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To find out more about "Visigoths. Kings of Toulouse"

The Visigoths have long been regarded with great severity. Firstly, because they belonged to the so-called “Barbarian” peoples, their history has remained in the shadow of the Roman Empire, a model of civilization, of which they are believed to have brought about the downfall. Secondly, because they were not the Franks, the heroes of the national novel, the Visigoths were long ignored by so-called “Merovingian” archaeology (relating to Mérovée, the mythical
ancestor of Clovis). In Spain, where they are celebrated as the founders of the nation, their existence has long been a subject of study by researchers.
Over the centuries, many artists have taken up the figure of the «Barbarian» and the Visigoth. The latter can be found in painting, sculpture, literature, comic strips, audio-visual production, advertising or even video games... The same clichés keep recurring: those of a brutal and bestial figure, living only by plunder and destruction.

In this introductory section, Asterix, Kaamelott (a French comedy series) and even Game of Thrones all portray a representation of the Barbarian in contemporary popular culture.


The Goths are first mentioned in the Ist century of the Common Era (CE) by Roman authors who place them in the north of what is now Poland. Nothing is known of their earlier origins, but according to legend, as told by Jordanes (6th century), a small group led by King Berig left Scandinavia aboard a handful of ships to settle in new territory.

From northern Poland...
Archaeological fact may reinforce the myth: to the west of the mouth of the Vistula river (Poland), archaeologists have found tombs reminiscent of those found in the south of Sweden and Norway as well as on the island of Gotland.
These graves could signal the integration of Scandinavian Germanic peoples in the populations native to northern Poland, during the Ist century of the Common Era. It is from this fusion that the “Goth” ethnic group and the associated archaeological culture, the Wielbark culture, were born. the shores of the Black Sea
Between the end of the 2nd century and the beginning of the 3rd century, the Goths left the Vistula river basin and headed south towards the Black Sea. It is there where they united with other peoples and formed a strong coalition that, from 238 CE, would launch repeated attacks against Roman provinces. The material culture dating from this period is called Chernyakhov after the name of a Ukrainian village. It blends native characteristics
with Roman influences.
It is during the 3rd century that, for the first time, two branches of Goths appeared in the literature:
the Ostrogoths (“Eastern Goths” or “Gleaming Goths” according to the authors) in Ukraine and the
Visigoths (“Western Goths” or “Wise or Educated Goths”) in Romania and Moldova.

The religion of the Goths
In the early centuries of their history, the Goths were polytheistic. It was only around 340 CE that they became Christianised by the bishop Ulfilas who practised a variant of Christianity: Arianism. According to this doctrine, Christ is distinct from God. Arianism was considered a heresy by other Christians, especially after the Council of Nicaeaconvened in 325 CE at the request of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Ulfilas, who came from a Roman Christian family enslaved by the Goths, grew up among them and mastered their language. He translated the Bible into the Gothic language using an alphabet made up of a mixture of Greek, Latin and Runic characters.

The Goth name generator: Visigoth-yourself! Using this tool, visitors can create their Visigoth name and learn its meaning.


The invasion of the Huns
In around 375 CE, the Huns came from the south Russian steppes and advanced towards the west. They came up against many peoples along their way, particularly the Ostrogoths (who ended up surrendering) followed by the Visigoths who resisted for a while before fleeing and asking the Roman
Emperor Valens for permission to cross the Roman border that was the Danube. The Emperor accepted. In exchange, the Visigoths promised to supply soldiers to the Roman army. The Roman governors did not honour their side of the deal and mistreated the Visigoths: they subjected them to exorbitant taxes, thus causing a famine, and reducing some of them to slavery. They revolted and, with the help of other peoples, confronted Valens near to Andrinople in 378 CE. The Visigoths were triumphant; the Emperor had been killed.

Roaming the Empire
After their victory in Andrinople, the Visigoths, in search of new territory and livelihoods, alternated between confrontations and negotiations with Rome for almost thirty years. Theodosius allowed them to settle in the Balkans in 382 CE. In 397 CE, with their chief Alaric Ist, they settled on the east coast of the Adriatic Sea. In 401 CE, they entered the Western Empire and marched on Italy. Rome was attacked twice: in 408 CE it escaped by paying an enormous ransom but it was sacked in 410 CE.

