Crossing a river: diving in the unknown

Passage_du_Rhin_2_Corrigee

First thing first. Apologies for the lack of flair in selecting Sympathy for the Devil lyrics as means of introduction. Regardless, it did its job, right?

So it was… 406AD that is. The Empire had already started to melt down. And somehing, far East, very far had started. Epidemics, war, invasion, failed invasion, losing factions caught in civil wars who knows. But the dominos had started falling and the last domino was a river whose only bridge was under the control of a Roman town/garrison/fortress/stronghold. The interlopers were stuck on the Eastern bank and winter was coming.

Think: was it a troop of fit warriors, or the ramshackle remains of a mix-mix toss-toss of tribes who were just survivors? If the latter, you were bound to find women, children, elders (if you were over 45, you were old) and it was cold and no food…oh, the joy of it.

Think: was it a troop of fit warriors, or the ramshackle remains of a mix-mix toss-toss of tribes who were just survivors? If the latter, you were bound to find women, children, elders (if you were over 45, you were old) and it was cold and no food…oh, the joy of it. The historian version is uncertain: something happened: was it a trickle, a downright invasion planned ahead like Napoleon or Hitler or was it the desperate flight of survivors facing epidemics, hunger and a bigger worse tribe with an attitude… all depends of your mood.

Nowadays, the master plan invasion seems less likely; famine is on the charts. And probably a few (quite a few) dismal years of failed crops and the fear of the slow extinction of their tribes. Everybody was flying, Everybody had heard about some wild success story of some Germanic tribes allowed to settle peacefully in the imperial realm. Everybody wanted a slice of the spoils. Hence imagine them flying all the poorly maintained roads on their side of the Barbarian world. It was not the American Dream, but it must have been a copycat.

Riding ahead, because he is the new chieftain (see the scalps hanging on his stallion chest) , his sword and shield at hand and looking behind how his flock is doing, the warlord. He looks young because by our standards he is probably thirtyish. War is his trade, but we are in winter and food is scarce. A bow and a spear are a lot more useful.

Walking near him, his equerry, possibly a kinsman plods on. You know the older man is high in the hierarchy because his sword pommel is in gold. In these days, what looked like gold was most likely  gold. These were the days where a dissatisfied customer could properly get at your throat … and slash it. Besides, wives and girlfriends would only accept gold… Not much change here.

In the distance, the dark walls of the Roman fortress and the fearful houses which give shelter to the legionnaires’ ‘local’ families. Across in the distance, another tribe who has yet to decide to cross the frozen river. Our young chieftain knows that the biggest share will go to the first one arrived.

His tribe will get the lion’s share. His warriors will be rewarded for their fidelity and the women will soon give birth to a new well-fed and healthy generation. It sounds very romantic. I doubt that he feels like it; in 406 AD you do not do dashing heroes; you do survival of the fittest and the luckiest. My chief has been lucky, he is on the Gallic side of the Rhine and he will resume breathing once the long line of his people has reached the right bank. Which was the western bank in this story.

If you insist on names, we shall entertain a flight of fancy. The Burgondi did cross the Rhine about that time. So you have it, a Burgondian chieftain who does not know that 1600 years later, his descendant will provide one of the best white wines of the planet: the Montrachet. Welcome to Burgundy.  And please do not chill too much the wine…

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