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Domain of Soissons
AD 461 - 486

FeatureSoissons had formerly been the tribal capital of the Celtic tribe of the Suessiones. By the fifth century they had become completely Romanised, and Roman government in the area which was centred on Soissons (Roman Noviodunum) was maintained after the dramatic events of AD 418. In that year a treaty was signed which granted the Visigoths dominion over the former province of Gallia Aquitania, the south-western portion of Gaul. At the same time, in the north of Gaul the Franks were increasing their influence. Following a further revolt in 417, the Armoricans were also almost completely independent of Rome, but Auxerre on the Yonne remained under Roman control, as did the new capital of Roman Gaul at Arles. The northern region also managed to retain a Roman government based at Soissons, although more and more often Rome was being forced to use barbarian foederati to solve its problems rather than increasingly rare Roman troops.

Soissons commanded a broad swathe of territory across the full width of northern Gaul. It seemingly maintained this even though the region became more and more isolated from Italy, with Frankish states to the north and east and the Visigoth kingdom to the south. By the time of Emperor Majorian's reign, Soissons was the only remaining Roman territory in Gaul, with a fairly narrow corridor connecting it to Italy. That corridor was annexed by the Germanic tribes now occupying Gaul, effectively cutting off the commander at Soissons, Aegidius, and his citizens from the empire.

During the gradual collapse of the Western Roman empire, Emperor Majorian proved to be a little too popular, taking the field in person and leading the failing Roman army to victories over the Visigoths and Burgundians, and restoring Hispania. His supreme military commander, Ricimer, made sure he met with a swift end. Aegidius was now intent on avenging his master's death, but despite being Majorian's magister militum per Gallias, he was prevented from marching on Rome when Ricimer hired the previously defeated Visigoths and Burgundians to block him. Aegidius' troops remained loyal to him and Rome again lost its authority in Soissons, which remained governed by Aegidius. Aegidius was followed (eventually) by his son, Syagrius, and the area he governed is often incorrectly called the 'Kingdom of Soissons' or the 'Kingdom of Syagrius'. In reality however it was neither ruled by a king (although Syagrius was sometimes called Rex Romanorum ('King of the Romans'), probably by the barbarians who were settled on Soissons' borders), nor was it considered by its citizens as anything other than a separated province of the Western Roman empire. The term 'domain' is used by scholars.

Gregory of Tours is the only original source we have for the events in northern Gaul at this time. His work has been reproduced by later authors - notably Philippe de Vigneulles around 1516 - but they often chopped out bits that didn't appeal to their retelling of the story and inserted other parts. Some of these insertions, though, do have some claim to historical accuracy. The author of the so-called Chronicle of Fredegar reproduced, in essence, an abridgement of Gregory's first six books, with a little extra material here and there. Philiippe added a note in his work saying 'Aegidius the Roman [Gillons le Romains in French]... had... as they say, much to do with King Arthur of England'. Needless to say, Arthur was never claimed in the early sources as being a king and England did not exist even as a concept until the end of the ninth century.

(Additional information by Sean Poage, from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway, from The History of the Franks, Volume II, Gregory of Tours (O M Dalton, Trans, 1967), from Compendium Roberti Jaquini super francorum gestis, Robert Gaguin, Paris 1500, Folio 4, from The Chronicle of Philippe de Vigneulles, Volume I, Charles Bruneau (Ed), History and Antiquarian Society Lorraine (1927-1933), from From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms, Thomas F X Noble, and from External Link: Medieval Sourcebook: Gregory of Tours (539-594): History of the Franks: Books I-X (Fordham University).)

461

Emperor Majorian proves to be a little too popular after he expels the Visigoths and Burgundians from Roman cities in Gaul which they had occupied, and it is Ricimer who is behind him being forced to abdicate by his troops. He dies five days later. Ricimer raises Libius Severus as his replacement, seemingly as the perfect puppet, as Libius Severus appears to have absolutely no achievements. Majorian's magister militum per Gallias, Aegidius, is prevented from marching on Rome when Ricimer hires the previously defeated Visigoths and Burgundians, but Aegidius' troops remain loyal to him and Rome loses its authority in northern Gaul until after the magister militum's death.

461 - 464

Aegidius / Egidius

Roman magister militum per Gallias. Possibly murdered by Franks.

463

Aegidius aids Childeric of the Franks in his defeat of the Visigoths at Orleans. Saxons are sailing along the English Channel, hunting for settlement locations along the Gaulish coast. Despite the official end of Roman interest in Britain, it seems that Gaul is still a more attractive (and richer) option. Saxon leader Eadwacer commands a band which attempts to capture Angers, only to be dislodged by Childeric, acting as an ally of the Roman domain of Soissons. The chances of Saxons being able to break through the increasing Frankish domination of northern Gaul are apparently fading.

