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THE VISIGOTHS IN SPAIN
Weakness of the Visigothic kingdom—Civil wars and murders of Kings— The Romans invade Andalusia, 554—Reign of Leovigild—He restores the power of the Visigoths—His conquests—Rebellion and death of his son Hermenegild—Reign of Reccared—He converts the Goths to Catholicism —Consequences of this conversion.
We have already, while dealing with the fortunes of Chlodovech the Frank and Theodoric the Great, related the story of the expulsion of the Visigoths from Aquitaine, and of the extinction of their royal house—the heaven-born Balts—by the deaths of Alaric n. and Amalric, both slain by the sword of the Franks.
In 531 the Visigoths, deprived of all their dominions north of the Pyrenees, and followed into the Iberian peninsula by the victorious Franks, found themselves without any prince of the old royal line who could be raised to the throne, and Election of deliver them from their enemies. The host proTheudis, 531. ceeded, according to Teutonic custom, to elect a king, and chose the old count Theudis, the Ostrogothfc noble who had acted as regent for Amalric during the long years of his minority. The veteran justified their choice by recovering part of the lost lands beyond the Pyrenees—the rich province of Septimania, with its cities of Narbonne, Nismes, and Carcassonne. Ten years later Theudis had to face another Frankish invasion, and again succeeded in repelling his adversaries, after a bloody battle in front of Saragossa
Preserved from the danger of Frankish conquest, the Visigothic nation had to face the problem of reorganising its constitution under the new conditions of its existence. It had previously looked on Gaul rather than on Spain as its home. Toulouse had been the favourite abode of its kings, not Barcelona or Toledo. Gaul was now lost, save one province, and it was in Spain alone that the Visigothic name was to survive. But even worse than the loss of its ancient home was the loss of its ancient royal house. Nothing could be more ruinous to a Teutonic tribe in those days than the extinction of the line of its old heaven-descended kings. When it had become necessary to choose a ruler from among the ranks of the nobility, every ambitious count and duke could aspire to the throne. Each election was bitterly contested, and the candidates who had failed to win the favour of the host retired to plot and intrigue against their more fortunate rival. When no one had any prescriptive hereditary right to the succession on the reigning king's death, the temptation to make away with him by violence, and endeavour to seize his heritage, was irresistible. Hence it came to pass that of the twenty-three Visigothic kings of Spain—from Theudis to Roderic—no less than nine were deposed, and of these seven were murdered by their successors. The average length of their reigns was less than eight years, and only in eight instances did a son succeed a father on the throne. There was but one single case of grandfather, father, and son following each other in undisputed succession. *
In relating the history of the Franks in Gaul, we have had occasion to point out the comparative ease with which the Frank and the Roman provincial coalesced to form a new weakness of nation. We have seen how from the first the Gaulish the Visigoths. bishops were employed as ministers and confidants by the Merovings, and how, in a short time, Gallo-Roman counts and 1 See p. 133.
PERIOD I. I
dukes were preferred to high places in the Frankish palace and array. In Spain no such easy union between the Teutonic conquerors and the provincials was possible, because the great bar of religion lay between them. Unlike the Franks, the Visigoths were Arians, having preserved the heretical form of Christianity which their forefathers had learnt beyond the Danube in the fourth century. The Spanish provincials, on the other hand, were almost to a man fanatically orthodox. The Goths formed a religious community of their own, quite apart from the Spaniards, with Arian bishops and priests to minister to them; and their kings could not acknowledge or utilise the native bishops as the Merovings had done in Gaul. The provincials hated their rulers as heretics as well as barbarians, and never acquiesced willingly in their domination. They were not indisposed to favour the advance of the orthodox Frank, and welcomed the coming of the troops of the East-Roman emperors to their shores in the sixth century. While the Visigoths remained Arian they raised no Spaniard to power or office; it was not till they became Catholic, in the very end of the sixth century, that the first Roman names are found among the servants of the king.1 For the first seventy years of their rule in Spain the Visigoths were completely estranged from their subjects (511-587).
