish kingdom, before early the next century they moved to Spain and became the ‘Visigoths’ of history.

Athaulf marries Galla Placidia

Athaulf marries Galla Placidia

At this time there were few if any effective Roman legionary forces left in Aquitaine, this was precisely the reason why the Emperor had had to have recourse to the Goths to rid him of his rivals in Gaul. And so as the Goths marched up the Garonne there was no resistance from the Gallo-Roman civil authorities who were still in place. When they got to Bordeaux the city opened its gates to them without a fight.

The Romans had started to adopt of policy of so-called hospitalitas to accommodate the various Germanic and other tribes who had come to Gaul. This involved the Gallo-Roman owners of large estates and villas were told that they must give part of their land and property to the ‘barbarians’. Usually this meant two thirds of their land and one half of their other property, but sometimes they might agree to pay the invaders the equivalent proportion of their income. This is what happened in Paulinus’s Bordeaux region.

The Goths arrive in Bordeaux

King Athaulf arrives at Bordeaux

King Athaulf arrives at Bordeaux

When the Goths came to Bordeaux or possibly before they arrived Paulinus had considered leaving and going, he says, to ‘a second country in the East — where indeed I was born and was also held to be an owner of great consequence’. No doubt somewhere in Macedonia or Greece. But he didn’t leave, firstly because, he tells us, of ‘the mere sluggish effort of my train’. But also, and this would become a recurring issue, because of ‘the conflicting wishes of my dear ones’:

Too often by the struggle of their resolves with my own wishes whenever their returning dread of an uncertain issue delayed by some perverse chance preparations already begun.

But he also admitted that he hadn’t fled because his nature ‘was enticed by my habits of ease, my wonted repose, the many special comforts of my home’. He liked his life of ease.

But for some unknown reason Paulinus avoided having a Gothic ‘guest’ imposed on him. That is he avoided having to give up two-thirds of his land to the Goths. He wrote that despite having ‘all great and pleasant luxuries and every blessing in those rough days’, he alone ‘lacked a Gothic guest’.

There was a downside to this. He wrote:

This circumstance was followed not long afterwards by a disastrous result, namely that, since no particular authority protected it, my house was given up to be pillaged by the retiring horde; for I know that certain of the Goths most generously strove to serve their hosts by protecting them.

Probably to try to legitimise the Gothic occupation of Narbonne, in the spring of 414 Athaulf had proclaimed Priscus Attalus, a Greek-born former Roman Senator ‘Emperor’. A sort of puppet imperial court was formed in Bordeaux.

But on me, besides my lot in the condition just described, a fresh cause of greater trouble was also imposed; namely that in his general groping after empty consolations, the tyrant Attalus burdened me in my absence with an empty title of distinction, making me Count of Private Largesses (procurator), although he knew that this office was sustained by no revenue, and even himself had now ceased to believe in his own royalty, dependent as he was upon the Goths alone of whom already he had had bitter experience, finding with them protection at the moment of his life but not of his authority, while of himself he was supported neither by resources of his own nor by any soldiery.

Gothic King of Toulouse

Gothic king of Toulouse

Of course Attalus didn’t last long and we’ll leave him here. Paulinus tells us that not in any way because of Attalus, ‘that tottering tyrant’, he tried to make peace with the Goths. He was trying to save his property and the lifestyle he and his family, particularly his wife, loved. It was a peace, he says, that was ‘desired by the general consent of the Goths themselves’. What Paulinus had probably done was offer the Goths hospitalitas, i.e. maybe two-thirds of his land and property. He tells us that this had been ‘granted to others’, and ‘though purchased at a price, remains unregretted, since already in our state we see full many prospering through Gothic favour, though many first endured the full range of suffering’, including, he says, ‘not least of whom was I, seeing that I was stripped of all my goods and outlived my fatherland’.

Paulinus’s entreaties to the Goths obviously didn’t have the desired result because, he says, when they were ‘about to depart from our city at the command of their king Athaulf, the Goths, though they had been received peaceably, imposed the harshest treatment on us, as though subdued by right of war, by burning the whole city’.

There finding me — then a Count of that Prince (i.e. Attalus), whose allies they did not recognise as their own — they stripped me of all my goods, and next my mother also, both of us overtaken by the same lot, for this one grace considering that they were showing us, their prisoners, mercy — that they suffered us to depart without injury; howbeit, of all the companions and handmaidens who had followed our fortunes none suffered any wrong at all done to her honour, nor was any assault offered, yet I was spared more serious anxiety by the divine goodness, to whom I owe constant thanks, because my daughter, previously wedded by me to a husband, was spared the general calamity by her absence for our country.

If we read this passage closely we can see that Paulinus saying that although he had lost all his property in and around Bordeaux, mercifully none of his kinswomen, and particularly his daughter, had been raped. But also implied is the fact that many other women had been.

Flight from Bordeaux

Now even Paulinus’s wife probably had to agree that they leave Bordeaux. Paulinus himself says that his family had been, ‘driven from our ancestral and our house burned’. They fled to the neighbouring Aquitaine city of Bazas, his forefathers’ native place.



