Burgundians (Latin: Burgundiōnes, Burgundī; Old Norse:
Burgundar; Old English: Burgendas; Greek: Βούργουνδοι) were
a large East Germanic or
Vandal tribe, or group of tribes, who lived
in the area of modern
Poland in the time of the Roman Empire.
In the late Roman period, as the empire came under pressure from many
such "barbarian" peoples, a powerful group of
Burgundians and other
Vandalic tribes moved westwards towards the Roman frontiers along the
Rhine Valley, making them neighbors of the
Franks who formed their
kingdoms to the north, and the Suebic
Alemanni who were settling to
their south, also near the Rhine. They established themselves in
Worms, but with Roman cooperation their descendants eventually
Kingdom of the Burgundians
Kingdom of the Burgundians much further south, and
within the empire, in the western Alps region where modern
Switzerland, France and
Italy meet. This later became a component of
the Frankish empire. The name of this Kingdom survives in the regional
appellation, Burgundy, which is a region in modern France,
representing only a part of that kingdom.
Another part of the
Burgundians stayed in their previous homeland in
Vistula basin and formed a contingent in Attila's Hunnic army
Before clear documentary evidence begins, the
Burgundians may have
originally emigrated from mainland
Scandinavia to the Baltic island of
Bornholm, and from there to the
Vistula basin, in the middle of modern
2.3 Settlement in Savoy
2.3.1 Aspirations to the empire
2.3.2 Consolidation of the kingdom
3 Physical appearance
5 See also
Burgundians is commonly used in English to refer to the
Burgundi (Burgundionei, Burgundiones or Burgunds) who settled in
Sapaudia (Savoy), in the western Alps, during the 5th Century. The
Kingdom of the Burgundians
Kingdom of the Burgundians barely intersected the modern
Bourgogne and more closely matched the boundaries of the
Romand (Franco-Provençal) language area, centred on the
Rôno-Arpes (Rhône-Alpes) region of France,
Romandy in west
Switzerland and Val d'Outa (Val d'Aosta), in north west Italy.
In modern usage, however, "Burgundians" can sometimes refer to later
inhabitants of the geographical
Bourgogne or Borgogne (Burgundy),
named after the old kingdom, but not corresponding to the original
boundaries of it. Between the 6th and 20th centuries, the boundaries
and political connections of "Burgundy" have changed frequently. In
modern times the only area still referred to as
Burgundy is in France,
which derives its name from the Duchy of Burgundy. But in the context
of the middle ages the term Burgundian (or similar spellings) can
refer even to the powerful political entity the Dukes controlled which
included not only
Burgundy itself but had actually expanded to have a
strong association with areas now in modern
Belgium and Southern
Netherlands. The parts of the old Kingdom not within the French
controlled Duchy tended to come under different names, except for the
County of Burgundy.
Location of the island of Bornholm
Burgundians had a tradition of Scandinavian origin which finds
support in place-name evidence and archaeological evidence (Stjerna)
and many consider their tradition to be correct (e.g. Musset,
p. 62). The
Burgundians are believed to have then emigrated to
the Baltic island of
Bornholm ("the island of the Burgundians" in Old
Norse). However, by about 250 CE, the population of
largely disappeared from the island. Most cemeteries ceased to be
used, and those that were still used had few burials (Stjerna, in
Nerman 1925:176). In
Þorsteins saga Víkingssonar (The Saga of
Thorstein, Viking's Son), the Veseti settled in an island or holm,
which was called Borgund's holm, i.e. Bornholm. Alfred the Great's
translation of Orosius uses the name Burgenda land to refer to a
territory next to the land of Sweons ("Swedes"). The poet and early
Viktor Rydberg (1828–1895), (Our Fathers' Godsaga)
asserted from an early medieval source, Vita Sigismundi, that they
themselves retained oral traditions about their Scandinavian origin.
Early Roman sources, such as
Tacitus and Pliny the Elder, knew little
Germanic peoples east of the Elbe river, or on the
Baltic Sea. Pliny (IV.28) however mentions them among the
Eastern Germanic Germani peoples, including also the Goths. Claudius
Ptolemy lists them as living between the Suevus (probably the Oder)
Vistula rivers, north of the Lugii, and south of the coast
dwelling tribes. Around the mid 2nd century AD, there was a
significant migration by Germanic tribes of Scandinavian origin
(Rugii, Goths, Gepidae, Vandals, Burgundians, and others) towards
the south-east, creating turmoil along the entire Roman
frontier. These migrations culminated in the Marcomannic
Wars, which resulted in widespread destruction and the first invasion
Italy in the
Roman Empire period.
