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N. Lemas, Les Mérovingiens (Yaniv Fox)

Francia-Recensio 2017/2 Mittelalter – Moyen Âge (500–1500)

Nicolas Lemas, Les Mérovingiens. Société, pouvoir, politique 451–751, Paris (Armand Colin) 2016, 256 p. (Cursus. Histoire), ISBN 978-2-200-61416-4, EUR 18,50.

rezensiert von/compte rendu rédigé par

Yaniv Fox, Ramat Gan

Writing a textbook about the Merovingians is not an easy task. Wedged between the grandeurs of Rome and of the Carolingians, theMerovingians have had a troubled relationship with historians, who have depicted them intermittently as the harbingers of France or as the despoilers of Classical civilization. Even among non-experts – as the intended readers of this book certainly are – the Merovingians have traditionally evoked either obliviousness or derision. Nicolas Lemas has set out to make Frankish society between the 5thand the 8th centuries more accessible, and he has done so with some success.

The book is divided into seven chapters, charting a familiar course between the crisis of the Roman Empire in the West and the emergence of a new social order under the ascendant Carolingians. This division allows the author to look at a range of different social, political and economic attributes of the Frankish realm, although political questions undoubtedly take center stage. From the outset it becomes clear that the book seeks to reconcile a range of different historiographical traditions. Certainly, Gregory of Tours’s depiction of the early Merovingians or Einhard’s memorable caricature of their successors have shaped the way we view their world today. Charting the different ways in which historians have engaged with these texts and others is therefore important, although for a book designed to acquaint its readership with the Merovingians, this has a certain inconsistent effect.

In a very dense first chapter, the author sets out to confront a wide range of topics. Beginning with the incorporation of barbarians into the Roman military and the fissures within Gallo-Roman society, the chapter goes on to chart the movement of barbarian armies throughout Gaul as a feature of a wider crisis of empire. The integration of the barbarians into the fabric of provincial society is the subject of chapter 2, which opens with a brief description of Goffart’s ideas on accommodation, and quickly moves on to questions of cultural synthesis. Ruralization of society is a case in point. The author posits that the emergence of a landed rural culture, distinct from its Roman and barbarian forbears, was a by-product of the cultural fusion depicted earlier. Given Lemas's opening assumptions – a distinctly urban Roman civilization and a Germanic world drawing its wealth primarily from spoils of war (p. 48) – we must indeed accept this as a new development. Our ability to gauge the ruralization of society in post-Roman Gaul is, however, contingent on the »rural«perspective of available sources, which often consciously employ classicizing, bucolic imagery, or, in the case of monastic hagiography, propel their protagonists into imaginary deserts and wastelands. Nevertheless, it seems to me that barbarians – or, at the very least, bearers of barbarian names – operated quite efficiently in urban spaces, which remained important throughout the Merovingian period. As later becomes clear, this is intended less as a cultural discussion of ruralization than as an observation on the Frankish elites’ accumulation of wealth, and the regional nature of their landed holdings, as opposed to the more widely spread, »Mediterranean« domains of their Roman predecessors.

Chapter 3opens with the campaigns of Childeric, Clovis, and of the next generation of Merovingians, charting their advance from imperial officials in Belgica secundato the undisputed masters of Gaul. Lemas then moves on to the mechanics governing the partitions of the realm and the gradual stabilization of three Teilreiche. Rather than seeing them as imperfections to the political model, the Frankish sub-kingdoms are correctly understood as products of compromise, providing the best contemporary means of ruling such vast territory. Regional identities are likewise discussed – Austrasia as the economic heart of the Frankish realm, Neustria as its political center – foreshadowing the conflicts of the late 7th century and the basis upon which Pippinid power will eventually grow.