In Bazas Paulinus discovered something he called ‘far more dangerous than the beleaguering foe’. It was a ‘conspiracy of slaves supported by the senseless frenzy of some few youths, abandoned though of free estate, and armed specially for the slaughter of the gentry.’ The withdrawal of the Roman legions and the ‘barbarian’ invasions had certainly given the countless Gallic Roman slaves an opportunity to try to throw of the Roman yoke, sometimes led, as Paulinus says, by free-born Gallo-Romans. At this time, and for some time to come, the majority of the people of Gaul still spoke a Celtic Gallic language, even members of the elite provincial aristocracy, as Sidonius Apollinaris tells us. It’s instructive that Paulinus regarded this threat of the slaves as ‘far more dangerous’ than the ‘barbarian’ Goths. The Gallo-Roman elite might have to make an accommodation with the new Germanic rulers but any threat to their privileges from below, from the bulk of the native population, freemen or slaves, was so much more worrying. Paulinus writes with feeling:

From this danger thou, O righteous God, didst shield the innocent blood, quelling it forthwith by the death of some few guilty ones, and didst ordain that the special assassin threatening me should without my knowledge perish by another’s avenging hand, even as thou hast been wont to bind me to thee with fresh gifts for which I might feel I owed thee endless thanks.

How God put down this local revolt is not known.

Besieged at Bazas

Like Paulinus, the Goths too soon arrived at Bazas.

When Rome had heard that Athaulf had proclaimed Attalus as emperor, Constantius, the consul for the year, set off with a fleet for Narbonne. When the Goths in Bordeaux heard of this they had set fire to Bordeaux and retreated to Narbonne. But Constantius blockaded Narbonne with his fleet, trying to stop supplies arriving to sustain the Goths, and because of hunger they had to abandon the city and had proceeded to Bazas which they started to besiege.

Athaulf and Gallo Placidia

Athaulf and Gallo Placidia

It is here that we can pick up Paulinus’s story once again, because it was at Bazas that Paulinus made his ‘new error of judgement’. When the Goths arrived at the walls of Bazas, Paulinus was alarmed by ‘so sudden a danger’ and thought that he might be ‘stricken down’. But his error was that he hoped that he might be able to secure the protection of the king of the ‘people who were afflicting us with the long siege’ and ‘escape from the besieged city together with the large train of my dear ones’.

Paulinus tells us that this king had been ‘long since my friend’. Trying to secure the escape of himself and his ‘dear ones’, Paulinus went to the ‘king’, who he knew was only reluctantly oppressing them because he was being forced to do so by the ‘Gothic host’. No one stopped him and with hope in his heart he addressed his first words to the ‘friend’ who he thought would help him and his family. But Paulinus was to be disappointed. The king declared, says Paulinus, that ‘he could not offer me protection if dwelling outside the city, avowing that it was no longer safe for him, having once seen me, to suffer me to return to the city on other terms than that he himself should presently be admitted with me into the city – for he knew that the Goths again meant me mischief, and he himself desired to break free of their influence’.

I was dumbfounded, I admit, with alarm at the terms proposed and with exceeding fear at the danger threatened, but by the mercy of God who always and everywhere is with them who beseech his aid, I presently regained my faculties and, albeit quaking, boldly set myself to foster in my interest the design of my still wavering friend, discouraging difficult conditions which I knew must be utterly rejected, but strongly pressing for instant attempt to secure the attainable. These the far-sighted man speedily approved and adopted. Straightway, when he had for himself conferred with the leaders of the city, he so hastened on the business in hand as to complete it in a single night through the help of God, whose bounty he now enjoyed, thereby to help us and his own people

The travels of the Alans

The travels of the Alans

Historians have spilt a lot of ink debating who this ‘king’ was; the king who was Paulinus’s friend. It might seem obvious that he was talking about King Athaulf, but given what was to happen next many tend to believe it was actually a king of the Alan forces that were with the Goths at Bazas, perhaps even, some have guessed, the well-known Alan king Goar.

The whole throng of Alan women flocks together from all their abodes in company with their warrior lords. First the king’s wife is delivered to the Romans as a hostage, the king’s favourite son also accompanying her, while I myself am restored to my friends by one of the articles of peace, as though I had been rescued from our common enemy the Goths: the city’s boundaries are fenced round with a bulwark of Alan soldiery prepared for pledges given and received to fight for us whom they, lately our enemies, had besieged. Strange was the aspect of the city, whose unmanned walls were compassed on every side with a great throng of men and women mixed who lay without; while, clinging to our walls, barbarian hosts were fenced in with wagons and armed men. But when they saw themselves thus shorn of no slight portion of their host, the encircling hordes of ravaging Goths, straightway feeling they could not safely tarry now that their bosom friends were turned to mortal enemies, ventured no further effort, but chose of their own accord to retire hurriedly.

Bazas today

Bazas today

As you can see the evidence contained in Paulinus’s story can be used to support both views on the identity of his friend the ‘king’. For what it is worth I tend to the view that Paulinus’s royal friend was the chief of the Alan army which had for long been allied to these Goths. Perhaps Paulinus and he had become friends in Bordeaux when Paulinus was acting as a ‘procurator’ for the puppet Attalus? We don’t know. Paulinus had gone to the ‘king’ to try to secure the safe escape of him and his family, but the king told him that he was being constrained by the Gothic host and  now that he had been seen talking with Paulinus he would no longer be safe if he remained outside the city walls. The king told him that the Goths meant him (Paulinus and the Gall-Romains of Bazas) mischief and that he too ‘desired to break free of their influence’. But after negotiations on terms, Paulinus and the king had agreed, and it was all to happen in a ‘single night’. It was then, perhaps during the night, that ‘the whole throng of Alan women flocks together from all their abodes in company with their warrior lords’ and enters the city. The Alans moved to defend the city, and when the besieging Goths saw that they had been ‘shorn of no slight portion of their host’, who had been their ‘bosom friends’ but who had turned to ‘mortal enemies’, they left.

