Contradictory stereotypes: 'Barbarian' and 'Roman' rulers and the shaping of Merovingian kingship

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Entering the postclassical world, this chapter examines what happened when Roman power structures were inhabited by so-called barbarian, do-nothing kings. Focusing in particular on the multilayered depiction of Chilperic I (c. 539-589) in the Histories of Gregory of Tours, the chapter shows that the Merovingian kings are rebuked not only for barbarous and un-Christian behaviors but also, surprisingly, for being 'too Roman'. These critiques originate with local political and ecclesiastical elites, who feared a destabilizing displacement of their own authority and jurisdiction as the Merovingians strove to centralize their state after the model of Rome. Once again, therefore, foreignness of various kinds becomes the marker of a bad king, this time reflecting the interplay between the complex sociopolitical developments of the sixth century and the Roman imperial tradition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEvil Lords
Subtitle of host publicationTheories and Representations of Tyranny from Antiquity to the Renaissance
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9780199394876
ISBN (Print)9780199394852
StatePublished - Aug 23 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


  • Chilperic I
  • Chlothar I
  • Gregory of Tours
  • Merovingians
  • Roman successor states
  • Rome


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