Chapter 4analyzes the political structure of the regnum, taking the institution of kinship as its first order of business. Strife within the Frankish ruling classes, and its attendant »emotional« features, are also explored. The author is patently aware of the work of Barbara Rosenwein, although somewhat lacking is an analysis of the stylized, performative aspects of public emotional display. In chapter 5, Lemas arrives at the alliance of the king and the church. He proceeds to outline the role of the episcopate as an »integral part of the state’s hierarchy«(p. 130), a responsibility which emerged originally from the bishops’ function as urban evergetai, and which Merovingian kings were quick to harness to their advantage. This, remarks Lemas, has been equally beneficial for the bishops, who by the 7th century had amassed remarkable riches. Having evolved into a unique class of landed magnates, the episcopate also wielded formidable power over the regulation of saints’ cults.

The rise of monasticism, presented next, is of especial personal interest. The emergence of monasticism as an important political force is presented as having stemmed from two novel developments – the widespread adoption of a »Columbanian«rule, and the rise of a cult associated with the king, especially in Saint-Denis. Lemas’s description of this process is clearly informed by his reading of Régine Le Jan, which is to be lauded, as her work has indeed contributed greatly to our understanding of the underlying dynamics behind elite networks. Still, I feel the Irish roots of this phenomenon are overstated, as is the novelty of the king’s association with the monastery, for which Saint-Maurice d’Agaune and Saint-Marcel de Chalon provide illustrative antecedents. Lemas concludes by underscoring the contribution of elite culture – lay, episcopal and monastic – to the Christianization of society in Gaul.

Chapter 6is concerned with the crisis of the 7th century and the rise of the Pippinids. Lemas prudently decided to open with a cautionary note on the sources’ Carolingian bias, followed by an important and lucid examination of hagiography and the methodological challenges it poses. Erchinoald’s mayoralty and the regency of Balthild provide a preamble for a discussion of the »tyranny of Ebroin«, the rise of Pippin II, and the consolidation of power under Charles Martel. The chapter concludes with the events of 751, bringing the Merovingian period to a close.

Chapter 7, whose topic is the »birth of dominium«, stands somewhat outside the chronological arc of the previous chapters. Several interesting strands are picked up here: center vs. periphery, the kinship structures of the aristocracy, and the familial policies of elite groups. The closing sections of this chapter are dedicated to the establishment of vassalage and other structures of lordship and control over property. Four appendices conclude the book: a brief treatment of royal violence and Klosterpolitik; a discussion of the Goudelancourt necropolis; two short examinations of Merovingian material culture – a sarcophagus and fibulae.

The book provides a clear and concise overview of the structures of power in Frankish society under the Merovingians. Something that I found lacking was a discussion of the Frankish realm's function within the wider Mediterranean community. Already in chapter 2, Lemas cites the relocation of the economic center northwards and the ultimate decline of the city as having occasioned a final rupture with the Mediterranean world. One should note that recent scholarship on the Merovingians – even the late ones – has emphasized opposite trends. As the works of Stefan Esders and others have convincingly shown, the Franks of the 6thand 7th centuries were an integral part of a Mediterranean community, with whom they shared not only economic interests but also a strong cultural affinity.

Other than this, Lemas’s arguments are, on the whole, consistent with current thinking about the relevant questions. The book certainly does an adequate job of introducing what is, for novice readers, an alien world. It is perhaps a question of preference, but I would have liked to see some discussion of cultural trends – art, liturgy, law and literature – and their role in shaping the social landscape. Secondly, elucidating more clearly the problematic nature of the sources, as was indeed done for hagiography in chapter 6, would have been beneficial. Nevertheless, for students of Late Antique and Early Medieval history, Lemas’s work offers an accessible and welcoming foray into the world of the Merovingians.

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PSJ Metadata
Yaniv Fox
Les Mérovingiens
Société, pouvoir, politique 451–751
CC-BY 4.0
Antike (1200 v.Chr.-600 n.Chr.), Frühes Mittelalter (600-1050)
6. - 12. Jh.
Merowinger (11858118X), Merowingerzeit (7510349-7)
PDF document lemas_fox.doc.pdf — PDF document, 337 KB
N. Lemas, Les Mérovingiens (Yaniv Fox)
URL: http://www.perspectivia.net/publikationen/francia/francia-recensio/2017-2/ma/lemas_fox
Veröffentlicht am: 13.06.2017 15:18
Zugriff vom: 23.07.2017 06:41
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