Period II newsletter

St. Maurice Abbey, Museum. Photo: TES.

Forgotten Kingdoms on Swiss Territory

One of the most exciting but forgotten kingdoms on Swiss territory existed from 888 to 1032:  namely, the kingdom of Burgundy (not to be confused with its predecessor of 443-534). The origin of the Germanic tribe of Burgundy is the (Danish) island of Bornholm.

The Burgunds

This tribe descended south in a centuries-long process. They settled near Worms in 400. The Romans gave them the status of an ally (Foederatus).

The Burgunds were almost annihilated by the Huns in 1436. The Nibelungs legends are based on these events.

They settled in the area of Lake Geneva, where they integrated into the Gallo-Roman population and founded the Kingdom of Burgundy (443-534).

It was crucial for French-speaking Switzerland that this Germanic tribe adopt the Gallo-Roman language rather than introducing the Germanic language.

Despite the decline of the Burgundian kingdom in 534, the Frankish conquerors continued to call themselves Kings of Burgundy (Burgundiae regnum).

Treaty of Verdun

Three political entities called Burgundy were created after 843 (Treaty of Verdun):

The Duchy of Burgundy (the territory of today’s Burgundy in France), the County of Burgundy (the Franche Comté and Besançon) and the Kingdom of Burgundy (which stretched from Geneva to the Rhône delta of Vaud, Jura and Basel).


The kingdom of Provence (Regnum Provinciae seu Burgundiae) with Arles as its capital was founded in 879.

The kingdom of Jura or Trans-Jurane Burgundy (Regnum Iurense or Burgundia Transiurensis) was created in 888. St. Maurice was its capital.

This area  encompassed the present-day cantons of Valais, Vaud, Neuchâtel, Geneva, and part of the French territories of Savoy and the northern part of the Dauphiné.

In the year 933, these two kingdoms merged into one kingdom through dynastic marriage politics: the Regnum Arelatense, the Kingdom of Arles. The borders were north of Basel, south of the Rhône delta, Zurich to the east and the river Sâone to the west.

The kingdom was defined by cultural, religious and linguistic homogeneity. The influence of the Abbey of Cluny and the establishment of new abbeys and monasteries in present-day Switzerland were significant events.

The last King Rudolf III died in 1032 without a successor. His Kingdom became part of the Holy Roman Empire.

The forgotten Burgundian kingdoms were of crucial importance for  the development of French-speaking Switzerland and the language borders.

(Source: F. Demotz, L’an 888. Le Royaume de Bourgogne. Une puissance européenne au bord du Léman, Lausanne, 2012; J. Favrod, Les Burgonds. Un royaume oublié au coeur de l’Europe, Lausanne 2011).