This is what Wikipedia has to say:

Late in the 3rd century AD, the invasion of Germanic tribes, beginning with the Alamans in 275 AD, caused many of the residents of the left bank to leave that part of the city and move to the safety of the Île de la Cité. Many of the monuments on the left bank were abandoned, and the stones used to build a wall around the Île de la Cité, the first city wall of Paris.

And then, 200 years later:

In 461, the city was threatened again by the Salian Franks, led by Childeric I (436-481). The siege of the city lasted ten years. Once again Geneviève organized the defense. She rescued the city by bringing wheat to the hungry city from Brie and Champagne on a flotilla of eleven barges.

Okay, so, even if Paris still consisted only of the walled Cité and the population was fairly small (a few hundred people, perhaps?), traveling to Champagne and then coming back with eleven (!!) barges is still a pretty monumental task. How can you sneak that many barges in without being seen? How can you sneak them out again? Or did Childeric allow it? Take a look at this picture:

enter image description here

La Cite is the larger island. The smaller one behind it is the Island of St. Louis. In order to travel to Champagne by water, you'd have o head south (towards us). With Childeric's troops stationed on both sides of the river, and his boats patrolling the waters day and night, Genevieve seems to have made repeated trips out of the city, and then back in - how?

Apart from that, what was so important about Paris (such as it was in those days) that the siege went on for ten years?

Something's wrong with the picture here. What am I missing?

  • 2
    Where does it say Childeric had boats, let alone "patrolling the waters day and night"?
    – Semaphore
    Dec 8, 2015 at 15:19
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    @CGCampbell It's not actually that dramatic. Childeric and his troops camped outside Paris for a decade. He disrupted the city's agricultural hinterland and possibly besieged it occasionally, but it was certainly not a 10 year investment. He either allowed Genevieve to leave and gather food, or she slipped in and out by boat at night when he had no means of stopping her.
    – Semaphore
    Dec 8, 2015 at 15:31
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    You are assuming a lot of geography despite a considerable amount of time. From my recollection - many of the European Rivers (Siene Included) have silted up substantially in the intervening years due to agricultural runoff and natural processes. It is entirely possible the Siene was much wider historically. I would also like to point out spotting a silent barge, blacked out, on a stormy or moonless night is very hard indeed without optics or highly motivated marine forces (which Germanic war bands generally were not). Dec 8, 2015 at 16:42
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    The Salian Franks had no capability to keep an army in the field all of one year, much less ten. They probably had some posts blocking the roads that were garrisoned to stop normal traffic with small garrisons until the main army showed up in spring to run around burning stuff, or they all went home every fall. A navy is out of the question, so organizing a barge run would be fairly easy.
    – Oldcat
    Dec 10, 2015 at 1:13
  • 1
    In order to travel to Champagne by water, you'd have o head south (towards us). --> Actually the picture is taken from the West (you can notice Notre-Dame-de-Paris on the southern part of Ile de la Cité). To travel to Champagne, you would need to head East (or East-South-East), away from 'us'.
    – Evargalo
    Aug 29, 2019 at 9:46

1 Answer 1


In the Life of St. Genevieve which was first published in the 16th century it says the following:

Les Romains, jusqu'à ce jour, avaient entretenu dans la ville une flotte, pour s'opposer aux incursions des barbares. Avec cette flotte,il était encore facile de faire par eau une expédition, cette voie n'ayant point été fermée par l'ennemi. Geneviève s'offrit à partir, et promit d'aller jusqu'à Arcis sur-Aube acheter les vivres nécessaires pour approvisionner la ville. Cette proposilion, de sa part, fut regardée comme un coup de Providence. On accueillit sa demande avec joie, et les Parisiens sentirent se ranimer leurs forces, et l'espérance renaître en lèùr cœur, en voyant Geneviève partir avec onze petits vaisseaux destinés à rapporter d'amples provisions. Les Francs, comme nous l'avons dit, n'avaient point de flotte, et nous ne voyons point qu'ils aient tente de s'opposer a cette entreprise. Il est a presumer que la Sainte fut accompagnee par des personnes distinguees de la ville, et l'on cite en particulier un pretre, nomme Bessus, qui faisait partie de l'expedition.

Which, in English is:

The Romans, to this day in the city had maintained a fleet, to oppose the incursions of the barbarians. With this fleet, With this fleet, it was still easy to make an expedition by water, this path not having been closed by the enemy. Genevieve offered to leave and promised to go up to Arcis sur-Aube buy food needed to supply the city. This proposal, on its part, was regarded as a stroke of Providence. We granted his request with joy, and the Parisians felt to revived in their spirits, and hope reborn in their heart, seeing Genevieve with eleven small vessels intended to bring ample supplies. The Franks, as we have said, had no fleet, and we [can still see today] the point they tried to oppose this company. It was presumed that the Saint was accompanied by distinguished persons of the city, and in particular there is mentioned a priest, called Bessus, who was part of the expedition.

Thus, you can see that in the original account the reason is clear: the Franks did not have a fleet. I would add to this account that in ancient times the Seine was probably considerably wider than it is today.

  • 2
    re "I would add to this account that in ancient times the Seine was probably considerably wider than it is today" Say what! So much shallower because the flow rate can't have changed much. That's the opposite of what normally happens to a river on a flood plain, which normally silts up to make the river shallower and wider over time. Dec 8, 2015 at 22:55
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    @PieterGeerkens I have not researched it, but I am sure if you find descriptions of the Seine from 500 years ago, you will find it was much wider. The reason is that modern intensive agriculture has led to the construction of dams and irrigation canals which withdraw a great deal of water from the tributaries of the Seine and reduce its flow compared to what it would have been in ancient times. Dec 8, 2015 at 22:59
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    Really! And this all happened between 1515 and 1604 when the Pont Neuf opened to traffic: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pont_Neuf. The Danube at Regensburg is similar to the Seine at Paris, but it hasn't changed its banks much since the old stone bridge was built in the 12th Century, nearly 900 years ago. Dec 8, 2015 at 23:25
  • @PieterGeerkens: and Tyler Durden: Interesting points all. I'm going to need to look into this. My own two cents: since, presumably, the width of the Seine, quay-to-stone-faced-quay, hasn't changed since at least the construction of the Pont Neuf; and since irrigation canals built since then do withdraw a lot of water from the tributaries; wouldn't it be safe to assume that the water level in the Seine was higher in the past? Wouldn't this explain the higher frequency of floods (in the past), I wonder?
    – Ricky
    Dec 8, 2015 at 23:49
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    The dimensions of the Seine are sort of a secondary issue. The life of the saint makes clear the essential situation: the Romans had a riparian navy and the Franks did not. Dec 9, 2015 at 19:25

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