Tabariane: New Light on the Dark Ages revisited

Which of my posts about our time in France to re-blog this month?  In the end, it was easy.  I fell to thinking about all the wonderful trips we had learning about the history of the area we’d chosen as our home, courtesy of  Pays d’art et d’histoire des Pyrénées Cathares.  Here’s a memorable day from July six years ago…

July 13th 2013

Tabariane: new light on the Dark Ages

When I was at school (back in the Dark Ages), we learnt in history that the Romans came after the Greeks.  They left us a legacy of Romance languages, our alphabet, Roman law, neo-Classical architecture, impossibly straight roads and under floor central heating.  As the empire crumbled, so we were told, the continent descended into the Dark Ages.  Barbarians, Vandals, and unpleasantly savage descendants of Asterix the Gaul ravaged Europe, raping, pillaging and generally leaving little time for culture and a settled everyday life.

I think we all knew it was a bit less straightforward than that.  The Frankish Germanic tribes entering the late Roman empire had a very different culture from that developed by the Romans, and it’s been much harder to research systematically because there are few contemporary written records.

This week though, we went to visit a Merovingian site, Tabariane, recently excavated and interpreted near Teilhet, not far from Mirepoix.  The Merovingians were an early Frankish dynasty established by Clovis, and they ruled an area roughly equivalent to much of France and Germany from the 5th to the 8th centuries, and are the kind of tribe that was dismissed as one of those from the very heart of the Dark Ages.

It was a burial site we’d come to see.  It has first been discovered in the very early 20th century by Captain Henri Maurel, and had been partly excavated according to the fairly invasive practices of the period.  War and economic upheaval meant the site became first neglected, and then entirely forgotten about until recently.

Recent research lead by Nicolas Portet has meant that the burial ground, now carefully excavated, is now, as it almost certainly was then, a burial garden.  It’s a large site, on a hillside overlooking the site of the now disappeared Merovingian settlement  on the opposite side of the valley.  The 166 tombs seem to have been arranged in ‘clans’: loose arrangements of extended families and friends, over a long period of time.  It seems to have been a burial ground which held a place in the life of the community for many years, rather than being a cemetery developed as a result of tragedy – war or plague say.  Most of the bodies were laid with their heads to the west, their feet to the east.  Originally they were clothed, but little remained apart from metal objects: belt buckles, brooches, jewellery and, with some of the men, weapons.

This is where ideas have changed. Early 20th century archaeologists sent excavated objects to museums far and wide, even to America: modern practice which encourages an area’s ‘patrimoine’ (heritage) to remain as far as possible intact did not then exist, but you can find examples of objects found here in the Museum at Mazères, and in Saint Raymond de Toulouse.

Now as then, the tombs are planted with local flowering plants: lavenders, marguerites, herbs.  It’s thought that locals would have visited the grounds with their families, spent time there, as we might in a modern park.  So it was important to both the living and the dead to make it a pleasant, calm place to be.  The burial ground overlooked the village. The village overlooked the burial ground.  Each had an interest in the other.  Each could intercede for the other.

It’s a tranquil, special place, surrounded by meadows and hilly countryside.  A circular walk of some two and a half kilometres , starting and ending in the village of Teilhet gives you a chance to spend a peaceful  hour or two exploring scenery that may not be so very different from the way it was when the Merovingian villagers first laid out their burial ground, some 800 years ago.  Excellent information boards will help you understand a little more about those Merovingian people who made their lives in this still rural area.

While you’re there, make time to enjoy the facade of the 14th century church at Teilhet.  Here are some pictures to whet your appetite.

 

32 thoughts on “Tabariane: New Light on the Dark Ages revisited”

  1. I love this post, because I love learning all the history we are never taught in school. It also reminds me of my childhood in Detroit. On certain holidays a picnic would be organized at our Lutheran cemetery where all my grandparents were buried. There would be services to honor passed service members, prayers , and I will never forget the sound of taps played after each ceremony. Having a picnic in a grave yard with my extended family is not something I have done since my early teens, but this post brought back those memories…much more pleasant now than I deemed those outings at the time. Thanks for sharing this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is one of my favourite regions in France…so much ‘unknown’ history, but I like that air of mystery that remains, which is so in-tune with the region. The wonderful thing about here is that every small community has minor sites, off the beaten track, that offer so much history and interest.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah the ‘Dark Ages’ wasn’t it the British Victorians who gave us that gem. Am so glad that it is not how the Early Medieval Period is viewed these days. I spotted in your photo of the fabulous metalwork finds from Tabariane, a buckle looking very similar to the early 7th-century Sutton Hoo buckle.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. History is always more complicated the our teachers tell us. Maybe that’s why we seem to like learning about history and reading about it as we get older–we can appreciate the complexity and human-ness of it all better. This looks like a fascinating site, not to mention a beautiful one!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love finding out more about the dark ages. It is surprising how much more we know now than when I studied medieval history at university 50 years ago. Time for a name change I think.

    Liked by 1 person

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