Archive for December, 2015

One summer day in 1076 in present-day Ukraine a young English Princess called Gytha was giving birth to her first child. It was a boy. His Russian name was Mstislav, but he was also given two baptismal names as well, Harold and Theodore. Gytha’s husband was a prince of the Kiev Rus’, and prince of Smolensk, called Vladimir Monomakh (or Monomachus in Greek). He would later become the ruler and Grand Prince of a united Kievan Rus’, a huge area that stretched all the way from the Baltic in the north to the Black Sea in the south.

The death of King Harold

The death of King Harold

Although the ‘Russians’ referred to Gytha’s son as Mstislav, the Scandinavian and Germanic world used his baptismal name of Harold. This was in deference to, and recognition of, the boy’s maternal grandfather (and Gytha’s father) Harold, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, who had been slain and mutilated by William the Conqueror’s Normans at Hastings in 1066.

As I told recently (see here), it was in 1068, or possibly 1069, that many of Harold’s family had fled the tightening Norman yoke. They first went to the court of their kinsman Count Baldwin in Flanders, from where two of Harold’s sons, Edmund and Godwine, accompanied by their sister Gytha, moved on to find refuge with, and perhaps help from, their relative Swein Estrithson, the king of Denmark. Swein was King Harold’s cousin. Gytha, who was born around 1053, was named after her grandmother, who was Swein’s aunt

In The House of Godwine – the History of a Dynasty, historian Emma Mason writes:

Godwine and Edmund probably asked Sweyn for help in reinstating then in England. As an inducement they perhaps offered Sweyn their sister Gytha to use as a bargaining counter when he was negotiating some diplomatic alliance. Following the events of 1066-69, Gytha needed the help of an influential male kinsman to ensure that she made a marriage befitting a king’s daughter. Of her remaining kinsman, only Sweyn was in a position to assist.

The king was not prepared to offer his young cousins any military support. He had expended enough resources on his failed expedition of 1069 and had no wish to lose more in helping his kinsmen…. What actually became of these sons of King Harold is unknown.

Although there is no proof, Mason’s suggestion that, as well as seeking safety, the royal siblings were probably also hoping for Swein’s support in ridding England of the hated Normans, seems a reasonable one. If in fact the siblings had already arrived in Denmark by 1069, it could have been that their pleas helped prompt Swein to lead a large Danish army to England, which he did in the summer of that year. Swein certainly saw this as a chance for him to claim the crown of the Anglo-Scandinavian realm of England before William the Bastard and his Normans had too tight a grip.

A Danish Viking Ship

A Danish Viking Ship

A huge Danish fleet, numbering between 240 and 300 ships, arrived in the Humber estuary where they joined forces with their English allies led by Maerleswein, Gospatric and Edgar the aetheling (the English claimant to the throne). The writer of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle at the time was ecstatic. The leaders set out, he wrote, ‘with all the Northumbrians and all the people, riding and marching with an immense host, rejoicing exceedingly’. Historian Marc Morris writes in his excellent The Norman Conquest: ‘The days of Norman rule in England appeared to be numbered.’ Unfortunately it was not to be. The Norman yoke was to be around English necks for centuries to come.

Cutting a rather long story short, William came back with an army to confront the Anglo-Danish force, but had then to retreat south to deal once again, as Orderic Vitalis tells us, with the resistance of ‘Eadric the Wild and other untameable Englishmen’. On returning to the North the only way William could find to defeat the Anglo-Danish army was to buy off the Danish. The Danish war leader Earl Asbjorn was offered a large sum of money to stop fighting, which, ‘much to the chroniclers’ disgust’, he accepted. After the Danish army had spent a desperate winter in England awaiting the return of King Swein, they returned to Denmark in 1070.

