Fachbereich Geschichtswissenschaft
Reframing Francia’s ‘Visigothic Refugees’
Ecclesiastical Organization, Intellectual Culture, and the Politics of Movement in Carolingian Europe

It has long been held that during the first years of the reign of Louis the Pious (ruled 814-840), a cohort of churchmen from southern Francia shaped the ecclesiastic culture and politics of the Carolingian empire. These men, who had found favour with Louis while he was king of Aquitaine (781-813), followed him north to Aachen when he succeeded his father, Charlemagne, in 814 and there they determined the imperial agenda - albeit only fleetingly. Collectively they have been referred to as ‘Southerners’ or, more problematically, as ‘Visigothic refugees’, a term which associates them with the Christians who fled from Spain following the Umayyad conquest over a century earlier. Besides being linked through their southern origins, Louis’s ‘Goths’ have also been defined by their hard-line views on Christian belief and practice.

My project at Tübingen reframed this paradigmatic narrative of the Carolingian church. In part, it seeks to reconsider some of the assumptions that underlie it. For example, what did it mean to be ‘Visigothic’, let alone a ‘refugee’, in ninth-century Francia, and to what extent can these terms legitimately be applied to the southerners prominent at Louis’s court? To help answer these questions, I will develop case studies around two of Louis’s ‘Goths’: Helisachar on the one hand, and Claudius of Turin on the other. Each study will pay attention to the mobility that imperial support engendered and the regional connections that were preserved despite it. Intellectual culture and exchange will also be central: what light can their extent writings (primarily exegetical and liturgical) shed on their purported Gothic-ness? Even if the image of ‘Visigothic refugees’ is to be discarded, the movement of ecclesiastical elites from Aquitaine to centres of power beyond the borders of Louis’s erstwhile kingdom still offers a focused lens through which to examine the mobility of people and knowledge in the Carolingian world.