‘Barbarian’ and ‘Roman’ Rulers and the Shaping of Merovingian Kingship
Entering the postclassical world, this chapter examines what happened when Roman power structures were inhabited by so-called barbarian, do-nothing kings. Focusing in particular on the multilayered depiction of Chilperic I (c. 539–589) in the Histories of Gregory of Tours, the chapter shows that the Merovingian kings are rebuked not only for barbarous and un-Christian behaviors but also, surprisingly, for being ‘too Roman’. These critiques originate with local political and ecclesiastical elites, who feared a destabilizing displacement of their own authority and jurisdiction as the Merovingians strove to centralize their state after the model of Rome. Once again, therefore, foreignness of various kinds becomes the marker of a bad king, this time reflecting the interplay between the complex sociopolitical developments of the sixth century and the Roman imperial tradition.
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