HST380/381: Gregory of Tours and his World

40 credits (semesters 1 and 2)

Module Leader: Dr Simon Loseby



A pass in at least two history modules at level two.


Module Summary

This module invites students to engage with the curious world of Gregory, bishop of the city of Tours in central France in the late sixth century, who wrote a century after the fall of the western Roman empire, in a Frankish kingdom that was arguably the most successful of the states that succeeded it. Fast, furious, and frequently funny, Gregory's writings (all readily available in translation) have long been recognised as among the most important, and certainly the liveliest primary sources to survive from the so-called Dark Ages. Over the last decade Gregory's reputation as a lurid, but rather naive reporter of events has been transformed by a series of studies bringing out the hidden subtleties and coded criticisms in his writings, thereby opening up a range of vigorous and continuing controversies about his methods and motives. Students will approach these debates - and the enigma that is Gregory himself - by looking through the bishop’s eyes at life in the Frankish kingdoms from four perspectives: kingship, the holy, the structure of society, and the wider world. The emphasis throughout will be on close study of the vivid narrative traditionally known as the History of the Franks (but which Gregory called the Histories) backed up with extracts from Gregory’s other writings and those of his contemporaries.

The first group of seminars plunges into the violent and dangerous world of high politics, and looks at Gregory's portrayal of the ideals and realities of Frankish kingship. The second will consider the Church, and the behaviour in life – and after death – of the bishops and saints whose activities Gregory describes in his Wonders and interleaves into his political narrative in the Histories, focussing on Gregory's perception of the holy and how its power works. In the second semester we turn to a number of broader aspects of sixth-century Frankish society, comparing what Gregory tells us about them with the evidence of other contemporary sources, before returning finally to international politics, and, through close study of a particular episode, to Gregory as a historian. No prior knowledge of the period is required for this module, though survivors of the Fall of Rome may be interested in what emerged from the wreckage, and those of Warriors, Saints, and Heroes will recognise a similar world.


Teaching and Assessment

  Semester 1 Semester 2
1 Gregory of Tours: his life and works Gregory and other contemporary sources
2 Gregory’s hero? King Clovis To be Frank: law and ethnicity
3 The sons of Clovis Family matters: women and children
4 Gregory’s kings, I: Chilperic Aristocrats, government, and administration
5 Gregory’s kings, II: Guntram Cities, peasants, and trade
6 Long-haired kings: royal charisma Learning and culture
7 The power of the bishops War, peace and violence
8 Saints, relics, and charlatans Franks and their neighbours, I: the North
9 Gregory and his saints Franks and their neighbours, II: the Mediterranean
10 Monks and (revolting) nuns The 'Gundovald affair' and its aftermath
11 Signs, wonders, portents and nature                           Gregory as historian

Further guidance is provided in the module course booklet, available through MOLE.

Information on assessment can be found at: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/history/current_students/undergraduate/assessment/level3


Selected Reading

  • Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, tr. L. Thorpe (Penguin, 1974)
  • Edward James, The Franks (Oxford,1988)
  • Raymond Van Dam, Saints and their miracles in late antique Gaul (Princeton, 1993)
  • Ian Wood, The Merovingian kingdoms, 450-751 (London, 1994)
  • Guy Halsall, Barbarian migrations and the Roman west, 376-568 (Cambridge, 2007)
  • Ian Wood, Gregory of Tours (Bangor, 1994)


Intended Learning Outcomes
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