The following snippet is the result of much effort. It was fun to write. It was painful to write. Finding some solid place to start was hard. When do you start? What presumptions do you make with readers? What great threads and exact details are necessary for the final product? This is hard, especially when you have zero feedback.
However, writing is an intuitive process. I certainly would take feedback, but, at this point, it seems more important to get Once Upon a Time in Europe published. Plus, I trust my intuition.
“From Celts to Christians” is one section from a chapter I think I’ll call “A Quick History of France” which I will likely include in the book. Maybe I won’t go much beyond what I’ve written. Maybe I won’t write much beyond the Fall of the Roman Empire. However, maybe I will go from Charlemagne to Napoleon to the traitors France has as heads of state now.
Again, writing’s intuitive. This means I’m not sure how the story will develop as I write. This lack of surety can cause angst. At the same time, it’s an adventure...
A QUICK HISTORY OF FRANCE
My time in Paris didn’t inspire me to become an expert in French history. However, it did sow a seed. Over the years, it’s led to reading many hundreds of pages of the history of the land that, from Julius Cesar’s conquest of Gaul to the crazy present, has evolved to become modern France. It’s the cradle of modern Europe. Its history is a source of wisdom. I find it fascinating. If you are so inclined, the following is a quick summary of millennia.
From Celts to Christians
So, yes, Gaul. This was what modern day France was referred to by the Romans before Julius Cesar conquered Gaul, through a series of wars in the century before Christ. The native Gauls are regarded by modern scholars as a Celtic people, a people of different yet related languages and cultures spreading out over much of Western Europe, outside of Rome, whose linguistic heritage lasts unto today in the British Isles and Brittany, France. Gallic civilization, in terms of technology, architecture, and law, wasn’t at the level of the Romans. However. it was at a more developed level compared to other ancient European peoples, especially for their iron skills in making weapons. Undoubtedly these skills also fostered solid instruments for higher levels of agricultural production and thus higher population numbers capable of harassing Roman settlements trying to expand into the far north of the Italian Peninsula and Southern Gaul.
However, these Celtic Gauls were tribal. They were not politically integrated. They could not produce armies sophisticated and large enough to defeat the impressive Roman military machine, though as individual fighters they were considered quite fierce. The ultimate result was the incorporation of Gaul (and Celtic Britannia to the north) into the Empire, through, again, the epic wars of Julius Cesar. The glory and power won by Cesar in Gaul would cause him to end the Roman Republic, and turn himself into a dictator of what became the Roman Empire. The incorporation of Gaul also meant the diffusion of Latin into these lands, which evolved into French many centuries later, though, Celtic languages would survive for many centuries after Roman incorporation (and still do today in the modern French province of Brittany where Celtic Breton is spoken).
Of course, not long after the establishment of Cesar’s Empire in 49 BC, Jesus Christ was born in the Roman province of Judea. Roman conquest had been steadily moving eastward through the Mediterranean world after its final victory over the Carthaginian Empire in 202 BC. In 146 BC Rome conquered fully the Ancient Greek heartland, and many subordinate possessions thereafter. The full conquest of the Levant – the far eastern Mediterranean – was inevitable, and Jerusalem fell to Roman armies in 63 BC. It would seem logical that year 0 was the year Christ was born, but adjustments to calendars place Christ’s birth technically in the year 6 BC. The point of this brief explanation of Roman history is to point out that the Gospels of Jesus Christ grew from this obscure province to envelope virtually the whole of the Empire by the 4th century. Rome’s ease of transportation by road and sail greatly aided the Apostles, including Paul who first promulgated Christianity unto many peoples beyond Judea. Thus, Christianity was to be grafted onto the Gallo-Roman culture of proto-France.
The Roman Empire hit its apogee in territories and wealth in the late 2nd century, and would resonate with great military and commercial power for centuries thereafter. However, its power began to decline in the 3rd century. Incessant wars with the Parthians, or Persians, east of Roman lands in Syria drained the empire of valuable resources. Germanic barbarian tribes, beyond the Rhine and Danube, were coveting the wealth and power of Roman civilization, and began their centuries-long migrations and invasions. Essentially, funds expended for war could no longer be reimbursed through spoiling conquered lands as the Parthians and Germans proved themselves unconquerable. This caused quite a rupture in financial machinery the Empire had been depending upon.
