In my previous family history post, I took you on a very brief tour of Trier’s history. I originally planned to leave it at that but I was so intrigued with it’s long history that I decided to find out more. I am going to share it here in a more in depth post because the story of Trier is so interesting and I don’t think it gets the credit it deserves when people think about great cities of history! I also think that Vikings fans may be interested in one of the visits that a group of Northmen paid to the city in 881. We will look at that visit and it’s result later. Before you begin reading, I will warn and advise you that this has become a lengthy post! It is a more detailed and extensive history than some of you might like but it is also is not nearly as long and in depth as it could have been! I have tried to edit as much as possible but given the massive history surrounding Trier, I find myself thinking it unfair to leave out certain parts or deem some portion unimportant. If you simply can not bring yourself to read through all of it, I have broken it up into sections with subtitles which you can scroll down through in search of what might interest you the most. I really do hope you will take the time to read the entire article though.
Index of Subsections:
Pre-history and Celtic origins
Early Roman Connections: From Treveri tribes to Roman citizens
Romans take over and Imperialism sets in
The Constantine Connection
Constantine’s little personal problem…his wife Fausta
Saint Helena’s connection
Trier after Rome’s demise: From Augusta Treverorum to Treves
The Vikings pay their visit to Trier!
Pre-history and Celtic origins
First let’s look at the rich history of this city that was at one time thought of as one of the most important cities of the Roman and then the Frankish Empire. The following Roman era map shows Trier by it’s Roman name of Augusta Treverorum and lists it as a Roman city. In red, you will find the Celtic tribe of Treveri in that area.
The Celtic Treveri tribe inhabited the lower valley of the Moselle from around 150 BCE, if not earlier, until their eventual absorption into the Franks. Their domain lay within the southern fringes of the Silva Arduenna (Ardennes Forest), a part of the vast Silva Carbonaria, in what are now Luxembourg, southeastern Belgium and western Germany; its centre was the city of Trier (Augusta Treverorum), to which the Treveri give their name. Celtic in language, according to Tacitus they claimed Germanic descent.
Although they quickly adapted to Roman material culture, the Treveri had a tenuous relationship with Roman power. Their leader Indutiomarus led them in revolt against Julius Caesar during the Gallic Wars; much later, they played a key role in the Gaulish revolt during the Year of the Four Emperors. On the other hand, the Treveri supplied the Roman army with some of its most famous cavalry, and the city of Augusta Treverorum was home for a time to the family of Germanicus, including the future emperor Gaius (Caligula). During the Crisis of the Third Century, the territory of the Treveri was overrun by Germanic Alamanni and Franks and later formed part of the Gallic Empire.
The name Treveri has been interpreted as referring to a “flowing river” or to “crossing the river”. Rudolf Thurneysen proposes to interpret it as a Celtic trē-uer-o, followed by Xavier Delamarre with the element trē < *trei ‘through’, ‘across’ (cf. Latin trans) and uer-o ‘to cross a river’, so the name Treveri could mean ‘the ferrymen’, because these people helped to cross the Mosel river. They had a special goddess of the ford called Ritona and a temple dedicated to Uorioni Deo. treuer- can be compared with the Old Irish treóir ‘guiding, passage through a ford’, ‘place to cross a river’. The word uer- / uar- can be related to an indo-European word meaning ‘stream’, ‘river’ (Sanskrit vār, Old Norse vari ‘water’), that can be found in many river-names, especially in France : Var, Vire, Vière or in place-names like Louviers or Verviers. The city of Trier (French: Trèves) derives its name from the later Latin locative in Trēverīs for earlier Augusta Treverorum.
The Treveri tribe was described by early Romans as the most renowned of the Belgae tribes who were referred to as being part of the Gauls.
According to the Roman consul Aulus Hirtius in the 1st century BCE, the Treveri differed little from Germanic peoples in their manner of life and savage behaviour. The Treveri boasted of their Germanic origin, according to Tacitus, in order to distance themselves from “Gallic laziness” (inertia Gallorum). But Tacitus does not include them with the Vangiones, Triboci or Nemetes as “tribes unquestionably German”. The presence of hall villas of the same type as found in indisputably Germanic territory in northern Germany, alongside Celtic types of villas, corroborates the idea that they had both Celtic and Germanic affinities. The Germanic element among the Treveri probably arrived there in the 3rd or 2nd century BCE. Strabo says that their Nervian and Tribocan neighbours were Germanic peoples who by that point had settled on the left bank of the Rhine, while the Treveri are implied to be Gaulish.
Jerome states that as of the 4th century their language was similar to that of the Celts of Asia Minor (the Galatians). Jerome probably had first-hand knowledge of these Celtic languages, as he had visited both Augusta Treverorum and Galatia. Very few personal names among the Treveri are of Germanic origin; instead, they are generally Celtic or Latin. Certain distinctively Treveran names are apparently none of the three and may represent a pre-Celtic stratum, according to Wightman (she gives Ibliomarus, Cletussto and Argaippo as examples).
Before Ceasar’s invasion, the central city of the Treveri was at a place named Titelberg. Titelberg is the site of a large Celtic settlement or oppidum in the extreme south west of Luxembourg. In the 1st century BC, this thriving community was probably the capital of the Treveri people. The site thus provides telling evidence of urban civilization in what is now Luxembourg long before the Roman conquest.