After 1070 Swein certainly wasn’t prepared to try his luck in England again, even though over the next few years several mores embassies arrived from England to plead for his help (for example see here). It seems that William continued to pay the Danes off. All hope for the young Anglo-Saxon princes, Edmund and Godwine, had passed. But, as Emma Mason suggests:

Gytha on the other hand was a useful asset to King Sweyn. Probably around 1074 or 1075 he arranged her marriage with Vladimir Monomakh, the prince of Smolensk in western Russia. From the prince’s point of view that was an advantageous match, giving him a wife who was a king’s daughter, and an alliance with King Sweyn against the Poles. From Gytha’s perspective, too, it was a good match. Prince Vladimir was young, rich and handsome.

Saxo Grammaticus

Saxo Grammaticus

Whatever the precise circumstances and details, before his death in about 1075, King Swein did arrange for his young charge Gytha to be betrothed to the Kievan Rus’ prince of Smolensk, Vladimir. The early Danish chronicler Saxo Grammaticus wrote in Book 11 of his Historia Danica:

After the death of Harold, his two sons immediately fled with their sister to Denmark, Sweyn, forgetting the deserts of their father, as a relative received them under the custom of piety and gave the daughter in marriage to the king of the Ruthenians (Rutenorum) Waldemarus (who was also called Jarizlauus by his own people). He (Harold) obtained from the daughter a grandson who after the manner of our time became his successor both by lineage and by name. Thus the British and the Eastern blood being united in our prince caused the common offspring to be an adornment to both peoples.

Early Norwegian sources don’t mention the three siblings seeking refuge with Swein, but the Fagrkinna and Morgkinskinna both mention Gytha’s marriage to Vladimir. After telling the story of the death of King Harold Godwinson and his brothers, the Fagrskinna, which is a catalogue of the kings of Norway, goes on:

After these five chieftains there were no more of Jarl Gothini’s (Earl Godwin’s) family left alive, as far as we can tell, apart from King Haraldr’s daughter Gytha…. Gytha , King Haraldr’s daughter, was married to King Valdamarr (Vladimir), son of King Jarizleifr (Jaroslav) and of Ingigerthr, daughter of King Olafr soenski.

It then goes on to tell more of what became of Gytha and Vladimir’s children. The Morkinskinna tells much the same story.

Actually Saxo Grammaticus and the two Norwegian sources are somewhat confused here. Vladimir was the son of Vsevolod and not Jaroslav (who was his grandfather, and who died in 1052).

Under the year 1076, the Russian Primary Chronicle says, ‘in this year, a son was born to Vladimir, he was Mstislav, and was a grandson of Vsevolod.’

The extent of Kievan Rus' in 1054

The extent of Kievan Rus’ in 1054

The world that Gytha had married into, that of the Kiev Rus’, was positively Byzantine in its complexity. The original Rus’ were Scandinavian Vikings, the Varangians, including a certain Rurik, who had been ‘invited’ to take control in the ninth century. Over the next two centuries the Rus’ extended their reach and control, but they were constantly fighting each other as well as their external enemies, usually the Poles. Kievan Rus’ became a series of fragmented princely territories. The continual feuding, intrigues and battles made pre-Conquest England seem somewhat stable by comparison.

Most likely Gytha and her young husband Vladimir were able to communicate in Danish. Vladimir, like his father Prince Vsevolod, is known to have spoken several languages, and Gytha, being a member of an Anglo-Danish family, the Godwins, likely spoke Danish as well as English. Emma Mason writes:

There were no problems of communication, since her husband was an accomplished linguist. His dynasty had Scandinavian origins and his grandmother was Swedish. Probably he could converse with Gytha in the Norse tongue.

While Vladimir and his father continued fighting, he and Gytha had several more children. Many of his children were later to be married into other princely families, as was the way throughout Europe. Mstislav/Harold followed his father in becoming Grand Prince of the Kiev Rus’ when Vladimir died in 1125. As both Norse and Russian sources tell us, Prince Harold married Princess Christina Ingesdottir of Sweden in 1095. Christina was the daughter of King Inge I of Sweden. Through his daughter Euphrosyne, Mstislav/Harold is an ancestor of King Edward III of England and hence of all subsequent English and British Monarchs.