Paulinus, his family and the Gallic residents of Bazas had been saved by the Alans.

Thus did a great business, rashly commenced by me, result in a happy issue through the Lord’s kindly aid, and God turned my misjudgement into fresh joys in the deliverance of many from the siege along with me..

The Alans too soon departed, ‘though prepared to maintain loyally the peace made with the Romans wherever the chance which befell might have carried them’.

Frustrated by his wife again

Paulinus was still only thirty-seven, but having been, he says, exposed to barbarous peoples for a long time, he was convinced that he should ‘linger’ in Gaul no longer, but rather should take his wife and children out of the country ‘with all possible speed’ and ‘make my way directly to that land where a large part of my mother’s property still remained intact, scattered among full many states of Greece and Epirus the Old and New’:

For there the extensive farms, well-manned by numerous serfs, though scattered, were not widely separated and even for a prodigal or careless lord might have furnished means abundant.

But rather than leave immediately, for some reason Paulinus took himself off for a few months to live alone as a hermit, but he returned to his family the following Easter. ‘Then also still unbroken were the ranks of my own family which I now found I could not leave and yet could not continually maintain, now that my foreign income was curtailed.’

Once again it was Paulinus’s wife who prevented the family’s escape:

But from seeking out my own property — whose value and position, I recall, was set forth by me in a previous passage — I was hindered by my wife who stubbornly refused to yield for our general good, refusing from undue fear to make the voyage; and I held it right for me not to tear her away anywhere against her will, and no less wrong to leave her, tearing her children from her.

Having been disappointed in his hopes of ‘enjoying repose’ on his own property, the next few years were spent still in Aquitaine ‘in perpetual exile with varying fortunes’.  His wife’s mother died, then his mother, then his wife, who’ when she lived, thwarted my natural hopes through the hindrance of her fears’. But then as his sons reached manhood they left too. They went to Bordeaux, where they thought they could find ‘freedom’, ‘albeit in company with Gothic settlers’. They had gone back to the family estates in Bordeaux which they would have to share with the Goths who had occupied them.

Although he hadn’t wanted his sons to go he hoped that while in Bordeaux they would ‘advance the interests of their absent father’ and share some of the income ‘such as it might be’ from the family estates. But in this too Paulinus was to be disappointed. One son, still a youth but already a priest was soon to meet a sudden and untimely death.  It’s possible that he had been killed because Paulinus tells us that with his son’s death ‘all such of my possessions as he held were wholly torn from me by the single act of many robbers’. His other son was also ‘ill-starred’; he ‘experienced both the king’s friendship and his enmity, and after losing all my goods came to a like end’.

A lonely life in Marseilles

Roman Marseilles

Roman Marseilles

Paulinus was left alone, his wife dead, his two sons killed, all his property in Bordeaux lost. He chose then finally to leave Aquitaine and go to Marseilles, where he had a small property, ‘part of my family estate’.

Here no fresh revenues were like to give rise to great hopes — no tilth tended by appointed labourers, no vineyards (on which alone that city relies to procure from elsewhere every necessary of life), but, as a refuge for my loneliness, only a house in the city with a garden near, and a small plot, not destitute of vines, indeed, and fruit-trees, but without land without tillage. Yet the outlay of a little toil induced me to lavish pains in tilling the vacant part — scarce four full acres — of my exhausted land, and to build a house upon the crest of the rock, lest I should seem to have reduced the extent of soil available. Further, for the outlay which the needs of life demand, I made it my hope to earn them by renting land, so long as my house remained well stocked with slaves, and while my more active years furnished me with undiminished strength. But afterwards, when my fortunes in a world ever variable changed for the worse in both these respects, by degrees, I admit, I was broken down by troubles and by age: so as a wanderer, poor, bereaved of my loved ones, I readily inclined to new designs, and, greatly wavering betwixt various purposes, thought it profitable to return to Bordeaux.

Even though Paulinus’s house in Marseilles was ‘well stocked with slaves’, he still couldn’t make this small property support him in any way near the level he expected for himself. How long he stayed in Marseilles before returning to Bordeaux in unknown but it was no doubt many years because he had been ‘broken down by troubles and by age’. It’s likely that Paulinus was in his fifties or, more likely, sixties when he decided to return to his family home in Bordeaux.

Old age in Bordeaux

Arriving back in Bordeaux, Paulinus would have found the Goths still very much in control. Having left Bazas in 414, they had briefly gone to Spain but had returned and established a Gothic kingdom in Aquitaine which they ruled from their capital of Toulouse. Bordeaux was one of their principle cities.