Early Roman Connections: From Treveri tribes to Roman citizens
In 30 BCE, a revolt of the Treveri was suppressed by Marcus Nonius Gallus, and the Titelberg was occupied by a garrison of the Roman army. Agrippa and Augustus undertook the organization of Roman administration in Gaul, laying out an extensive series of roads beginning with Agrippa’s governorship of Gaul in 39 BCE, and imposing a census in 27 BCE for purposes of taxation. The Romans built a new road from Trier to Reims via Mamer, to the north, and Arlon, thus by-passing by 25 kilometres the Titelberg and the older Celtic route, and the capital was displaced to Augusta Treverorum (Trier) with no signs of conflict. The vicinity of Trier had been inhabited by isolated farms and hamlets before the Romans, but there had been no urban settlement here.
Following the reorganisation of the Roman provinces in Germany in 16 BCE, Augustus decided that the Treveri should become part of the province of Belgica. At an unknown date, the capital of Belgica was moved from Reims to Augusta Treverorum. A significant layer of the Treveran élite seems to have been granted Roman citizenship under Caesar and/or Augustus, by whom they were given the nomenJulius.
During the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius and Claudius, and particularly when Drusus and Germanicus were active in Gaul, Augusta Treverorum rose to considerable importance as a base and supply centre for campaigns in Germany. The city was endowed with an amphitheatre, baths, and other amenities, and for a while Germanicus’ family lived in the city. Pliny the Elder reports that Germanicus’ son, the future emperor Gaius (Caligula), was born “among the Treveri, at the village of Ambiatinus, above Koblenz“, but Suetonius notes that this birthplace was disputed by other sources.
Towards the end of the first century ad, the Treveran elite noblemen made the mistake of joining in a revolt against Rome. The revolt was quickly put down and more than a hundred rebel Treveran noblemen fled across the Rhine to join their Germanic allies; in the assessment of Jeannot Metzler, this event marks the end of aristocratic Treveran cavalry service in the Roman army, the rise of the local bourgeoisie, and the beginnings of “a second thrust of Romanization”. Camille Jullian attributes to this rebellion the promotion of Reims, capital of the perennially loyal Remi, at the expense of the Treveri. By the 2nd and 3rd centuries, representatives of the old élite bearing the nomen Julius had practically disappeared, and a new élite arose to take their place; these would have originated mainly from the indigenous middle class, according to Wightman. This would have been a Roman way of eliminating feelings of loyalty or heritage to the ancient Treveri tribe and replacing it with loyalty to Rome. The Treveri tribes also suffered from their proximity to the Rhine frontier during the Crisis of the Third Century. Frankish and Alamannic invasions during the 250s led to significant destruction, particularly in rural areas; given the failure of the Roman military to defend effectively against Germanic invasion, country dwellers improvised their own fortifications, often using the stones from tombs and mausoleums. While these smaller rural concentrations of Treveri were being decimated by that Germanic invasion, the city of Augusta Treverorum was becoming an urban centre of the first importance, overtaking even Lugdunum (Lyon). During the Crisis of the Third Century, the city served as the capital of the Gallic Empire under the emperors Tetricus I and II from 271 to 274. The Treveri suffered further devastation from the Alamanni in 275, following which, according to Jeannot Metzler, “The great majority of agricultural domains lay waste and would never be rebuilt”. It is unclear whether Augusta Treverorum itself fell victim to the Alamannic invasion. Other historical sources state that the city was destroyed during that time and that Emperor Diocletian recognized the urgency of maintaining an imperial presence in the Gauls, and established first Maximian, then Constantius Chlorus as caesars at Trier; from 293 to 395, Trier was one of the residences of the Western Roman Emperor in Late Antiquity. It’s position required the monumental settings that betokened imperial government.
Romans take over and Imperialism sets in
My personal thought on these events is to wonder if Rome’s failure to protect those outlying Treveri was actually part of some plan to better eliminate those more distant and possibly less loyal groups. In a way, these events led to a more complete demise of the original Treveri tribes and people who would look at themselves as Treveri first and Roman citizen second. As for the city of Augusta Treverorum falling victim to the invasions, it seems to have recovered quickly. Those residents that survived the attack would from that point on be Roman and Christian in their loyalties and beliefs. From 285 to 395, Augusta Treverorum was one of the residences of the western Roman Emperor, including Maximian, Constantine the Great, Constantius II, Valentinian I, Magnus Maximus, and Theodosius I; from 318 to 407, it served as the seat of the praetorian prefecture of Gaul. By the mid-4th century, the city was counted in a Roman manuscript as one of the four capitals of the world, alongside Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople. New defensive structures, including fortresses at Neumagen, Bitburg and Arlon, were constructed to defend against Germanic invasion. After a Vandal invasion in 406, however, the imperial residence was moved to Mediolanum (Milan) while the praetorian guard was withdrawn to Arelate (Arles).
