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Level 5

5AAH1036 Gregory of Tours and the Merovingian World

Credit value: 15
Module convenor/tutor: Dr Alice Rio
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour seminar (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 2 x essay of 2,500 words (50% each)

N.B. This module cannot be taken in conjunction with 5AAH2024 Gregory of Tours and the Merovingian World due to possible overlap of content.

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years

This course will take the writings of Gregory of Tours as a starting-point to explore the sixth-century Frankish world. There are two main reasons to focus on Gregory. One is that he is virtually the only reason why we know anything at all about this period. Another, much more important reason is that he is possibly the best and most loveable writer the Middle Ages ever produced, and wrote one of the greatest works of literature in the Western canon: full of larger-than-life characters (barbarian kings, fighting bishops, evil queens, rebellious nuns, drunk holy men, sorcerers and charlatans) and extraordinary scenes ranging from epic battles to intimate anecdotes, from court intrigue to miracle stories - and from tragic to comic. Each class will rely on a close reading of some of the most memorable episodes from Gregory’s writings as a starting-point for understanding the society of his time, analysing them both as literature and for their historical value. The readings will focus on social status and interaction, and bring in a wide variety of stories to try to understand why different sorts of protagonists behaved the way they did, and how they tried to come out as well as they could of the different kinds of social challenges in which their mettle was being constantly prodded and tested (and in which failure could often prove fatal). This course is not just for those interested in the Middle Ages: it is for anyone willing to engage and connect with a mind and a world at once utterly alien and deeply relatable.

Provisional teaching plan

  1. Gregory as historian and writer
  2. Ethnicity, identity and the Franks
  3. Good kingship, bad kingship
  4. War and the Frankish aristocracy
  5. Family and women
  6. Saints, holy men and sorcerers
  7. Bishops, monks and nuns
  8. Wealth, exchange, and gift-giving
  9. Bloodfeud, violence and crime
  10. Emotions, drinking, and friendship

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks, tr. L. Thorpe (London, 1974)

I.N. Wood, Gregory of Tours (Bangor, 1994)

K. Mitchell and I.N. Wood, The World of Gregory of Tours (Leiden, 2002)

I.N. Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751 (London, 1994)

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