Paulinus returned to his grandfather’s estate where he found and occupied a house ‘in semblance still my own’, but he had to live at the ‘charge of others’. As an old man he had finally run out of any means to support himself. He had even mortgaged his property in Marseilles and then under the terms of the mortgage lost it; he was saved by one amazing incident. In his hour of desperation, he says:

Thou (God) didst raise up for me a purchaser among the Goths who desired to acquire the small farm, once wholly mine, and of his own accord sent me a sum, not indeed equitable, yet nevertheless a godsend, I admit, for me to receive, since thereby I could at once support the tottering remnants of my shattered fortune and escape fresh hurt to my cherished self-respect.

Roman Amphitheatre ruins in Bordeaux

Roman Amphitheatre ruins in Bordeaux

This unexpected payment from a Goth who now lived on one of his family farms was, as Paulinus says, a ‘godsend’. He adds: ‘Rejoicing in my enrichment with this exceeding gift, to thee, Almighty God, I owe fresh thanks, such as may almost overwhelm and bury all those preceding, whereof each page of mine holds record.’

And in his ‘decrepit age’ in Bordeaux, living on just the money received from the kind Goth, Paulinus wrote about his life, the story I have been telling. He died in his eighties around the year 460.

Whatever lot awaits me at my end let hope of beholding thee, O Christ, assuage it, and let all fearful doubts be dispelled by the sure confidence that alike while I am in this mortal body I am thine, since all is thine, and that when released from it I shall be in some part of thy body.

Sources and references:

bbWalter Goffart, Barbarians and Roman, The techniques of accommodation, 1980; John Drinkwater and Hugh Elton(eds0, Fifth-Century Gaul: A Crisis of  Identity?, ed., 1992; R. Samson, Slavery, the Roman Legacy, in Drinkwater and Elton; Herwig Wolfram, The Goths, 1979; Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks, Trans. Lewis Thorpe, 1974;  Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Georges Labouysse, Les Wisigoths, 2005; Bernhard Bachrach, A History of the Alans in Gaul, 1973; Raymund van Dam, Leadership and Community in late Antique Gaul, 1985, Guy Halsall, Barbarian Migrations and the Roman World, 376-568, 2007; Joan Hussey (ed), The Cambridge Medieval History, Vol.3.


Chaque année, au printemps, les voiles blanches des barques de ces hommes du Nord apparaissaient sur les bords de ces fleuves, le Rhin, la Seine ou la Garonne. Les populations riveraines s’enfuyaient, pleines d’effroi, se dispersaient au loin dans les forêts, ou s’enfermaient dans les villes fortifiées. La Loire, avec son large lit et ses eaux abondantes dans la saison des pluies, leur donnait un accès facile jusqu’au cœur du pays. (Histoire de l’abbaye de Micy-Saint-Mesmin. By L’Abbé Eugène Jarossay, 1902)

 Three brothers fight

The Frankish emperor Ludwig ‘the Pious’ (called Louis by the French) died on an island in the Rhine at the end of the year 840. He had reigned through twenty-six troubled and violent years. The Carolingian empire was now falling apart. Since 829 Louis and his sons, Lothar, Ludwig ‘the German’ and Charles ‘the Bald’, had been fighting each other for control of the far-flung but fragile empire that Louis’s father Karl the Great (Charlemagne) had carved out. Each of the three sons was fighting for a large share of their father’s inheritance when he died. Their nephew Pepin II of Aquitaine was also involved.

The Battle of Fontenoy-en-Puisaye, 841

The Battle of Fontenoy-en-Puisaye, 841

Following Louis the Pious’ death, the years 840-843 were to be marked by the confrontation between the three brothers. In these fights the chief of the Celtic realm of Brittany, Nominoë, initially remained faithful to the western Frankish king, Charles the Bald, who had inherited what one would soon be able to call France. At the start of 841 Charles the Bald went to Le Mans, where he met Lambert, a former count of Nantes. From Le Mans Charles sent an embassy to Nominoë asking him to recognise his authority. According to the Frankish chronicler Nithard, himself a grandson of Charlemagne, Nominoë sent Charles presents and promised to serve him faithfully. He kept his promise because he sent a contingent of Breton warriors to fight in Charles’ army, which on 25 June 841, allied with Louis/Ludwig the German, defeated the forces of their brother Lothar at the horrific but decisive battle of Fontenoy-en-Puisaye, near to Auxerre. It is even possible that Nominoë was also present at the battle.

Lothar had been defeated and the next year his victorious brothers, Ludwig the German and Charles the Bald (who was only eighteen at the time of the battle), met at Strasbourg to make oaths of mutual support and help against Lothar, who wasn’t by any means finished.



Our concern here is with the story of the city of Nantes, which lies on the River Loire in the march (borderland) of Brittany, and with the Vikings who had been attacking the coasts of Gaul for some time. Lothar had often used the Vikings, usually based on their Frisian island of Walcheren, as allies or mercenaries, to help him fight his brothers. Just one month before the major battle of Fontenoy, a fleet of Viking ships had raided up the River Seine as far as Rouen, arriving just after Charles the Bald’s army had managed to cross the river by tying together boats they had found to make a bridge. Charles was on his way to fight Lothar and the strong suspicion is that the Vikings, under their leader Asgeir, were acting at the behest of Lothar, trying to distract or detain Charles’ army. It is interesting to note that in the same year, 841 (whether before or after the Seine raid is unknown), Lothar officially granted the Frisian island of Walcheren to one of the Vikings who was probably with Asgeir at Rouen. The Frankish chronicler of St. Bertin, Prudentius of Troyes, was disgusted:

To secure the services of Haraldr, who along with other Danish pirates had for some years been imposing many sufferings on Frisia and other coastal regions of the Christians, to the damage of his father’s interests and the furtherance of his own, he (Lothar) now granted him Walcheren and the neighbouring regions as a benefice. This was surely an utterly detestable crime, that those who brought evil on Christians should be given power over the lands and people of Christians, and over the very churches of Christ; that the persecutors of the Christian faith should be sent up as lords over Christians, and Christian folk have to serve men who worshipped demons.

