Aquitaine, the Heart of France

Aquitaine occupied the central region of modern France. The Atlantic to the west, the Loire river to the north and east, while to the southwest the Garonne river is the border between Aquitaine and Gascony. The region of Septimania bordered Aquitaine to the southeast. The area is mostly flat, with hills and mountains in the southeast. It was one of the richest regions of Europe at the time. Patrick Geary describes it thusly: “The riches of Aquitaine, not only its agricultural produce but also its salt, wood, furs, marble, lead, iron, and silver mines had long made it a valued Frankish possession.”1.Geary, Before France and Germany, p.202. He and Fouracre, below, outline the political social situation in more detail.

The major towns and cities included Poitiers, Bordeaux, Nantes, Cahors, and Liguge. The town and mines of Melle produced much of the silver for the Carolingian coinage.

Carolingian penny

The seventh and eighth centuries of Aquitanian history reflect the tensions between Aquitanians and Franks. Both groups were inheritors of the Roman Empire, but the Aquitanians were more closely related to the Romans, and tended to refer to their neighbors to the north as barbarii. Aquitaine was named for the Aquitani tribe of Gaul as described by Ceasar (“All Gaul is divided into three parts”). During the seventh century the Merovingian kings appointed various nobles to rule over the region. But with the unrest that wracked the core Frankish territories in the second half of the century the native nobility saw a chance to exert their independence.

Duke Eudo ruled Aquitaine for the first third of the eighth century. While forced to acknowledge the rule of Charles Martel after the battle of Poitiers in 732, he left Aquitaine as a relatively independent province or state. While lordship was acknowledged, they were left to their own affairs. His son Hunoald took over on Eudo’s death in 735. While his father may have pledged some kind of submission to Charles, Hunoald immediately declared independence from the north. Charles was not a man to leave loose strings, and he launched a punitive raid deep into Hunoald’s territory. Charles was also, however, someone who was willing to let diplomacy achieve what it could, not to mention aware that the many forts and fortified towns in Aquitaine would make it a tough nut to crack.2.Fouracre does a good job outlining the strife between Francia and Aquitaine in the first half of the century, p.81 – 89. The two came to some kind of agreement that acknowledged the superiority of the Franks that lasted for six years.

The agreement must have been of a personal nature, for Hunoald again declared independence when Charles died in 741. His declaration was part of a general uprising in some of the regions around Francia, as once-independent kingdoms took advantage of the de facto king’s death. His two sons and heirs, Pepin and Carloman (also Grifo, but that’s another story), had been given domain over (roughly) Neustria and Austrasia respectively. For five years the brothers fought against the the rebellions. In Aquitaine this took the form of a series of battles and incursions that crossed the Loire in both directions. Finally Hunoald called in quits in 744. He made peace and retired to a monastery. His son Waifar became duke of Aquitaine, and all was quiet for another sixteen years.

Finally Pepin, who had had himself anointed king in 751, decided that the time had come to fully incorporate Aquitaine into the Frankish fold. In 760 he sent an ultimatum to Waifar, telling him “to restore the ecclesiastical properties of his kingdom situated in Aquitaine, to conserve them under the title of immunities in the traditional manner, and not to send officials and tax-collectors into the properties contrary to established usage.”3.Fredegar Continuations, p.109 Now this was a bit rich, given the Peppinid habit of expropriating church property and distributing it to deserving nobles. But history is replete with examples, and our age is certainly no exception, of unrealistic or unfair demands being issued prior to a predetermined invasion. The Annals are perhaps closer to the mark, if unintentionally, when they say, “By his defiance Waifar goaded the king into making war on him.”4.RFA, 760, Scholz, p43 What followed was as bloody and vicious a campaign as anything before or since.

For eight years the war raged. Towns and fortresses were taken, destroyed, retaken and rebuilt, and taken and destroyed again. Bernard Bachrach does an amazing job detailing the mayhem, in this last and most destructive of Pepin’s campaigns. In the end the Aquitanian spirit was broken, and so was Pepin. Waifar’s allies handed him over to Pepin, who had him hanged in 768. Later that year Pepin himself died.

That was the last of the Aquitanian rebellions. Pepin’s son Charlemagne celebrated Easter in the region in 777, and four years later appointed his three-year old son Louis as King of Aquitaine. It is not mentioned again in the Annals for the rest of the century, a sure sign of quiescence. By 800 Aquitaine had been firmly enfolded into the Frankish empire, where it remains to this day.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Geary, Before France and Germany, p.202. He and Fouracre, below, outline the political social situation in more detail.
2. Fouracre does a good job outlining the strife between Francia and Aquitaine in the first half of the century, p.81 – 89.
3. Fredegar Continuations, p.109
4. RFA, 760, Scholz, p43

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