The masters of Spain, then, were a not very numerous tribe, scattered thinly among masses of an oppressed subject population. They were masters by the power of the sword alone, but their military force was crippled by the weakness of their elective kings, who were too much occupied in maintaining their precarious authority over the discontented chiefs to allow of their making their arms felt abroad. Nearly all the wars of the Visigoths were either civil broils between rival kings, or defensive campaigns against the intrusive Frank from beyond the Pyrenees.
1 The earliest notable case is duke Claudius, the general of king Reccared I., the first orthodox ruler of Spain. He commanded victoriously against the Franks of Guntram of Burgundy in 589.
There is yet one more point to add to this picture of the distracted realm of the Visigoths; they were not even masters of the whole of the Iberian peninsula, but had to contend with fierce and watchful enemies within its limits. In the western Pyrenees, and on the shores of the Gulf of Biscay, the Basques preserved a precarious independence, and descended from their fastnesses to plunder the valley of the Ebro, whenever the Goths were engaged in civil discords. Farther to the west there still subsisted in the ancient Galicia and Lusitania the kingdom of the Suevi—the original Teutonic conquerors of Spain. The early Visigothic kings had driven them into the mountains of the West, but had never followed them into their last retreats, to compel them to make complete submission. Suevic kings reigned at Braga over the country north of the Tagus and west of the Esla and Tormes till the last years of the sixth century. Whenever a favourable opportunity occurred, they took part in the civil wars of the Visigoths, and harried the valley of the upper Douro and the lower Tagus.
The inner organisation of the Visigothic realm presents a very different picture from the centralised despotism, with everything depending on the king, which we have described as existing among the early Franks in Gaul. Like the Franks the Visigoths had divided their conquest into districts, governed by counts or dukes, generally using as the unit of division the old Roman boundaries of provinces and civitates. But the Visigothic governors were far less under the control of their elective kings than were the Frankish counts under the hand of the despotic Merovingians. Each of them kept a bodyguard of personal dependants called—as among the Ostrogoths—saiones, or sometimes bucellarii, whom he could trust to follow him even against the king. It was the possession of this armed following among a helpless, . weaponless mass of provincials which enabled any count or duke who was popular and ambitious to dare an attempt at rebellion, whenever his master was weak or unfortunate. There seems to have been a comparatively small body of lesser freeholders—ceorls as they would have been called in England —among the Visigoths. There is little trace of any intermediate class between the nobles—whether official nobles, palatini, or nobles of birth—and their sworn followers the saiones. In fact, the kingdom might fairly be called feudal in its organisation, consisting as it did of a servile population of HispanoRoman blood, held down by a sprinkling of Gothic men-atarms, each bound by oath to follow some great noble, who considered himself the equal of his king, and vouchsafed him only the barest homage. As yet the king had no opportunity of supporting himself by calling in to his aid either the Church or the subject Roman population; his Arianism prevented him from having recourse to any such expedient.
The difference between Roman and Goth was indeed accentuated in every way. There were different codes of law for subject and master, the former using a local adaptation of the Theodosian code known as the Breviarium Alarici, while the latter was judged by old Gothic customary law not yet reduced into written form.1 Even marriage between the two races was illegal, till about 570 king Leovrgild broke the prohibition by taking to wife Theodosia, the daughter of Severianus. Spain sadly needed some ruler like Theodoric the Great, to act as a mediator and redresser of wrongs between the two nations who dwelt within its borders.
An evil end fell upon all the first three Visigothic kings who ruled in Spain. The aged Theudis enjoyed seventeen years of power, and, as we have already related, was successful in beating off three successive attacks of the Franks on the peninsula. But the end of his reign was clouded by disaster; frightened by the rapidity with which the armies of Justinian had crushed Vandal and Goth, he resolved to create a diversion in favour of his own Italian kinsmen, by attacking the newly-created imperial province of Africa. But his army was almost annihilated in front of the fortress of Septa (Ceuta),
1 The Gothic law was probably written down about 587 by Reccared.