Fight for the county and city of Nantes

Charles the Bald

Charles the Bald

But the battle of Fontenoy had other consequences. Ricwin, the count of Nantes, had been killed there. Lambert, who had himself fought with Charles at Fontenoy, asked the young king Charles to grant him the county. But Charles for some reason suspected Lambert’s loyalty and granted Nantes instead to the powerful magnate Rainald of Herbauges. This turned Lambert against Charles and he immediately went to meet the Breton Nominoë and asked that the Bretons join him to take Nantes by force. For reasons that remain unclear Nominoë agreed. Perhaps he was fearful of Rainald who now controlled the whole lower Loire or perhaps Lothar had persuaded him to defect and join him.

In the summer of 843, Lothair or perhaps his supporter Lambert II of Nantes succeeded in persuading Nominoe to abandon Charles and go over to the Emperor (i.e. Lothar). Nominoe was thereafter a constant enemy of Charles and his authority in Neustria, often acting in concert with Lothair, Lambert, and Pepin II of Aquitaine. Breton troops fought under Lambert in Neustria and when, in June 844, Charles was besieging Toulouse, Nominoe raided into Maine and plundered the territory. In November 843, Charles had marched as far as Rennes to compel Breton submission, but to no effect.

It was in this region that the Vikings were making many of their raids, based each summer on the island of Noirmoutier at the mouth of the River Loire. Rainald had already fought against the Vikings, and it is quite likely that this was the reason Charles the Bald had chosen to appoint such a powerful chief at this crucial spot which controlled access to the rich Loire valley.



Whatever the case, in 843 Nominoë and Lambert both deserted Charles – implicitly at least in favour of Lothar. They started to march south towards Nantes. Count Rainald, possibly on  Charles the Bald’s orders, moved north to meet them. Near the town of Messac on the River Vilaine, which divides Nantes from Vannes, Rainald came across half the Breton force, under Nominoë’s son Erispoë, who had just crossed the river. He attacked, but the Bretons got the upper hand and he had to retreat to the River Yzar, near the village of Blain, where his warriors rested. Lambert hadn’t been at the Messac fight because he was waiting to meet some other Bretons. But he soon joined forces with Erispoë and they soon found and massacred Rainald himself and most of his nobles at Blain. Rainald’s army had been resting unarmed by the river!

Lambert managed to enter Nantes but the citizens threw him out after only two or three weeks.

The Viking attack on Nantes

It is here that the Northmen, the Vikings, enter the story. It is usually said that the Viking army and its raiding fleet, who were based for the summer on the nearby island of Noirmoutier, saw Nantes bereft of defenders and the death of Rainald and most of his vassals and decided to attack and pillage the city. As I will show it might not have been as simple as this.

vikings 4The basic facts about what happened are not in doubt. The Frankish Annals of St. Bertin report the following:

Northmen pirates attacked Nantes, slew the bishop and many clergy and lay people of both sexes, and sacked the civitas. Then they attacked the western parts of Aquitaine to devastate them too. Finally they landed on a certain island, brought their households from the mainland and decided to winter there in something like a permanent settlement.

In  A History of the Vikings Gwyn Jones adds some colour:

The day was 24 June, St. John’s day, and the town was filled with devout or merry celebrants of the Baptist’s feast, The Norwegian assault was of surpassing brutality. The slew in the streets, they slew in the houses, they slew the bishop and congregation in the church. They did their will till nightfall, and the ships they rowed downriver were deep-laden with plunder and prisoners. This may be more than the Count (Lambert) had bargained for but he did acquire Nantes.

I will return to the point of what Lambert might have bargained and whether the raiders were ‘Norwegians’ later. But actually we know quite a lot more about the sack of Nantes from the chroniclers.

viking mapThere is a story which may or may not be true telling how the Vikings had managed to take the city of Nantes so easily. Lietaud, a  tenth-century monk of St. Mesmin wrote about Nantes in his Miracles of St. Martin of Vertou. Using Ferdinand Lot’s summary:

The Northmen of which nobody had as yet heard spoken, had approached the ramparts (of Nantes) under the pretence of being merchants. The inhabitants who had heard nothing had left the gates open. The pirates entered the town hiding their arms under their clothes and slew the bishop and the population.

Not only that, but there is also an eyewitness account of what happened at Nantes in 843 written in about 866. In was found by Bertrand d’Argentré in a monument of the Abbey of St. Serge in Angers and published by him in his Histoire de Bretagne in 1588. It was republished in Rene Merlet’s Chronique de Nantes. I will refer to it again later on; here I will just précis a few lines:

After they had disembarked some of them climbed the walls of the city using ladders, others penetrated the cloisters. No one could prevent their entry. The entered the city on the holy festival of St. John the Baptist. The Bishop of the City was Gohardus, a simple, handsome and God-fearing man, with whom all the clergy and monks of the monastery were gathered…

There were also sheltering in the city itself a great multitude of people not only from the immediate region but also from far away towns – who had come not only from fear but also to celebrate the holy day.

