Frankish Travelogue – Gascony

Gascony is the area bordered by the Pyrenees to the south, the Atlantic to the west, the Garonne river to the north, and a less defined boundary to the east. It has never included Toulouse. Those distinctions have stayed pretty firm over the centuries, except when the border of the “Duchy of Vasconia” extended as far south as Pamplona in the seventh century.

The early medieval histories of Aquitaine and Gascony are inextricably linked, in the same way the histories of Aquitaine and Francia are linked. The fortunes of one inevitably affected the fortunes of the other. The early history of Gascony is particularly hazy, even by ‘Dark Age’ standards.

In 670 or so a Duke Lupus came to power over Aquitaine and Gascony. The scholar Pierre Riche says, “Victorious over the Basques, Duke Lupus exploited the struggles between Ebroin and the Austrasians to carve out a new princedom for himself south of the Garonne.”1.Riche, Carolingians: Family Who Forged Europe, p.29. This was during a period of retrenchment in Francia, and the outlying areas found themselves able to purse greater independence. In 675 Lupus organized a church synod in Bordeaux, a sign of a rule both enlightened and powerful enough to pull it off. But that is the last we hear of Duke Lupus, despite his terrific name.

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Roman roads

While rivers have always played an important role in commerce and conquest, if you really want to get things done, you have to have roads. The Romans understood this better than anyone, and their road network is a testament to their foresight, energy, and engineering acumen.

Why discuss Roman roads in a website devoted to the eighth century? Because the roads were essential to Carolingian expansion and imperial development, just as they were to the Romans. Let’s consider an example.

In 734 Charles Martel was expanding his kingdom into Provence. One of the lordlings who offered resistance was chased from Marseilles into Avignon, at which point he made the unfortunate decision to ally himself with the Muslims of Septimania. Charles proceeded to lay siege to Avignon and defeated Frank and Arab alike. After defeating the occupiers Charles turned west and laid waste to a host of Muslim towns in Septimania, from Nimes to Narbonne. He then turned and besieged Avignon a second time, as the Muslims had made a second sortie and recaptured it. All of this was accomplished in the span of a single campaign season.

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Muslim funerals – in France

We have spent some time looking at the Muslim presence in western Europe during the early medieval era, including a survey of the age, a review of Martel’s campaign in 727, as well as the ever-popular Battle of Poitiers. There are plenty of primary and secondary sources available for anyone who wants to know more. One point worth noting is that our information is almost exclusively textual, as the archaeological evidence is practically non-existent. Until now.

Excavations carried out in 2006 by the French rescue archaeology company INRAP1.Last seen excavating a well packed with bodies. in the city of Nimes revealed three Muslim burials. Recently eight of the investigators released a multi-disciplinary study in the journal PlosOne that opens a fresh chapter on the study of eighth century Muslims in France.

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1. Last seen excavating a well packed with bodies.