Instructor: Professor Marc Saurette

Course Description:

“It gives me no pleasure,” comments the sixth-century chronicler Gregory of Tours, “to write of all the various civil wars which afflicted the Frankish people and their rulers. What is even worse, we now seem to see the moment draw near which the Lord foretold when, “The father shall rise up against the son, the son against the father, brother against brother and kinsman against kinsman.” (Historia Francorum, V, i). This historian provides a rare glimpse of the Merovingian time period largely lacking historical accounts (and thus few to corroborate or contradict his account). Gregory complains how, after the death of Clothar, his heirs fought ceaselessly amongst each other in bitter self-destructive wars and he condemns this state of affairs as contrary to God’s plan. He outlines the major events, elite individuals and key social structures of Merovingian Gaul in the second half of the sixth century. It is this world that the class seeks to inhabit.

After introductory lectures, this class seeks to bring to life the world of Merovingian politics in the aftermath of the death of Clothar I in 561 CE. Students will take on the roles of the kings, queens, nobles, bishops and monks (these will be assigned to students) that compete for resources, status and divine favour. By winning over loyal followers, creating alliances, and building up religious and political power, the kings seek to kill, conquer, and control their rivals. But leaders need to beware that an ambitious noble does not overthrow royal power or that bishops, abbots and abbesses do not hamper your ability to engage in traditional Frankish raiding and warfare.

Our simulation opens with the burial of Clothar in 561CE at the Abbey Church of Saint-Medard in Soissons (France), where his four sons laid to rest a king who had successfully unified Frankish Gaul under a single ruler. Lothar, and his father Clovis beforehand, had ruthlessly exterminated their enemies, made an alliance with Gallo-Roman Christian authorities, and sought to establish a royal family dynasty. After 561CE, these same strategies would be used by Lothar’s four sons not against outsiders, but against their own kin. Our class asks students to test why Lothar’s sons made the decisions they did, what they could have done differently and whether this would have made the outcome any different.

The game was two components, largely divided between what happens in class and outside. In class, students will make speeches, present pre-composed texts, and debate with one another in order to determine how the historical narrative will advance. This more rhetorically-based game will also consist of trying to convince your classmates that you are the superior leader. Between classroom sessions, students will decide on strategic moves – marshalling resources to build forts and palaces, cathedrals or monasteries, expand the populus, offer gifts to others, and wage warfare.

Start reading Gregory of Tours now if you want to crush the opposition.


  • Participation: 40%
  • Written work: 60%

Participation. Lectures are intended to introduce students to the Merovingian aristocracy and the game provides a forum to test the rules (and the degree to which students have learned to use and abuse them). This class places particular importance on intensive participation inside and outside of class as we attempt to recreate the world of Merovingian Gaul. So be prepared to talk in class or be a silent puppet master behind the scenes – this is not a course that you can attend, be silent and still expect to succeed. And the class does not limit itself to class time. We will be running parts of the class on cuPortfolio (assignments will live there) and Slack (for communication outside of class) as you plot strategy with your fellow teammates (or plan betrayals).

Written Work. Students will write several small assignments of cuPortfolio (a personal profile, a biography of the historical character you are playing, as well as critical feedback about the game). In addition there will be larger pieces that need to be written or speeches that will be presented in class. Assignments differ depending on the character the student plays. You might be an abbot, expected to keep a chronicle of the game events (in the manner of Gregory of Tours) or a queen publicly accusing a disobedient vassal of treason (these will be assigned at the beginning of the term in your player sheet).