The Visigoths enter Gaul
During the sack of Rome in 410 CE, Alaric took Galla Placidia hostage; she was the sister of the Roman Emperor Honorius. Alaric died at the end of the year in Calbria. Three years later, the new chief of the Visigoths, Athaulf, decided to invade the south of Gaul. He married Galla Placidia and briefly settled in Narbonne before being sent to Spain by Honorius to fight the Suebi, the Alans and the Vandals. Wallia succeeded Athaulf who was assassinated in 415 CE.

Two short videos show the attack of the Huns as well as the battle of Andrinople, which young audiences can also discover with the help of a model.
The great work of a few historical reconstruction groups is displayed in a slideshow, giving us an idea of how the military uniform of the Visigoths and the Romans looked in the 4th and 5th centuries. A soldier’s full equipment (helmet, chain mail armour, sword and shield) is also on display nearby. Visitors can also try a helmet on and have a go at the best selfie competition!


After their victories in Spain, the Visigoths were ordered back to Gaul by Honorius and negotiated a new treaty with the Roman Empire. In 418 or 419 CE, they settled in the Garonne valley, “from Toulouse to the Ocean”, stretching across a region that probably encompassed the province of Aquitania secunda and the neighbouring cities of Novempopulania, Aquitania prima and Narbonensis. This agreement finally paved the way for a more permanent settlement, and Theodoric I (418-451 CE) elected Toulouse as his royal residence. 
Euric (466-484 CE) held power independently after the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476 CE) and extended his kingdom considerably. At the height of his reign, the Visigothic Kingdom, the largest Barbarian Kingdom in the West, covered Aquitaine, Septimania, Provence and most of the Iberian Peninsula, with the exception of the north-west. After the Battle of Vouillé in 507 CE, the Franks, led by their King Clovis, conquered Toulouse and took control of Aquitaine, driving the Visigoths back to the Mediterranean coast (Septimania) and Spain. 
It does not seem likely that Visigothic settlements were scattered across the entire region. They almost certainly stayed close to the main bastions of power in order to remain a rapidly-operational military force, and in the richest regions economically speaking. The only archaeological remains that enable us to trace their progression and presume they settled in the major Roman farming estates, aside from the necropolises, are for the most part small accessories
worn by women. These objects were found in the residential buildings of the villae, among sumptuous decorative pieces including sculptures and mosaics, proof of the fact the newcomers had adapted to the Roman way of life.

The arrival of the Visigoths in our region did not usher in any major economic upheavals. Between 410 and 500 CE, the road and river networks remained in place, artisanal clusters developed and rural areas prospered, reflected in the work carried out to expand and improve some of the larger farming estates (villae).
This was a rich region: it included fertile land for growing cereal crops, vineyards, numerous types of breeding and a wide variety of natural resources (stone, wood, ores, and so on). Imported and luxury goods, some of which had come from a long way away, continued to converge in Toulouse, even after the political fall of the Western Roman Empire (476 CE).