A mint was immediately established by Constantius, which came to be the principal mint of the Roman West. A new stadium was added to the amphitheater, to stage chariot races. Under the rule of Constantine the Great (306–337), the city was rebuilt and buildings such as the Palastaula (known today as the Constantine Basilica) and the Imperial Baths (Kaiserthermen), the largest surviving Roman baths outside Rome, were begun under Constantius and completed c 314 constructed. by his son Constantine, who left Trier in the hands of his son Crispus. In 326, sections of the imperial family’s private residential palaces were extended and converted to a large double basilica, the remains of which are still partly recognisable in the area of the Trier Cathedral (Trierer Dom) and the church “Liebfrauenkirche“. A demolished imperial palace has left shattered sections of painted ceiling, which scholars believe once belonged to Constantine’s young wife, Fausta, whom he later put to death.
The Constantine Connection
From Constantine’s time in Trier onward, the city was the seat of the Gallic prefecture (the Praefectus Praetorio Galliarium), one of the two highest authorities in the Western Roman Empire, which governed the western Roman provinces from Morocco to Britain. Constantine’s son Constantius II resided here from 328 to 340. Roman Trier was the birthplace of Saint Ambrose ca. 340, who later became the Bishop of Milan and was eventually named a Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church long after his death in 397. It became a city of great importance and occasionally, great scandal- as in the events surrounding it’s Royal household. I am not going to go into Constantine’s early life or his climb to the level of Emperor… this is long enough as it is!
Constantine’s share of the Empire consisted of Britain, Gaul, and Spain. He therefore commanded one of the largest Roman armies, stationed along the important Rhine frontier. After his promotion to emperor, Constantine remained in Britain, driving back the tribes of the Picts and secured his control in the northwestern dioceses. He completed the reconstruction of military bases begun under his father’s rule, and ordered the repair of the region’s roadways. He soon left for Augusta Treverorum (Trier) in Gaul, the Tetrarchic capital of the northwestern Roman Empire. The Franks, after learning of Constantine’s acclamation, invaded Gaul across the lower Rhine over the winter of 306–307 AD. Constantine drove them back beyond the Rhine and captured two of their kings, Ascaric and Merogaisus. The kings and their soldiers were fed to the beasts of Trier’s amphitheater in the adventus (arrival) celebrations that followed.
Because Constantine was still largely untried and had a hint of illegitimacy about him, he relied on his father’s reputation in his early propaganda: the earliest panegyrics to Constantine give as much coverage to his father’s deeds as to those of Constantine himself. Constantine’s military skill and building projects soon gave the panegyrist the opportunity to comment favorably on the similarities between father and son, and Eusebius remarked that Constantine was a “renewal, as it were, in his own person, of his father’s life and reign”. Constantinian coinage, sculpture and oratory also shows a new tendency for disdain towards the “barbarians” beyond the frontiers. After Constantine’s victory over the Alemanni, he minted a coin issue depicting weeping and begging Alemannic tribesmen—”The Alemanni conquered”—beneath the phrase “Romans’ rejoicing”. There was little sympathy for these enemies. As his panegyrist declared: “It is a stupid clemency that spares the conquered foe!”
Constantine’s little personal problem…his wife Fausta
Let’s set aside the rest of Constantine’s achievements and accomplishments and look at his personal life a bit. His personal residence became the city of Augusta Treverorum so naturally much of his personal life took place there. In the year 303 he married his first wife, Minervina and had one son, Crispus by her. In 307, he set her aside as part of a treaty or alliance with Roman Emperor Maximianus and agreed to marry Maximianus’s daughter, Fausta. In 310 Maximian died as a consequence of an assassination plot against Constantine. Maximian decided to involve his daughter Fausta, but she revealed the plot to her husband, and the assassination was disrupted. Maximian died, by suicide or by assassination, in July of that same year.
Empress Fausta was held in high esteem by Constantine, and proof of his favour was that in 323 she was proclaimed Augusta; previously she held the title of Nobilissima Femina. However three years later Fausta was put to death by Constantine, following the execution of Crispus, his eldest son by Minervina, in 326. The two deaths have been inter-related in various ways; in one, Fausta is set jealously against Crispus, as in the anonymous Epitome de Caesaribus, or conversely her adultery, perhaps with the stepson who was close to her in age, is suggested. Fausta was executed by suffocation in an over-heated bath, a mode of assassination not otherwise attested in the Roman world. David Woods offers the connection of overheated bathing with contemporaneous techniques of abortion, a suggestion that implies an unwanted, adulterous pregnancy according to Constantine’s biographer Paul Stephenson.
The Emperor ordered the damnatio memoriae of his wife with the result that no contemporary source records details of her fate: “Eusebius, ever the sycophant, mentions neither Crispus nor Fausta in his Life of Constantine, and even wrote Crispus out of the final version of his Ecclesiastical History (HE X.9.4)”, Constantine’s biographer Paul Stephenson observes. Significantly, her sons, once in power, never revoked this order. Her sons became Roman Emperors: Constantine II, reigned 337 – 340, Constantius II reigned 337 – 361, and Constans reigned 337 – 350. She also bore three daughters Constantina, Helena and Fausta. Of these, Constantina married her cousins, firstly Hannibalianus and secondly Constantius Gallus, and Helena married Emperor Julian.
