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Britannia, Gaul and Italy, to the 500s

In what had been Roman-ruled Britain, the Romanized population and Roman institutions disappeared. With invasions by the Angles and Saxons, Celtic people fled to Ireland where they maintained their bond with the Catholic Church. The Angles and Saxons came under military leaders and settled first on England's eastern shore. They warred their way westward up the Thames River, looking for more land to cultivate, taking lowland and leaving less desirable lands in the hills to the Celtic Britons. They moved inland at Britain's narrow neck in the north along the Humber River and its tributaries. In the south of England the Britons counterattacked with cavalry, which was effective against the horseless Anglo-Saxons. Victories against the dreaded Anglo-Saxons made the cavalry commander a hero, and legend turned him into a king – King Arthur. Poetic fantasies about King Arthur defending Britain would remain, but the reality was rule by invader-kings and wars among them for hegemony.

In the mid-500s, waves of Germanic people – Jutes and Angles – from what today is Denmark, and Saxons from northern Germany, invaded England again. They came under military leaders and settled on England's eastern shore. They warred their way westward up the Thames River, looking for more land to cultivate, taking lowland and leaving less desirable lands in the hills to the Celtic Britons. They moved inland at Britain's narrow neck in the north along the Humber River and its tributaries. In the south of England the Britons counterattacked with cavalry, which was effective against the horseless Anglo-Saxons. Victories against the dreaded Anglo-Saxons made the cavalry commander a hero, and legend turned him into a king – King Arthur. A British monk, Geoffrey of Monmouth, pretending to write history, would write fiction that described Arthur as an emperor from a place called Camelot, and he would write of Arthur defeating the Irish and the Scots, conquering Norway and Denmark, marrying a noblewoman named Guinevere and then conquering France.

South of Hadrian's Wall on the eastern side of the island, most of the Romanized population disappeared along with Roman institutions. Celtic names for places also disappeared. On the western side of the island the Britons survived in greater number, and the names of rivers there remained in the language of the Britons. Celts survived in West Wales (Cornwall) and in hilly Scotland, where they were able to drive out the few Anglo-Saxons who had invaded there. And Celtic people survived in Ireland, which had remained safe behind what would be called St. George's Channel.

Britain was divided among the Anglo-Saxon warlords. The Anglo-Saxons were largely illiterate. They viewed the god of the Christians with contempt for having failed His people, and they brought with them from the continent gods that were similar to the gods of other polytheistic societies. Like the Christians they saw the world as driven by spirits and magic, but they saw spirit in just about everything that moved or existed. They worshiped trees, wells, rivers and mountains. They believed in hideous monster spirits called ogres, malicious ghost-like spirits called goblins, and they believed in mischievous elves. Among their myths was the story of Beowulf, a hero victor over a savage monster named Grendel and Grendel's dragon mother.

Gaul

Meanwhile, in Gaul (today France) among the invading Germans called Franks were those ruled by a family that claimed descent from the gods. In the late 480s this family was led by a 20-year-old, Clovis. He expanded his rule against other Franks, assassinating and plundering. Clovis married the daughter of the King of Burgundy, who agreed to it while fearing Clovis. The daughter was Catholic. According to the historian Bishop Gregory of Tours, Clovis bargained with Jesus, telling him that if he helped him win one of his wars he, Clovis, would have himself baptized in his name. Clovis won his war and converted to Catholicism. With the help of Catholic evangelists, those he ruled converted. And Clovis continued to war for more territory, extending his rule as far south as what today is Switzerland. In Italy the Ostrogoth king, Theodoric, an Arian Christian, warned Clovis to advance no closer to Italy or to those nearby Germanic kingdoms to whom he was patron.

Clovis died in 511, after four years of reign (around 45-years-old) — in Paris, which he had made his capital. His realm was divided among his four sons, and this began the sordid rule of Europe's "Merovingian" kings.

Italy

In 488, the emperor in the eastern half of the Roman Empire, Zeno, sent an army of Germans, led by Theodoric, across the Alps against Odoacer in Italy. In 493, Theodoric's army defeated Odoacer's army, and Theodoric took the title of King of Italy. Under Theodoric, Italians continued to be governed by the old Roman civil service. Theodoric, an Arian Christian, supported the papacy of Symmachus (498-515), a Roman Catholic and Trinity-believer, because Symmachus was elected by a majority of the clergy.

Theodoric wanted harmony in his realm. He called on his subjects to support civilized life, in other words the maintenance of peace and order and racial harmony. Britannica cites one of his documents as saying, "We do not love anything that is uncivilized" and "We hate wicked pride and its authors. Our Piety execrates men of violence. In a lawsuit let justice prevail, not the strong arm." Theodoric insisted that his fellow Germans not oppress the Roman population, not plunder their goods or ravage their fields and try to live amicably with the Romans. But Theodoric was not universally appreciated by his Roman subject many of whom would have preferred a Trinitarian ruler and saw Arianism as evil.

Theodoric attempted a foreign policy that would maintain peace and stability — the system of marriage alliances that would in centuries to come would fail. He married his widowed sister, Amalafreda, to the king of the Vandals. She would reign as Queen of the Vandals in the years 500 to 524. (It was her husband, King Thrasamund, who ended persecution of the Catholic (Trinitarian) Church — Augustine's church — in North Africa.) The Vandals at this time were ruling in Corsica, Sardinia, a piece of Sicily, Morocco, Tripoli, the coast of Algeria and what today is Tunisia, their rule centered there, in Carthage.

Theodoric married one his daughters married the king of the Visigoths, in Spain. Another married the king of his neighbors the Burgundians (southeastern France). And Theodoric himself married the sister of Clovis, Audofleda.

Theodoric reigned until his death in 526. He was succeeded by a grandson, Athalaric, aged ten, who was governed by his mother, the daughter of Audofleda, as his regent. Succession was again a detriment for monarchical rule. Germanic nobles pressured the mother to let them raise the king as they saw fit, and Theodoric's values were lost. Anyway, the Italian people were about to suffer horrendous foreign policy failure, warfare following an invasion instigated by Constantinople's "Roman" emperor, Justinian I.


CONTINUE READING: Justinian and the Second Coming

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