Were the Merovingians Descended from a Monster? Meet the Quinotaur
You’ve probably heard of a Minotaur (half-man, half-bull), but what about a Quinotaur? In early Frankish history, there was a “beast of Neptune,” which was said to look like a creature called a Quinotaur. This mysterious mythical only appeared in one text, but he was said to have fathered a line of kings whose descendants still survive today and even made an appearance in The Da Vinci Code .
Merovech, Founder of the Merovingians
This story involved the Franks, a Germanic tribe whose descendants eventually migrated to, and ruled parts of, what is now modern France, Germany, and Belgium. In a history of the Frankish people, the cleric Fredegar attributed the founding of its ruling dynasty, the Merovingians, to one guy named Merovech. Gregory of Tours was the first source to mention Merovech. He doesn’t give Merovech a monstrous lineage, instead making him a mortal man who founded a new royal dynasty.
Merovech, founder of the Merovingians
A Descendant of Chlodio?
Gregory stressed the accomplishments of his descendants, including his son Childeric, rather than giving him any illustrious ancestors. Merovech might be related to a prior king named Chlodio, but it’s not confirmed. What does this mean? Perhaps Merovech wasn’t of noble lineage, but was instead a self-made man; either way, it seems that Merovech’s descendants were of more historical significance than his ancestors. Other sources, like the anonymously-penned Liber Historiae Francorum (Book of the History of the Franks), explicitly identify Merovech as being related to Chlodio.
But the aforementioned Fredegar goes a different route. He says that Chlodio’s wife gave birth to Merovech, but her husband wasn’t the father; instead, she decided to go swimming and, in the water, mated with a mysterious monster, a “beast of Neptune which resembles a Quinotaur.” As a result, Merovech was the son either of a mortal king or a magical beast.
A quinotaur sea monster possessing the king Clodio's wife, who became pregnant with the future king Merovech. Created by Andrea Farronato
Who, or what, was a Quinotaur?
Other than the etymological similarity it bears to “Minotaur,” another famous beast, Fredergar’s is the sole reference to Quinotaur in history, so we don’t have any real means of comparison. Some scholars have suggested that “Quinotaur” was a misspelling of “Minotaur.” Bulls weren’t particularly prominent in Franco-Germanic myths, so it’s suggested that this creature was of Latin inspiration. Indeed, even by this time, there was a long tradition of casting the Franks as heirs to the classical Mediterranean (and thus as legitimate heirs of the Romans); after the Trojan War, the Trojans and their allies reportedly fled to the Rhine, where their descendants eventually became the Franks.
Is the quinotaur just a misspelling of minotaur (pictured)?
Why did Fredegar suggest that Merovech had a mythical sea creature as a father?
Perhaps Fredegar was elevating Merovech to hero status. A semi-mythical ancestry was a characteristic of many mythological heroes; think of, for example, the Greek king Theseus of Athens, who claimed both the sea god Poseidon and the mortal king Aegeus as his father. In other words, having a sea monster father made Merovech—and his real-life descendants, living and ruling during the times of Gregory and Fredegar—different from those they ruled over, perhaps as demigods or, at least, divinely ordained. Some historians have suggested the Merovingians were indeed thought of as “sacred kings,” somehow more than mortal, men that were holy in and of themselves. The kings would be special, perhaps invincible in battle. The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, who posited that the Merovingians were descended from Jesus—whose hidden bloodline migrated from Israel to France via Mary Magdalene—were big proponents of this theory. Others scholars have suggested that this tale was an attempt to parse out the name “Merovech,” assigning it a meaning of “sea bull,” or some such.
Rather than understanding the Quinotaur as a mythological justification for the Merovingians being sacred kings, some think the issue is much simpler. If Merovech was Chlodio’s son by his wife, then he was just your average kind—nothing special. And if Chlodio’s queen had a child by a man who was neither her husband nor a mythical sea creature, then Merovech was illegitimate. Rather than specifying that a mythic creature fathered Merovech, maybe the chronicler deliberately left the king’s parentage—and thus the ancestry of his son, Childeric—ambiguous because, as British Ian Wood wrote in an article, “there was nothing special about Childeric’s birth.”