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

By Frans Theuws; Janet L. Nelson | Go to book overview
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KINGSHIP RITUALS AND IDEOLOGY
IN LOMBARD ITALY

Stefano Gasparri

Any study of rituals of royal power in the barbarian societies of the early medieval West involves considerable methodological problems which mainly arise from features of these rituals which have no consistent connection with the written evidence. To surmount these difficulties, we need to make use of a particular type of source: stories that may be taken to reflect the pre-invasion history of the Germanic peoples. That there is a kernel of historical reliability in these myths has sometimes been denied; but, in my view, they did transmit a living core of ancient tradition, however much this was distorted by the process of transmission and by the literary culture of the writers who recorded them.1

This kind of evidence suggests that very difference kinds of inauguration were used for early Germanic kings. Visigoths and Ostrogoths raised on a shield the chief who had been elected king by his warriors. Such ceremonies may have taken place, sometimes, on the battlefield: thus, following the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields in 451 when Attila and the Huns were defeated, the Visigoths elected Torismund, son of their king Theoderic who had fallen in the battle, 'among the clash of arms among the warriors on the battlefield'. The likelihood that Torismund was raised on his warriors' shield is strengthened by analogy with the case of the last Ostrogothic king in Italy, Witigis, who was inaugurated in a military ceremony: 'a shield was put under him (scudo subposito)', according to 'ancestral custom (mos maiorum)'.2 Witigis's election took place in the camp near

1 Cf. S. Gasparri, La cultura tradizionale dei Longobardi. Struttura tribale e resistenze
pagane
(Spoleto, 1983); and, for a very different view, W. Goffart, The Narrators of
Barbarian History. Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede and Paul the Deacon
(Princeton, 1988),
pp. 382–388, for Paul the Deacon, and idem, Barbarians and Romans AD 419–584:
The Techniques of Accommodation
(Princeton, 1980), p. 8, for Jordanes and the origins
of the Goths, with Goffart's observation that these old stories about the origins of
Germanic peoples “have nothing in common with our standard of credible history”.

2 Jordanes, Getica XLI, 215, ed. F. Giunta and F. Grillone, Fonti per la storia
d'Italia
, 117 (Rome, 1991).

-95-

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