Wallia and the Visigothic settlement in Gaul

After a short intervening reign Wallia was elected king; and Wallia is an important person in the history of the Visigoths, for it was he who succeeded in marking out the limits of their new kingdom in Gaul.

But in order to understand the position of Wallia and his people we must retrace nearly ten years and follow the fortunes of that torrent of barbarians which had poured into Gaul at the end of the year A.D. 406. You remember the names of the four peoples which participated in the invasion: the two Vandal peoples, the Asdings and the Silings, and their allies, the Sueves and the Alans. Crossing the Rhine near the point where the Main joins it, their first exploit was to plunder Mayence and massacre many of the inhabitants, who had sought refuge in a church. Then advancing through Germania Prima they entered Belgica, and following the road to Treves they sacked and set fire to that imperial city. Still continuing their westward path, they crossed the Meuse and the Aisne, and wrought their will on Reims. From here they seem to have turned northward. Amiens, Arras, and Tournay were their prey: they reached Terouanne, not far from the sea, due east of Boulogne, but Boulogne itself they did not venture to attack. After this diversion to the north, they pursued their course of devastation southward, crossing the Seine and the Loire into Aquitania, up to the foot of the Pyrenees. Few towns could resist them. Toulouse was one of the few, and its successful defence is said to have been due to the energy of its bishop Exuperius.

Such, so far as we can conjecture from the evidence of our meagre sources, was the general course of this invasion, but we may be sure that the barbarians broke up into several hosts and followed a wide track, dividing among them the joys of plunder and destruction. Pious verse-writers of the time, who witnessed this visitation, painted the miseries of the helpless provinces vaguely and rhetorically, but perhaps truthfully enough, in order to point a moral:

uno fumavit Gallia tota rogo

The terror of fire and sword was followed by the horror of hunger in a wasted land.

In eastern Gaul, too, some famous cities suffered grievously from German foes. But the calamities of Strassburg, Speier, and Worms were perhaps not the work of the Vandals and their associates. The Burgundians seem to have taken advantage of the crisis to push down the Main, and at the expense of the Alamanni to have occupied new territory astride the Rhine. And it is probably these two peoples, especially the Alamanni dislodged from their homes, who were responsible for the havoc wrought in the province of Upper Germany.

The barbarians remained in Gaul for more than two years; then in 409 they crossed the Pyrenees and inundated Spain. I ought to observe that the Vandals, like the Visigoths, were Christians, of the Arian creed. They had embraced this religion while they lived on Roman soil in Pannonia, and, as their dialect seems to have been very close to that of the Goths, they were able to use the scriptures of Wulfilas. It is interesting to find it mentioned that they carried with them to Spain the Liber divinae legis and consulted it as an oracle.

Accordingly, when Ataulf led his Goths to the confines of Gaul and Spain, he found Spain overrun by barbarian strangers of whom some, viz. the Vandals, were closely akin to his own people. Thus in Spain and the immediately adjacent regions of Gaul there were (A.D. 413-415) no less than five politically distinct peoplesthe Asding Vandals, the Siling Vandals, the Sueves, the Alans, and the Visigoths themselves—seeking to form settlements.

In A.D. 415, when on Ataulf’s death Wallia came to the throne, the idea of the Goths seems to have been to occupy the eastern provinces of Spain. But there they found themselves met by the same difficulty which they had to face in Italy, viz. want of food. The land had been overrun by the other barbarians, and the Roman fleet blockaded the ports. Hereupon Wallia resumed Alaric’s idea, to cross over to Africa and take possession of the Roman granary. His project met a similar fate. Ships which he sent in advance to the opposite coast were destroyed by a storm, and, whether from superstitious fear or from want of transports, he relinquished his idea, and was perforce compelled to make terms with Constantius, who was near to the Pyrenees. He received a large supply of corn, and in return Galla Placidia, Ataulf’ s queen, who was still with the Goths, was restored to her brother Honorius. Wallia also undertook to render military service to the Empire by clearing Spain of the other barbarians.

These other barbarians had first of all devastated Spain far and wide, and had then settled down, with the intention of occupying permanently the various provinces. The Siling Vandals, under their king Fredbal, took Baetica in the south; the Alans, under their king Addac, made their abode in Lusitania, which corresponds roughly to Portugal; the Suevians, and the Asding Vandals, whose king was Gunderic, occupied the northwestern province of Gallaecia north of the Douro. The eastern provinces of Tarraconensis and Carthaginiensis, though the western portions may have been seized, and though they were doubtless constantly harried by raids, did not pass under the power of the invaders.

Wallia began operations by attacking the Silings in Baetica. Before the end of the year he had captured their king by a ruse and sent him to the Emperor. The intruders in Spain were alarmed, and their one thought was to make peace with Honorius, and obtain by formal grant the lands which they had taken by violence. They all sent embassies to Ravenna. The obvious policy of the imperial government was to sow jealousy and hostility among them by receiving favourably the proposals of some and rejecting those of others. The Asdings and the Suevians appear to have been successful in obtaining the recognition of Honorius as federates, while the Silings and Alans were told that their presence on Roman soil would not be tolerated. Their subjugation by Wallia was a task of about two years. The Silings would not yield, and they were virtually exterminated. The king of the Alans was slain, and the remnant of the people who escaped the sword of the Goths fled to Gallaecia and attached themselves to the fortunes of the Asding Vandals. Gunderic thus became”King of the Vandals and Alans”, and the title was always retained by his successors.

After these successful campaigns the Visigoths were recompensed by receiving a permanent home. The imperial government decided that they should be settled in a Gallic, not a Spanish, province, and Constantius recalled Wallia from Spain to Gaul. A compact was made by which the whole rich province of Aquitania Secunda, extending from the Garonne to the Loire, with parts of the adjoining provinces (Narbonensis and Novempopulana), were granted to the Goths. The two great cities on the banks of the Garonne, Bordeaux and Toulouse, were handed over to Wallia. But Narbonne and the Mediterranean coast were reserved for the Empire. As federates, the Goths had no authority over the Roman provincials, who remained under the control of the imperial administration. And the Roman proprietors retained one-third of their lands; two-thirds were resigned to the Goths. Thus, from the point of view of the Empire, south-western Gaul remained an integral part of the realm; part of the land passed into the possession of federates who acknowledged the authority of Honorius; the provincials obeyed, as before, the Emperor’s laws and were governed by the Emperor’s officials. From the Gothic point of view, a Gothic kingdom had been established in Aquitania, for the moment confined by restraints which it would be the task of the Goths to break through, and limited territorially by boundaries which it would be their policy to overpass. Not that at this time, or for long after, they thought of renouncing their relation to the Empire as federates, but they were soon to show that they would seize any favourable opportunity to increase their power and extend their borders.

(Source: “The Invasion of Europe By the Barbarians”, by Bury, J.B.)

Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Anastasius Philoponus

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