But I’m concerned here neither with royal genealogy, nor with the history of Kiev and Russia, fascinating though both are. Rather this is the story of the Anglo-Saxon princess Gytha. What became of her?

Prince Vladimir Monomakh

Prince Vladimir Monomakh

Conventionally it is said that Vladimir had three wives. But did he? As mentioned, the Primary Russian Chronicle mentions the death of two of his wives, under the years 1107 and 1126. We know that Gytha was Vladimir’s first wife, but who were the others? No names are found, just two dates of death. We know that Vladimir had several more children after the birth of Vyacheslav in about 1083. These children are usually assigned to an unknown putative second wife, who Vladimir is purported to have married after the death of Gytha. But there is no evidence whatsoever for the existence of this second, of three, wives: no name, no record of a marriage and no death. So it might very well be that these later children were Gytha’s as well?

That Vladimir did take another wife after Gytha seems reasonably clear, because, as mentioned, there are two entries for the death of a wife of Vladimir, in both 1107 and 1126. The name of this later wife who died in 1126 is often said to have been Anna, a daughter of Aepa Ocenevich, Khan of the Cumans, but there seems no evidence for this. It has been suggested that this attribution for the second/third wife most likely results from a misreading of the 1107 entry in the Primary Russian Chronicle, which states, “and Volodimer (Vladimir) took the daughter of Aepa for Jurij [his son]”. It clearly says that it was Jurij (who died in 1157) who married Aepa’s daughter, and not Vladimir. It’s unlikely that father and son married two sisters.

Returning to Gytha; what became of her and where and when might she have died?

In the German Rhine city of Cologne there was, and still is, a church and monastery dedicated to the late third century Greek Christian martyr St. Pantaleon, who was revered for his healing powers.

A man sick with the palsy was brought, who could neither walk nor stand without help. The heathen priests prayed for him, but in vain. Then Pantaleon prayed, took the sick man by the hand, and said: “In the name of Jesus, the Son of God, I command thee to rise and be well.” And the palsied man rose, restored to perfect health.

The monastic church of St. Pantaleon in Cologne

The monastic church of St. Pantaleon in Cologne

The monastic church of St. Pantaleon in Cologne was founded in the tenth century.

The impressive church, in the south west of the inner city, still has extensive parts of the original building. It is one of the oldest sacral buildings in Cologne. The monumental church of St. Pantaleon originated at the middle of the 10th century with the founding of a Benedictine abbey by the Archbishop Bruno. His niece by marriage, the Byzantine Theophanu, continued building after Bruno’s death in 965. Her interest in the church most certainly had family reasons, but especially the Patrocinium of the Holy Pantaleon played a decisive role, because this saint came from Theophanu’s homeland. Following her death she was buried in St. Pantaleon. Her mortal remains rest there today in a modern marble sarcophagus.

By the eleventh and early twelfth century it had acquired a certain international renown. It had strong links with England and also lay astride the usual route from Flanders to Denmark. Given later events, this latter fact has led some to conjecture that Gytha might have visited St. Pantaleon in Cologne with her brothers on her way to Denmark.

It is here we come to an interesting story. It’s contained in a Latin sermon given by Rupert, the abbot of the nearby monastery of Deutz, to the monks of St. Pantaleon’s in Cologne in the 1120s. Given the date of the sermon, the events it describes were certainly within the living memory of both Rupert and his audience, the St. Pantaleon monks. Most of the sermon was a hagiography detailing St. Pantaleon’s various miracles, but towards the end Rupert tells a little ‘miraculous’ story concerning Gytha and her son Harold. It’s a sort of prologue to two more miracles.

