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Burgundians The Roman empire under Hadrian (ruled 117—138), showing the location of the Burgundiones Germanic

The Roman empire under Hadrian (ruled 117—138), showing the location of the Burgundiones Germanic group, then inhab- iting the region between the Viadua (Oder) and Visula (Vistula) rivers (Poland)

The Burgundians (Latin: Burgundiōnes, Burgundī; Old Norse: Burgundar; Old English: Burgendas; Greek:

Βούργουνδοι) were a large East Germanic or Vandal tribe, or group of tribes, who lived in the area of mod- ern Poland in the time of the Roman empire.

In the late Roman period, as the empire came under pres- sure from many such “barbarian” peoples, a powerful group of Burgundians and other Vandalic tribes moved westwards towards the Roman frontiers along the Rhine Valley, making them neighbors of the Franks who formed their kingdoms to the north, and the Suebic Alemanni who were settling to their south, also near the Rhine. They established themselves in Worms, but with Roman cooperation their descendants eventually established the Kingdom of the Burgundians much further south, and within the empire, in the western Alps region where mod- ern Switzerland, France and Italy meet. This later be- came a component of the Frankish empire. The name of this Kingdom survives in the regional appellation, Burgundy, which is a region in modern France, repre- senting only a part of that kingdom.

Another part of Burgundians stayed in their previous homeland in Oder-Vistula basin and formed a contingent in Attila's Hunnic army by 451. [1][2]

Before clear documentary evidence begins, the Bur- gundians may have originally emigrated from mainland Scandinavia to the Baltic island of Bornholm, and from there to the Vistula basin, in the middle of modern Poland. [3]

1 Name

See also: Bornholm

The name of the Burgundians has since remained con- nected to the area of modern France that still bears their name: see the later history of Burgundy. Between the 6th and 20th centuries, however, the boundaries and political connections of this area have changed frequently, with none of the changes having had anything to do with the original Burgundians. The name Burgundians used here and generally used by English writers to refer to the Bur- gundiones is a later formation and more precisely refers to the inhabitants of the territory of Burgundy which was named from the people called Burgundiones. The de- scendants of the Burgundians today are found primarily in historical Burgundy and among the west Swiss.

2 History

2.1 Background

and among the west Swiss . 2 History 2.1 Background Location of the island of Bornholm

Location of the island of Bornholm

The Burgundians had a tradition of Scandinavian origin which finds support in place-name evidence and archae- ological evidence (Stjerna) and many consider their tra- dition to be correct (e.g. Musset, p. 62). The Burgun- dians are believed to have then emigrated to the Baltic island of Bornholm (“the island of the Burgundians” in Old Norse). However, by about 250 the population of Bornholm had largely disappeared from the island. Most cemeteries ceased to be used, and those that were still used had few burials (Stjerna, in Nerman 1925:176).




In Þorsteins saga Víkingssonar (The Saga of Thorstein, Viking’s Son), the Veseti settled in an island or holm, which was called Borgund’s holm, i.e. Bornholm. Alfred the Great's translation of Orosius uses the name Bur-

genda land to refer to a territory next to the land of in Oder-Vistula interfluvial and formed a contingent in

Sweons (“Swedes”). [4] The poet and early mythologist Attila's Hunnic army by 451. [1][2] Viktor Rydberg (1828–1895), (Our Fathers’ Godsaga) asserted from an early medieval source, Vita Sigismundi,

that they themselves retained oral traditions about their Scandinavian origin.

Early Roman sources such as Tacitus and Pliny the El- der knew little concerning the Germanic peoples east of the Elbe river, or on the Baltic Sea. Pliny (IV.28) however mentions them among the Vandalic or Eastern Germanic Germani peoples, including also the Goths. Claudius Ptolemy lists them as living between the Sue- vus (probably the Oder) and Vistula rivers, north of the Lugii, and south of the coast dwelling tribes. Around the mid 2nd century AD, there was a significant migra- tion by Germanic tribes of Scandinavian origin (Rugii, Goths, Gepidae, Vandals, Burgundians, and others) [5] to- wards the south-east, creating turmoil along the entire Roman frontier. [5][6][7][8] These migrations culminated in the Marcomannic Wars, which resulted in widespread de- struction and the first invasion of Italy in the Roman Em- pire period. [8] Jordanes reports that during the 3rd cen- tury, the Burgundians living in the Vistula basin were al- most annihilated by Fastida, king of the Gepids, whose kingdom was at the mouth of the Vistula.

some Burgundians. A part of Burgundians migrated westwards and settled as foederati in the Roman province of Germania Secunda along the Middle Rhine. Another part of Burgundians stayed in their previous homeland

2.2 Kingdom

2.2.1 Establishment

In 411, the Burgundian king Gundahar (or Gundicar) set up a puppet emperor, Jovinus, in cooperation with Goar, king of the Alans. With the authority of the Gallic em- peror that he controlled, Gundahar settled on the left (Ro- man) bank of the Rhine, between the river Lauter and the Nahe, seizing Worms, Speyer, and Strassburg. Ap- parently as part of a truce, the Emperor Honorius later officially “granted” them the land, (Prosper, a. 386) with its capital at the old Celtic Roman settlement of Borbe- tomagus (present Worms).

