Leovigild

(r. 568/569-586)
   Visigothic king of Spain (r. 568/569-586), Leovigild enjoyed great military success against a variety of rivals, including the Byzantine Empire as well as other barbarian peoples. His power was recognized by other kings in Europe, and his son Hermenegild married a Merovingian princess. But Hermenegild also sought to overthrow his father and rebelled. Hermenegild's revolt and marriage also revealed one of the fundamental tensions of Leovigild's reign, the tension between Catholic and Arian Christians. Although Leovigild took great steps to unify the kingdom religiously as well as politically, the great religious dilemma was resolved only during the reign of his other son, Reccared. Leovigild did attempt to establish common ground between his Arian beliefs and those of the Catholic majority in Spain, but ultimately failed in his efforts. Both Hermenegild and Reccared converted to Catholic Christianity, and it was Reccared who provided the solution of the great religious question that Leovigild tried so hard to answer.
   Raised to the status of coruler and given charge of Spain by his brother Liuva I (r. 568/569-573), Leovigild was one of the great kings of the sixth century. He sought to unify Spain, both politically and religiously, under his authority. To secure that end, he modeled royal ceremonial rites more closely after the practices of the Eastern Empire and abolished the law forbidding intermarriage between Goths and Romans. He also undertook frequent campaigns to suppress rebels and rivals for power. As one contemporary chronicler noted, Leovigild restored Gothic territory in Spain to its traditional boundaries. He led his armies in annual campaigns against a variety of foes including Byzantines, Basques, and other barbarian peoples. The king also suppressed a number of independent cities, including Córdoba, and extended his kingdom into the northeast. He thus incorporated most of the peninsula into his kingdom. As a sign of his growing power and self-confidence, Leovigild founded the city Reccopolis, an action usually reserved for Roman emperors, and in 573 made his sons Hermenegild and Reccared coregents to help administer the kingdom. Moreover, his efforts brought him recognition outside the kingdom, including an important marriage between his son Hermenegild and the Merovingian princess Ingunde in 579. Of course, his military success also generated dissension within the kingdom, and Hermenegild's marriage to the Catholic Ingunde, as well as his close relationship with Leander, leader of the Catholic church and brother of the important author Isidore of Seville, eventually led the young king to convert to Catholicism from his father's Arianism.
   Despite the marriage alliance between his son and the Catholic Merovingian princess, Leovigild was committed to the Arian faith and sought to unify his kingdom under the Arian banner. He took a number of steps to ensure the success of his version of the Christian faith at the expense of the Catholic church in Spain, including banishing a number of bishops. His efforts, however, did not turn to persecution; instead he promoted conversion. To accomplish that end and the triumph of Arianism in Spain, he held a council at Toledo in 580. The council promoted the Arian faith of Leovigild but also sought to convert Catholic Christians in Spain, passing several decrees that were intended to make conversion more likely. The council introduced theological changes that brought Spanish Arianism closer to Catholic teaching by recognizing that the Son of God was equal (aequalis) to the Father, not just similar (similis), as the Arian church in Spain had taught. The council also recognized the Catholic sacrament of baptism and abolished the law mandating rebaptism for converts, thus eliminating an impediment to conversion. Leovigild's council also adopted a more conciliatory policy toward the veneration of relics, which was unknown to Arian Christians. The more tolerant and open attitude of Leovigild's church enjoyed some success, and at least one bishop, Vincent of Saragossa, converted. His effort failed nonetheless, because of the strength of the Catholic faith among his Roman subjects and because of the intellectual weakness of the Arian church.
   The failure of Leovigild's religious policy is no better illustrated than in the actions of his two sons Hermenegild and Reccared, both of whom converted to Catholic Christianity. The more serious conversion for Leovigild was that of Hermenegild, which was accompanied by a revolt against his father. In 579, Hermenegild made his conversion and broke with his father. He actively sought allies against Leovigild and found them in Constantinople and among the people his father had conquered. He also found a friend and supporter in Pope Gregory I the Great, who later promoted Hermenegild as a martyr to the faith. Indeed, Hermenegild portrayed himself as a victim of persecution and used that as justification for rebellion against his father. His efforts ultimately failed, and his rebellion was put down by 584. Leovigild exiled his son to Valencia in 584 and then to Tarragona, where Hermenegild was murdered in 585. Despite Gregory's support of Hermenegild, most contemporary Catholic writers, including Isidore of Seville and the Frankish historian Gregory of Tours, had little sympathy for him or his revolt.
   Reccared too converted to Catholic Christianity, but only after his father's death, and in other ways he shared in the important legacy Leovigild left. Although not successful in his religious policy, Leovigild left his successor with a powerful and unified kingdom. Leovigild had conquered much of the peninsula and had reformed the royal administration in a way that borrowed from Roman imperial practices, including celebrating his victories on the coins he minted. He also elevated the status of the king above his noble and non-noble subjects and introduced a number of new officials to the royal administration. These reforms benefited Leovigild's successor, as did his efforts to unify the kingdom religiously. Though Leovigild's attempts failed in that regard, the notion of unifying the kingdom religiously was a powerful one and needed only Reccared's recognition that it could only be unified by the Catholic Christian faith.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Bury, John B. History of the Later Roman Empire: From the Death of Theodosius I to the Death of Justinian. 2 vols. 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 1959.
 ♦ Collins, Roger. Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity, 400-1000. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983.
 ♦ Gregory of Tours. History of the Franks. Trans. Lewis Thorpe. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1974.
 ♦ Heather, Peter. The Goths. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.
 ♦ Isidore of Seville. Isidore of Seville's History of the Goths, Vandals, and Suevi, 2d rev. ed. Trans. Guido Donini and Gordon B. Ford. Leiden: Brill, 1970.
 ♦ Thompson, Edward A. The Goths in Spain. Oxford: Clarendon, 1969.
 ♦ Wolfram, Herwig. History of the Goths. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
 ♦ ---. The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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