I have used the French summary of this Latin story given by the Belgian church historian Maurice Coens in 1937 in his Un sermon inconnue de Rupert, Abbe de Deutz sur St. Pantaleon. Coens’ summary unfortunately misses out some interesting details contained in the original sermon, and possibly misconstrues one or two things too, but for the time being it will have to suffice. The brackets are my own:

Harald, who reigns at present over the Russians (‘rex gentis Russorum’), had been attacked by a bear. He had been separated from his companions and, unarmed, couldn’t defend himself against the beast, which gored him cruelly. When he had been extricated, he was hardly breathing. His mother (‘Gida nomine’) wanted to care for him herself. But St. Pantaleon appeared (in a vision) to the wounded man, and declared that he had come to heal him. After she had heard of the vision, the prince’s mother was reassured regarding the health of her son. She had been a great benefactor of the monastery of St. Pantaleon in Cologne and knew the power of the thaumaturge (miracle worker). Following her son’s recovery, the Queen realised her desire to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Places.

In addition, there is also a mention of Queen Gytha (‘Gida Regina’ preceded by a cross) in St. Pantaleon’s Necrolog, under the date March 7th. This is usually taken to imply Gytha’s date of death, but this is by no means sure. No year is given because a Necrolog wasn’t only a list of those Saints and benefactors who had recently died; it was also a list of days on which the monks in the monastery were to say prayers for the eternal souls of particular saints and holy benefactors. As we know, Saints’ days aren’t necessarily death dates. Rupert’s sermon clearly tells us that ‘Queen’ Gytha was a ‘liberal benefactor’ of St. Pantaleon’s in Cologne. It was on March the 7th that the monks prayed for her, which could as well have been the date they heard of her death as her death date itself.

Vladamir's Monomakh's Instructions to his Children

Vladamir’s Monomakh’s Instructions to his Children

The sermon tells us that Russian Prince (Rex) Harold had been badly gored by a bear while out hunting. We don’t know when this may have happened, such meetings with potentially dangerous wild animals were pretty common at this time when ‘nobles’ were out hunting, a time before Europe’s forests were completely hunted out. Harold’s father Vladimir was also a big hunter. He wrote some long ‘Instructions for my children’ (“Pouchenniya Dityam”) a few years before his death in 1125, in which he related his own experiences:

I devoted much energy to hunting as long as I reigned in Chernigov and made excursions from that city. Until the present year, in fact, I without difficulty used all my strength in hunting, not to mention other hunting expeditions around Turov, since I had been accustomed to chase every sort of game while in my father’s company.

At Chernigov, I even bound wild horses with my bare hands or captured ten or twenty live horses with the lasso, and besides that, while riding along the Ros, I caught these same wild horses barehanded. Two bisons tossed me and my horse on their horns, a stag once gored me, one elk stamped upon me, while another gored me, a boar once tore my sword from my thigh, a bear on one occasion bit my kneecap, and another wild beast jumped on my flank and threw my horse with me. But God preserved me unharmed.

Godfrey de Bouillon Captures Jerusalem

Godfrey de Bouillon Captures Jerusalem

It has been suggested that Harold’s near death and vision happened in 1097, when he would have been about twenty-one, and, to make good on her promise to make a pilgrimage, his mother Gytha had then joined the First Crusade to the Holy Land, where she died in 1098. That Gytha went on the First Crusade seems highly dubious. It is pure speculation based only on the assumption that Gytha died before Vladimir’s later children were born – by a ‘second’ wife. To this is sometimes added the thought that Gytha had connections with Flanders, because of her stay there when she fled England, and that Flemish nobles, led by Godfrey of Bouillon, made up a large contingent of this crusade.

If we take Rupert of Deutz’s story at face value, as fact except for the ‘miraculous’ healing, then even if the incident took place in 1097 (for which there is no evidence), I find it unlikely in the extreme that Gytha would then have instantly rushed to Flanders to join some Flemish nobles on their crusade to a Holy Land still in the possession of the Saracens.

If Gytha did go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as Rupert of Deutz says she did, I think it much more likely that she went later, after Jerusalem had fallen into Christian hands, by when it was safer to make such a hazardous journey. And if she wanted to get to Jerusalem she would likely have taken the well trodden route from the land of the Kiev Rus’ to Constantinople and from there taken ship around the coast of Anatolia (Turkey), perhaps via Cyprus, to the Holy Land.

