The Origin Of The Story In Regard To The Trojan Descent Of The Franks
Category: MEDIAEVAL MIGRATION SAGAS.
Source: Teutonic Mythology
We must now return to the Frankish chronicles, to Fredegar's and Gesta
regum Francorum, where the theory of the descent from Troy of a
Teutonic tribe is presented for the first time, and thus renews the
agitation handed down from antiquity, which attempted to make all
ancient history a system of events radiating from Troy as their centre.
I believe I am able to point out the sources of all the statements made
in these chronicles in reference to this subject, and also to find the
very kernel out of which the illusion regarding the Trojan birth of the
As above stated, Fredegar admits that Virgil is the earliest authority
for the claim that the Franks are descended from Troy. Fredegar's
predecessor, Gregorius of Tours, was ignorant of it, and, as already
shown, the word Franks does not occur anywhere in Virgil. The discovery
that he nevertheless gave information about the Franks and their origin
must therefore have been made or known in the time intervening between
Gregorius' chronicle and Fredegar's. Which, then, can be the passage in
Virgil's poems in which the discoverer succeeded in finding the proof
that the Franks were Trojans? A careful examination of all the
circumstances connected with the subject leads to the conclusion that
the passage is in AEneis, lib. i., 242ff.:
"Antenor potuit, mediis elapsus Achivis,
Illyricos penetrare sinus atque intima tutus
Regna Liburnorum, et fontem superare Timavi:
Unde per ora novem vasto cum murmere montis
It mare proruptum, et pelago premit arva sonanti.
Hic tamen ille urbem Patavi sedesque locavit
"Antenor having escaped from amidst the Greeks, could with safety
penetrate the Illyrian Gulf and the inmost realms of Liburnia, and
overpass the springs of Timavus, whence, through nine months, with loud
echoing from the mountain, it bursts away, a sea impetuous, and sweeps
the fields with a roaring deluge. Yet there he built the city of Padua
and established a Trojan settlement."
The nearest proof at hand, that this is really the passage which was
interpreted as referring to the ancient history of the Franks, is based
on the following circumstances:
Gregorius of Tours had found in the history of Sulpicius Alexander
accounts of violent conflicts, on the west bank of the Rhine, between
the Romans and Franks, the latter led by the chiefs Markomir and Sunno
(Greg., Hist., ii. 9).
From Gregorius, Gesta regum Francorum has taken both these names.
According to Gesta, the Franks, under the command of Markomir and
Sunno, emigrate from Pannonia, near the Moeotian marshes, and settle on
the Rhine. The supposition that they had lived in Pannonia before their
coming to the Rhine, the author of Gesta had learned from Gregorius.
In Gesta, Markomir is made a son of the Trojan Priam, and Sunno a son
of the Trojan Antenor.
From this point of view, Virgil's account of Antenor's and his Trojans'
journey to Europe from fallen Troy refers to the emigration of the
father of the Frankish chief Sunno at the head of a tribe of Franks. And
as Gesta's predecessor, the so-called Fredegar, appeals to Virgil as
his authority for this Frankish emigration, and as the wanderings of
Antenor are nowhere else mentioned by the Roman poet, there can be no
doubt that the lines above quoted were the very ones which were regarded
as the Virgilian evidence in regard to a Frankish emigration from Troy.
But how did it come to be regarded as an evidence?
Virgil says that Antenor, when he had escaped the Achivians, succeeded
in penetrating Illyricos sinus, the very heart of Illyria. The name
Illyricum served to designate all the regions inhabited by kindred
tribes extending from the Alps to the mouth of the Danube and from the
Danube to the Adriatic Sea and Haemus (cp. Marquardt Roem.
Staatsverwalt, 295). To Illyricum belonged the Roman provinces
Dalmatia, Pannonia, and Moesia, and the Pannonians were an Illyrian
tribe. In Pannonia Gregorius of Tours had located the Franks in early
times. Thus Antenor, with his Trojans, on their westward journey,
traverses the same regions from which, according to Gregorius, the
Franks had set out for the Rhine.
Virgil also says that Antenor extended his journeys to the Liburnian
kingdoms (regna Liburnorum). From Servius' commentary on this passage,
the middle age knew that the Liburnian kingdoms were Rhetia and
Vindelicia (Rhetia Vindelici ipsi sunt Liburni). Rhetia and Vindelicia
separate Pannonia from the Rhine. Antenor, accordingly, takes the same
route toward the West as the Franks must have taken if they came from
Pannonia to the Rhine.
Virgil then brings Antenor to a river, which, it is true, is called
Timavus, but which is described as a mighty stream, coming thundering
out of a mountainous region, where it has its source, carrying with it a
mass of water which the poet compares with a sea, forming before it
reaches the sea a delta, the plains of which are deluged by the billows,
and finally emptying itself by many outlets into the ocean. Virgil says
nine; but Servius interprets this as meaning many: "finitus est
numerus pro infinito."