Kings of Toulouse
In the wake of the treaty signed by Wallia (415-418 CE) and the Emperor Honorius, Theodoric I (418 – 451 CE) organised the settlement of the Goths in Aquitaine and set up his seat of power in Toulouse. He may have been the son-in-law of Alaric I, the Goth who conquered Rome in 410 CE. His daughters, of whom we know little, were married to Barbarian and Roman princes. We do know that one of them was subjected to terrible treatment by the Vandals. Throughout his reign, Theodoric I led several military campaigns to extend his kingdom towards the Mediterranean. In 439 CE, he successfully pushed back the Roman General Litorius, who besieged Toulouse. Theodoric was killed in 451 CE during the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, fought between the Roman army with its Germanic coalition and the Huns commanded by Attila.
His eldest son Thorismond (451-452 CE) succeeded him to the throne. Hero of the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains and a clever strategic thinker, he was quickly murdered by his brothers, who disagreed with his policy with regard to Rome.
Theodoric II came to power (453-466 CE). We have some idea of his personality and day-to-day life thanks to the letters of Sidonius Apollinaris, a diplomat, bishop and significant author whose works provide us with a precious account of his time. Raised at the Toulouse court, Theodoric II was tutored by Avitus, praetor of the Pretorium of the Gauls, who went on to become Emperor. By all accounts, he did not resemble the typical image of the Barbarians, and is described as a wise prince familiar with both Roman and Gothic cultures. Like his father, Theodoric II sought to expand his kingdom and led campaigns in Spain, the Loire region and the area around Narbonne.
In 466 CE, Euric became king and launched several military campaigns aimed at expanding his holdings. He defeated the Roman army near Arles, did battle with Sidonius Apollinaris entrenched in Auvergne and expanded his kingdom in Provence and as far as Tarraconensis (Spain). Constantly in conflict with the Nicene clergy (the “Catholics”), he died of natural causes in Arles in 484 CE.
He was succeeded by his son Alaric II. The latter governed the Visigothic Kingdom, the largest of the Barbarian Kingdoms in terms of surface area, until his death, during the battle against the Franks in Vouillé in 507 CE.

Toulouse during the reign of the Visigoths
The Tolosa of the Visigothic kings was the direct successor of the ancient city. It kept the same layout (92 hectares), fortifications, road network, residential neighbourhoods and public facilities that had survived the economic and religious upheavals of the previous centuries.
In the north-west of the city, in an area nestled between the Garonne and the fortifications, the Goths built a monumental estate in the 5th century, possibly the seat of the government, and, on the other side of the wall, an imposing funerary building. They almost certainly attended the churches of Saint-Pierre-des-Cuisines and La Daurade. As a result, in this corner of the ancient city, outside the city walls, a sort of Gothic neighbourhood began to take shape, proof that the new rulers had truly begun to leave their mark on the urban landscape.

In 1988, archaeologists from Afan (predecessor of Inrap, the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research) came across remains dating from the 5th century, on the site of the former Larrey military hospital (present-day place de Bologne). They constituted the western part of a monumental complex, of which some components remain unknown. To date, only one other building, excavated in 1989 sixty metres or so to the east and resting directly against the fortifications and a tower, can be considered to be part of the same complex.
Nothing remains of this building, which was destroyed in 1989 in order to build the residential neighbourhood of the place de Bologne. While we cannot be certain it constituted the palace of the Visigoths, the fact it has been dated to the 5th century, its specific layout, size and dominant location by the riverside not far from the Bazacle crossing point, probably linked to a river port, all seem to add weight to this hypothesis.

In addition to the cathedral neighbourhood in the eastern part of the city, three churches served worshipers and provided funeral rites during the Visigothic period: Saint-Sernin, Saint-Pierre-des-Cuisines and La Daurade.
Saint-Pierre-des-Cuisines, built at the same time as Saint-Sernin, was constructed on the site of a necropolis which already existed in the 1st or 2nd century. The Goths almost certainly came here to worship, as attested by the monumental mausoleum they built twenty or so metres further north, which is strictly aligned with the church (current site of the new Toulouse School of Economics).
Destroyed between 1759 and 1763, the primitive church of Sainte-Marie la Daurade has remained famous for its golden mosaics. Its name derives from this decorative wall feature: Sancta Maria Deaurata, Sainte-Marie la Dorée (daurada in Occitan, gold in English). These mosaics cover an apse made up of recesses arranged over three levels and separated by columns with a twisting shaft or decorated with vine branches. A model of the church can be seen on the second floor of the museum.


Excavations of tombs, since the 19th century, have provided a large share of the clues that make it possible to identify the Visigoths in southern Gaul. Some graves, mostly belonging to women, have brought to light finery and accessories of the “East Germanic” fashion. Typical “East Germanic” female attire included the wearing of two large fibula brooches on the shoulders and a large belt buckle. Shapes and materials varied: large gilded silver or bronze brooches, hand-shaped, crossbow or bird-shaped fibulae, gilded belt buckles with cabochons, etched or set with garnets or glass beads... The ornaments could be completed by necklaces and earrings.


