The Burgundians or Burgundes were an East Germanic tribe which may have emigrated from mainland Scandinavia to the island of Bornholm, whose old form in Old Norse still was Burgundarholmr (the Island of the Burgundians), and from there to mainland Europe. In Þorsteins saga Víkingssonar, Veseti settled in an island or holm, which was called Borgund's holm, i.e. Bornholm. Alfred the Great's translation of Orosius uses the name Burgenda land. The poet and early mythologist Viktor Rydberg (1828–1895), (Our Fathers' Godsaga) asserted from an early medieval source, Vita Sigismundi, that the Burgundians themselves retained oral traditions about their Scandinavian origin.
About 300, the population of Bornholm (the island of the Burgundians) largely disappeared from the island. Most cemeteries ceased to be used, and those that were still used had few burials (Stjerna, in Nerman 1925:176).
In the year 369, the Emperor Valentinian I enlisted the aid of the Burgundians in his war against another Germanic tribe, the Alamanni (Ammianus, XXVIII, 5, 8-15). At this time, the Burgundians were possibly living in the Vistula basin, according to the mid-6th-century historian of the Goths, Jordanes. Sometime after their war against the Alamanni, the Burgundians were beaten in battle by Fastida, king of the Gepids and were overwhelmed and almost annihilated.
Approximately four decades later, the Burgundians appear again. Following Stilicho’s withdrawal of troops to fight Alaric I the Visigoth in AD 406-408, the northern tribes crossed the Rhine and entered the Empire in the Völkerwanderung, or Germanic migrations. Among them were the Alans, Vandals, the Suevi, and possibly the Burgundians. The Burgundians migrated westwards and settled in the Rhine Valley.
Despite their new status as foederati, Burgundian raids into Roman Upper Gallia Belgica became intolerable and were ruthlessly brought to an end in 436, when the Roman general Aëtius called in Hun mercenaries who overwhelmed the Rhineland kingdom (with its capital at the old Celtic Roman settlement of Borbetomagus/Worms) in 437. Gundahar was killed in the fighting, reportedly along with the majority of the Burgundian tribe. (Prosper; Chronica Gallica 452; Hydatius; and Sidonius Apollinaris)
The destruction of Worms and the Burgundian kingdom by the Huns became the subject of heroic legends that were afterwards incorporated in the Nibelungenlied—on which Wagner based his Ring Cycle—where King Gunther (Gundahar) and Queen Brünhild hold their court at Worms, and Siegfried comes to woo Kriemhild. (In Old Norse sources the names are Gunnar, Brynhild, and Gudrún as normally rendered in English.) In fact, the Etzel of the Nibelungenlied is based on Attila the Hun.
As allies of Rome in its last decades, the Burgundians fought alongside Aëtius and a confederation of Visigoths and others in the battle against Attila at the Battle of Chalons (also called "The Battle of the Catalaunian Fields") in 451. The alliance between Burgundians and Visigoths seems to have been strong, as Gundioc and his brother Chilperic I accompanied Theodoric II to Spain to fight the Sueves in 455. (Jordanes, Getica, 231)
The Burgundians, apparently confident in their growing power, negotiated in 456 a territorial expansion and power sharing arrangement with the local Roman senators. (Marius of Avenches)
In 457, Ricimer overthrew another emperor, Avitus, raising Majorian to the throne. This new emperor proved unhelpful to Ricimer and the Burgundians. The year after his ascension, Majorian stripped the Burgundians of the lands they had acquired two years earlier. After showing further signs of independence, he was murdered by Ricimer in 461.
Ten years later, in 472, Ricimer–who was by now the son-in-law of the Western Emperor Anthemius–was plotting with Gundobad to kill his father-in-law; Gundobad beheaded the emperor (apparently personally). (Chronica Gallica 511; John of Antioch, fr. 209; Jordanes, Getica, 239) Ricimer then appointed Olybrius; both died, surprisingly of natural causes, within a few months. Gundobad seems then to have succeeded his uncle as Patrician and king-maker, and raised Glycerius to the throne. (Marius of Avenches; John of Antioch, fr. 209)
In 474, Burgundian influence over the empire seems to have ended. Glycerius was deposed in favor of Julius Nepos, and Gundobad returned to Burgundy, presumably at the death of his father Gundioc. At this time or shortly afterward, the Burgundian kingdom was divided between Gundobad and his brothers, Godigisel, Chilperic II, and Gundomar I. (Gregory, II, 28)
C.500, when Gundobad and Clovis were at war, Gundobad appears to have been betrayed by his brother Godegisel, who joined the Franks; together Godegisel's and Clovis' forces "crushed the army of Gundobad." (Marius a. 500; Gregory, II, 32) Gundobad was temporarily holed up in Avignon, but was able to re-muster his army and sacked Vienne, where Godegisel and many of his followers were put to death. From this point, Gundobad appears to have been the sole king of Burgundy. (e.g., Gregory, II, 33) This would imply that his brother Gundomar was already dead, though there are no specific mentions of the event in the sources.
Either Gundobad and Clovis reconciled their differences, or Gundobad was forced into some sort of vassalage by Clovis' earlier victory, as the Burgundian king appears to have assisted the Franks in 507 in their victory over Alaric II the Visigoth.
During the upheaval, sometime between 483-501, Gundobad began to set forth the Lex Gundobada (see below), issuing roughly the first half, which drew upon the Lex Visigothorum. (Drew, p. 1) Following his consolidation of power, between 501 and his death in 516, Gundobad issued the second half of his law, which was more originally Burgundian.
The Burgundians were extending their power over southeastern Gaul; that is, northern Italy, western Switzerland, and southeastern France. In 493 Clovis, king of the Franks, married the Burgundian princess Clotilda (daughter of Chilperic), who converted him to the Catholic faith.
At first allies with Clovis' Franks against the Visigoths in the early 6th century, the Burgundians were eventually conquered by the Franks in 534. The Burgundian kingdom was made part of the Merovingian kingdoms, and the Burgundians themselves were by and large absorbed as well.
The Liber Consitutionum sive Lex Gundobada (The Book of the Constitution following the Law of Gundobad), also known as the Lex Burgundionum, or more simply the Lex Gundobada or the Liber, was issued in several parts between 483 and 516, principally by Gundobad, but also by his son, Sigismund. (Drew, p. 6-7) It was a record of Burgundian customary law and is typical of the many Germanic law codes from this period. In particular, the Liber borrowed from the Lex Visigothorum (Drew, p. 6) and influenced the later Lex Ribuaria. (Rivers, p. 9) The Liber is one of the primary sources for contemporary Burgundian life, as well as the history of its kings.
Like many of the Germanic tribes, the Burgundians' legal traditions allowed the application of separate laws for separate ethnicities. Thus, in addition to the Lex Gundobada, Gundobad also issued (or codified) a set of laws for Roman subjects of the Burgundian kingdom, the Lex Romana Burgundionum (The Roman Law of the Burgundians).
In addition to the above codes, Gundobad's son Sigismund later published the Prima Constitutio.