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The History of the Languedoc:   The Franks

The Frankish invasion of Visigothic lands culminated in the the Battle of Vouillé. The Battle of Vouillé or Campus Vogladensis was fought in the northern marches of Visigothic territory, at a near Poitiers, in the spring of 507. The Franks were commanded by Clovis and the Visigoths by Alaric II.

The Franks crossed the Loire river. Clovis himself probably killed Alaric. The battle forced the Goths to retreat to Septimania (roughly the modern Languedoc), which they continued to hold.

The success at Vouillé allowed the Franks to control the south-western part of what is now France, and to capture Toulouse.

Alaric's illegitimate son Gesalec tried to organise a counterstrike at Narbonne, but he was deposed and ultimately killed when Narbonne was taken by Burgundian allies of the Franks, who held it until 511. The Franks might have pushed farther, had Theodoric the Great not intervened.

Frankish Aquitaine, formerly linked to Hispano-Roman trade routes and territories, continued as an independent state. Its Frankish kings resided at Toulouse.

Clovis, the Frankish king, personified the change in the style of warfare that occurred at this time: wars were no longer about the conquest of territory with the view to its long term expansion; they were rather a source of immediate profit in the form of plunder. Clovis's very name meant 'glory by combat' and his successes in battle and his conversion to Christianity brought him Roman recognition. Clovis and Anastasius I of the Byzantine Empire had agreed that each would attack the Goths on their own side. After his success in this battle the Byzantine emperor, Anastasius, made Clovis a consul.

The Languedoc, or at least most of it, came under Frankish control for a short while, after 759 when Pepin the Short finally took Narbonne. Within a couple of generations their grip weakened and after Charlemagne's death, the Counts of Roussillon and Barcelona proclaimed their independence. Their reign lasted for more than three centuries, during which time the region suffered repeated incursions from Saracens and Normans as well as continual civil war.



Once the Franks had driven the Moors back south over the Pyrenees, the necessity of defending the mountain passes of the Pyrenees became an important point in Charlemagne's policy. Fortifications were built, and protection was given to the inhabitants of the old Roman cities, such as Jaca and Girona. The main passes were Roncesvalles, Somport and Junquera. In each of them, Charlemagne settled the counties of Pamplona, Aragon and Catalonia (which was itself formed from a number of small counties, Pallars, Gerona, and Urgell being the most prominent).

In 778, the Frankish expedition against Saragossa failed and the rearguard of the army was destroyed while retreating to France, this event being recorded in the "Chanson de Roland". As a result the western Pyrenees were now free from both Moorish and Frankish rule. Four states appeared: the kingdom of Pamplona (later known as Navarre) and the counties of Aragon, Sobarbe and Ribagorza. Navarre emerged as a kingdom around Pamplona, its capital, and controlled Roncesvalles pass. Its first king was Iñigo Arista. He expanded his domains up to the Bay of Biscay and conquered a small number of towns beyond the Pyrenees, but never directly attacked the Carolingian armies, as he was in theory their vassal. It was not until Queen Ximena in the 9th century that Pamplona was officially recognised as an independent kingdom by the Pope. Aragon, founded in 809 by Aznar Galíndez, grew around Jaca and the high valleys of the Aragon River, protecting the old Roman road. By the end of the 10th century, Aragon was annexed by Navarre. Sobarbe and Ribagorza were small counties and had little significance to the progress of the Reconquista.

The Catalonian counties protected the eastern Pyrenees passes and shores. They were under the direct control of the Frankish kings and were the last remains of the Spanish Marches. Catalonia included not only the southern Pyrenees counties of Girona, Pallars, Urgell, Vic and Andorra but also some which were on the northern side of the mountains, such as Perpignan and Foix. However, the most important role was played by Barcelona, once it was conquered in 801 by Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne. In the late 9th century under Count Wilfred, Barcelona became the de facto capital of the region. It controlled the other counties' policies in a union, which led in 948 to the independence of Barcelona under Count Borrel II, who declared that the new dynasty in France (the Capets) were not the legitimate rulers of France nor, as a result, of his county.

These states were small and with the exception of Navarre did not have the same capacity for expansion as Asturias had. Their mountainous geography rendered them relatively safe from attack but also made launching attacks against a united and strong Al-Andalus impractical. In consequence, these states' borders remained stable for two centuries.

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