Despite their new status as foederati, Burgundian raids into Roman Upper Gallia Belgica became intolerable and were ruthlessly brought to an end in 436, when the Ro- man general Aëtius called in Hun mercenaries who over- whelmed the Rhineland kingdom in 437. Gundahar was killed in the fighting, reportedly along with the majority of the Burgundian tribe. (Prosper; Chronica Gallica 452; Hydatius; and Sidonius Apollinaris)

The destruction of Worms and the Burgundian kingdom by the Huns became the subject of heroic legends that were afterwards incorporated in the Nibelungenlied—on which Wagner based his Ring Cyclewhere King Gun- ther (Gundahar) and Queen Brünhild hold their court at Worms, and Siegfried comes to woo Kriemhild. (In Old Norse sources the names are Gunnar, Brynhild, and Gu- drún as normally rendered in English.) In fact, the Etzel of the Nibelungenlied is based on Attila the Hun.

2.3 Settlement in Savoy

For reasons not cited in the sources, the Burgundians were granted foederati status a second time, and in 443 were resettled by Aëtius in the region of Sapaudia. (Chron- ica Gallica 452) Though the precise geography is uncer- tain, Sapaudia corresponds to the modern-day Savoy, and the Burgundians probably lived near Lugdunum, known today as Lyon. (Wood 1994, Gregory II, 9) A new king Gundioc or Gunderic, presumed to be Gundahar’s son, appears to have reigned following his father’s death. (Drew, p. 1) The historian Pline tells us that Gonderic reigned the areas of Saône, Dauphiny, Savoie and a part

In the late 3rd century, the Burgundians appear on the east bank of the Rhine, confronting Roman Gaul. Zosimus (1.68) reports them being defeated by the emperor Probus in 278 in Gaul. At this time they were led by a Vandal king. A few years later, Claudius Mamertinus mentions them along with the Alamanni, a Suebic people. These two peoples had moved into the Agri Decumates on the eastern side of the Rhine, an area today referred to still as Swabia, at times attacking Roman Gaul together and sometimes fighting each other. He also mentions that the Goths had previously defeated the Burgundians.

Ammianus Marcellinus, on the other hand, claimed that the Burgundians were descended from Romans. The Ro- man sources do not speak of any specific migration from Poland by the Burgundians (although other Vandalic peo- ples are more clearly mentioned as having moved west in this period), and so there have historically been some doubts about the link between the eastern and western Burgundians. [9]

In 369/370, the Emperor Valentinian I enlisted the aid of the Burgundians in his war against the Alemanni.

Approximately four decades later, the Burgundians ap- pear again. Following Stilicho's withdrawal of troops to fight Alaric I the Visigoth in AD 406-408, the north- ern tribes crossed the Rhine and entered the Empire in the Völkerwanderung, or Germanic migrations. Among them were the Alans, Vandals, the Suevi, and possibly


Settlement in Savoy


2.3 Settlement in Savoy 3 The Second Burgundian Kingdom between 443 and 476 of Provence. He

The Second Burgundian Kingdom between 443 and 476

of Provence. He set up Vienne as the capital of the king- dom of Burgundy. In all, eight Burgundian kings of the house of Gundahar ruled until the kingdom was overrun by the Franks in 534.

As allies of Rome in its last decades, the Burgundians fought alongside Aëtius and a confederation of Visig- oths and others in the battle against Attila at the Battle of Châlons (also called “The Battle of the Catalaunian Fields”) in 451. The alliance between Burgundians and Visigoths seems to have been strong, as Gundioc and his brother Chilperic I accompanied Theodoric II to Spain to fight the Sueves in 455. (Jordanes, Getica, 231)

2.3.1 Aspirations to the Empire

Also in 455, an ambiguous reference infidoque tibi Bur- dundio ductu (Sidonius Apollinaris in Panegyr. Avit. 442.) implicates an unnamed treacherous Burgundian leader in the murder of the emperor Petronius Maximus in the chaos preceding the sack of Rome by the Vandals. The Patrician Ricimer is also blamed; this event marks the first indication of the link between the Burgundians and Ricimer, who was probably Gundioc’s brother-in-law and Gundobad's uncle, (John Malalas, 374)

The Burgundians, apparently confident in their grow- ing power, negotiated in 456 a territorial expansion and power sharing arrangement with the local Roman sena- tors. (Marius of Avenches)

In 457, Ricimer overthrew another emperor, Avitus, rais- ing Majorian to the throne. This new emperor proved un- helpful to Ricimer and the Burgundians. The year after his ascension, Majorian stripped the Burgundians of the lands they had acquired two years earlier. After show- ing further signs of independence, he was murdered by Ricimer in 461.

