Siege of Vienne, c.500-501

The siege of Vienne (c.500-501 AD) was the final act in a Burgundian civil war that had briefly involved the Frankish king Clovis I, but that ended with the victory of Clovis's opponent Gundobar.

In 500 the Burgundian kingdom was ruled by the brothers Gundobar and Godegesil. Godegesil wasn't satisfied with this arrangement and sent messengers to Clovis asking for assistance. Clovis agreed to intervene, and led his army into Burgundy, winning a victory on the Ouche. Gundobar escaped from the battlefield and retreated to Avignon. Clovis besieged Avignon, but the city was defended vigorously and eventually Clovis agreed to accept an annual tribute and abandoned the siege. Some Franks remained with Godegesil, although it isn't clear what their role was.

Gundobar paid the first year's tribute, but after that refused to pay any more. He then raised an army and attacked his brother Godegisel, who took refuge at Vienne. The date of these events is unclear - Gregory of Tours doesn't say how long a gap there was between the siege of Avignon and the siege of Vienne, but it would seem likely that a year must have passed for the time for the second tribute to have passed. However our only dating evidence comes from the chronicle of Marius Aventicensis, who dated the battle of the Ouche and the siege of Avignon to 500 AD, and he places the siege of Vienne in the same year as the previous fighting. In this version of events the failure to pay the second installment of the tribute could reflect increased confidence after Gundobar's victory.

A lengthy siege appears to have followed, with Gundobar replying on a blockade to starve out his brother. This plan succeeded quicker than Gundobar could have expected. When food began to run short in Vienne Godegisel expelled the common people of the city. Rather carelessly he included the man in charge of the aqueduct that brought water into the city in the expulsions. This man went to Gundobar and promised to show him a way into the city. A party of troops were led along the aqueduct, taking iron crowbars so they could force their way past a vent that blocked the route.

Presumably Gundobar launched a feint against the walls to distract the defenders, because when the party from the aqueduct emerged into the city the defenders were on the walls firing at the attackers. With attackers inside the walls the defenders had little chance of victory. Gundobar's men were able to seize the gates and let the army waiting outside into the city. A battle broke out inside the city walls, and Gundobar's men were soon victorious. Godegisel took refuge in the Arian cathedral, but both he and the Arian bishop were killed.

The party of Franks that had been with Godegisel was trapped in a tower. Gundobar treated them with some leniency. They were captured and sent into exile with King Alaric II of the Visigoths, at Toulouse (it is interesting to note that they weren't sent to Clovis). Gundobar killed those senators of Vienne who had supported his brother. A few years later Gundobar attempted to take advantage of Clovis' defeat of the Visigoths at Vouille (507), but came off worse in the fighting that followed and was unable to expand south into Provence, although he did retain his throne.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (28 December 2012), Siege of Vienne, c.500-501 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/siege_vienne.html

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