Battle of Tolbiac (or Zulpich), 496

The battle of Tolbiac or Zulpich (496 AD) might have been a victory won by Clovis and other Franks that prevented a westward movement of the Alemanni.

At the time of the battle the Franks were split into two major groups - the Salian Franks led by Clovis and the Ripuarian Franks, based around Cologne. The Ripuarian Franks were threatened by the Alemanni, a group of German tribes who were based to their south and south-east. The Ripuarian Franks were probably led by King Sigebert, who may have suffered defeat in an earlier battle at the same location. This possible defeat may have triggered a call for help from Clovis (although no such call is mentioned in Gregory of Tours, our main source for this battle). All Gregory states is that a war broke out between Clovis and the Alemanni and that a battle was fought.

According to Gregory of Tours this battle triggered Clovis's conversion to Christianity. His wife Clotilda had spent the years since their marriage attempting to convince Clovis to convert but he had refused. When the battle against the Alemanni began to go against him, Clovis called for aid from his gods but with no effect. He then called for aid from Christ, and promised to convert if he won. After this the ALA began to flee. Their king was killed and the survivors surrendered. After this victory Clovis took instructions from Bishop Remi of Rheims, and was baptised, along with 3,000 of his men.

There is a huge amount of uncertainty about this battle. Gregory of Tours doesn't give a location for the battle between Clovis and the Alemanni. He also doesn't make any reference to a Frankish presence at the battle near Zulpich in which Sigibert was wounded. The date of 496 is taken from the traditional date of Clovis' baptism, at Christmas 496, and the start of his reign is dated at 481 because the battle was said to have happened in the fifteenth year of his reign. An alternative theory is that Clovis's battle with the Alemanni took place ten years later, in around 506, or that another battle was fought at this later date. This theory does require his entire reign to be shifted by ten years.

We do at least know that Clovis did win a significant victory over the Alemanni, for a letter of congratulation from Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths, has survived. This letter also tells us that some of the Alemanni sought refuge with the Ostrogoths, and Theodoric 'suggests' that Clovis shouldn't pursue them any further.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (18 December 2012), Battle of Tolbiac (or Zulpich), 496 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_tolbiac.html

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