Ten years later, in 472, Ricimer–who was by now the son- in-law of the Western Emperor Anthemiuswas plotting with Gundobad to kill his father-in-law; Gundobad be- headed the emperor (apparently personally). (Chronica Gallica 511; John of Antioch, fr. 209; Jordanes, Getica, 239) Ricimer then appointed Olybrius; both died, surpris- ingly of natural causes, within a few months. Gundobad seems then to have succeeded his uncle as Patrician and king-maker, and raised Glycerius to the throne. (Marius of Avenches; John of Antioch, fr. 209)

In 474, Burgundian influence over the empire seems to have ended. Glycerius was deposed in favor of Julius Nepos, and Gundobad returned to Burgundy, presumably at the death of his father Gundioc. At this time or shortly afterward, the Burgundian kingdom was divided between Gundobad and his brothers, Godigisel, Chilperic II, and Gundomar I. (Gregory, II, 28)

2.3.2 Consolidation of the Kingdom

I. (Gregory, II, 28) 2.3.2 Consolidation of the Kingdom Kingdom of the Burgundians in around 500

Kingdom of the Burgundians in around 500

According to Gregory of Tours, the years following Gun- dobad’s return to Burgundy saw a bloody consolidation of power. Gregory states that Gundobad murdered his brother Chilperic, drowning his wife and exiling their daughters (one of whom was to become the wife of Clovis the Frank, and was reputedly responsible for his conversion). [10] This is contested by, e.g., Bury, who points out problems in much of Gregory’s chronology for the events.

C.500, when Gundobad and Clovis were at war, Gun- dobad appears to have been betrayed by his brother Godegisel, who joined the Franks; together Godegisel’s and Clovis’ forces “crushed the army of Gundobad.” (Marius a. 500; Gregory, II, 32) Gundobad was tem- porarily holed up in Avignon, but was able to re-muster his army and sacked Vienne, where Godegisel and many of his followers were put to death. From this point, Gun- dobad appears to have been the sole king of Burgundy.



(e.g., Gregory, II, 33) This would imply that his brother Gundomar was already dead, though there are no specific mentions of the event in the sources.

Either Gundobad and Clovis reconciled their differences, or Gundobad was forced into some sort of vassalage by Clovis’ earlier victory, as the Burgundian king appears to have assisted the Franks in 507 in their victory over Alaric II the Visigoth.

During the upheaval, sometime between 483-501, Gun- dobad began to set forth the Lex Gundobada (see below), issuing roughly the first half, which drew upon the Lex Visigothorum. (Drew, p. 1) Following his consolidation of power, between 501 and his death in 516, Gundobad issued the second half of his law, which was more origi- nally Burgundian.

2.3.3 Fall

his law, which was more origi- nally Burgundian. 2.3.3 Fall Burgundy as part of the Frankish

Burgundy as part of the Frankish Empire between 534 and 843

The Burgundians were extending their power over south- eastern Gaul; that is, northern Italy, western Switzer- land, and southeastern France. In 493 Clovis, king of the Franks, married the Burgundian princess Clotilda (daughter of Chilperic), who converted him to the Catholic faith.

At first allied with Clovis’ Franks against the Visigoths in the early 6th century, the Burgundians were eventually conquered at Autun by the Franks in 532 after a first at- tempt in the Battle of Vézeronce. The Burgundian king- dom was made part of the Merovingian kingdoms, and the Burgundians themselves were by and large absorbed as well.

3 Physical appearance

The 5th century Gallo-Roman poet and landowner Sidonius, who at one point lived with the Burgundians, described them as a long-haired people of immense phys- ical size:

“Why do you [an obscure senator by the name of Catullinus] bid me compose a song dedicated to Venus placed as I am among the

long-haired hordes, having to endure Germanic speech, praising often with a wry face the song of the gluttonous Burgundian who spreads ran-

You don't have a

reek of garlic and foul onions discharged upon you at early morn from ten breakfasts, and you are not invaded before dawn by a crowd of giants.” [11]

cid butter on his hair?

4 Language

The Burgundian language belonged to the East Ger- manic language group. It appears to have become extinct during the late sixth century. [12]

Little is known of the language. Some proper names of Burgundians are recorded, and some words used in the area in modern times are thought to be derived from the ancient Burgundian language, [12] but it is often difficult to distinguish these from Germanic words of other origin, and in any case the modern form of the words is rarely suitable to infer much about the form in the old language.

