Francia travelogue – Septimania

Today the French Mediterranean coast is known for soft sandy beaches and elegant resorts. Thirteen centuries ago the region was on the brink of years of battle and bloodshed.

Septimania was a vaguely rectangular region that ran from the French southwest Mediterranean coast to the northeast for perhaps 150 miles, and from the sea to about fifty miles inland. It was bounded by the Pyrenees, the Mediterranean, and the river Rhone to the east. First named for the Roman seventh legion who settled there, the region included one of the first Roman roads in Gaul, the Via Domitia, that ran from Italy to Spain. The Via Aquitania split off from that and ran to Bordeaux. The towns of Narbonne and Agde were ports and trading sites in Roman times, and salt was extracted from around Narbonne. The province remained more Roman than Rome as the barbarians closed around the mother city in the fourth and fifth centuries. Finally in 462 the Romans handed it to the Visigoths.

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Half brother, all trouble, second half

When we last left Grifo, he had just gained his freedom after being imprisoned by his half-brother Pepin after the death of their father, Charles Martel. Pepin, in charge of the whole kingdom under the nominal rule of the last Merovingian king, Childeric III, had evidently decided to give his half-brother, now years wiser, a second chance. Perhaps Pepin had visited Grifo during his imprisonment, and in their talks together the younger man had convinced the older of his readiness to serve the man and the kingdom.

Pepin assigned Grifo twelve counties in western Neustria, with a capital at Le Mans. This was no mere sinecure, a backwater outpost of no value. Grifo’s lands would act as a bulwark to the Bretons to the west and the Aquitanians to the south. If need arose this duchy could be a springboard to invade either region. All in all a fine collection of lands, of strategic and political import, and the source of a lot of revenue.1.Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare, p.43. But as the Royal Frankish Annals note, “Grifo… did not want to be under the thumb of his brother Pepin, although he held an honorable place.”2.RFA, 747.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare, p.43.
2. RFA, 747.

Half brother, all trouble, first half

Grifo, son of Charles Martel, is one of the more enigmatic figures of the eighth century. Depending on how you read the sources, he was either a world class trouble maker and usurper who deserved a bad end, or a good son criminally hounded out of his lawful inheritance. Let’s take a look at the various versions.

Charles Martel invaded the province of Bavaria in 725, as part of a successful campaign in the east. “When he had subjugated this land he returned home with treasure, and also with a certain [Pilctrude] and her niece [Swanahild].”1.Fredegar Continuations, ch. 12.2.As with all of the names we encounter, there are several spellings floating around. Pilctrude is also spelled Beletrudis and Pilitrude. Swanahild is also spelled Sunnichildis. I have gone with the most common usage. These were not just a couple of women he found along the way. Pilctrude was the wife of the Bavarian duke Grimoald, and the wife of his dead brother. I cannot imagine a more flagrant taunt than to take your enemy’s wife. It is not clear, however, that he took her for his own, so to speak.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Fredegar Continuations, ch. 12.
2. As with all of the names we encounter, there are several spellings floating around. Pilctrude is also spelled Beletrudis and Pilitrude. Swanahild is also spelled Sunnichildis. I have gone with the most common usage.