Forgotten Kingdoms: The Visigoths
Between the 5th and 9th century Europe saw it's population change greatly. The Germanic people began a great migration to the West as Slavic people moved in to Eastern Europe. This upset the Roman system and led to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. The Goths were one of the tribes that moved West.
In the 4th century the Gothic tribes crossed the Danube and ravaged the Balkan Peninsula. They killed the Eastern Roman Emperor, and routed his legions. Following their victory at Adrianople the Goths entered a period of relative peace with the Roman Empires.
Despite the peace between the Romans and Goths there were outbreaks of warfare and pillaging. The Roman Empire continuously broke their treaties with the Goths and in return the Goths would ravage a new area. Slowly the Gothic tribes moved out of the Balkans, up through Dalmatia, and in to Italy.
After the Gothic tribes under Alaric I sacked Rome they split in to two groups. The Ostrogoths, or Eastern Goths, built a kingdom in Italy which succeeded the Roman Empire and lasted for a short time before being invaded by the Byzantine Empire. The Visigoths, or Western Goths, centered their kingdom in southern France with their capital in modern day Toulouse.
The Visigothic kingdom was centered on it's capital of Tolosa, which is the Latin version of it's modern name, Toulouse. At it's height Tolosa stretched from central France to the Straits of Gibraltar. It was the one of the largest kingdoms in Europe at the time, and was set to take over the remains of the Western Roman Empire.
The Visigoths first entered Gaul as Roman allies, called foederati. Foederati were Germanic vassals that had semi-independence in exchange for providing the Roman Empire with military service. In the case of the Visigoths they were given Aquitaine and parts of Hispania. They fought against other Germanic tribes, and spread their influence in Spain by destroying the Suevi, Alans, and Vandals.
The Visigoths were Arian Christians. They disagreed with the mainstream Trinitarian theology in that they believed that Christ was not one with God, but in service to him. Despite their different beliefs the Visigoths were generally tolerant of their Catholic subjects. This was very different from their neighbors, the Vandals and Franks, who openly persecuted members of the opposite faith.
The Visigoths were unable to maintain peaceful relations with Rome for long, and took over most of southern Gaul, and the Mediterranean coast land. When the Huns invaded Western Europe the Visigoths, Franks, and Romans united to defeat them at the Battle of Chalons. The Visigothic king Theodoric died in the Battle of Chalons, and while the Visigoths worked out their succession the Franks increased in power in northern France.
The fall of Tolosa
Throughout the 5th century the Frankish Confederation expanded throughout Northern France, Belgium and the Rhineland. One of the Frankish leaders became more powerful than the others. Clovis I united the Frankish tribes under himself, and created a Frankish Kingdom. Once he had a unified kingdom, Clovis went to war with the Visigoths.
Historians do not know much about the war that followed. The Franks and Visigoths fought a major battle at Vouillé. Though there are few records of the battle it is known that Clovis I met Alaric II, King of the Visigoths, in hand to hand to combat and killed him. With the death of Alaric II the Visigoths were thrown in to disarray.
The Franks ravaged Tolosa and destroyed the Visigothic kingdom. Toulouse became a French city, and lost much of it's importance to Western Europe. Frankish forces seized Aquitaine and drove the Visigoths beneath the Pyrenees.
The heir to Alaric's throne was Gesaric, but he was to young to lead the army. Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths, acted as regent for the young king. Ostrogothic armies threatened the Frankish flanks, and saved what was left of the Visigothic kingdom. The Visigoths lived on in Spain until the Moorish invasions. In the 9th and 10th century Spanish nobles claimed to be descendants of the Visigothic princes.
Significance of the kingdom of Tolosa
The history of the kingdom of Tolosa is short. On the surface it does not seem that Tolosa made any great or lasting contributions to world history. Some people would wonder why we would study such an insignificant kingdom if it left nothing to history, but Tolosa is an object lesson for modern people.
In it's short history the Kingdom of Tolosa went from a band of refugees and mercenaries to one of the most powerful states in Western Europe. There was a very real chance that the Visigoths could have taken over all of Europe, but it all changed as a result of one battle. We can never know what would have happened if the Visigoths won the Battle of Vouillé, but there is a good chance they would have destroyed the Frankish kingdom and dominated Europe.
Historians and people need to see examples of kingdoms that once were and no longer are. Nothing lasts forever is an old adage, and the kingdom of Tolosa is a perfect example of it.
More Germanic Tribes
Davies, Norman. Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations. New York: Penguin Books, 2012.
Heather, Peter. Fall of the Roman Empire A New History of Rome and the Barbarians. Cary: Oxford University Press, USA, 2014.