Battle of Tolbiac

The Battle of Tolbiac was fought between the Franks under Clovis I and the Alamanni, traditionally set in 496. The site of "Tolbiac", or "Tulpiacum" is usually given as Zülpich, North Rhine-Westphalia, about 60km east of the present German-Belgian frontier, which is not implausible. The Franks were successful at Tolbiac and established their hegemony over the Alamanni.

Account by Gregory of Tours

Gregory of Tours first inserted the thematic element that has shaped subsequent interpretations of Tolbiac as a climacteric in the course of European history: Clovis is said to have attributed his success to a vow that he had made: if he won, he would convert to the religion of the Christian God who had aided him. He became a Christian in a ceremony at Reims at Christmas 496; [He was baptized by Saint Remigius, bishop of Reims.] the traditional date of the battle of Tolbiac has been established to accord with this firmly attested baptismal date, by accepting as literal truth Gregory's account which has a clear parallel with the conversion of Constantine I, connected by Lactantius with the equally conclusive Battle of the Milvian Bridge. A surviving letter from Avitus of Vienne, congratulating Clovis on his baptism, makes no mention of the supposed recent battlefield conversion. [See Daly 1994:640 and note).]

"Historia Francorum" ii.30-31 directly affirms the parallel Gregory is establishing with the conversion of Constantine the Great before the Battle of Milvian Bridge:

:"at last a war arose with the Alamanni, in which he was driven by necessity to confess what before he had of his free will denied. It came about that as the two armies were fighting fiercely, there was much slaughter, and Clovis's army began to be in danger of destruction. He saw it and raised his eyes to heaven, and with remorse in his heart he burst into tears and cried: "Jesus Christ, whom Clotilde asserts to be the son of the Living God, who art said to give aid to those in distress, and to bestow victory on those who hope in thee, I beseech the glory of thy aid, with the vow that if thou wilt grant me victory over these enemies, and I shall know that power which she says that people dedicated in thy name have had from thee, I will believe in thee and be baptized in thy name. For I have invoked my own gods but, as I find, they have withdrawn from aiding me; and therefore I believe that they possess no power, since they do not help those who obey them. I now call upon thee, I desire to believe thee only let me be rescued from my adversaries." And when he said thus, the Alamanni turned their backs, and began to disperse in flight. And when they saw that their king was killed, they submitted to the dominion of Clovis, saying: "Let not the people perish further, we pray; we are yours now." And he stopped the fighting, and after encouraging his men, retired in peace and told the queen how he had had merit to win the victory by calling on the name of Christ. This happened in the fifteenth year of his reign. [The date of the death of Childeric, commonly given as 481/82, is thus calculated as fifteen years before Tolbiac, as dated by Gregory.]

:"Then the queen asked saint Remi, bishop of Rheims, to summon Clovis secretly, urging him to introduce the king to the word of salvation. And the bishop sent for him secretly and began to urge him to believe in the true God, maker of heaven and earth, and to cease worshipping idols, which could help neither themselves nor any one else. But the king said: "I gladly hear you, most holy father; but there remains one thing: the people who follow me cannot endure to abandon their gods; but I shall go and speak to them according to your words." He met with his followers, but before he could speak the power of God anticipated him, and all the people cried out together: "O pious king, we reject our mortal gods, and we are ready to follow the immortal God whom Remi preaches." This was reported to the bishop, who was greatly rejoiced, and bade them get ready the baptismal font. The squares were shaded with tapestried canopies, the churches adorned with white curtains, the baptistery set in order, the aroma of incense spread, candles of fragrant odor burned brightly, and the whole shrine of the baptistery was filled with a divine fragrance: and the Lord gave such grace to those who stood by that they thought they were placed amid the odors of paradise. And the king was the first to ask to be baptized by the bishop. Another Constantine advanced to the baptismal font..." [ [ On-line text in English translation.] ]


The traditional date of the battle in 496 was challgened by A. van de Vyver, whose revised chronology placed the battle in 506. This was extensively debated and is followed in some modern accounts. [A single Frankish-Alemannic combat, in summer 506, is presented, for example, in J.M. Wallace-Hadrill, "Long-Haired Kings" p 168, or Rolf Weiss, "Chlodwigs Taufe: Reims 508" (Bern) 1971; the debate is briefly summarised in William M. Daly, "Clovis: How Barbaric, How Pagan?" "Speculum" 69.3 (July 1994, pp. 619-664) p 620 note.] The date of 506 also follows Gregories chronology which places the death of Childeric around the same time as that of St.Pertpetuus who died in 491. Hence 15 years from 491 would be 506. Coin evidence from Childeric's grave contain coins of Emperor Zeno who died in 491, but none after.


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