Seeing their enemies entering the city walls they ran to the church of the apostles St. Peter and St. Paul and barred the doors against the persecutors, praying for divine deliverance, as they couldn’t save themselves….. The Vikings came in…

The Vikings slew the entire multitude they found there without regard to age or sex. They cruelly killed the priest and bishop Gohardus who died saying ‘Sursum corda’. All the other monks, whether they were in the church, outside it, or at the altar were put to the sword and disembowelled…

This eyewitness then goes on to say that no one could express in words the ‘calamity and pestilence of this painful day’. He couldn’t describe it because of his tears:

Children hanging on their dead mothers’ breasts drank blood rather than milk, the stone flags of the church ran red with the blood of holy men and the holy altar dripped the blood of innocents, The pagans then pillaged all the city, seized all its treasures and set fire to the church. They then took a great numbers of prisoners as hostages for ransom and returned to their ships…

As we know, after sacking Nantes the Vikings continued their raids in the surrounding ‘western parts of Aquitaine’. The Miracles of St. Martin of Vertou tells us something about this too. Again using Lot’s words:

Not being in any hurry, the Northmen redescend the river to the monastery of Indre, situated on an island eight kilometres downstream of Nantes, spared no doubt by reason of prudence before the main attack, was this time burned on 29 June. The monks of St. Vertou, only two leagues from Nantes, had fear and took flight: they found a refuge at St. Varent, in the Thouarsais.

 Who were the Vikings who attacked Nantes?

The leader of the Vikings who attacked and plundered Nantes is given nowhere in the sources. Most historians think that he was in fact the same Asgeir who had raided up the River Seine to Rouen two years previously, in 841, and who reappeared on the Seine in 852. I tend to agree he might have been.

However, I think it is also quite possible that among the Viking leaders at Nantes was the famous, or infamous, Hastein/Hasting, who we know took a large fleet up the whole length of the River Garonne all the way to Toulouse in 844 (the year after the sack of Nantes). From there it was probably he who went on to raid in Christian Spain and Muslim Portugal and Andalucía later the same year. Hastein remained an important, and pretty well-attested, Viking leader for some decades. I will return to him on another occasion. But regarding Nantes, there is more evidence of his earlier activities; evidence that has rarely been noticed.

The cathedral of Coutances in present-day Normandy kept a chronicle of its history from the year 836, when it was first attacked by the Vikings. Although this has been lost it was copied in the thirteenth century and we can read what it has to say about Hastein.

Prima Normanorum gravis sima persecutione, nequissimi scilicet et sacrilegi Hasting suorumque praedatorum saeviente amplius quam trigenta annis, ab anno Dominicae incarnationis DCCCXXXVI…

viking ships 2Which roughly translates as follows: ‘The first severe persecution of the Northmen was by the wicked and sacrilegious Hasting, whose predatory violence raged for more than thirty years from year of our Lord 836… ‘ The cathedral of Coutances had been destroyed by Hastein/Hasting in 836, eight years before we find him at the walls of Toulouse.

It then goes on to describe in great detail the raids and atrocities committed by Hastein all over Flanders, ‘Normandy’, Burgundy and Brittany, as well as elsewhere.

The Chronicle of Tours is also informative:

Lotharii imperatoris anno primo, Hastingus cum innumera Danorum multitudine Franciam ingressus, oppida, rura, vicos, ferro, flamma, fame de populatur.

Which tells us that in the first year of the emperor Lothar (i.e. 841), Hastein came into Francia with innumerable Danes and everywhere destroyed towns and villages, and their people, with sword, flame and hunger.

So it could indeed be that Hastein was one of the Viking leaders at Nantes too.

Having left Rouen in 841, Asgeir and his fleet (whether or not including Hastein) would have returned to one of their island bases, either Walcheren in Frisia or the island of Noirmoutier at the mouth of the River Loire near Nantes. Walcheren was used as a Viking base all year round, even after the summer raiding season was over and their ships put in ‘hangars’. Noirmoutier had been used for some years as a summer base, but the Vikings first over-wintered there in 843/4, after their attack on Nantes.



The Translatio sancti Filiberti, composed only twenty years after the event, tells us that the Viking fleet which entered the Loire consisted of sixty-seven ships, ‘Nortmannorum naves sexaginta septem repentio Ligeris…’ The Annals of Angouleme says that these Vikings were ‘Westfaldingi’. Because Vestfold is an area of southern Norway (actually on the west side of the entrance to Oslo Fjord, immediately opposite the Jutland peninsular), this led the German historian Walther Vogel to suggest in 1906 that all these Vikings were ‘Norwegian’, and even that they may have come from the new Viking bases in Ireland. Robert Ferguson wrote in his The Hammer and the Cross that the ‘Norwegian Viking ships… had probably set out from a longphort base in Ireland’. It is a line that other historians have also rather blindly followed; it is unlikely to be true.

