Gunther, of the Borderlands

Gunther, King of the Burgundian, was a Frankish leader, born in approx. 385 and died in 437. He was my 31st great grandfather,

The Roman Empire was now in the first stages of decline. It is said that the armies were less Roman and more full of mercenaries, and in general the leadership was less than exemplary. For hundreds of years the Empire relied on it’s natural borders, the Mediterranean, and the Adriatic on the West, South and East, and the two great river systems in the North, the Rhine and the Danube.

On the west side of the Rhine was the conquered territory of Gaul, rich with resources, settled towns, farms, and Legionnaires. Great Britain was also well settled, with retired Legionnaires. The border was the great river system, on the other side were barbarians, dense dark forests, and terror. Even today, the sense of foreboding that comes from the edge of a forest comes from that time. Of course people lived there, but they weren’t civilized. For hundreds of years there was a status quo.

While the barbarians were happy to trade with the “civilized’ Romans on their Western border, their Eastern borders were in flux. A continuous push of Huns from the steppes made life hard, and there was a domino effect. Sometimes the Huns pushed right on through, and came up to the Rhine and Danube.

The Frankish and Germanic tribes pleaded with the Romans to be allowed to cross the rivers to safety. Mostly they refused. Then the Romans allowed one or two tribes to come across, as a political favor for military aid, but it did not go well. They were seen and treated as barbarians.

Finally on Dec. 31, 406, thousands of barbarians crossed the Rhine with the quasi approval of Rome. Quadi, Vandals, Sarmatians, Alans, Gepids, Herules, Saxons, Burgundians, Alemanni and the armies of the Pannonians, slipped across both rivers, and the Northern border of the Roman Empire vanished.

Also, about this time there was a leadership conflict, a Roman general in Britain had his men proclaim him Emperor. Several Germanic kingdoms still on the eastern side of the rivers, backed Jovinus of Britain, instead of Honorius of Rome. For a few years it looked as if Jovinus had won. King Gunther and his Burgundians were invited to the West Bank of the Rhine near Worms, but then called Borbetomagus. Worms is easier to say.

Within a few years Gunther wanted to expand Burgundy and attacked his neighbor. The Roman leadership issue changed and Jovinus was out, and the Emperor Honorius attacked and devastated the Kingdom of Burgandy. The Romans couldn’t field an army of native Legionnaires, so they hired an army of mercenaries made up of Huns.

So Gunther fled to the safety of Rome, and was killed defending his city of Borbetomagus by Huns hired by Rome. So ended my 31st great grandfather.

By the way, Jovinus and his brother Sebastianus were captured in Narbonne where they lost their heads. The heads were then sent to decorate the walls in Ravenna, where the Emperor Honorius lived. Then after a few years they were sent to Carthage, where four other heads of usurpers were already mounted. The Romans were fond of putting heads on walls.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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