The reason for this act remains unclear and historians have long debated Constantine’s motivation. Zosimus in the 5th century and Joannes Zonaras in the 12th century both reported that Fausta, stepmother of Crispus, was extremely jealous of him. She was reportedly afraid that Constantine would put aside the sons she bore him. So, in order to get rid of Crispus, Fausta set him up. She reportedly told the young Caesar that she was in love with him and suggested an illegitimate love affair. Crispus denied the immoral wishes of Fausta and left the palace in a state of a shock. Then Fausta said to Constantine that Crispus had no respect for his father, since the Caesar was in love with his father’s own wife. She reported to Constantine that she dismissed him after his attempt to rape her. Constantine believed her and, true to his strong personality and short temper, executed his beloved son. A few months later, Constantine reportedly found out the whole truth and then killed Fausta.
This version of events has become the most widely accepted, since all other reports are even less satisfactory. That Fausta and Crispus would have together plotted treason against Constantine is rejected by most historians, as they would have nothing to gain considering their positions as favourites of Constantine. In any case, such a case would not have been tried by a local court as Crispus’ case clearly was. Another view suggests that Constantine killed Crispus because as a supposedly illegitimate son, he would cause a crisis in the order of succession to the throne. However, Constantine had kept him at his side for twenty years without any such decision. Constantine also had the authority to appoint his younger, legitimate sons as his heirs. Some reports claimed that Constantine was envious of the success of his son and afraid of him. This seems improbable, given that Constantine had twenty years of experience as emperor while Crispus was still a young Caesar. Similarly, there seems to be no evidence that Crispus had any ambitions to harm or displace his father. So while the story of Zosimus and Zonaras seems the most believable one, there are also problems relating to their version of events. Constantine’s reaction suggests that he suspected Crispus of a crime so terrible that death was not enough. Crispus, his wife Helena and their son, also suffered damnatio memoriae, meaning their names were never mentioned again and deleted from all official documents and monuments. The eventual fate of Helena and her son is a mystery. Constantine did not restore his son’s innocence and name, as he probably would have on learning of his son’s innocence. Perhaps Constantine’s pride, or shame at having executed his son, prevented him from publicly admitting having made a mistake.
It is beyond doubt that there was a connection between the deaths of Crispus and Fausta. Such agreement among different sources connecting two deaths is extremely rare in itself. A number of modern historians have suggested that Crispus and Fausta really did have an affair. When Constantine found out, his reaction was to have both of them killed. What delayed the death of Fausta may have been a pregnancy. Since the years of birth for the two known daughters of Constantine and Fausta remain unknown, one of their births may have delayed their mother’s execution.
Constantine eventually removed himself from the city of Augusta Treverorum in later years and spent his later years in Constantinople, which he considered his capital and permanent residence. He died there in 337. Constantine had known death would soon come. Within the Church of the Holy Apostles, Constantine had secretly prepared a final resting-place for himself. It came sooner than he had expected. Soon after the Feast of Easter 337, Constantine fell seriously ill. He left Constantinople for the hot baths near his mother’s city of Helenopolis (Altinova), on the southern shores of the Gulf of İzmit. There, in a church his mother built in honor of Lucian the Apostle, he prayed, and there he realized that he was dying. Seeking purification, he became a catechumen, and attempted a return to Constantinople, making it only as far as a suburb of Nicomedia. He summoned the bishops, and told them of his hope to be baptized in the River Jordan, where Christ was written to have been baptized. He requested the baptism right away, promising to live a more Christian life should he live through his illness. The bishops, Eusebius records, “performed the sacred ceremonies according to custom”. He chose the Arianizing bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia, bishop of the city where he lay dying, as his baptizer. In postponing his baptism, he followed one custom at the time which postponed baptism until after infancy. It has been thought that Constantine put off baptism as long as he did so as to be absolved from as much of his sin as possible. Constantine died soon after at a suburban villa called Achyron, on the last day of the fifty-day festival of Pentecost directly following Pascha (or Easter), on 22 May 337.
Saint Helena’s connection
After Constanine’s death, the city of Augusta Treverorum once more became a royal or imperial residence. Constantine’s son Constantius II resided here from 328 to 340. Roman Trier was the birthplace of Saint Ambrose ca. 340, who later became the Bishop of Milan and was eventually named a Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church long after his death in 397. From 367, under Valentinian I, Trier once more became an imperial residence (lasting until the death of Theodosius I in 395) and remained the largest city north of the Alps. It was for a few years (383 – 388) the capital of Magnus Maximus, who ruled most of the western Empire. Besides Constantine’s heirs and successors retaining close ties to the city of Trier, one other person of his family did as well. That would be his Mother, Helena! No discussion of Rome’s connection and tie to Trier would be complete without a mention of Helena and her gifts to the city. Apparently, she was so fond of the city that in later years, her head would return to reside there?
Saint Helena ( c. 250 – c. 330) was the consort of the Roman emperorConstantius Chlorus and the mother of the emperor Constantine the Great. She is an important figure in the history of Christianity and the world due to her major influence on her son and her own contributions in placing Christianity at the heart of Western Civilization. She is traditionally credited with a pilgrimage to Syria Palaestina, during which she is claimed to have discovered the True Cross.