The most reliable sources we have for the attack on Nantes are the Chronicle of Nantes and the eyewitness account contained in the ‘Annals of Angers’. These refer both to Northmen and Danes, and thus, as the Danish Viking historian Else Roesdahl has argued, the Viking fleet that attacked Nantes was most likely made up of a mixed group of Danes, Norwegians and even Swedes.

At this time the word Northmen (Latin Nortmanni) was used as a catch-all term meaning any and all people from Scandinavia. Adam of Bremen writing in the north in the eleventh century said, ‘Danes and Swedes and the other peoples beyond Denmark are called Northmen by the historians of the Franks.’

vikingsattackThe eyewitness account of 843 contained in the Annals of Angers calls them ‘ferocious Northmen’, while the Chronicle of Nantes itself calls them ‘Northmen and Danes’. The Annals of Fontanelle, written in the Abbey of Fontanelle which Asgeir had plundered on his raid up the Seine in 841, simply says that, ‘in A.D. 841 the Northmen arrived on the twelfth of May with their chief, Asgeir’. It should also be noted that Norway was not yet a definite ‘country’. The province of Vestfold was for a long time claimed as, and de facto was, a part of the realm of the kings of Denmark. In 813 the Frankish Royal Chronicles report that, ‘The kings (of Denmark) were not at home but had marched with an army towards Westarfalda, an area in the extreme northwest of their kingdom’.

Of course it could well be that Asgeir himself was originally from Vestfold, along with many others in the Nantes fleet, but the explicit mention of ‘Danes’ as well as the generic ‘Northmen’ in the Chronicle of Nantes points, as Professor Roesdahl suggests, to a ‘multinational’ force.

Whatever the precise combination of geographic origins of the Viking at Nantes, the idea that they had come from Ireland (having sailed round the north of Britain it is said) seems a pure invention of Professor Vogel in 1906. It is far more likely that they had come either from the Viking island base of Walcheren in Frisia or, possibly, from a base in Denmark itself. The ‘Westfaldingi’ at Nantes were, I believe, under Danish control, royal or not.

Was Count Lambert in league with the Vikings?

Over the years it has been repeatedly suggested that the Viking attack on Nantes wasn’t simply an opportunistic raid by the Northmen based on the island of Noirmoutier once they saw that Nantes was defenceless, but that actually it was the result of an agreement between the former count of Nantes and the Viking leaders. Even the very authoritative Professor Gwyn Jones in A History of the Vikings wrote that ‘the rebel Count Lambert was ambitious to secure Nantes for himself’; and that ‘it is said that the Vikings came at his invitation, and that it was French pilots who conned them through the sandbanks, shallows, and uncertain watercourses, which in high summer were judged an absolute protection from naval assault’. Many other historians disagree for reasons I shall give. Professor Jones’ use of the sitting-on-the-fence passive construction ‘it is said’ perhaps indicates the uncertainty of the matter.

v 5The eyewitness account in the Annals of Angers says the following:

Triginta autem post haec elapsis diebus, mense junio , Normannorum ferox natio, numerosa classe advecti, Ligerim fluvium, qui inter novam Britanniam et ultimos Aquitaniae fines in occiduum mergitur Oceanum, ingrediuntur. Deinde, dato classibus zephiro, ad urbem Namneticam, impiissimo Lamberto, crebro exploratore, praecognitam, celeri carbasorum volatu pariter et remorum impulsu contendunt ; quam mox navibus egressi undique vallant, et sine mora, nullo propugnatore, capiunt, vastant, diripiunt…

Regarding Lambert this doesn’t tell us too much except that thirty days after the battle (of Messac/Blain on 24th May 843) he was ‘impious’ or traitorous and led the Viking ships up the Loire to Nantes to sack the city.

The tenth-century chronicler of Nantes tells us more. The editor of the chronicles, Rene Merlet, argued persuasively that the Nantes chronicler had a longer version of the ninth-century report now included in the Annals of Angers available; how else would he have got so much extra information? The chronicler says that after the battle of Fontenoy in 841, Lambert had asked Charles the Bald to return the county of Nantes to him, but Charles had refused, suspecting his loyalty, and had given it instead to Rainald. And so Lambert had gone to meet the Breton chief Nominoë and asked him to join forces and that they should go together to take Nantes by force. Nominoë agreed.

River Vilaine at Messac

River Vilaine at Messac

When Count Rainhald heard of this he gathered a great number of his ‘knights’ together and went to meet the Bretons at Messac on the River Vilaine, which marked the frontier of the counties of Nantes and Vannes. When Rainald arrived at the river he found that half of the Bretons had already crossed so he attacked them and the Bretons had to flee. Rainald then retreated to the banks of the River Ysar near Blain. Lambert hadn’t been at Messac because he had been waiting for other Bretons to join him. The two Breton armies then joined and quickly attacked Rainald’s forces at Blain; and because they had been resting unarmed on the ‘verdant’ riverbank the Bretons had been able to massacre them, and Count Rainhald was killed.