For the past twenty years or so, numerous excavations of necropolises have uncovered Visigothic graves in the south of France, providing precious new input to boost our knowledge of this period. Examples include the burial grounds of Mouraut (Inrap) and Seysses (HADES) near Toulouse, Blanzac in the Charente region (HADES), Saint-Laurent-des-Hommes in Dordogne (Inrap), and the sites of Pezens and La Mézière in the Aude department and Estagel in the Pyrénées-Orientales, discovered earlier on, which have all contained objects characteristic of East Germanic attire.

A remarkable discovery: excavation of the Boulbènes des Vitarelles site in Seysses
From May to October 2018, the HADÈS archaeological investigation office, under the scientific supervision of Sélim Djouad and on the directive of the Regional archaeology department of the DRAC Occitanie (the French organisation responsible for cultural affairs at regional level), excavated a burial site near the town of Seysses, around 20 kilometres south-west of Toulouse. The archaeological dig was funded by the developer Promologis.
The 149 graves discovered constituted a burial site arranged in rows. It stretched over approximately 1 ha, along the ancient road linking Toulouse and Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges. The site was entirely excavated.
It would appear that this site was used for burial purposes for a relatively short period of time, from the first half of the 5th century to the very beginning of the 6th century. Studies are still in progress, but initial observations seem to point to a population comprising a very diverse set of individuals: the graves revealed very young children, young and older adults, both men and women, alongside people with physical disabilities. One individual had obviously been the victim of a violent assault, because his arms and legs had been removed and placed on top of his body.
The exceptional nature of this discovery lies in the fact that this burial ground was perhaps occupied solely by the Visigoths, as suggested by the use of tree-trunk coffins made from hollowed-out logs, the Germanic grave goods and the presence of cranial deformations.
This burial ground could therefore be that of a Visigothic community or one of its Barbarian allies, part of a settlement with a leader clustered around a villa that the excavation operation did not manage to uncover, less than one day’s horse ride away from the capital Toulouse. Moreover, burials stopped in the early 6th century, which might have coincided with the invasion of the region by the Franks.

Deformed skulls!
Cranial deformations are known to have existed among the Huns, the Sarmatians, the Alans and certain East Germanic tribes such as the Goths and the Burgundians. This deformation was a result of the practice whereby infants of both sexes were made to wear compression bands around their skull, causing it to elongate gradually from the top. We cannot be certain whether the motivation was simply cranial deformation itself, or whether an elongated head was necessary in order to wear a certain type of headdress. This ethnic tradition was painless and had no impact on the child’s intellectual development. It seems to have been practiced by certain Visigoths in south-west Gaul, in Seysses for
example. It is worth noting that this custom is not directly linked to the fashion for “elongated skulls” that prevailed in Toulouse in the 19th century.

Two original devices have been designed to enable visitors to discover the Seysses burial ground:
> by exploring certain graves in 3D;
> by observing and touching deformed skulls.


“Regnum Tolosanum occupantibus Francis destruitur”
The Kingdom of Toulouse, occupied by the Franks, is destroyed
Isidore of Seville, Historia Gothorum

The Visigoths were not the only Barbarians to settle in the provinces of the Western Roman Empire. The Franks, a group of Western Germanic peoples, began to settle progressively to the west of the Rhine throughout the 4th and 5th centuries. When he acceded to the throne in 481 CE, Clovis dreamed of reunifying Gaul. After winning several battles against other Barbarians, he crossed the Loire River in 507 CE and killed the Visigothic king Alaric II at the Battle of Vouillé, near Poitiers. The Franks quickly took control of Aquitaine. Toulouse, the symbolic centre of Gothic power, was occupied, sacked and perhaps even burned. It would take two centuries for the city to recover its urban prosperity.
The Visigoths were driven back to Spain but held on to Septimania (now known as Languedoc-Roussillon) in Gaul. They established their new capital in Toledo. This marked the start of what is known as their Spanish period. A succession of kings came to power, until the Muslim conquest of the peninsula in 711, which effectively led to the demise of the Visigoths as an independent people in the European landscape.

You can also discover the exhibition thanks to a virtual visit carried out by  IMA Solutions   as part of a skills sponsorship programme.  
Go to the tour   

Download the texts of the panels translated into English


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