Helena’s birthplace is not known with certainty. The 6th-century historian Procopius is the earliest authority for the statement that Helena was a native of Drepanum, in the province of Bithynia in Asia Minor. Her son Constantine renamed the city “Helenopolis” after her death around 330, which supports the belief that the city was her birthplace. The Byzantinist Cyril Mango has argued that Helenopolis was refounded to strengthen the communication network around his new capital in Constantinople, and was renamed simply to honor Helena, not to mark her birthplace. There was also a Helenopolis in Palestine and a Helenopolis in Lydia. These cities, and the province of Helenopontus in the Diocese of Pontus, were probably both named after Constantine’s mother. G. K. Chesterton in his book ‘A Short History of England’ writes that she was considered a Briton by the British, a tradition noted by Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose 12th century Historia Regum Britanniae reports that Helena was a daughter of the British King Coel.
The bishop and historian Eusebius of Caesarea states that she was about 80 on her return from Palestine. Since that journey has been dated to 326–28, Helena was probably born in 248 or 250. Little is known of her early life. Fourth-century sources, following Eutropius‘ “Breviarium,” record that she came from a low background. Saint Ambrose was the first to call her a stabularia, a term translated as “stable-maid” or “inn-keeper”. He makes this fact a virtue, calling Helena a bona stabularia, a “good stable-maid”. Other sources, especially those written after Constantine’s proclamation as emperor, gloss over or ignore her background. There is great debate over her actual marital status with Constantine’s father, Constantius. Some would assert that she was his legitimate wife, others assume that she was most likely his concubine or common law wife. What ever the case, she gave birth to the future emperor Constantine I on 27 February around 272. At the time, she was in Naissus (Niš, Serbia). In order to obtain a wife more consonant with his rising status, Constantius divorced Helena some time before 289, when he married Theodora, Maximian’s daughter under his command. (The narrative sources date the marriage to 293, but the Latin panegyric of 289 refers to the couple as already married). Helena and her son were dispatched to the court of Diocletian at Nicomedia, where Constantine grew to be a member of the inner circle. Helena never remarried and lived for a time in obscurity, though close to her only son, who had a deep regard and affection for her.
Constantine was proclaimed Augustus of the Roman Empire in 306 by Constantius’ troops after the latter had died, and following his elevation his mother was brought back to the public life in 312, returning to the imperial court. She appears in the Eagle Cameo portraying Constantine’s family, probably commemorating the birth of Constantine’s son Constantine II in the summer of 316. She received the title of Augusta in 325 and died around 330 with her son at her side. She was buried in the Mausoleum of Helena, outside Rome on the Via Labicana. Her sarcophagus is on display in the Pio-Clementine Vatican Museum, although the connection is often questioned, next to her is the sarcophagus of her granddaughter Saint Constantina (Saint Constance). Her skull is displayed in the Cathedral of Trier, in Germany.
Constantine appointed his mother Helena as Augusta Imperatrix, and gave her unlimited access to the imperial treasury in order to locate the relics of Judeo-Christian tradition. In 326-28 Helena undertook a trip to the Holy Places in Palestine. According to Eusebius of Caesarea she was responsible for the construction or beautification of two churches, the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, and the Church on the Mount of Olives, sites of Christ’s birth and ascension, respectively. Local founding legend attributes to Helena’s orders the construction of a church in Egypt to identify the Burning Bush of Sinai. The chapel at Saint Catherine’s Monastery—often referred to as the Chapel of Saint Helen—is dated to the year AD 330. Helena left Jerusalem and the eastern provinces in 327 to return to Rome, bringing with her large parts of the True Cross and other relics, which were then stored in her palace’s private chapel, where they can be still seen today. Her palace was later converted into the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. This has been maintained by Cistercian monks in the monastery which has been attached to the church for centuries. According to one tradition, Helena acquired the Holy Tunic on her trip to Jerusalem and sent it to Trier.
Early British and Anglo-Saxon history claimed that Helena was Briton. In Great Britain, later legend, mentioned by Henry of Huntingdon but made popular by Geoffrey of Monmouth, claimed that Helena was a daughter of the King of Britain, Cole of Colchester, who allied with Constantius to avoid more war between the Britons and Rome. Geoffrey further states that she was brought up in the manner of a queen, as she had no brothers to inherit the throne of Britain. The source for this may have been Sozomen’s Historia Ecclesiastica, which however does not claim Helena was British but only that her son Constantine picked up his Christianity there. Constantine was with his father when he died in York, but neither had spent much time in Britain.
The statement made by English chroniclers of the Middle Ages, according to which Helena was supposed to have been the daughter of a British prince, is entirely without historical foundation. It may arise from the similarly-named Welsh princess Saint Elen (alleged to have married Magnus Maximus and to have borne a son named Constantine) or from the misinterpretation of a term used in the fourth chapter of the panegyric on Constantine’s marriage with Fausta. The description of Constantine honoring Britain oriendo (lit. “from the outset”, “from the beginning”) may have been taken as an allusion to his birth (“from his beginning”) although it was actually discussing the beginning of his reign.
Before we leave the “blessed” St. Helena and her contributions to Trier, I have some last blasphemous thoughts on the woman… First of all, there are a few theories and speculations that she may have been involved or partially responsible for the death of daughter in law, Fausta. It has been said by some that it Helena who suggested the means of death for Fausta. From all accounts, Constantine was quite close, possibly overly attached to his Mother and would have listened to her advice. Add to Fausta’s immoral actions, the fact that she may have lied about Crispus and thereby been responsible for his fate. Prior to this event, there had never been any hint of ill feelings, disloyalty or mistrust between Constantine and Crispus. From all accounts, he seemed to be a much beloved and trusted son, and most likely- grandson. All I am suggesting is that the most saintly Helena may not have been so saintly in some of her own actions and feelings! That supposed Saintliness of this woman brings me to my last thought on her and Constantine. Interestingly and conveniently, it is also around this time that Helena is sent off on her tour of Christian lands.
