Tolbiac, Battle of

   Battle fought between the Merovingian king of the Franks, Clovis, and the Alemanni about the year 496. According to the sixth-century Frankish historian Gregory of Tours, the battle was the turning point in the reign of Clovis, who converted to Catholic Christianity following the victory. The traditional chronology of the conversion, however, is now questioned, and it is considered most likely that Clovis did not convert directly to Catholic Christianity from paganism. Although the battle may not have occurred as Gregory described it and may have become confused with the battle at Zülpich some ten years later, it may still be recognized as an example of the broader policy of conquest and expansion pursued by the greatest Merovingian king.
   As recorded in the history of Gregory of Tours, the Battle of Tolbiac involved the Franks and Alemanni; it has generally been dated to around 496. The battle was critical in the religious formation of Clovis and the Merovingian kingdom. As Gregory reported, Clothild, Clovis's Catholic wife, had pleaded with him for several years to accept her faith. She even baptized their first two sons in the Catholic faith, the first dying shortly after baptism and the second surviving only as a result of Clothild's prayers. Despite his wife's missionary efforts, Clovis was not persuaded and preferred to follow the traditional gods of the Franks, who had served him so well until that point. During the Battle of Tolbiac, however, Gregory wrote that Clovis experienced a change of heart. His army was on the point of annihilation when he appealed to his wife's God and swore that if God gave him victory over his enemies he would convert. The tide of battle suddenly turned, and Clovis emerged victorious. Not long after, according to Gregory, Clovis accepted baptism at the hands of St. Remigius, the archbishop of Rheims.
   The exact chronology of Clovis's reign and the date of the battle remain uncertain, although the events of his reign most likely did not follow the pattern set by Gregory of Tours. Nevertheless, Gregory's image is still important, because it remained the predominant view of this great king until recent times. Gregory's depiction of the Battle of Tolbiac portrays Clovis as a Christian king, whose conversion in battle resembles the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine in the fourth century, as recorded by Eusebius of Caesarea. Clovis was, therefore, first and foremost a Christian king whose conversion was effected by the power of God. Although it is likely that the events of Clovis's life did not unfold the way Gregory described them, the description of the Battle of Tolbiac and the broader image established by Gregory provided later kings and ecclesiastics an important precedent to follow.
   See also
 ♦ Bachrach, Bernard S. Merovingian Military Organization, 481-751. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1972.
 ♦ Daly, William M. "Clovis: How Barbaric, How Pagan?" Speculum 69 (1994): 619-664.
 ♦ Geary, Patrick J. Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
 ♦ Gregory of Tours. The History of the Franks. Trans. Lewis Thorpe. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1974.
 ♦ Wallace-Hadrill, John M. The Long-Haired Kings. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1982.
 ♦ Wood, Ian. The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751. London: Longman, 1994.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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