Jordanes reports that during
the 3rd century, the
Burgundians living in the
Vistula basin were
almost annihilated by Fastida, king of the Gepids, whose kingdom was
at the mouth of the Vistula.
In the late 3rd century, the
Burgundians appear on the east bank of
the Rhine, confronting Roman Gaul.
Zosimus (1.68) reports them being
defeated by the emperor Probus in 278 in Gaul. At this time, they were
led by a
Vandal king. A few years later,
Claudius Mamertinus mentions
them along with the Alamanni, a Suebic people. These two peoples had
moved into the
Agri Decumates on the eastern side of the Rhine, an
area today referred to still as Swabia, at times attacking Roman Gaul
together and sometimes fighting each other. He also mentions that the
Goths had previously defeated the Burgundians.
Ammianus Marcellinus, on the other hand, claimed that the Burgundians
were descended from Romans. The Roman sources do not speak of any
specific migration from
Poland by the
Burgundians (although other
Vandalic peoples are more clearly mentioned as having moved west in
this period), and so there have historically been some doubts about
the link between the eastern and western Burgundians.
In 369/370, the Emperor
Valentinian I enlisted the aid of the
Burgundians in his war against the Alemanni.
Approximately four decades later, the
Burgundians appear again.
Following Stilicho's withdrawal of troops to fight
Alaric I the
Visigoth in AD 406-408, a large group of peoples from central Europe
north of the Danube, came west and crossed the Rhine, entering the
Empire, near the lands of the
Burgundians who had moved much earlier.
The dominant groups were Alans,
Hasdingi and Silingi), and
Suevi (probably descended from
Marcomanni and Quadi). The
majority of these Danubian peoples moved through
Gaul and eventually
established themselves in kingdoms in Roman Hispania. One group of
Alans was settled in northern
Gaul by the Romans.
Burgundians also migrated westwards and settled as foederati in
the Roman province of
Germania Secunda along the Middle Rhine. Other
Burgundians however remained outside the empire and apparently formed
a contingent in Attila's Hunnic army by 451.
Main article: Kingdom of the Burgundians
In 411, the Burgundian king Gundahar (or Gundicar) set up a puppet
emperor, Jovinus, in cooperation with Goar, king of the Alans. With
the authority of the Gallic emperor that he controlled, Gundahar
settled on the left (Roman) bank of the Rhine, between the river
Lauter and the Nahe, seizing Worms, Speyer, and Strassburg. Apparently
as part of a truce, the Emperor Honorius later officially "granted"
them the land, (Prosper, a. 386) with its capital at the old Celtic
Roman settlement of Borbetomagus (present Worms).
Despite their new status as foederati, Burgundian raids into Roman
Gallia Belgica became intolerable and were ruthlessly brought to
an end in 436, when the Roman general Aëtius called in Hun
mercenaries, who overwhelmed the Rhineland kingdom in 437. Gundahar
was killed in the fighting, reportedly along with the majority of the
Burgundian tribe. (Prosper; Chronica Gallica 452; Hydatius; and
The destruction of
Worms and the Burgundian kingdom by the Huns became
the subject of heroic legends that were afterwards incorporated in the
Nibelungenlied—on which Wagner based his Ring Cycle—where King
Gunther (Gundahar) and Queen Brünhild hold their court at Worms, and
Siegfried comes to woo Kriemhild. (In
Old Norse sources the names are
Gunnar, Brynhild, and Gudrún as normally rendered in English.) In
fact, the Etzel of the
Nibelungenlied is based on
Attila the Hun.
Settlement in Savoy
The Second Burgundian Kingdom between 443 and 476
For reasons not cited in the sources, the
Burgundians were granted
foederati status a second time, and in 443 were resettled by Aëtius
in the region of Sapaudia. (Chronica Gallica 452) Though the precise
geography is uncertain,
Sapaudia corresponds to the modern-day Savoy,
Burgundians probably lived near Lugdunum, known today as Lyon.
