Gregory Halfond on the Politics of Patronage in Post-Roman Gaul

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We asked author Gregory I. Halfond three questions about his new book, Bishops and the Politics of Patronage in Merovingian Gaul, and his research on church-state relations during the early medieval period.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

In researching my book, I knew that one of the issues that I wanted to examine was the breakdown of relations between individual bishops in Merovingian Gaul. While I already was aware of several well-known examples, what caught me by surprise was the extent to which the unfiltered emotion and hostility engendered by such disputes is perceptible in the surviving sources, especially letters. One does not typically expect dignified, senior ecclesiastical officials to stoop to taunting and name—calling, yet the adoption of such language speaks clearly to the challenges of maintaining corporate solidarity within this elite community.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

When I first began researching the royal patronage of bishops in Merovingian Gaul, my focus almost entirely was on the relations between individual monarchs and individual bishops. In attempting to reconstruct patronage networks, it did not occur to me initially that the creation of these networks might have significant implications for the affiliation of individual bishops with the larger episcopal order. It was only when I became aware of these implications that the project came into focus, and I was able to understand more clearly the impact of royal patronage on the Gallo-Frankish episcopate.

3. How do you wish you could change the field of Medieval Studies?

As a student of early medieval history, I long have admired the willingness of my colleagues to regularly challenge venerable models and paradigms, not necessarily with the goal of dismissing them as anachronistic or meaningless, but rather to evaluate their continued usefulness as explanatory devices. In recent decades historians have reassessed everything from the periodization of Late Antiquity to Feudalism. In my own work, I have attempted to do something similar with the model of Bischofsherrschaft (or episcopal lordship), which has inspired a great deal of important scholarship, but which also—as I argue in my book—has limitations as an explanatory model.

Gregory I. Halfond is Associate Professor of History at Framingham State University. His prior publications include The Archaeology of Frankish Church Councils, AD 511–768 and The Medieval Way of War.

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