We must pardon the Frankish scribes for taking this river to be the
Rhine; for if a water-course is to be looked for in Europe west of the
land of the Liburnians, which answers to the Virgilian description, then
this must be the Rhine, on whose banks the ancestors of the Franks for
the first time appear in history.
Again, Virgil tells us that Antenor settled near this river and founded
a colony--Patavium--on the low plains of the delta. The Salian Franks
acquired possession of the low and flat regions around the outlets of
the Rhine (Insula Batavorum) about the year 287, and also of the land
to the south as far as to the Scheldt; and after protracted wars the
Romans had to leave them in control of this region. By the very
occupation of this low country, its conquerors might properly be called
Batavian Franks. It is only necessary to call attention to the
similarity of the words Patavi and Batavi, in order to show at the
same time that the conclusion could scarcely be avoided that Virgil had
reference to the immigration of the Franks when he spoke of the
wanderings of Antenor, the more so, since from time out of date the
pronunciation of the initials B and P have been interchanged by the
Germans. In the conquered territory the Franks founded a city (Ammian.
Marc., xvii. 2, 5).
Thus it appears that the Franks were supposed to have migrated to the
Rhine under the leadership of Antenor. The first Frankish chiefs
recorded, after their appearance there, are Markomir and Sunno. From
this the conclusion was drawn that Sunno was Antenor's son; and as
Markomir ought to be the son of some celebrated Trojan chief, he was
made the son of Priam. Thus we have explained Fredegar's statement that
Virgil is his authority for the Trojan descent of these Franks. This
seemed to be established for all time.
The wars fought around the Moeotian marshes between the emperor
Valentinianus, the Alamanni, and the Franks, of which Gesta speaks,
are not wholly inventions of the fancy. The historical kernel in this
confused semi-mythical narrative is that Valentinianus really did fight
with the Alamanni, and that the Franks for some time were allies of the
Romans, and came into conflict with those same Alamanni (Ammian. Marc.,
libs, xxx., xxxi.). But the scene of these battles was not the Moeotian
marshes and Pannonia, as Gesta supposes, but the regions on the Rhine.
The unhistorical statement of Gregorius that the Franks came from
Pannonia is based only on the fact that Frankish warriors for some time
formed a Sicambra cohors, which about the year 26 was incorporated
with the Roman troops stationed in Pannonia and Thracia. The cohort is
believed to have remained in Hungary and formed a colony, where Buda now
is situated. Gesta makes Pannonia extend from the Moeotian marshes to
Tanais, since according to Gregorius and earlier chroniclers, these
waters were the boundary between Europe and Asia, and since Asia was
regarded as a synonym of the Trojan empire. Virgil had called the Trojan
kingdom Asia: Postquam res Asiae Priamique evertere gentem, &c.,
(AEneid, iii. 1).
Thus we have exhibited the seed out of which the fable about the Trojan
descent of the Franks grew into a tree spreading its branches over all
Teutonic Europe, in the same manner as the earlier fable, which was at
least developed if not born in Sicily, in regard to the Trojan descent
of the Romans had grown into a tree overshadowing all the lands around
the Mediterranean, and extending one of its branches across Gaul to
Britain and Ireland. The first son of the Britons, "Brutus," was,
according to Galfred, great-grandson of AEneas, and migrated from Alba
Longa to Ireland.
So far as the Gauls are concerned, the incorporation of Cis-Alpine Gaul
with the Roman Empire, and the Romanising of the Gauls dwelling there,
had at an early day made way for the belief that they had the same
origin and were of the same blood as the Romans. Consequently they too
were Trojans. This view, encouraged by Roman politics, gradually found
its way to the Gauls on the other side of the Rhine; and even before
Caesar's time the Roman senate had in its letters to the AEduans, often
called them the "brothers and kinsmen" of the Romans (fratres
consanguineique--Caesar, De Bell. Gall., i. 33, 2). Of the Avernians
Lucanus sings (i. 427): Averni ... ausi Latio se fingere fratres,
sanguine ab Iliaco populi.
Thus we see that when the Franks, having made themselves masters of the
Romanised Gaul, claimed a Trojan descent, then this was the repetition
of a history of which Gaul for many centuries previously had been the
scene. After the Frankish conquest the population of Gaul consisted for
the second time of two nationalities unlike in language and customs, and
now as before it was a political measure of no slight importance to
bring these two nationalities as closely together as possible by the
belief in a common descent. The Roman Gauls and the Franks were
represented as having been one people in the time of the Trojan war.
After the fall of the common fatherland they were divided into two
separate tribes, with separate destinies, until they refound each other
in the west of Europe, to dwell together again in Gaul. This explains
how it came to pass that, when they thought they had found evidence of
this view in Virgil, this was at once accepted, and was so eagerly
adopted that the older traditions in regard to the origin and migrations
of the Franks were thrust aside and consigned to oblivion. History
repeats itself a third time when the Normans conquered and became
masters of that part of Gaul which after them is called Normandy. Dudo,
their chronicler, says that they regarded themselves as being ex
Antenore progenitos, descendants of Antenor. This is sufficient proof
that they had borrowed from the Franks the tradition in regard to their
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