Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Merovingian Dynasty

Dan Brown had it all wrong.

The Merovingian heresy - wherever and whenever it was born (I've never had enough respect for this silly idea even to bother looking into it... and I am an inveterate researcher) - has zero to do with history, nor even really with the dynasty as it existed. It couldn't have: though the founder of the thing was indeed the first Catholic king in Europe, his association with Christianity was not the one put forth by the ... "theory" ...

*Insert presumed stifled guffaw here*

Clovis became king before he was even sixteen years old, and he had grown up a barbarian pagan. "Barbarian", of course, didn't mean quite what we dearly want it to; but Clovis WAS an ambitious and none-too-dainty fellow, happy to shed blood (even of his kinsmen) when it came to acquisition of land and wealth and power ... and a historic posterity important even today, though it may be said not *everybody* remembers his name.

The thing about his association with the Church, though, is this. Clovis' heresy (and it's me applying such a descriptor to him; in his life, from what SCANT source material we have - and even little of that is primary - "heresy" isn't something applied to his name) would not have been claims of descent from Christ's bloodline.

It would have been his claim of descent from a pagan god.

There is a fair amount of ink fifteen centuries have yielded, regarding exactly the "kind" of pagan C was. The oldest stories about him mention he gave up his Roman paganism, and a lot of historians, particularly in the most recent century or so, have expended energy on discussing how unlikely it should be for a provincial paga to have been worshpping Mars or Mithras.

Why this should bother anyone I can't imagine. If they could worship Claudius in Colchester (hee), and we know Roman cults were promulgated across the Roman world - of which Clovis' realm, both in its inherited state AND what he'd amassed by the time he died, were definitely a part - I see no protest that, no, he couldn't have worshipped the Roman pantheon, as really making compelling sense. Clovis lived in a world where his comrades in arms were buried under epitaphs saying, "I am a Frank by nationality; a Roman soldier under arms." His kingdom, under his father, was Roman federate. For all he himself executed the last Roman governor in Gaul: Clovis lived in the ROMAN world. He ended up choosing the newer Rome, indeed - he converted to Roman Christianity, to Catholicism, not Arianism, when he chose to follow that religion.

Mithras was a wildly popular god, with charisma such that even TODAY he maintains that power base that is: attention. He continues to inspire, even if only scholarly papers. So why it should be presumed he would be of no interest to a Romanized federate makes no sense to me. More to the point, why there must be a line we (fifteen centuries removed, not for nothing) define, declaring that this ancient king must have lived on one side or the other of a boundary of theoretical making, is arbitrary itself.

What kills me about all the pearl-clutching, that Clovis' conversion must have been from native paganism, is that ... we all know pretty well how Romanized the world was in Late Antiquity. Yes, even by the "fall" of the Western Empire. By that point in time, it might have looked more entrenched than ever - the culture of that far-off city; the laws; the religion. Roman-ness was a presumption of life throughout the empire, and no matter the extent of survival of other cultures within the Roman world ... the very existence of the concept of "the Roman world" says a lot about the extent it bequeathed a widespread assimilation. Yet assimilated doesn't mean eliminated - and that is the point on which I protest the "Roman versus native paganism" question - who the heck decided, and when, that an ancient man had to pick a clear-cut side, as seen from a millenium and a half away - when, in practice, his world probably included lots of things in it?

My house was built in 1950, but contains generations-old antiques ... and wireless internet. It isn't defined by the fact that I live in 2011 - but by the presence of my ancestry, the world as it is "today" - the fluidity of the definition of that term - and by what I choose to put in it, much of which makes no sense to anybody else. Would an archaeologist or scholar, a thousand years from now, be right in presuming away anything nineteenth-century, simply because it would not "fit" in the textbook-defined milieu of What A Typical Divorced Woman of 2011 Would Have Owned ... ?

No. Likewise, a guy who can claim Greek lineage for its prestige, and simultaneously call a sea monster grandpa, is perfectly likely - in the contect of a Roman world, the formal aspects of which are most literally governed by Rome - to contain that most formalized of all human behavior, ritual and WORSHIP ... informed by that source as well.


Clovis' family legend, far from being "we're descended from Jesus", went more along the lines of "Great grandfather was a sea god." There is some vagueness about how many generations back the divine swimmer hit the bloodline, but if it went farther back than great-granddad, it wasn't much. The divinity present in Clovis' posterity wasn't dusty, it was pretty immediate, in generational terms. The legend, back the, that went back farther, reached to the Classical world - not toward Jesus - in attempting to tie the Franks to the ancient Greeks. The story told back then was one of escape from Troy, and the evolution of classical mythical heroes into ... "US" ... Clovis' contemporaries wanted to claim a different kind of prestige than was applied to them so much later by the Merovingian heresy. The dynasty wasn't founded on the presumption of THAT level of "Christian" aspiration. That story would never have occurred to them, then.

Clovis' greatest concession to Christianity, after his convesion, was to rescind his claim of divine descent; and to exchange it for the tenet of divine right. I posit this, for a monarch so aggressive, so successful, and so world-dominatingly arrogant as Clovis, as being a supremely difficult sacrifice to make. His change of faith was by turns both deeply felt and deeply sincere, but it was also one of political significance he fully understood: and exploited. And so to take such a personally demeaning step as to say, "I really wasn't born with the blood of gods" was more than merely a debasing admission - it was an epochal choice to make, and became part of the centuries-deep impact his choices in worship had across the whole of Europe.

In the end, he just couldn't have held on to the sea god story. Like the Trojan myth of the origin of his people, (again I posit) he probably didn't even believe it in the way the deepest fervor holds a heart in worship, either. The demands of the choices he had made - choices rooted both in the spiritual power of victory, and in the undeniable returns the yieled him - could not allow the "blood of gods" thing to continue.

And so, as he did with everything else, Clovis put another stone in the foundation of his dynasty, built the Merovingian line, on a DENIAL of a fundamental heresy.

And, ironically, a denial of divine descent, no less.

So it's an interesting thing, that such a claim got pasted on the bloodline later - particularly the exchange in nature of the imaginary lineage.

Dan Brown had it totally wrong ...

... and what's sad about the tabloid, stupid "theory" is that: the real roots of history are *so* much more interesting than the fantasy made up by the conspiracists.

It's a pity stupid headlines get so popular.

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