Around 586, King Guntram of Burgundy (r. 561-593), patriarch of the Merovingian Dynasty that ruled over the Frankish empire, unleashed the military might of the Franks against a Visigoth enclave in France called Septimania. The king’s plan was apparently to occupy Septimania, which extended up into France from the eastern side of the Pyrenees mountain chain, and then press into the Iberian Peninsula after the first phase of conquest was complete. Curiously, King Guntram decided to delegate the war effort solely to his dukes and counts. The aging monarch personally stayed behind as his vassals marched their regional forces toward the border. Unluckily for the king, his decision to decentralize military leadership in this particular campaign had disastrous consequences for his war effort. Frankish dukes and counts did a poor job of coordinating their efforts as they meandered their warbands through Septimania. Individually, the fragmented armies of the Frankish vassals were not strong enough to besiege and capture most of the Visigoth towns. Realizing this, the invaders raided and pillaged the countryside, causing great destruction. A few towns, however, were occupied by the Franks during the odd campaign, yet most of these towns reportedly opened their gates willingly to let in the besiegers.
Carcassonne was one such fortified town that voluntarily let in the Franks. A Frankish nobleman named Terentiolus led the occupying forces, and he managed to hold the region without issue for a time. His method of garrisoning the town remains vague, but the nobleman apparently tried to befriend or recruit the preexisting defenders, leaving them fairly well-armed during the occupation—therefore, Carcassonne’s citizens, despite having Frankish troops in their town, still possessed the ability to fight back if their truce deteriorated. Unfortunately, a disagreement soon occurred that caused the occupiers and the local forces in Carcassonne to erupt into riotous battle. Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), a bishop and historian of that era, wrote of the chaos at Carcassonne and the fate of Terentiolus as he attempted to withdraw his troops from the hostile town: “A quarrel arose between them and the Carcassonnais, so they marched out again. At this juncture Terentiolus, one-time Count of Limoges, was struck by a stone thrown from the walls and killed. The enemy revenged themselves on him by cutting off his head and taking it back into the town” (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, VIII.30).
Without Terentiolus’ leadership, the army he was leading lost the will to fight. Instead of resuming a siege of Carcassonne to avenge the death and mutilation of the slain nobleman, the Frankish forces present in the town instead deserted and fled for home. This retreating force, as well as other Frankish armies withdrawing from the largely unsuccessful campaign in Septimania, were plagued by ambushes from fresh forces led into the region by King Reccared of the Visigoths (r. 586-601). Adding to the embarrassment of the odd war, Reccared soon chased the Frankish forces into their own territory, launching a short but destructive counter-raid against King Guntram’s domain.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Jeanne of Arc at the Siege of Orleans, painted by Eugène Lenepveu (1819–1898), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.