The Full Wiki

Gregory of Tours: Map


Wikipedia article:

Map showing all locations mentioned on Wikipedia article:

Saint Gregory of Tours (November 30, c. 538 ‚Äď November 17, 594) was a Gallo-Roman historian and bishop of Tours, which made him a leading prelate of Gaul. He was born Georgius Florentius, later adding the name Gregorius in honour of his maternal great-grandfather. He wrote in an ungrammatical and barbarized style of late Latin; however, it has been argued that this was a deliberate ploy to ensure his works would reach a wide audience. He is the main contemporary source for Merovingian history. His most notable work was his Decem Libri Historiarum or Ten Books of Histories, better known as the Historia Francorum ("History of the Franks"), a title given to it by later chroniclers, but he is also known for his credulous accounts of the miracles of saints, especially four books of the miracles of Martin of Tours. St Martin's tomb was a major draw in the 6th century, and Gregory's writings had the practical aspect of promoting this highly organized devotion.


Gregory was born on Clermontmarker, in the Auvergne region of central Gaul. He was born into the upper stratum of Gallo-Roman society as the son of Florentius, Senator of Clermont by his wife Armentaria II, niece of Nicetius, Bishop of Lyons and a granddaughter of Florentinus, Senator of Geneva, and of Saint Gregory of Langres. Gregory was able to count several noted Bishops and saints as close relatives (indeed, his family effectively monopolised the Bishoprics of Tours, Lyons, and Langres at the time of his birth), and, according to Gregory, of the eighteen bishops of Tours who preceded him, all but five were connected with him by ties of kinship; in addition, an early Gallic martyr, Vettius Epagatus, was a paternal ancestor. His father evidently died while Gregory was young and his widowed mother moved to Burgundy where she had property. He spent most of his career at Tours, though he travelled as far as Parismarker. The rough world he lived in was on the cusp of the dying world of Antiquity and the new culture of early medieval Europe. Gregory lived also on the border between the Frankish culture of the Merovingians to the north and the Gallo-Roman culture of the south of Gaul.
Early Merovingian Gaul
At Tours, Gregory could not have been better placed to hear everything and meet everyone of influence in Merovingian culture. Tours lay on the watery highway of the navigable Loiremarker. Five Roman roads radiated from Tours, which lay on the main thoroughfare between the Frankish north and Aquitania, with Spain beyond. At Tours the Frankish influences of the north and the Gallo-Roman influences of the south had their chief contact (see map). As the center for the popular cult of St Martin, Tours was a pilgrimage site, hospital, and a political sanctuary to which important leaders fled during periods of violence and turmoil in Merovingian politics.

Gregory struggled through personal relations with four Frankish kings, Sigebert I, Chilperic I, Guntram, and Childebert II and he personally knew most of the leading Franks.


The Historia Francorum is in ten books. Books I to IV recount the world's history from the Creation but move quickly to the Christianization of Gaul, the life and times of Saint Martin of Tours, the conversion of the Franks and the conquest of Gaul under Clovis, and the more detailed history of the Frankish kings down to the death of Sigebert in 575. At this date Gregory had been bishop of Tours for two years.

The second part, books V and VI, closes with Chilperic's death in 584. During the years that Chilperic held Tours, relations between him and Gregory were tense. After hearing rumours that the Bishop of Tours had slandered his wife, Chilperic had Gregory arrested and tried for treason - a charge which threatened both Gregory's bishopric and his life. The most eloquent passage in the Historia is the closing chapter of book VI, in which Chilperic's character is summed up unsympathetically through the use of an invective.

The third part, comprising books VII to ­X, takes his increasingly personal account to the year 591. An epilogue was written in 594, the year of Gregory's death.

Problems of interpretation

One must decide when reading the Historia Francorum whether this is a royal history, and whether Gregory was writing to please his patrons. It is likely that one royal Frankish house is more generously treated than others. He was also a Catholic bishop, and his writing reveals views typical of someone in his position. His views on perceived dangers of Arianism (still strong among the Visigoths) led him to preface the Historia with a detailed expression of his orthodoxy on the nature of Christ. In addition, his ridiculing of pagans and Jews reflected how his works were used to spread the Christian faith. For example, in book 2, chapters 28-31, he describes the Pagans as incestuous and weak. He describes the process of how a newly converted King Clovis leads a much better life than that of a Pagan. After Clovis's conversion he heals all the conundrums he once experienced as a Pagan.