Constantine and his Mother were, for much of their lives, pagans who did not discover or convert to Christianity until their later years. Constantine was one who, for the most part used the religion to his benefit or advantage. In his earlier years he promoted tolerance towards them mainly in order to keep the peace in his lands. That persecution business was a bloody, messy and expensive affair- best to avoid it if at possible. When it came to the point where Christianity was becoming quite popular and hard to control, he decided to take matters into his own hands… he chose to embrace it and thereby gain some control over it. One evidence of his using it to his own advantage and not necessarily being quite so firm in his inner beliefs was his refusal to be baptized until the end of his life. In postponing his baptism, he followed one custom at the time which postponed baptism until after infancy. It has been thought that Constantine put off baptism as long as he did so as to be absolved from as much of his sin as possible. In this way, what ever he had done prior to his baptism and acceptance of the one true God could not be used or held against him- either by God or by the earthly Christian Church! He spent many of his years as ruler trying to convince the Christians that he was on their side in order to gain control of the situation and the church. Constantine was an ultimate power broker and would have used any means within his personal arsenal, including his family… which his previous actions in dealing with wife and son proved.
Imagine if you will, this scenario… Constantine as Augustus of Rome is dealing with this whole Christianity situation and has to come up with some plan to really seal the deal in convincing the world of his sincerity. His Mother, Helena is residing at the family home with not a whole lot to do… She’s a highly devoted Mother- possibly overly devoted as Constantine is her only child. Besides all of his headaches of running the empire, he has a much younger wife and family to contend with as well. Helena is most likely not one to just sit idle, content or peaceful in her retirement years. She may be bored, and possibly a bit of an interfering Mother in law? Helena meddles in the family affairs one too many times and the result is disaster for the entire family- especially daughter in law Fausta and grandson Crispus. Shortly after all of this mess, Helena sent off on an extended vacation of sorts. Now, this whole sordid affair would have not put the family in such a good light with the Christians whom Constantine was trying to impress. He needs to make some serious amends and do something of such a great and grand level that the Christians are going to forget all about his messy little family scandal.
What he does is actually quite genius in terms of Public Relations repair. Constantine appointed his mother Helena as Augusta Imperatrix, and gave her unlimited access to the imperial treasury in order to locate the relics of Judeo-Christian tradition. In 326-28 Helena undertook a trip to the Holy Places in Palestine. According to Eusebius of Caesarea she was responsible for the construction or beautification of two churches, the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, and the Church on the Mount of Olives, sites of Christ’s birth and ascension, respectively. Local founding legend attributes to Helena’s orders the construction of a church in Egypt to identify the Burning Bush of Sinai. The chapel at Saint Catherine’s Monastery—often referred to as the Chapel of Saint Helen—is dated to the year AD 330. His act of sending his Mother off on this extended vacation/shopping trip was beyond successful in a variety of ways. First, it got Helena out of his hair for awhile so he could focus on immediate damage control. It showed and promoted the idea that Helena was a pious Christian woman and that if there was any doubt about her involvement in the scandal, she was willing to do pilgrimage to atone for her possible sins. Everyone completely forgot about that mess with Fausta and Crispus when Helena returned home a few years later laden with truly spectacular gifts for the Church. Those gifts included everything from parts of the “True Cross”, pieces of Jesus’ tunic, to nails of crucifixion, earth from the holy land and rope that held Jesus to the cross. Helena’s public relations tour proved even more successful than Constantine could ever have imagined or hoped for. Her gifts are viewed by some scholars as the introduction of idol worship and the beginnings of the mass marketing scheme of Relics! All of Constantine’s and Helena’s past indiscretions were quickly swept under the rug as the Church began to realize just how much wealth these gifts could bring if promoted in the right way.
Trier after Rome’s demise: From Augusta Treverorum to Treves
Unfortunately all good things eventually come to an end and Trier’s end could easily have come with the demise of the Roman Empire at the end of the fifth century. Roman Trier had been subjected to attacks by Germanic tribes from 350 onwards, but these had been repulsed by Emperor Julian. After the invasions of 407 the Romans were able to reestablish the Rhine frontier and hold northern Gaul tenuously until the end of the 450s, when control was finally lost to the Franks and local military commanders who claimed to represent central Roman authority. During this period Trier was captured by the Franks (possibly in 413 and 421), as well as by the Huns under Attila in 451. The city became definitively part of Frankish territory in 475. It is important to note here too that upon the city becoming a Frankish one, the name would have changed from Augusta Treverorum to Treves- the French or Frankish name for the city. As a result of the conflicts of this period, Trier’s population decreased from an estimated 80,000 in the 4th century to 5,000 at the beginning of the 6th century. This change of rulers and decrease in population did not reduce Trier’s importance or value and it did not bring about the end of Trier.