(Wood 1994, Gregory II, 9) A new king
Gundioc or Gunderic, presumed to
be Gundahar's son, appears to have reigned following his father's
death. (Drew, p. 1) The historian Pline tells us
that Gonderic ruled the areas of Saône, Dauphiny, Savoie and a part
of Provence. He set up Vienne as the capital of the kingdom of
Burgundy. In all, eight Burgundian kings of the house of Gundahar
ruled until the kingdom was overrun by the
Franks in 534.
As allies of Rome in its last decades, the
alongside Aëtius and a confederation of
Visigoths and others in the
Attila at the
Battle of Châlons
Battle of Châlons (also called "The
Battle of the Catalaunian Fields") in 451. The alliance between
Visigoths seems to have been strong, as
his brother Chilperic I accompanied
Theodoric II to Spain to fight the
Sueves in 455. (Jordanes, Getica, 231)
Aspirations to the empire
Also in 455, an ambiguous reference infidoque tibi Burdundio ductu
Sidonius Apollinaris in Panegyr. Avit. 442.) implicates an unnamed
treacherous Burgundian leader in the murder of the emperor Petronius
Maximus in the chaos preceding the sack of Rome by the Vandals. The
Ricimer is also blamed; this event marks the first
indication of the link between the
Burgundians and Ricimer, who was
probably Gundioc's brother-in-law and Gundobad's uncle, (John Malalas,
In 456, the Burgundians, apparently confident in their growing power,
negotiated a territorial expansion and power sharing arrangement with
the local Roman senators. (Marius of Avenches)
Ricimer overthrew another emperor, Avitus, raising
the throne. This new emperor proved unhelpful to
Ricimer and the
Burgundians. The year after his ascension,
Majorian stripped the
Burgundians of the lands they had acquired two years earlier. After
showing further signs of independence, he was murdered by
Ten years later, in 472, Ricimer–who was by now the son-in-law of
the Western Emperor Anthemius–was plotting with
Gundobad to kill his
Gundobad beheaded the emperor (apparently personally).
(Chronica Gallica 511; John of Antioch, fr. 209; Jordanes, Getica,
Ricimer then appointed Olybrius; both died, surprisingly of
natural causes, within a few months.
Gundobad seems then to have
succeeded his uncle as Patrician and king-maker, and raised Glycerius
to the throne. (Marius of Avenches; John of Antioch, fr. 209)
In 474, Burgundian influence over the empire seems to have ended.
Glycerius was deposed in favor of Julius Nepos, and
to Burgundy, presumably at the death of his father Gundioc. At this
time or shortly afterwards, the Burgundian kingdom was divided between
Gundobad and his brothers, Godigisel, Chilperic II, and Gundomar I.
(Gregory, II, 28)
Consolidation of the kingdom
Kingdom of the Burgundians
Kingdom of the Burgundians in around 500
According to Gregory of Tours, the years following Gundobad's return
Burgundy saw a bloody consolidation of power. Gregory states that
Gundobad murdered his brother Chilperic, drowning his wife and exiling
their daughters (one of whom was to become the wife of Clovis the
Frank, and was reputedly responsible for his conversion). This is
contested by, e.g., Bury, who points out problems in much of Gregory's
chronology for the events.
Gundobad and Clovis were at war,
Gundobad appears to have
been betrayed by his brother Godegisel, who joined the Franks;
together Godegisel's and Clovis' forces "crushed the army of
Gundobad". (Marius a. 500; Gregory, II, 32)
Gundobad was temporarily
holed up in Avignon, but was able to re-muster his army and sacked
Vienne, where Godegisel and many of his followers were put to death.
From this point,
Gundobad appears to have been the sole king of
Burgundy. (e.g., Gregory, II, 33) This would imply that his brother
Gundomar was already dead, though there are no specific mentions of
the event in the sources.
Gundobad and Clovis reconciled their differences, or Gundobad
was forced into some sort of vassalage by Clovis' earlier victory, as
the Burgundian king appears to have assisted the
Franks in 507 in
their victory over
Alaric II the Visigoth.