5 Culture

5.1 Religion

Somewhere in the east the Burgundians had converted to the Arian form of Christianity from their native Germanic polytheism. Their Arianism proved a source of suspicion and distrust between the Burgundians and the Catholic Western Roman Empire. Divisions were evidently healed or healing circa AD 500, however, as Gundobad, one of the last Burgundian kings, maintained a close personal friendship with Avitus, the bishop of Vienne. Moreover, Gundobad’s son and successor, Sigismund, was himself a Catholic, and there is evidence that many of the Burgun- dian people had converted by this time as well, including several female members of the ruling family.

5.2 Law

The Burgundians left three legal codes, among the earliest from any of the Germanic tribes.

7.2 Sources


The Liber Constitutionum sive Lex Gundobada (The Book of the Constitution following the Law of Gundobad), also known as the Lex Burgundionum, or more simply the Lex Gundobada or the Liber, was issued in several parts between 483 and 516, principally by Gundobad, but also by his son, Sigismund. (Drew, p. 6–7) It was a record of Burgundian customary law and is typical of the many Germanic law codes from this period. In particular, the Liber borrowed from the Lex Visigothorum (Drew, p. 6) and influenced the later Lex Ribuaria. (Rivers, p. 9) The Liber is one of the primary sources for contempo- rary Burgundian life, as well as the history of its kings.

Like many of the Germanic tribes, the Burgundians’ le- gal traditions allowed the application of separate laws for separate ethnicities. Thus, in addition to the Lex Gun- dobada, Gundobad also issued (or codified) a set of laws for Roman subjects of the Burgundian kingdom, the Lex Romana Burgundionum (The Roman Law of the Burgun- dians).

In addition to the above codes, Gundobad’s son Sigis- mund later published the Prima Constitutio.

6 See also

Nibelung (later legends of the Burgundian kings).

Dauphiné (Dauphiny)

7 References

7.1 Notes

[1] Sidonnius Appolinarius, Carmina, 7, 322

Luebe, Die Burgunder, in Krüger II, p. 373 n. 21, in Her- bert Schutz, Tools, weapons and ornaments: Germanic material culture in Pre-Carolingian Central Europe, 400- 750, BRILL, 2001, p.36




[9] Smith, William (1854), Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography

[10] Gregory, II, 28. Gregory’s chronology of the events sur- rounding Clovis and Gundobad has been questioned by Bury, Shanzer, and Wood, among others. Gregory was somewhat of a Frankish apologist, and commonly discred- ited the enemies of Clovis by attributing to them some fairly shocking acts. As with Godegisel, he also commonly refers to the treachery of Clovis’ allies, when in fact Clo- vis seems to have bought them off (e.g., in the case of the Ripuarians).

[11] Heather 2007, pp. 197–198

[12] W.B. Lockwood, “A Panorama of Indo-European Lan- guages”

7.2 Sources

Bury, J.B. The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians. London: Macmillan and Co., 1928.

Dalton, O.M. The History of the Franks, by Gregory of Tours. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1927.

Drew, Katherine Fischer. The Burgundian Code. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,


Gordon, C.D. The Age of Attila. Ann Arbor: Uni- versity of Michigan Press, 1961.

Guichard, Rene, Essai sur l'histoire du peuple bur- gonde, de Bornholm (Burgundarholm) vers la Bour- gogne et les Bourguignons, 1965, published by A. et J. Picard et Cie.

Murray, Alexander Callander. From Roman to Merovingian Gaul. Broadview Press, 2000.

Musset, Lucien. The Germanic Invasions: The Mak- ing of Europe AD 400-600. University Park, Penn- sylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1975. ISBN 978-0-271-01198-1.

Nerman, Birger. Det svenska rikets uppkomst. Gen- eralstabens litagrafiska anstalt: Stockholm. 1925.

Rivers, Theodore John. Laws of the Salian and Ripuarian Franks. New York: AMS Press, 1986.



Rolfe, J.C., trans, Ammianus Marcellinus. Cam-

bridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press,


Shanzer, Danuta. 'Dating the Baptism of Clovis.' In Early Medieval Europe, volume 7, pages 29–57. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1998.

Shanzer, D. and I. Wood. Avitus of Vienne: Letters and Selected Prose. Translated with an Introduction and Notes. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press,


Werner, J. (1953). “Beiträge sur Archäologie des Attila-Reiches”, Die Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaft. Abhandlungen. N.F. XXXVIII A Philosophische-philologische und historische Klasse. Münche

Wood, Ian N. 'Ethnicity and the Ethnogenesis of the Burgundians’. In Herwig Wolfram and Walter Pohl, editors, Typen der Ethnogenese unter beson- derer Berücksichtigung der Bayern, volume 1, pages 53–69. Vienna: Denkschriften der Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1990.

Wood, Ian N. The Merovingian Kingdoms. Harlow, England: The Longman Group, 1994.


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