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Shvoong Home>Books>Reference>"The Anicii of Gaul and Rome" in Fifth-Century Gaul:A Crisis of Identi Review

"The Anicii of Gaul and Rome" in Fifth-Century Gaul:A Crisis of Identi

Book Review   by:BenUriel     Original Author: T. S. Mommaerts and D. H. Kelley
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This summary concerns an article proposing familial relationships between the Roman Emperors Petronius Maximus (455), Eparchius Avitus (455-456) and Anicius Olybrius (472-475), the Roman Gens Anicii and Ceionii, and through Maximus’ son Magnus and an another unnamed proconsular son, to the Gallo-Roman aristocracy, particularly, the modest bishop and legislator Ruricius of Limoges and by extension to early medieval European nobility.

Ruricius was identified by Merovingian Court poet Venantius Fortunatus as a member of the gens Anicii, the wealthiest, most powerful senatorial family in the later Western Roman Empire. Author Dr. Kelley published in 1947 in the New England Genealogical Historical Register an article (A Reconsideration of the Carolingians) proposing a genealogical link between Charlemagne’s ancestor, Peppin of Heristal and the Roman Tonantii Ferreoli of Narbonne and thence the family of Emperor Avitus.Ruricius was related to the Ferreoli. This article further develops these ideas and was published to present the theories of authors Kelley and Mommaerts in time to answer the slightly earlier publication in Frankia by Christian Settipani of the hypothesis that Ruricius’ Anician lineage was entirely maternal though the Pontii Paulini of Bordeaux - the Pontii Paulini became Anician by rustication and marriage of an Anicius to one of the Pontii Paulini around 300AD.Settipani has not suggested a paternal line for Ruricius.

Mommaerts and Kelley begin by noting that Ruricius was of Clermont (Roman Arverni-Augustonenetum-Clarusmons-Gergovia) origin and was closely related to Emperor Avitus.So much is generally accepted.They then note that Papianilla, wife of Tonantius Ferreolus, and Papianilla, daughter of Emperor Avitus, were related (Sidonius Apollinaris says as much) and refer to another obscure bishop named Ruricius who, according to the “Life of Firminus,” was great-uncle of Firminus of Uzes, a grandson of Tonantius Ferreolus.The authors assume he is a maternal great uncle and bishop of Uzes and brother of Papianilla, Tonantius wife, and suggest strongly that Firminus of Uzes ultimately descended from a sibling of Emperor Avitus (It is unlikely that late in Roman history to find a Papianilla Minor and a Papianilla Major as sisters) and that Ruricius was a name in the Avitan pedigree.

As a suitable candidate corroborating the Anican origins celebrated in Venantius’ poem, the authors propose Petronius Maximus whom they further identified as grandson of Sextus Petronius Claudius, the most illustious of the Anicii, and further argue that Maximus married Avitus' sister.Petronius’ children, in addition to the historically verified Palladius (the authors suggest this name originated with the Palladii of Bourges, by way of the wife of Avitus’ father Agricola?) and the arguable Anicius Olybrius (whose parentage has been a subject of debate) were Magnus of Narbonne (consul 460) and a brother never yet named but identified in the Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire based on Felix Ennodius Magnus’ letters as a former proconsul (of Africa?).The authors conclude this unnamed proconsul was father of Ruricius, his brother Leontius, sister Papianilla (Tonantius' wife), Firminus of Arles, and Camillus of Arles. T hey further suggestPetronius Maximus’ mother was daughter of Ennodius, African proconsul ca. 395 and maternal granddaughter of famous British usurper-emperor, Magnus Maximus (d. 388).

The upshot is discovery of a hitherto all but unattested Gallo-Roman family in Provence – similarly powerful and important to the family of consul (460), Magnus of Narbonne.The authors finally propose, based on the presence in the family of the rare names of "Camillus," and of "Volusianus" of Tours (also Ruricius’ known relative), the rather sweeping yet persuasive argument that the unknown proconsul’s wife was related through the family of St Paula and Julius Toxotius to the Roman gens Caeonii, second in prestige to and much older than the Anicii, and to the Furii, Scipioni and other remnants of ancient Republican era gens surviving to the 4th century.

On the down side, we are asked to assume a family this powerful and connected could exist yet escape mention in Sidonius’ letters.But Sidonius’ genealogical descriptions, though detailed, are wretchedly far from exhaustive. He wasn’t an encylopaediast – he covered only what interested his recipient.On the plus side, we know Ruricius was from a very powerful family.It is odd we have never before been able to identify Ruricius' paternal gens among the powerful families of the day.So far Settipani has disposed of Mathisen’s argument that Ruricius’ father was consul Flavius Constantius without offering alternatives (Settipani posits Ruricius' unquestionable links to the later Ferreoli through Parthenius and Ruricius’ granddaughter -good argument- and opines that Firminus of Uzes’ episcopal “uncle” was not Ruricius’ nephew but Ruricius himself.).But Ruricius' letters tell of his enduring ties and visits to Provence and in that light as in its very persuasive internal consistency, the present study merits serious consideration.The importance lies in how Roman high culture persevered in Gaul, practiced by the descendants of the Romans themselves, during the “barbarian” Merovingian kingdoms that laid the groundwork for modern western civilization.This study sheds interesting light on the details of that perseverance.


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I was saddened to learn from Mr. Mommaerts that his fellow author, Dr. Kelley, passed away in May.He was a brilliant and insightful scholar (among other things, he deciphered ancient Mayan calendars) possessed to the end of his long and richly productive life of both boundless curiosity and penetrating insight, and, quite literally, he was one of the nicest people you could ever talk to.Though sad to lose him, gratefully we remember the years he gave us. sicut poeta dixit “lacrimae omnes non malae sunt”.

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