Roman town gates of Metz
The fairly insignificant Mosan Franks settled the area between Soissons and the Alemanni, taking the Roman town at Moguntiacum (Metz or Mainz) the gates of which are shown here

464

The alliance between Aegidius and Childeric appears to have been successful, and has probably helped to ensure the survival of Roman Soissons to this point. Thanks to this, however, Childeric's enemies are also the enemies of Aegidius, and it seems likely that he is murdered by one them. Gregory of Tours does not mention the event, but Robert Gaguin does when writing in 1500, and Philippe de Vigneulles repeats it around 1516. They both state that Aegidius has to battle Childeric himself in a struggle for domination at Bar-le-Duc, or possibly Bois-le-Duc. At stake is the domination of the various Frankish tribes.

464 - 469?

Paulus

Comes of Soissons. Killed by Childeric of the Franks.

464

Paulus effects a reconciliation of sorts with the Roman court at Ravenna. Shortly before the death of figurehead emperor Libius Severus, Paulus acts in concert with the true power in the empire, Ricimer. Paulus' rank of comes clearly marks him out as an important commander who had served under Aegidius. As comes, he has been responsible for leading the troops into battle whilst his commander remained at headquarters. The fact that he is now in charge shows that the loss of Aegidius has been a severe blow. The Romans at Soissons have lost their commanding officer and the comes has to step up to fill the void.

468 - 469

FeatureRiothamus, 'King of the Britons', crosses the Channel to Gaul, bringing 12,000 ship-borne troops. He remains in the country for a year or more, perhaps reinforced by Armorican Bretons, and is able to advance to Bourges (the ancient territory of the Bituriges) and even further. Gaul's imperial prefect, the deputy of the Western Roman emperor, treacherously undermines him by apparently dealing with the Visigoths, probably to try and divert the Visigothic king to attacking the Breton territories to the benefit of Roman holdings.

Caught by surprise by the Visigoths, Riothamus fights a drawn-out battle near Bourges but is eventually defeated when no imperial forces come to his assistance. He escapes with the remnants of his army into the nearby territory of the Burgundians, never to be heard of again. A second battle soon follows which involves a combined army consisting of units of Romans, troops from Soissons under Comes Paulus, and Burgundian foederati, but they are also defeated, and Soissons and Armorica are cut off from Rome. This would seem a likely point for Paulus' own death, although that event is not recorded by Gregory of Tours, leaving Syagrius in full command of Soissons. Soissons probably owes its survival to Childeric's Frankish kingdom at Cambrai, on the northern border, plus friendly relations with the Britons in Armorica.

469? - 486

Syagrius

Son of Aegidius. Dux of Soissons.

476

The Western Roman empire formally comes to an end (with a rump state surviving in the Balkans until 480), but Syagrius continues to proclaim his rule in the name of Rome, continuing to trade trading with Armorica and maintaining Soissons as a Roman domain. As a dux, technically he had outranked Comes Paulus, but he seems to have been fairly young at the time, probably too young to have been trusted with such a vital command. Two decades at the top of the command structure would soon change that.

481 - 486

MapChilderic dies in 481, and his son Clovis becomes the Frankish king. Ignoring previous alliances, Clovis makes continual war against Syagrius, and in 486 he assembles an army which includes at least one allied Frankish Minor King, Ragnachar. At the subsequent Battle of Soissons, Clovis conquers the last of the Roman territory to be governed by Syagrius. Syagrius seeks refuge with the Visigothic king Alaric II, but is betrayed, captured, and sent to Clovis, who has him executed in 487.

Clovis and the vase of Reims
The Frankish conquest of Soissons in 486 allowed Clovis to plunder far and wide, slowly adding to his kingdom. A large vase stolen from the church at Rheims led to a dispute between Clovis and one of his warriors, with the result that the latter was killed by the king

The Franks under Clovis are now completely dominant in northern Gaul and Roman control has been thrown off. The death of Syagrius also sends a signal to the Saxons and other Germanic peoples that attempting to settle in Gaul is now hopeless. This would seem to be the single defining event that forces the Saxons to turn their attention to invading Britain instead.

511

MapUpon the death of Clovis, the kingdom is divided between his four sons, each ruling Austrasia, Orleans, Paris, and Soissons. Chlothar, king of Soissons is nominally the senior king of the Franks (Chlothar is also credited with establishing the basis of early Frankish monarchy in Gaul).