Gregory's education was limited: the narrowly Christian one available, ignoring the liberal arts and the pagan classics. It is said that he constantly complained about his use of grammar. He did not understand how to correctly write masculine and feminine phrases. Though he had read Virgil, he cautions us that "We ought not to relate their lying fables, lest we fall under sentence of eternal death." However, we must keep in mind that he seems to have thoroughly studied the lengthy and complex Vulgate Bible, religious works and a number of historical treatises, which he quotes from quite frequently, particularly in the earlier books of the Historia Francorum. The main impression that historians once retained from the Historia focused on the violent anecdotes that Gregory relates. Until recently, historians have tended to conclude that Merovingian Gaul was a chaotic, brutal mess. Recent scholarship has refuted that view. Through more careful readings, scholars have concluded that Gregory's underlying purpose was to highlight the vanity of secular life and contrast it with the miracles of the Saints. Though Gregory conveys political and other messages through the Historia, and these are studied very closely, historians generally agree that this contrast is the central and ever-present narrative device.


His Life of the Fathers comprises twenty hagiographies of the most prominent men of the preceding generation, taking in a wide range the spiritual community of early medieval Gaul, including lives of bishops, clerics, monks, abbots, holy men and hermits. The singular 'Life' is used in the title as the collection of lives is intended to furnish an image of the uniform nature of glorious Christian lifestyles, with each individual life structured so as to bring out specific aspects of the ideal. For example, St Illidius is praised for his purity of heart, St Brachio the abbot for his discipline and determination in study of the scriptures, St Patroclus for his unwavering faith in the face of weakness, and St Nicetius, bishop of Lyon, for his justice. It is the life of St Nicetius of Trier, though, which dominates this book; his great authority and sense of episcopal responsibility which is the focus of Gregory's account as his figure, predestined to be great, bestrides the lives of the others. It is told that he felt a weight on his head, but he was unable to see what it was when turning around, though upon smelling its sweet scent he realised that it was the weight of episcopal responsibility. (Life of the Fathers, XVII, 1) He surmounts the others in the glory of his miracles, and was chosen by God to have the entire succession of past and future Frankish kings revealed to him.

A further aspect of this work to note is the appearance of Gregory himself in certain sections, notably in the life of St Leobardus. This is for two reasons - firstly, it creates a distinct link between the temporal and the spiritual worlds, firmly placing the accounts of the lives in a world which is understandable and recognisable, or, seen from the other angle, confirming the presence of miracles in the temporal world. Secondly, the intercession of Gregory serves to set Leobardus straight, after he had been tempted by the devil (Life of the Fathers, XX, 3), and so this act further enhances the authority of bishops as a whole.

A fighter against heresy

Gregory's avowed aim in writing this book was to 'fire others with that enthusiasm by which the saints deservedly climbed to heaven', though this was not his sole purpose, and he most surely did not expect his entire audience to show promise of such piety as to witness the power of God flowing through them in the way that it did for the fathers. More immediate concerns were at the forefront of his mind as he sought to create a further layer of religious commitment, not only to the Church at Rome, but to local churches and cathedrals throughout Gaul. Along with his other books, notably the Glory of the Confessors, the Glory of the Martyrs and the Life of St. Martin, meticulous attention is paid to the local as opposed to the universal Christian experience. Within these grandiloquent lives are tales and anecdotes which tie miracles, saints and their relics to a great diversity of local areas, furnishing his audience with greater knowledge of their local shrine, and providing them with evidence of the work of God in their immediate vicinity, thus greatly expanding their connection with and understanding of their faith. Attacks on heresy also appear throughout his hagiographies, and Arianism is taken to be the common face of heresy across Europe, exposed to great ridicule. Often, the scenes which expose the weaknesses of heresy (Glory of the Martyrs, 79, 80) focus on images of fire and burning, whilst the Catholics are proved right by the protection lavished on them by God.

This was of great relevance to Gregory himself as he presided over the important see of Tours, where extensive use was made of the cult of St Martin in establishing the authority of the bishopric with the congregation and in the context of the Frankish church. Gregory's hagiography was an essential component of this. However, this should not be seen as a selfish grab for power on behalf of the bishops who emerge so triumphantly from the Life of the Fathers, but rather as a bid for hegemony of doctrine and control over the practice of worship, which they believed to be in the best interests of their congregation and the wider church.