Danylo's Book

Danylo’s Book

This was the route taken in the early 1100s by the earliest known pilgrim from Kievan Rus’, Danylo, abbot of the Rus’ monastery of Chernigov. Danylo has left us a fascinating memoir of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

It is not known when Danylo set out on his journey to the Holy Land. Historians are of the opinion that he could have begun his journey in the early 1100s and could have reached Constantinople at about 1104–1106 whence he proceeded to Palestine via Greece and the Greek Islands. It is not known by which route he got to Constantinople, but it is likely he took the ancient route “from the Varengians (Vikings) to the Greeks” — down the Dnipro River and then across the Black Sea.

He tells of the places he visited, the people he met (including King Baldwin of Jerusalem), and the hazards he encountered. He even mentions on more than one occasion that he was travelling with Kievan Rus’ compatriots:

In his book, Danylo mentions about 60 places, monasteries included, that he visited during his stay in Palestine. In his travels he must have always had some company in addition to guides and interpreters because he always says “we” and never “I”, and writes about “druzhyna” (a group, team, troop, or brotherhood who are united by the same purpose or sharing the same ideas and ideals) who were with him on many occasions. Describing “the descent of the blessed fire upon the Lord’s Sepulchre” he says that among the witnesses of this miracle were “all of my druzhyna, sons of Rus who were together with me on that day, good men from Novgorod and Kyiv — Izdeslav Ivankovych, Horodyslav Mykhaylovych, Kashkychi and many others…” It is quite reasonable to suppose that the people mentioned by name were Danylo’s close companions who were with him on many other occasions, or maybe accompanied him on his pilgrimage from the outset…

Danylo seems to be patriotically minded and it is particularly evident when he reiterates his being a representative of Rus rather than of a particular monastery or province. At the end of narrative, he says, “May God be a witness of … me never forgetting to mention the names of the Rus princes, and of their children, of the Rus bishops, and of the hegumens, and of the boyars (members of the aristocratic orders.), and of my spiritual children, and of all the good Christians [during the liturgy services] I recited at the holy places.” In the Holy Land he celebrated 90 liturgies — 50 for the living and 40 for the dead — of his compatriots.

There is, to be sure, no mention of Gytha here, but, for me at least, it would have made more sense had Gytha gone on her pilgrimage in the company of some of her compatriots, using the most convenient route, and when Jerusalem was already in Christian hands, than that she had rushed off to Flanders in 1097 to join the First Crusade.

It is also interesting to note that many Russian historians say that upon his return Danylo was promoted to bishop of Yuryev by ‘Grand Duke Vladimir Monomakh’, i.e. promoted by Gytha’s husband!

My contention that Gytha didn’t go on the First Crusade, and didn’t die in the Holy Land in 1098, is, I think, also supported by the thought that had she done so she would probably have had to drop in at St. Pantaleon’s monastery in Cologne on her way to Flanders, and there make a large enough, and one-off, benefaction to the monastery to ensure the reverence in which she was subsequently held by the monks there for her piety and largesse.

In addition, if Vladimir’s son Jurij was married to a daughter of Aepa Ocenevich, Khan of the Cumans, in 1107, as the Primary Russian Chronicle says, then Jurij was probably in his twenties at the time, and therefore born in the 1080s, well before Gytha’s supposed death in the Holy Land in 1098.

All the evidence seems to support the view that Gytha died in 1107.

St. Pantaleon/Panteleimon Church in Shevchenkove, Ukraine

St. Pantaleon/Panteleimon Church in Shevchenkove, Ukraine

The intercession of St. Pantaleon (St. Panteleimon) which had saved Prince Harold’s life was not forgotten by the Rus’. Churches named after the Saint began to appear all over the Ukraine. One such was built in the town of Shevchenkove in 1194 by Prince Roman Mstyslavovych in honour of his grandfather — the Kiev Prince Izyaslav (a son of English Princess Gytha born circ 1078,  whose baptismal name was Panteleimon). There are several more.

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.