During the upheaval, sometime between 483-501,
Gundobad began to set
Lex Gundobada (see below), issuing roughly the first half,
which drew upon the Lex Visigothorum. (Drew, p. 1) Following his
consolidation of power, between 501 and his death in 516, Gundobad
issued the second half of his law, which was more originally
Burgundy as part of the Frankish Empire between 534 and 843
Burgundians were extending their power over southeastern Gaul;
that is, northern Italy, western Switzerland, and southeastern France.
In 493, Clovis, king of the Franks, married the Burgundian princess
Clotilda (daughter of Chilperic), who converted him to the Catholic
At first allied with Clovis'
Franks against the
Visigoths in the early
6th century, the
Burgundians were eventually conquered at Autun by the
Franks in 532 after a first attempt in the Battle of Vézeronce. The
Burgundian kingdom was made part of the
Merovingian kingdoms, and the
Burgundians themselves were by and large absorbed as well.
The 5th century
Gallo-Roman poet and landowner Sidonius, who at one
point lived with the Burgundians, described them as a long-haired
people of immense physical size:
"Why... do you [an obscure senator by the name of Catullinus] bid me
compose a song dedicated to Venus... placed as I am among long-haired
hordes, having to endure Germanic speech, praising often with a wry
face the song of the gluttonous Burgundian who spreads rancid butter
on his hair? ... You don't have a reek of garlic and foul onions
discharged upon you at early morn from ten breakfasts, and you are not
invaded before dawn... by a crowd of giants."
The Burgundian language belonged to the East Germanic language group.
It appears to have become extinct during the late sixth century.
Little is known of the language. Some proper names of
recorded, and some words used in the area in modern times are thought
to be derived from the ancient Burgundian language, but it is
often difficult to distinguish these from Germanic words of other
origin, and in any case the modern form of the words is rarely
suitable to infer much about the form in the old language.
Somewhere in the east the
Burgundians had converted to the Arian form
of Christianity from their native Germanic polytheism. Their Arianism
proved a source of suspicion and distrust between the
the Catholic Western Roman Empire. Divisions were evidently healed or
healing circa AD 500, however, as Gundobad, one of the last Burgundian
kings, maintained a close personal friendship with Avitus, the bishop
of Vienne. Moreover, Gundobad's son and successor, Sigismund, was
himself a Catholic, and there is evidence that many of the Burgundian
people had converted by this time as well, including several female
members of the ruling family.
Burgundians left three legal codes, among the earliest from any of
the Germanic tribes.
The Liber Constitutionum sive
Lex Gundobada (The Book of Constitutions
or Law of Gundobad), also known as the Lex Burgundionum, or more
Lex Gundobada or the Liber, was issued in several parts
between 483 and 516, principally by Gundobad, but also by his son,
Sigismund. (Drew, p. 6–7) It was a record of Burgundian
customary law and is typical of the many Germanic law codes from this
period. In particular, the Liber borrowed from the Lex Visigothorum
(Drew, p. 6) and influenced the later Lex Ribuaria. (Rivers,
p. 9) The Liber is one of the primary sources for contemporary
Burgundian life, as well as the history of its kings.
Like many of the Germanic tribes, the Burgundians' legal traditions
allowed the application of separate laws for separate ethnicities.
Thus, in addition to the Lex Gundobada,
Gundobad also issued (or
codified) a set of laws for Roman subjects of the Burgundian kingdom,
Lex Romana Burgundionum
Lex Romana Burgundionum (The Roman Law of the Burgundians).
In addition to the above codes, Gundobad's son Sigismund later
published the Prima Constitutio.
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Nibelung (later legends of the Burgundian kings).
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^ a b Sidonnius Appolinarius, Carmina, 7, 322
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^ Smith, William (1854), Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography
^ Gregory, II, 28. Gregory's chronology of the events surrounding
Gundobad has been questioned by Bury, Shanzer, and Wood,
among others. Gregory was somewhat of a Frankish apologist, and
commonly discredited the enemies of Clovis by attributing to them some
fairly shocking acts. As with Godegisel, he also commonly refers to
the treachery of Clovis' allies, when in fact Clovis seems to have
bought them off (e.g., in the case of the Ripuarians).
^ Heather 2007, pp. 196–197
^ a b W.B. Lockwood, "A Panorama of Indo-European Languages"
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