Rituals of Power: From Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages

By Frans Theuws; Janet L. Nelson | Go to book overview

THE THEORETICAL STRENGTH AND
PRACTICAL WEAKNESS OF THE
VISIGOTHIC MONARCHY OF TOLEDO

Pablo C. Diaz and Ma.R. Valverde

The development of a royal propaganda programme in seventh-century Visigothic Hispania is in itself clear proof of the Visigothic monarchy's possession of a strong ideology in that period. It is obvious that only when a clearly defined concept of power exists can this be formulated for propaganda purposes, and, further, that in order to make the concept clearly visible, the existence of an independent and sovereign power structure with distinct government institutions is required. These preconditions, in the case of Visigothic Spain, appeared only when the kingdom of Toledo had taken shape. They reflected Visigothic political conceptions which, while they had undergone marked development, had not lost touch with the ideology and ruling practices of the Late Empire. Thus, even though from an early date the Visigoths were committed to kingship as their form of government, it was only from the late sixth century on that a monarchy now bent on consolidating an autonomous power structure began to create a political symbology of its own.

The transformation process undergone by this monarchy was a slow and gradual one.1 When in 376 the Goths crossed the Danube and were admitted within the borders of the Empire by the emperor Valens, whatever form of monarchy may have been incipient among them was not yet a permanent institution, and had an elective character. The first testimonies we possess for the Goths, and the reliability of these is limited for they contain a mixture of history, myth and legendary traditions,2 attribute a sacred character to royalty. This character was allegedly lost, and thereafter kings were elected when the state of war required a central authority whose concentrated

1Cf. E.A. Thompson, The Early Germans (Oxford, 1965); E.A. Thompson, The
Visigoths at the times of Ulfilas
(Oxford, 1966); H. Wolfram, A History of the Goths (Berke-
ley, 1988).

2Cf. T.S. Burns, The Ostrogoths. Kingship and society (Wiesbaden, 1980), p. 10.

-59-

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