But, writes the Nantes chronicler, Lambert still wasn’t content, he wanted to seize the city of Nantes, so he went to get the help of the ‘Northmen and Danes who had often plundered throughout Gaul and Neustria’ (i.e. the kingdom of the west Franks):

Namque Normannos et Danos, quos superius diximus, fines Gallorum et Neustriensium maritimos navigando saepe depraedantes, ut erat affabilis et pro tune fuit inventor malorum, alloquens induxit,ut,per mare Oceanum navigantes, Britanniam novam circumirent, et per alveum Ligeris tutissime ad urbem Namneticam capiendam per venirent.

noirmoutier 2Being an eloquent plotter of evil deeds, Lambert had persuaded the Vikings to put to sea and he led then safely round the coasts of ‘new’ Brittany and up the River Loire to the city of Nantes. The city soon fell because it was defenceless; those who should have been defending it were all dead. We then hear that while the Vikings were ‘greedily’ ravaging and plundering the city Lambert told them of  a church full of gold and silver on the island of ‘Bas’ (Batz, behind St. Nazaire). So the Vikings gathered together all their ships and, led by Lambert who showed them the way, they rowed through the bays and coves of Brittany to Bas.

To sum up the case for the prosecution regarding Lambert’s culpability: The eyewitness report in the Annals of Angers implicates him. The chronicler of Nantes, probably basing his story on a longer but now lost version of the Angers document, clearly states that not only had Lambert gone to the ‘Northmen and Danes’ to induce them to come with him to retake Nantes, but he also says that Lambert then attracted them to take their pillaging into other regions of the Nantaise as well.  Although there is a lot of obscurity and questions of chronology, the case against Lambert looks strong.

Chronique de Nantes

Chronique de Nantes

Evidence to the contrary comes, once again, from the Nantes Chronicle. Here we are told that after the Vikings had taken and sacked the city and had ravaged other places in the region they took their booty and hostages/slaves back to their island liar of Noirmoutier. But once there and having hauled the enormous piles of plunder ashore in order to share it out, the Northmen had quarrelled about the division. The Northmen ‘forgot the fear of their princes’ and it came to fights; several were killed.  Seeing this, their ‘Christian captives’ managed to escape via ‘secret places’ on the island. One managed to take with him a chest containing a bible and other books which, the chronicler tells us, ‘are still kept in the church of Nantes’. Finally these ‘diabolical’ men were pacified and went back to their ships, but ‘because of fear of Lambert’ they dared not chase the escaped Christians who ‘God had delivered from their hands’.

It is because of this story that both the editor of the Nantes Chronicle, Rene Merlet, and the eminent French historians Ferdinand Lot and Louis Halphen, in their La Regne de Charles le Chauve (1909), reject the suggestion, so clear in the texts, that Lambert was in league with the Northmen. If the Viking didn’t pursue the escaped captives out of fear of Lambert then surely they were not allies?  One could think of others reasons for this fear but it’s probably fair to say that we’ll never really know if Count Lambert was in league with the Vikings are not. I tend to the belief that he was.

Coincidences or Policy?

When we start to look at the precise timing of the various Viking raids around the coasts of France, Brittany and Aquitaine during this period, we might start to ask if they were all spontaneous or opportunistic as they are often presented. The coincidences do seem to get too much.

Vikings take Paris in 845

Vikings take Paris in 845

Why was Asgeir’s Viking fleet raiding up the Seine to Rouen in 841 immediately after Charles the Bald’s army had just managed to cross the river by using a bridge of boats; just one month before the decisive battle of Fontenoy between Charles, Louis and their brother Lothar? In 844, why did the Viking fleet make its long rapacious trip down the River Garonne in Aquitaine to arrive at the walls of Toulouse at the same time that Charles the Bald arrived to repress his nephew Pepin of Aquitaine? I could go on.

While there is little doubt that the Northmen did often strike when the ‘targets’ were in disarray, and this was certainly the case all over ‘France’ in the 840s, they were also very much involved in the shifting power politics being played out in Europe at the time – though often as rather irritating minor players. Robert Ferguson sums it up:

The chaos (of these times) was compounded by the fact that the Danish royal families too were, for much of the time, engaged in dynastic struggles of their own, in the course of which it becomes very difficult to keep track of a meaningful distinction between, on the one hand, violent activity that might have been part of a coherent ‘foreign policy’ decided upon by a legitimate monarch and his advisers and carried out by a ‘national’ army, and, on the other, those actions – often the work of the same kings – which were more nothing more than privateering on a grand scale.  


Sources and references:

René Toustain de Billy, Histoire Ecclésiastique du Diocèse de Coutances, 1874; René Merlet, La Chronique de Nantes, 1896; Ferdinand Lot and Louis Halphen, La Règne de Charles le Chauve, 1909 ; L’Abbé Eugène Jarossay, Histoire de l’abbaye de Micy-Saint-Mesmin, 1902; Gwyn Jones, A History of the Vikings, 1968;Robert Ferguson, The Hammer and the Cross, 2009; Carolingian Chronicles, trans Berhard Walter Scholz, 2006; Janet L Nelson, The Annals of St-Bertin, 1991; Else Roesdahl, The Vikings, 1998; Peter Sawyer, The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings, 1997; Walther Vogel, Die Normannen und das frankische Reich bis zur Griindung der Normandie (799-911), 1906; Bertrand d’Argentré, L’histoire de Bretaigne, des roys, ducs, comtes et princes d’icelle: l’établissement du Royaume, mutation de ce tiltre en Duché, continué jusques au temps de Madame Anne dernière Duchesse, & depuis Royne de France, par le mariage de laquelle passa le Duché en la maison de France, 1588.