In the aftermath of the fall of the Western Roman Empire, in 476 CE, there arose five great Germanic Kingdoms. Of these five kingdoms the smallest would leave behind a law code, a Germanic Mythological Hero, and a King Saint who would be honored by a Holy Roman Emperor. This Kingdom is known as the Kingdoms of the Burgundians, for there were actually two, but all were led by the same dynastic family.

King Gunther and his Kingdom

In the waning years of the Western Roman Empire there was a great migration of Germanic Barbarians into the Province of Gaul, due to the freezing of the Rhine in 406 CE. King Gundahar (later called Gunther) settled his tribe west of the Rhine in what was then Roman land in 411 CE, this would constitute the founding of the first Burgundian Kingdom. Three great cities made up this early Burgundian Kingdom, Worms, Speyer, and Strasbourg. After founding his kingdom Gundahar with the Alans set up the Western Roman Emperor Jovinus as a puppet. With this Emperor the Burgundians gained the title Foederati. (Foederati were famously the Germanic Kingdoms on the border of the Empire that were given special benefits to fight for protecting the Roman Empire from other invading Tribes. By the time the Burgundians were able to gain this title it basically became the Roman Empire accepting the German Kingdoms as legitimate countries.) Later Emperor Honorius would give them this title and “land grant” again, and in essence giving the Burgundians a strong claim on the land they had settled.

King Gundahar ruled the Kingdom from 411 CE to 436 CE and he was the sole ruler of this kingdom. Interestingly this kingdom was made up of Arian Christians. Even though Gundahar was granted the land by Romans he still led raids into  Roman lands, most notably Gallica Bellgica. In 436 the Romans had gotten their revenge on the Burgundians. Flavius Aetius “the last of the Romans” was a famous General of the late Western Roman Empire, he would be well known for finally stopping the Huns in the Battle of Catalaunians Plain but he is also known as “Terror of the Barbarians.” Aetius would lead an army of Romans and Huns in 436 to sack the city of Worms and kill King Gundahar and effectively ending the First Kingdom of the Burgundians. Aetius would then resettle the Burgundians south federated as a new Foederati.

Gundahar’s legacy would be a great one, even though he was defeated swiftly by the Romans and Huns. In Germanic Folklore he would be called the Great King Gunther who would be martyred at the hands of the Huns (which is interesting because the legends never mention the Romans in this conflict.) It was believed in these mythologies that he was a dragon slayer. Most importantly for the future of the Kingdom of Burgundy he left behind sons who would reclaim glory in their father’s defeat.

The Second Kingdom of the Burgundians

It would be King Gundioc, son of King Gundahar, who would reorganize the Burgundians and finally settle them in the city of Lugdunum (the Modern City of Lyons). Gundioc would work hard to ensure the safety of his people and the growth of his kingdom by allying himself with important Roman Generals. He famously worked alongside Flavius Aetius, the same man who killed his father, to fight Atilla the Hun in 451. He would then marry Ricimer’s, the Chief General of the Roman Empire after Aetius was assassinated, sister.

After the death of Gundioc I his younger Brother Chilpric I would rule with Gundioc’s four sons. The four sons upon the death of Chilpric would split the kingdom in war between Gundobod and his three brothers where Gundobod would be the victor and next king of Burgundy.

 

Great King Gundobod

Gundobod was not only the son of King Gundioc but also the Nephew of the Roman General Ricimer. Upon Ricimer’s death in 472. He had held the office of Patrician for nearly a year and in that time it is thought he played power politics, elevating Emperor Glycierius to Western Roman Imperial Throne but upon the ascent to the throne by Emperor Julius Nepos (who was technically the last living Western Roman Emperor due to not dying until 480 even though he had not held real power since 474), who showed up to Rome with a small army, Gundobod had lost all power in the Empire and returned home to take power back from his bickering brothers.

King Gundobod would eventually wretch the kingdom of Burgundy form his brothers in 473 and he would rule till his death in 516. He is considerably the best Burgundian King and is well known for many achievements. He married his niece, Clotilde, to the Frankish King Clovis I, who was persistent in attempting to convince him to convert to Christianity, and literally convert all the Franks to Christianity. This marriage gave Gundobod a strong alliance with the Franks against the Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy. In 490 the Ostrogoths were tied up with a war in Central Italy and Gundobod led a large raid into their kingdom. After that the Franks went to war with the Visigoths, which would give the Burgundians some gains in Gaul. But eventually the Ostrogoths had gotten revenge on the Burgundians. After the death of Clovis I in 511 Gundobod gained the titular title of Magister Militum (Master of Soldiers) by the Eastern Roman Emperor and was considered the most influential man in Gaul for some time.

One of the greatest achievements of the Kingdom of Burgundy was the formation of the Lex Burgundionium (also known as the Lex Gundaboda) a law code that would combine Germanic and Roman law. The Roman Influence on it would be the order for written documentation. Ther Germanic influence would be the Land Inheritance Law, that land must pass between family and could not be bought or sold, and the Weregild, literally blood money or money paid to a family for the murder of one’s family member to avoid blood feuds.

The Fall of Burgundy

In 516 Gundobod died and he was succeeded by his eldest son Sigismund. Under Sigismund Burgundy began a slow expansion into Italy, Switzerland, and France. In 523 Clotilde, the niece whom Gundobod married to Clovis I of the Franks called for her sons, and the successors of Clovis, to get revenge against Gundobod’s sons for Gundobod’s killing of her father Chilperic II in the civil war to gain the throne of Burgundy years earlier. The four Frankish kings invaded and had defeated the initial defense of Burgundy. Sigismund had then left and joined a monastery wearing a habit in hopes to hide from the invading army. He was then captured and beheaded. Even though he had ruled for a short period of time and was somewhat unsuccessful as a king he left behind a scholarly legacy. He left behind letters of correspondence he had with the Scholar Avitus, the last great scholar of Gaul. He was then venerated for some time at a monastery in southern Switzerland and he would later attain Sainthood. A Holy Roman Emperor moved the his relics to Prague, and the name of the Hungarian King, and son of the very Holy Roman Emperor who moved the relics, was also Sigismund. Saint King Sigismund would then become the Patron Saint of the Czech Republic.

Upon his death in 524 Sigismund’s brother Godomar gained the throne and was able to, with the support of the Ostrogoths in the south, take back most of his kingdom. On July 24 of 524 at the battle of Vezeronce Godomar was able to route the Frankish army and hold off their invasion and kill one of the sons of Clovis. Even though Godomar was initially successful a decade later in 535 he would be invaded finally by the Franks and be fully conquered. Godomar was killed in this final conflict against the Franks.

After this loss Burgundy was fully added to the Frankish Kingdom, and the Frankish Kings would carry the title King of the Burgundians until the splitting up of the Carolingian Empire. The Legacy of the Burgundians is great, even to having a Province in France named after them, Burgundy. This ancient Kingdom had  a King who was a Germanic Folklore Hero and Dragon slayer, a famous Law Code, and a Saint as king. For being the smallest of the ancient Germanic Kingdoms Burgundy was quite successful.

Writer – Vincent Wise