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Old November 15th, 2011, 03:42 PM   #1

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The Bacaudae - Celtic warlords or Christian insurgents?


The (notorious skimpy and unreliable) contemporary sources on the late Roman Empire make several references to a group in western Europe (particularly northern Gaul) known as the Bacaudae, or Bagaudae. References are most common in the final decades of the 3rd Century CE, but persist into the early Dark Ages.

Virtually nothing is known about percisely who and what these people were, but theories abound. Some believe that they were local landlords who, in the increasingly anarchic and miserable conditions of the slowly decaying Empire, established themselves as local rulers with private armies - a decline into warlordism in Rome's more distant provinces.

Others have suggested that they were provincial Christians reacting with violent fury to discrimination and persecution, namely that under Diocletian and Maximian (284-305 CE). Apparently bishops are attested to serving with the Bacaudae rebels. There is also the case of Roman legion, under the command of one Mauritius, that was decimated by Emperor Maximian for refusing to put down a Christian revolt in Gaul.

The (possibly) Gaulish origin of the name Bacaudae has even led some scholars to suggest that they were Celts, still opposing Romanization (and in the 4th and 5th Centuries) perhaps also Christianization. "Bacaudae" was still used to denote rural insurgents in Visigothic Spain up until the Moorish conquest.

Thoughts?
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Old November 15th, 2011, 09:48 PM   #2

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A fine (if also a bit obscure) topic, Salah. In the 800+ page compilation, The Celtic World edited by Miranda Green, which I happen to have here, there are only a couple of sentences about the Bagaudae/Bacaudae. I was a bit disappointed.


Still, there are some decent online resources, including a Google Books version of Leadership and Community in Late Antique Gaul by Raymond Van Dam, which includes a decent chapter on the subject.


I'm don't see a lot of evidence that the Bagaudae were Christians, but would be interested in looking at any you could point me toward. Seeing as they arose not long after the short-lived "Gallic Empire" I think that your first option is the most likely, and they were just a sort of variation on that theme; local warlords who decided to set up for themselves.
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Old November 15th, 2011, 10:58 PM   #3

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I have read a certain number of pages about this subject (French texts).
I'll try to summarize these soon, but I don't remember having read the hypothesis of Christians.
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Old November 15th, 2011, 11:51 PM   #4

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The bagadae are a uncertain phenomenon. It is not clear, who they were and as well if they were a single group or not even a collective name for different groups. A main group seems to be farmers, who organized their military protection against interior and exterior threats and therefor were unwilling to pay the taxes.
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Old November 20th, 2011, 09:56 AM   #5

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As it is said in Wiki :
“In the time of the later Roman Empire, bagaudae were groups of peasant insurgents who emerged during the "Crisis of the IIIth century" and persisted particularly in the less-Romanised areas of Gallia and Hispania… The bagaudae are also characterized as impoverished local free peasants, reinforced by brigands, runaway slaves and deserters from the legions, who were resisting the abuses of Feudalism manorial privilege and punitive taxation in the marginal areas of the Empire.”

The 3 books* I read again are very consistent to confirm this definition. My comments hereafter are deduced from these.

What about Christians?
Christians are not responsible of these revolts, although there have certainly been some in these groups. However, some distinction must be made between bagaudae of the IIIth century, and later ones.
In the IIIth century, around 270 AD when the first big bagaudae appear, Christians are basically present in towns and not in the open country. Posthumus, very tolerant with religions, and Aurelian with his “Sol Invictus”, have caused a disinterest about the Roman religion. Then, the ancient religions (Celtic) and the new ones (Christian) have increased their presence, but not sufficiently yet in the open country.
In the IVth century and after, when the Christian religion has become the official one, bishops appear as the defenders of weak and oppressed people, and thence of the bagaudae. But, again, it appears they were not at the origin of these revolts.
Later, for the next centuries, the Christian texts tended to show the bagaudae as Christian martyrs. But this is a late distortion of the initial texts.

What about local landlords?
Again, the local landlords don’t appear to have initiated these revolts. The first bagaudae seem not to be well organized. However, in the IVth century and after, local chiefs appear to have put themselves at the head of the bagaudae.

* “Les Empereurs gaulois” (The Gaul Emperors) – M. Bouvier-Ajam
** “Les Gaulois contre les Romains” (The Gauls against the Romans) – J.Schmidt
*** “Les sources de l’histoire des bagaudes” (Bagaudae history sources) – JCS Leon
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Old November 21st, 2011, 03:31 AM   #6

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Bagaudae became anti Christian, even killing Church authorities, due to the relation of Church with State in the 4th century; they were probably pagan natives, small owners heavilly pressed by the latin landlords and the imperial institutions, against whom they rebelled first.
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Old November 21st, 2011, 12:59 PM   #7

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Do your comments apply to Gaul or Hispania, or both ?
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Old November 21st, 2011, 02:29 PM   #8

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I remember to read that Gaulish Bagaudae were antichristian too, but by now I can't find something on this. However, the 5th century Ebro valley Bagaudae were clearly antichristian, something that they proved by killing Church authorities. In both cases, despite the fact that the sources tell about some mid landowners and people from cities inside the group, the overwhelming majority of references point to both groups, Gaulish and Hispanic, being mostly rurals. In both cases, the area of attacks were the less romanized: northern Hispania, northwestern Gaul and the Alps. The word Bagaudae itself seem to be celtic more than latin, and it refer to "warrior".

However, to be sincere this issue of Bagaudae isn't full clear yet.
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