Merovingian and Visigothic Kingdoms in Western Europe: A Study of Political Turmoil
The Merovingian and Visigothic periods in Western Europe were characterized by political instability, coups, and wars. The Merovingians lost their centrality as political actors and faced practical autonomy from outlying principalities. However, Charles Martel’s reunification brought back royal protagonism. In Visigothic Spain, legal enactments, both secular and ecclesiastical, became part of the currency of political practice. The seventh-century Visigothic kings developed a strong Romanizing ambition and presided over diverse places and social groups where not much had changed. However, in 711, the Visigothic kingdom was overthrown by an Arab and Berber army invading from North Africa.
Table of Contents
- The Merovingian Period: Court Culture and Political Instability
- Visigothic Spain: Legal Enactments and Political Turmoil
- Leovigild’s Reign: Military Action and Restoration of Central Authority
- Seventh-Century Visigothic Kings: Revisions of Law Code and Complex Legislation
- Private Relationships and Social Trends: Aristocracy and Politic Interference
- Conclusion: Political Unrest and Arab Invasion
The Merovingian Period: Court Culture and Political Instability
The Merovingian period saw court culture and court consciousness spread across Frankish Gaul. Desiderius, bishop of Cahors, received reports about the king’s whereabouts from his informants. However, the Merovingians lost their centrality as political actors between around 655 and 675, and outlying principalities gained practical autonomy.
Charles Martel’s reunification saw an end to the lowest level of royal protagonism during Pippin II’s regime.
Visigothic Spain: Legal Enactments and Political Turmoil
In Visigothic Spain, legal enactments, both secular and ecclesiastical, were part of the currency of political practice. Legal principles were also an important point of reference.
The rule of Wamba, Visigothic king of Spain, illustrates how legal enactments were used to trap weak kings. Although the fourth council of Toledo’s rules on legitimate succession were almost never followed, they remained an important reference point.
Leovigild’s Reign: Military Action and Restoration of Central Authority
Spain was marked by instability during the period of 409-569, with a contraction of the scale of ceramic production, implying a decrease in aristocratic demand and a fragmentation of society. Spain experienced fragmentation because of its mountainous terrain and poor communication infrastructure. Leovigild reversed this situation through military action, conquering sections of Spain to restore central authority. He was a unifier, appointing an Arian bishop and founding a new city, Recópolis.
Leovigild sought religious unity and softened Arianism to make it more appealing to Catholics. However, his successor, Reccared, switched to Catholicism, and Arianism was outlawed at the third council of Toledo.
Seventh-Century Visigothic Kings: Revisions of Law Code and Complex Legislation
The church councils played a significant role in royal policy-making, and the laws they made were increasingly complex. The seventh-century Visigothic kings developed a strong Romanizing ambition, and their laws were a reflection of this ambition.
The aristocracy became involved in palace politics, and a pattern of private relationships began developing. However, the growing local divergence may also explain some of the inconsistencies in social trends.
Conclusion: Political Unrest and Arab Invasion
Despite the opposition between the kings, the coups ended or remained provincial and unsuccessful at the national level. Furthermore, royal succession became peaceful, which lessened political violence. However, the last half of the seventh century was marked by a peak in public activity for the Visigothic kingdom, with Reccesuinth and Ervig revising Leovigild’s law code and legislating substantially themselves. The Roman culture of major political intellectuals, such as Isidore, bishop of Seville, had survived intact in some of Spain’s major cities. The seventh-century Visigothic kings presided over diverse places and social groups where not much had changed. Nonetheless, in 711, the Visigothic kingdom was overthrown by a Muslim Arab and Berber army invading from North Africa, marking the end of a significant period of western European history.