By the end of the 5th century, Trier was under Frankish rule, first controlled by the Merovingian dynasty, then by the Carolingians. As a result of the Treaty of Verdun in 843, by which the grandsons of Charlemagne divided his empire into three parts, Trier was incorporated into the Kingdom of Lorraine (Lotharingia). After the death of Lothair II, ruler of Lorraine, Trier in 870 became part of the East Frankish Empire, later called Germany, under Henry . Because of it’s connection to Helena and the early church, Trier was a valued and important Christian city for the devoutly Christian empires over the next centuries. When Constantine promoted tolerance and allowed for Christianity’s acceptance, he in some ways laid the foundation for Trier’s survival and revival in the later Frankish empire years. The Frankish empires would eventually found a great many more abbeys and monasteries within the city. And, the Frankish would add to the relics kept there as well. Benedictine abbey St. Matthias in the south of Trier. Here, the first three bishops of Trier, Eucharius, Valerius and Maternus are buried alongside the apostle Saint Matthias. This is the only tomb of an apostle to be located in Europe north of the Alps, thus making Trier together with Rome in Italy (burial place of St. Peter the apostle) and Santiago de Compostela in Spain (tomb of St. James) one of three major places of pilgrimage in Europe. By early in the 10th century, Trier would become somewhat of a Papal city in that it was under the direct control and guardianship of the Archbishops. In 902, The Archbishop of Trier was, as chancellor of Burgundy, one of the seven Electors of the Holy Roman Empire, a right which originated before the 12th century, and continued until the French Revolution. From the 10th century and throughout the Middle Ages, Trier made several attempts to achieve autonomy from the Archbishopric of Trier, but was ultimately unsuccessful. In 1212, the city received a charter from Emperor Otto IV, which was confirmed by Conrad IV. In 1309, however, it was forced to once again recognise the authority of the Archbishop, who was at that time the imposing Baldwin of Luxembourg, son of the Count of Luxemburg. The Church deemed Trier as a highly valued commodity and would go to great lengths to keep it under their jurisdiction and control.
The Vikings pay their visit to Trier!
Of course, we now already know of Trier’s importance and value to the church due to it’s connections to Constantine and Helena, but what might cause the Church to take such steps as to putting the city under it’s direct control, authority and protection? Ahhhh for that, you would have to know the events taking place during the years leading up to that control, those years that spelled disaster for so many cities. Those years would of course be the years of Viking raids, which so many of you are most interested in. I do want to take a moment here to note my appreciation for those of you have stuck through all of this extensive ancient history just to get to the part about the Vikings!
During the mid 800s, the Danes and Northmen offered Frankish residents some reprieve from raids as they were busy in their attempts to conquer England. Around 880, Alfred the Great was successful in brokering a treaty with Guthrum and peace was temporarily achieved in England. This event sent many of the Danes back across the sea to areas of Frankish domain. Where previously, they were content with quick grab and go ship raids, this time they returned as landsoldiers and were equipped with horses. Flanders took heavy blows (Gent, Terwaan, Atrecht, Kamerijk). Louis III defeated the Vikings in 881 near Saucourt at the river Somme. This battle was described in the Song of Ludwig (Ludwigslied). According to the Fulda Annals Louis’ army killed 9.000 Danes. Consequence of this was that the Vikings returned to Flanders and Dutch Limburg. From Asselt (north of Roermond) they raided towns in Germany (Cologne, Bonn) and Limburg (Liége, Tongeren). In their attack on Trier they were resisted by the bishops Wala and Bertulf of Trier and by count Adelhard of Metz. Following the Trier example other cities began to defend themselves effectively. While Trier did survive the attack in 881, much of the city (including most of the churches and abbeys) was destroyed. Because Trier’s Bishops were so instrumental in the city’s resistance and defense, they were probably looked on with much favor by the Pope and by one Carolingian Emperor who may be familiar to us as Vikings fans and followers. That would be Charles the Fat, not be confused with Charles the Bald or Charles the Simple… all of whom in combination probably make up the character of Charles in Hirst’s version of Viking history!
Charles the Fat (13 June 839 – 13 January 888), also known as Charles III, was the Carolingian Emperor from 881 to 888. The youngest son of Louis the German and Hemma, Charles was a great-grandson of Charlemagne and was the last Carolingian to rule over a united empire. Over his lifetime, Charles became ruler of the various kingdoms of Charlemagne’s former Empire. Granted lordship over Alamannia in 876 following the division of East Francia, he succeeded to the Italian throne upon the abdication of his older brother Carloman of Bavaria who had been incapacitated by a stroke. Crowned Emperor in 881 by Pope John VIII, his succession to the territories of his brother Louis the Younger (Saxony and Bavaria) the following year reunited East Francia. Upon the death of his cousin Carloman II in 884, he inherited all of West Francia, reuniting the entire Carolingian Empire. Usually considered lethargic and inept – he is known to have had repeated illnesses and is believed to have suffered from epilepsy – he twice purchased peace with Viking raiders, including at the famous siege of Paris in 885. Nevertheless, contemporary opinion of him was not nearly so negative as modern historiographical opinion. Purchasing peace back then was a fairly common and acceptable means of dealing with the Vikings and avoiding all out war with them.
