Armentarius was a moneylender who operated in the late 6th century. As a man of the Jewish religion, he was able to work around the medieval Christian stigma against usury, and could lend money, buy government bonds, and charge interest on his loans. Yet, his benefit of being able to receive interest payments came at great risk, especially as Armentarius’ clients could often be at the top of society, with leading nobles and their assistants making up much of his business. If he pushed too hard for his loan payoff, or if his clients became distressed because of debts, Armentarius could easily find himself in peril. Armentarius had to manage these touchy relationships himself, for the kings and courts of public opinion in medieval Europe were becoming more and more tainted with antisemitism, allowing for angry debtors to fight back against moneylenders by stoking bias, bigotry and the us-versus-them mentality. Despite the dangers, Armentarius continued lending money and the governing nobles and officials continued to be his targeted audience.
In 584, Armentarius arrived in Tours, hoping to collect money that he was owed by Count Eunomius and Vice-Count Injuriosus. The moneylender knew that his mission was potentially dangerous, so he brought two Christian protectors along with him to Tours, and a fellow Jewish friend also joined the party. Armentarius and his three companions, upon entering Tours, had a meeting with Count Eunomius and Vice-Count Injuriosus, in which the moneylender was assured that his loans would be reimbursed with interest. After the meeting concluded, Injuriosus invited Armentarius and his associates to his nearby estate in Tours, where they could further discuss payment options over dinner. Injuriosus also promised to provide his guests with lodgings on or near his own property.
Injuriosus, keeping his word, held a feast for the moneylender’s party and, when night began to fall, the vice-count had his servants lead the guests toward their promised lodgings. Yet, all was not as it seemed. Injuriosus had ulterior motives for luring Armentarius onto his estate, and the servants that he had leading the guests were not simple butlers. According to Gregory of Tours, the bishop of the city at the time of these events, “the Jews and the two Christians were killed by the servants of Injuriosus and their bodies were thrown into a well which was near the house” (History of the Franks, VII.23).
The murder of Armentarius and his companions did not go unnoticed, but it was outside influence that finally prompted an investigation and trial. Family and friends of Armentarius became concerned when their loved one disappeared. They retraced his steps to Tours and scoured the city for news of what happened. After some admirable sleuthing, they successfully found the well near Vice-Count Injuriosus’ house and recovered the remains of the four people that had been thrown down into the depths. Citing local hearsay, the suspicious location of the body dumping site, and the large debts that the vice-count owed Armentarius, the family and friends of the moneylender brought their case before the local justice system. Injuriosus, however, had friends and clout in the court, and he assumed a simple defense of swearing that he had not been involved in the murders. Bishop and historian Gregory of Tours reported on this lackluster trial, writing, “He was prosecuted: but, as I have said, he denied his guilt vehemently, and the plaintiffs had no evidence on which he could be convicted. He was sentenced to clear himself by oath” (History of the Franks, VII.23). After this disappointing result, Armentarius’ family reportedly followed up by bringing their case directly to King Childebert II of the Franks (r. 575-595). The king and his court ignored the case, however, and no further trials of Vice-Count Injuriosus were held concerning the murder of Armentarius and his associates.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Scene from Frankish History of Duke Guntram Boso being ambushed on the road, painted by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.