Vouillé, Battle of

Vouillé, Battle of
   Major battle between the Merovingian king of the Franks, Clovis, and the Visigothic king in Spain, Alaric II, in 507. According to the tradition recorded by the sixth-century Frankish historian Gregory of Tours, Clovis waged the war as a sort of crusade to expel the Arian Visigoths from Gaul, and the battle came well after the conversion of Clovis to Catholic Christianity. Although the relationship between the time of Clovis's conversion and the battle is now open to question, it is certain that Clovis gained the victory over Alaric, who died in the battle, and that it was a key battle in one of the Frankish king's wars of expansion and conquest.
   As recorded by Gregory of Tours in his history, Clovis desired to remove the Visigoths from Gaul because of their Arianism. He declared to his ministers that he could not bear the existence of the Visigoths in Gaul. He said further that the Franks should invade the region and that with God's help he would defeat the Visigoths and take over their territory. His followers agreed with the proposal, and the army marched toward Poitiers to meet the forces of Alaric II. Along the way, one of Clovis's soldiers took hay from the monastery of St. Martin of Tours, which the king had expressly forbidden. Upon learning of this, Clovis killed the soldier in order to maintain the support of the powerful saint. The battle itself took place some ten miles from Poitiers, according to Gregory. The fighting included hand-to-hand combat and the exchange of volleys of javelins. The Visigoths fled the attack, and, Gregory wrote, "Clovis was the victor, for God was on his side" (153). Clovis killed Alaric while the Goths fled, but two Goths attacked and struck Clovis with their spears on each side. He was saved by his leather corselet; after the battle, he captured several cities and forced the Visigoths from Gaul.
   Modern research, however, shows that both the events leading up to the battle and the battle itself were not so simple and clear-cut as Gregory portrayed them. At the very least, it has been argued that Clovis himself converted to Catholic Christianity only late in his life, or at least after the traditional date of 496, and that he was motivated by a number of factors other than crusading zeal when he attacked Alaric II. The two kings had long been in negotiations over a variety of issues, and previous battles had left the Franks defeated. Clovis had also been successful at times against the Visigoths, and he may have attacked in 507 to exact the payment of tribute he was owed by Alaric. There is clear indication that economic issues inspired Clovis. Moreover, there is no hint in Gregory of the international diplomacy that was involved, which was intended to keep Clovis out of southwestern Gaul. The Ostrogothic king of Italy and greatest power in the west, Theodoric the Great, had supported Alaric and threatened to intervene on his side should Clovis attack. Byzantine warships, however, limited Theodoric's ability to maneuver.
   The battle itself probably involved a large Frankish infantry, with the king and his retainers mounted, and a Visigothic cavalry of inferior numbers. Rather than fleeing outright as Gregory reports, the skilled cavalry probably made several feigned retreats to trick the Franks, who were too stubborn and well trained to fall for the trick. Whether or not Clovis was responsible for the death of Alaric, at any rate the Visigothic king did die in the battle. Clovis may well have accepted baptism as a Catholic Christian following the victory, and religious motives should not be totally discounted; most likely they did play a role in Clovis's planning, even though not in the way that Gregory portrayed them.
   See also
 ♦ 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, J. M. The Long-Haired Kings. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1982.
 ♦ Wood, Ian. The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751. London: Longman, 1994.
 ♦ Wolfram, Herwig. History of the Goths. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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