The Historia Francorum is of salient historical interest since it describes a period of transition from Roman to Medieval, and the establishment of the French state, which was to remain remarkably large in terms of population and territory, and fortunate in terms of wealth, stability and unity for its time throughout the Medieval period compared with other European states. Gregory's hagiographies are also an invaluable source of anecdotes and stories which enrich our understanding of life and belief in Merovingian Gaul, whilst it is fascinating to study works such as these which must have excited their audience to such an extent. His motivation behind his works was to show readers the importance and strength of Christianity. His extensive literary output is itself a testimony to the preservation of learning and to the lingering continuity of Gallo-Roman civic culture through the so-called 'Dark Ages'.


The following represent key modern texts on Gregory of Tours, including the most recent translations of his work.

While Lewis Thorpe's translation of The History of the Franks is more accessible than Brehaut's, his introduction and commentary are not well regarded by contemporary historians (see Secondary Sources, below).

Primary sources


  • Gregorii episcopi Turonensis. Libri Historiarum X (ed. Bruno Krusch and Wilhelm Levison), MGH SRM I 1, Hannover2 1951

  • Miracula et opera minora (ed. Bruno Krusch), MGH SRM I 2, Hannover 1969, 211-294 (repr. from 1885)


  • Fr√§nkische Geschichte. 3 vols. (transl. by Wilhelm von Giesebrecht, rev. by Manfred Gebauer), Essen 1988.
  • From Roman to Merovingian Gaul. A Reader (ed. and transl. Alexander Callander Murray; Readings in medieval Civilisations and Cultures 5), Toronto 2000, 287-446
  • Glory of the confessors (ed. and transl. Raymond Van Dam; Translated Texts for Historians 4), Liverpool 2004 (2nd edition), ISBN 0-85323-226-1.
  • Glory of the Martyrs (ed. and transl. Raymond Van Dam; Translated Texts for Historians 3), Liverpool 2004 (2nd edition), ISBN 0-85323-236-9.
  • Liber de passione et virtutibus sancti Iuliani martyris und Libri de virtutibus sancti Martini episcopi, in: Raymond Van Dam (ed.), Saints and their Miracles in Late Antique Gaul, Princeton 1993, 153-317.
  • Life of the Fathers (ed. and transl. James Edward; Translated Texts for Historians 1), Liverpool 1991 (2nd edition), ISBN 0-85323-327-6.
  • The History of the Franks (transl. M. Dalton), Oxford 1927.
  • The History of the Franks (transl. L. Thorpe), Penguin 1974.

Bilingual Editions

  • Les livres des miracles et autres opuscules de Georges Florent Gr√©goire √©v√™que de Tours (ed. and transl. L√©onard Bordier), vol. 1, Paris 1857.
  • Zehn B√ľcher Geschichten. Band I-II.(ed. and transl. Wilhelm Giesebrecht and Rudolf Buchner), Darmstadt 1955-1956.

Secondary sources

  • Peter Brown, The Cult of the Saints (London, 1981)
  • Walter Goffart, The Narrators of Barbarian History (A.D. 550‚Äď800) (Princeton, 1988)
  • E James, The Franks (Oxford, 1988)
  • Reinhold Kaiser. Das r√∂mische Erbe und das Merowingerreich, (Enzyklop√§die deutscher Geschichte 26) (M√ľnchen, 2004)
  • Kathleen Mitchell and Ian Wood (eds.), The World of Gregory of Tours (Leiden, 2002)
  • R Van Dam, Saints and their miracles in late antique Gaul (Princeton, 1993)
  • Ian N Wood, The Merovingian kingdoms 450-751 (London, 1994)
  • Ian N Wood, Gregory of Tours (Oxford, 1994)
  • Shannon McSheffrey, "The History of the Franks" (Harmondsworth, 1974)
  • Loseby, S.T., (1998) "Marseille and the Pirenne thesis, I: Gregory of Tours, the Merovingian kings and 'un grand port'" from Hodges, R. and Bowden, W., The sixth century: production, distribution and demand pp.203-229, (Leiden, Brill Academic Publishers)
  • Loseby, S.T., (1998) "Gregory's cities: urban functions in sixth-century Gaul" from Wood, Ian, Franks and Alamanni in the Merovingian period: an ethnographic perspective pp.239-270, Woodbridge, Boydell & Brewer Ltd


  1. Mitchell and Wood (2002)
  2. Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974, p. 63.
  3. See especially Goffart (1988) and Mitchell and Wood (2002)

External links

Embed code:

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address