Friday, March 11, 2011

France's Wars: Barbarian Invasions 376-500

by Jack Le Moine

Did you ever notice that in almost every great war in history, France has been involved in some way? Here’s an example: the barbarian invasions of Gaul and the end of the Roman Empire.

Summary: The mass movement of peoples across the Eurasian continent landmass brought wave after wave of barbarian invasions across the Rhine and into the area of ancient Gaul, present day France. Against this pounding of peoples across the centuries, Rome fell, Gaul descended into the Dark Ages, and France was born.

Background: Gaul had become thoroughly Romanized by the 4th. century A.D. Meanwhile, climate change and population increase had caused the nomadic peoples across the northern Eurasian landmass to migrate. In the east, China stood fast; in the south, the Parthian and the Byzantine Empires held their own; in the west, a decayed Roman Empire proved to be the weakest barrier.

Major Players:
1) France: in this era, Gaul was just a province of the Roman Empire. Its destiny was controlled by Rome’s.

2) Other Countries: Rome: centuries before, with control of just a portion of Italy, it was able to generate legion after legion to meet emergencies. But that was then; now it could not recruit and its people would not serve. In this era, a depleted army defended a fearful but unwilling populace.

Major Barbarian Tribes: Visigoths, the first to invade and stay, Ostrogoths (took Italy), Vandals (north Africa), Huns (defeated) , Burgundians (defeated by the Franks), and Franks (who ended up with France).

3) The Leaders:Many over the centuries, but the most memorable was Attila the Hun, Aleric of the Visigoths, Stilicho, the last great Roman general, and Clovis, the Frank who ended up with Gaul.

CC BY-SA 2.5 image by MapMaster from Wikipedia.
Narrative: The Visigoths broke the Roman army in the east in 378 but were stopped in their southern and eastern thrust by the fortifications of Constantinople. The path of least resistance was west, through Greece, around the Adriatic Sea, into Italy (sacking Rome in 410) and eventually into Gaul and Spain

The Huns invaded Gaul from the Rhine but were stopped by a combined army of Romans and barbarians at Chalons. They later failed in an invasion of Italy, retreated and eventually dismembered in the constant barbarian turmoil in the depths of the continent.

The Vandals crossed Gaul starting in 406, sacking Reims, Amiens, Arras, Tournai and other lesser known towns in their journey to Spain and later Africa.

The Burgundians invaded in 411 and settled in the eastern part of Gaul. The Franks invaded the north eastern part of Gaul in 486 under Clovis. Burgundy was conquered after 500 and the Visigoths after the Battle of Vouille in 507. Henceforth, Gaul was the land of the Franks – France.

Aftermath: These invasions inaugurated the Dark Ages where learning and commerce declined. Government devolved to the local level known as Feudalism. Civilization held on but by the skin of its teeth.

For Further Reading:
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon

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