The 885 siege of Paris referred to here would have been the siege that involved Rollo in history along with the leader of the attack, a man named Sigfred. According to historical accounts, In 885, a huge fleet led by Sigfred sailed up the Seine, for the first time in years, and besieged Paris. Sigfred demanded a bribe again, but this time Charles refused. He was in Italy at the time and Odo, Count of Paris, sneaked some men through enemy lines to seek his aid. Charles sent Henry of Saxony to Paris. In 886, as disease began to spread through Paris, Odo himself went to Charles to seek support. Charles brought a large army and encircled the army of Rollo and set up a camp at Montmartre. However, Charles had no intention of fighting. He sent the attackers up the Seine to ravage Burgundy, which was in revolt. When the Vikings withdrew from France next spring, he gave them 700 pounds of promised silver. Charles’ prestige in France was greatly diminished. What is important in this above account is the mention that Sigfred demands a bribe again. This would suggest or imply that Charles was already familiar with Sigfred and had dealt with him previously. It is that previous involvement that leads us back to the lowlands and Trier.
We need to go to back to the Viking attacks of 881 which included the attack on Trier in order to find that previous connection to Sigfred and perhaps even Rollo as well if Rollo was traveling with Sigfred’s raiding parties for any length of time. Reminder here- this is the Rollo of history, not Hirst’s version of Rollo!
In the early 880s, the remnants of the Great Heathen Army, defeated by Alfred the Great at the Battle of Ethandun in 878, began to settle in the Low Countries. Charles held an assembly at Worms with the purpose of dealing with the Vikings. The army of the whole of East Francia was assembled in the summer under Arnulf, Duke of Carinthia, and Henry, Count of Saxony. The chief Viking camp was besieged at Asselt. Not long after Charles opened negotiations with the Viking chiefs, Godfrey and Sigfred. Godfrey accepted Christian baptism and agreed to become Charles’s vassal. He was married to Gisela, daughter of Lothair II. Sigfred was bribed off. Despite the insinuations of some modern chroniclers, no contemporary account criticises Charle’s actions during this campaign.
Godfried choose to stay. He became a vassal of the emperor and, after being baptized, married Gisela, daughter of Lothar II, the first king of Lorraine. Siegfried was paid off with 2.000 punds silver and gold and took off to the north with 200 ships. The emperor Charles felt threatened by Godfried and his (Godfried’s) brother in law Hugo (who was Gisela’s brother). In June 885 Godfried was invited for talks in Spijk, near Lobith. This turned out to be a conspiracy and Godfried was murdered. Hugo was made blind and transferred for the rest of his life to the monastery of Prüm. Here the monk Regino wrote the story of his downfall.
In looking at these two events, we can now see the connection between Sigfred and Charles. We can also see a reason why Sigfred may have chosen to attack Paris in 885… possibly partially for revenge on what had happened to his partner, Godfried, and perhaps with the assumption that Charles would again pay him off to leave. In that assumption, Sigfred was partially correct- it just took longer than expected. The attack began in November of 885 and dragged on until around May of 886. Both sides suffered great losses- more from illness than actual fighting. Morale was low on both sides. Sigfred decided to cut his losses. He asked for 60 lbs of silver and left the siege in April. Rollo and his men remained and continued the battle through the summer when Charles finally returned, not to fight but to encourage Rollo and his army to move on to Burgundy which was in revolt at the time and would provide much easier conquest. When Rollo finally decided to leave France the next spring, Charles paid him 700 lbs of silver which he had promised the earlier summer. I would assume or guess that Charles just needed additional time to come up with the payment so he sent Rollo off to greener pastures while he set about collecting the money to get rid of him. It was shortly after these events that Charles and the Carolingian dynasty began to fall apart! Odo would eventually get his chance at ruling (it would not last long!) Another Charles would take the throne, and Rollo would return for another more successful campaign… as far as we know, Sigfred retired somewhere to enjoy his shares of plunder and riches.
Trier survives and prospers under protection of the Church whether they want to or not!
Trier survived the Viking attacks and the fall of the Carolingian Dynasty as well by remaining attached to the church and the Holy Roman Empire though it made numerous attempts to disentangle itself and gain independent autonomy. In retrospect looking back at all of the turmoil of the medieval years, they were probably better off being under that protection of the Church and Papal authorities. It allowed the city to prosper well into the middle ages and beyond. In 1309, Archbishop Baldwin of Luxemburg was given control of the city and although he was extremely young at the time, only 22, he was the most important Archbishop and Prince-Elector of Trier in the Middle Ages. He was the brother of the German King and Emperor Henry VII and his grandnephew Charles would later become German King and Emperor as Charles IV. He used his family connections to add considerable territories to the Electorate of Trier and is also known to have built many castles in the region. When he died in 1354, Trier was a prospering city.
The city would remain prosperous and under control of the church and Holy Roman Empire until the 1600s when the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648),set in motion more than two centuries of warfare for Trier as well as other parts of what is now Germany. From that point on, Trier would find itself besieged and battled over. During the thirty years war it was occupied several times by French troops. They besieged and occupied Trier in 1632, 1645, 1673 (the French Army stayed until 1675 and destroyed all churches, abbeys and settlements in front of the city walls for military reasons; the city itself was heavily fortified).
I hope that you’ve enjoyed the visit to ancient Trier and learned something more about it’s many connections to history!