Things were also rotting inside the Empire. The prosperity born of a relatively free society produced moral decadence that ultimately led to utilizing the government as a mechanism for plundering and redistributing wealth, so as to buy votes and loyalties, which, in the long run, made a society hopelessly addicted to government handouts. There were also civil wars. There would be no clear line of hereditary succession of Cesars, as generally characterized future European Kings, though European wars of succession would still erupt. However, Rome had it worse. Factions killing each other over emplacing the next Cesar became common. The wealth to be derived from government plunder was irresistibly corrupting. It’s almost comical to see how many civil wars Rome experienced in the 3rd and 4th centuries. These wars didn’t necessarily involve the entire Roman population, as in the American Civil War South, but, they did degenerate the rule of law and the efficiency of commerce, which were two cornerstones of Roman civilization.
The need for revenues to offset the costs of warfare and welfare incentivized coin-clipping, or an inflation of the money supply. Coin-clipping is reducing the amount of valuable metal within coins, and replacing that amount with less valuable metals, like copper, for the sake of making them weigh as much and, thus, appear to be as valuable. However, the coins are not. Coin-clipping was a way of siphoning off wealth unto the Roman government, which was not as recognizable as direct taxation. It was a hidden tax, as modern inflation is. The Roman Denarius, which was once almost pure silver, by AD 300 had become less than 5% silver. Prices skyrockted. Savings disappeared. Yet the demands upon government continued debasing the currency. It was the only way to keep up Rome’s warfare and welfare estates. The ensuing economic and political chaos helped degenerate the Empire throughout the 3rd and 4th centuries to a point where it had to be divided between East and West, with Rome administering the ever-weakening West, and Constantinople the stronger East.
In the 5th century murderous hordes from the Asian Steppes called Huns began invading Europe, and compelled more Germans to seek safety within Roman borders, and reduced Rome’s power to govern its own lands. Tribes of Vandals and Visogoths would amalgamate power unto themselves and become literal kingdoms within Gaul and Hispania. Whatever empirical power formerly exercised from the City of Rome was becoming pure illusion. The leaders of the Germanic tribes were the real rulers of former Roman lands. The Visogothic sacking of Rome in 476 AD is considered to be the fall of Western Roman Empire itself, though, the richer and militarily stronger Eastern Roman Empire, ruled from Constantinople, would continue on for another thousand years as Byzantium.
Enter the Franks. They were more Germans who crossed the Rhine into modern Belgium and France in the 400’s. Their armies displaced Visogoths, Vandals, Alemanni and other smaller tribes, and the Franks came to establish themselves as the most powerful force within Gaul. The Franks were not to leave thereafter. Frankish presence came to be officially sanctioned by the Eastern government still holding out hope for reestablishing rule in the West. In the year of our Lord 498, the Frankish King Clovis converted to Christianity, and was recognized as “consul”, that is, as a de facto military governor of remnant empire lands, by the Roman emperor from Constantinople. The Church was the last significant remnant of Roman civilization in the West, and Eastern emperors hoped that Frankish conversion to Christianity would civilize them into Roman manners and, in time, facilitate East and West reuniting.
This would not happen. Even the civilizing effects of Christianity could not prevent the changes coming. The grafting of Franks unto the Gallo-Romans would create a mix of language and culture far too different to identify with the Greek-speaking east. The religion of the Romanized Franks would also become too different. Leo the Great, recognized in 440 as pontifex maximus, though occupying a religious office nonetheless came to exercise power on political matters as well. The concept of the Pope was being born in the West. This religious office of pontifex maximus at the City of Rome would only grow in power for its de facto autonomy from Constantinople. After all, it was the Church at Rome, not at Constantinople, that was leading efforts to civilize the pagan Germans of the West. In the Church’s eyes, to Christianize was to Romanize was to Civilize. In those times, there wasn’t much distinction between these three words. They all referred to the same construction of culture. Thus, the power over the minds of Germans and Latins emanating from the Church at the City of Rome would become supreme. It would define a great portion of Western European history for the next thousand years, literally.
The illusion of “Roman” rule – or civilizational rule – from Constantinople nonetheless lasted for some time. This illusion was given renewed vigor, for some decades, under Emperor Justinian whose general Belisarius conquered many Germanic lands across Africa, Italy and Gaul in the 500’s, only to be lost again in the 600’s. The total loss of influence of Constantinople over the West was becoming blatant by 700. The last emperor at Constantinople to visit Rome itself was Constans II in 663. Though Byzantine emperors would maintain empirical claims to Western lands even until the 800’s, such claims had little effect in the cultural development of the West. Byzantium was too preoccupied fighting against Persians and then Muslims. The Byzantine Church – what would later become the Orthodox Church – also suffered factionalism as anciently established churches at Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria vied for power. The Church at Rome was free from this chaos (for a time) and, therefore, became free from all Byzantine influence. Roman Catholicism would result. An entirely different Western Civilization would also result, in time.
No place evinced the birth of this new West than France.