Clovis' Split Ewer

When Merovingian King Childeric was restored as king of Tournai, and Roman General Aegidius was dethroned, Aegidius retreated to the neighboring Soissons kingdom in the south and ruled there. As the Roman Empire further declined, Soissons became the westernmost Gaul domain. With very few threats abounding, King Childeric and his new Thuringian wife Basina peacefully began their life together. In about 461, Basina became pregnant and gave birth to a son. They named him Clodovic. Today, modern historians identify him as Clovis (the forerunner of the name Louis).

Soissons Kingdom

(Image courtesy of

Four years after Clovis' birth, in about 465, Childeric's nemesis and royal rival Aegidius died and bequeathed the Soissons kingdom to his son Syagrius.

For sixteen years, Childeric's kingdom enjoyed peace, and the Roman Empire did not threaten. While peace endured, Childeric did not. In 481, he died, and Clovis was crowned. The Tournai kingdom was now ruled by a 15 year old boy. Presumably, over the next five years, Clovis had some sort of tutelage in leadership and military tactics, because by his twentieth year, Clovis either yearned to expand his territorial dominance, or in the name of his father wanted to seek revenge by attacking Aegidius' son Syagrius. Where did Clovis' ability come from? Perhaps, his Frankish royal relatives, King Ragnachair of Cambrai and/or King Chararic of St-Quentin tutored Clovis and may have instigated the attack.

Enlisting the aide of his relatives, Kings Ragnachair and Chararic, Clovis assembled an army, marched on Soissons, and a battle ensued. During the battle, Chararic watched from a distance and did not engage his army. His strategy was to await the outcome and embrace whoever won the battle. From his safe vantage point, he watched as Syagrius' army was annihilated.

Fearing for his life, Syagrius fled south to the Visigothic German capital of Tolosa (Toulouse). The Visigoth king, Alaric II, welcomed Syagrius, but Syagrius' safe haven was short-lived. Clovis gave Alaric an ultimatum. If he continued to protect Syagrius, Clovis' army would attack Toulouse. Bowing to Clovis' pressure, Syagrius was handed over to Clovis and imprisoned. Once Soissons was under Clovis' control, Clovis had Syagrius murdered. This would be the beginning of a series of notable murders, plundering, and territorial gains by Clovis. Plundering was necessary to sustain Clovis' expanding kingdom and his deserving army. Much of the plundering came from the Christian churches.

Wherever the Romans ruled, Christian churches existed. The sanctity of a church was meaningless for Franks. The Franks were pagans and worshiped idols. In the Roman territory of Soissons, expectedly, Clovis' troops plundered the churches depriving the clergy of their riches and icons. Once stripped of their valuables, the Soissons bishop sent messengers to Clovis. They begged for the return of the church's ewer. The king was encouraged to keep all other items, but the ewer was very important to the church. Why the ewer was so important is not known, but if the ewer were to be found, Clovis agreed to return it. As mysterious as the value of the ewer, we do not know Clovis's motive for returning it. One could speculate. Perhaps, Clovis recognized the power the ewer would give him. If he returned the ewer, he could gain valuable new loyalty in his new territory.

Ancient Ewer

(Image courtesy of

In Soissons, the booty was stacked in front of King Clovis, and the ewer was spied. With his troops present, Clovis asked, "I put it to you, my lusty freebooters, that you should agree here and now to grant me that ewer over and above my normal share." All men except one granted the ewer and pledged their loyalty and devotion to the king. The one dissenter swung his battleaxe and split the ewer. At the top of his voice, he shouted, "You shall have none of this booty except your fair share!" Calmly shielding his anger, Clovis took the split ewer and gave it to the churchmen.

With Soissons fully added to his domain, at the end of the year, Clovis gathered his soldiers and reviewed their equipment and weapons. While reviewing his men, he recognized the soldier who split the ewer. Clovis scolded the man for his carelessness of his weaponry. He berated the man for the poor condition of his javelin, battleaxe, and shield. Seizing his battleaxe, Clovis thrust it to the ground. When the soldier bent to pick up his axe, Clovis raised his axe and with a low hollow clunk, the soldiers head was split like the ewer. With one blow, Clovis evened the score.

#Soissons #Clodovic #Clovis #Louis #Syagrius #Ragnachair #Ragnachar #Chararic #StQuentin #Tolosa #Toulouse #Visigoths #AlaricII #pagans #clergy #ewer

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