Siege of Arles, 507-508

The siege of Arles (507-508) saw the Visigothic defenders of the city fight off a Frankish and Burgundian army until the Ostrogoths of King Theodoric arrived and lifted the siege.

In 507 Clovis I, king of the Franks, defeated and killed the Visigoth king Alaric II at Vouille. He then advanced south, occupied Bordeaux and plundered Toulouse. He was probably aided by the Burgundians during this war, and later in 507 the allies laid siege to the important city of Arles, which was still held by a Visigothic garrison.

The siege is mentioned in the Life of Caesarius, Bishop of Arles and in the letters of Cassiodorus, an important official at the Ostrogothic court.

According to the life of Caesarius both the Franks and Burgundians took part in the siege. This is a rare mention of the two armies acting together during this war. Isidore of Seville states that both took part in the attack on the Visigoths, but doesn't give any details while Gregory of Tours doesn't mention the Burgundians at all during his account of the fighting.

The siege began during 507, and lasted well into 508. The Life of Caesarius mentions several incidents during the siege. The monastery being built by Caesarius was destroyed, presumably by the attacking troops.

Caesarius himself came under suspicion after one of his relatives, a fellow Catholic cleric, escaped from the besieged city and joined the attacking forces. The Life makes it clear that there was a great deal of religious tension inside Arles, which contained a Jewish population, a Catholic Christian population and an Arian Christian Visigothic garrison. The mob turned on the Bishop and threatened to drown him in the Rhone. Caesarius was saved by a minor miracle when the Goths were unable to push the boat he was to be drowned away from the shore. The Bishop was returned to the palace and kept in captivity.

The third incident cleared the Bishop's name. A member of one of the other factions in the city threw a note to the besieging army inviting them to attack their sector of the walls. The note was discovered by the defenders, the author was killed and the bishop was released.

The letters of Cassiodorus mention the siege directly twice. One letter, dated to 511, granted the citizens of Arles relief from taxes as a reward for their efforts during the siege. This was presumably part of Theodoric's attempts to win over the former Visigothic areas that he had decided to occupy. The second reference comes during a letter written to the Roman Senate in praise of Tulum, a Gothic general who was being made a patrician. Tulum was praised for his role in the fighting for control of a covered bridge over the Rhone at Arles, where he suffered a number of wounds.

In 508 Theodoric was finally able to send an army over the Alps. This army lifted the siege of Arles, and established Ostrogothic control over Provence. He installed his grandson (Alaric's son) as king of the Visigoths, and restored their control of Septimania (the western part of the Mediterranean coast of Gaul), but Aquitaine was lost to the Franks.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (1 January 2013), Siege of Arles, 507-508 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/siege_arles_507.html

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