Gregory of Tours, the Eastern Emperor, and Merovingian Gaul

Gregory of Tours, the Eastern Emperor, and Merovingian Gaul

By Robert Winn

Northwestern Review, Vol.2:1 (2017)

Opening lines of the Ten Books of Histories

Abstract: Gregory of Tours (538-594) was a historian of his time and place. His primary concerns were shaped by his theological, ecclesiastical, and political commitments: western orthodoxy, the Roman Catholic Church, and Merovingian Gaul. It thus is surprising that in his famous Ten Books of Histories he takes a more than passing interest in the eastern Roman Emperor and empire. This article explores Gregory’s passages on imperial Rome and argues that they were intended to highlight the virtues and vices of particular Merovingian kings in comparison with particular Roman emperors. Also, Gregory meant to subtly point to the dangers of Merovingian and imperial entanglements.

Introduction: Gregory of Tours (538-594) indicated throughout his Ten Books of Histories that his primary concern was the activities and wars, often civil wars, of the sixth-century Merovingian kings. At several points in his text, however, Gregory superseded this parochial perspective and reminded his audience of the eastern Roman Emperor and empire. Modern scholarship has confirmed that Gaul was not isolated from the world of the eastern Mediterranean during the sixth century, and historians interested in the connections between Constantinople and late antique Gaul often turn to Gregory’s writings as a contemporary witness on the nature of this relationship. In fact, Gregory glances east enough times in his narrative that it seems to be more than a passing interest to him even if he most often directs his audience’s attention to the region of the world he knew best in northern Gaul.

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