views updated Jun 08 2018


ETHNONYM: Bourguignons


Identification. More than language, culture, government, or topography, history and economy define Burgundy. Burgundy's exact limits have fluctuated considerably, although they have centered on a corridor drawn south from Dijon to Mâcon (roughly the Saône River valley), and westward, overland, to the great bend of the Loire River at Digoin. Modern Burgundy is comprised of four departments (Côte d'Or, Yonne, Nièvre, Saône-et-Loire). This is essentially the Territory that was controlled by the Aedui, a Celtic polity that played an important role two millennia ago at the time of the Roman conquest of Gaul. Along the southeast-facing slopes of the Saône River valley, Pinot and chardonnay grapes are grown, making this region's name synonymous with wines of world renown. These vines were planted at least two millennia ago by the Gallo-Roman descendants of the region's Iron Age inhabitants. The region derives its name from neither the Celts nor the Romans but from the Germanic Burgundian kings, who ruled the area from their seat in the Rhône corridor until the mid-sixth century.

Location. Burgundy is located between 46° and 48° N and 3° and 6° E. Two principal river valleys, those of the Saône and the central Loire, have long figured in the historical gography and the economy of the region. Together with rivers that rise in Burgundy (particularly the Yonne and the Seine), passages between highlands and plateaus have connected the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the English Channel, and the North Sea, rendering the region a primary Western European zone of passage since at least 40,000 b.p. The complex geology of Burgundy, with major rock facies of sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic origin, ensures an abundance of natural resources: coal, oil, precious metals, naturally radioactive deposits, and a variety of rich soils. North of the Loire and west of the Saône, the Morvan Mountains rise nearly 1,000 meters above sea level. This mountain range is the first obstacle that the westerlies, bringing moisture from the Atlantic Ocean, encounter in France. Characteristically moist, the Morvan is in contrast to the Rhône-Saône river corridor, which acts as a conduit for warm, dry Mediterranean winds. The collision of these two air masses over Burgundy ensures unsettled, sometimes extreme weather conditions and widely variable seasons.

Demography. Burgundy has approximately 2 million inhabitants, about a quarter of whom live in and around the six largest cities (Dijon, Chalon-sur-Saône, Nevers, Auxerre, Mâcon, Le Creusot). Only Dijon and its suburbs exceed 200,000 inhabitants. Somewhat over a quarter of Burgundy's population is considered rural, living in villages or on isolated farms; another quarter of the population lives in towns of a few thousand placed amid farmlands and vineyards. In sum, the region's inhabitants are distributed evenly across the landscape, in what is termed log-normal distribution. The population of Burgundy grew slowly in the first half of the nineteenth century, stabilizing around 1850. After that date, the rural population decreased steadily as a casualty of urban growth caused by industrialization. In many rural areas, half the population was lost between 1850 and 1950. Today, rural residence is enjoying considerable renewed popularity in the form of second or retirement homes, although this obviously does not reflect an increase in numbers of agriculturalists. On the whole, the rural population in Burgundy is markedly older than the urban population, especially in areas of reduced agricultural potential (e.g., Morvan) where population decline has been steep for more than a century.

Linguistic Affiliation. Burgundians speak French, although a characteristic regional dialect is reported from at least the twelfth century; a sonorous Burgundian r contrasts with the Parisian uvular r. Morvandeau and Brionno-Charolais, distinctive patois (dialects) with a sizable vocabulary unintelligible to most Francophones, are still spoken; numerous other dialects of French are common in the region.

History and Cultural Relations

Earliest traces of human activity in Burgundy date from more than 100,000 years ago; archaeology yields evidence of a considerable hunting (reindeer, horses) and gathering population during the predominantly glacial late Pleistocene (40,000-12,000 b.p.). After the glaciers retreated, the population developed the mixed farming, horticulture, and husbandry still characteristic of the region today. Earliest literary records, Greek accounts dating from the fifth century b.c.e., indicate that the Celtic Aedui and their clients held the bulk of what is now Burgundy, engaging in commercial trade, industrial manufacture (especially ironworking), and agriculture. About the time of the Roman conquest in 52 b.c.e. viticulture was introduced. Christianity was well established in Burgundy by the fourth century. After the collapse of Roman hegemony, Burgundy was ruled by the Germanic Burgunds (a.d. 466-534) and the Frankish Merovingians (a.d. 534-731), although the latter's control was never absolute and regional authority was periodically reasserted. After the Saracens (Muslim Arabs) sacked Autun in 731, Carolingians held sway until a.d. 955. Control was reasserted by the Capetian dukes, who, along with those of Valois, held sway over Burgundy and then all of France by the fourteenth Century. Burgundy continues to play an important role in national politics: President François Mitterrand began his political career as a deputy from Nièvre.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Burgundy's climatic and topographic variety supports viticulture (primarily along the hills south of Dijon and on the west side of the Saône River valley), stock raising (in the Charolais, Autunois, lower Morvan), silviculture (Morvan), and cereal and other crops (e.g., mustard, sunflowers) throughout the region but especially Côte d'Or. The Saône River and the Canal du Centre handle heavy barge traffic, moving goods out of and through the area. Wine, liqueur, and mustard Production are centered on rail lines through Dijon and to the south, while trucks move beef, eggs, and other farm products in southwestern Burgundy.

Industrial Arts. An area of considerable historic and Contemporary industrial activity is that of Le Creusot/Montceaules-Mines, which a century ago was known for the extraction of oil and coal that fed huge foundries, and now for the manufacture of sophisticated industrial ceramics. Variety also characterizes the industrial sector: the "company town" of Gueugnon (pop. 10,456) in Saône-et-Loire is internationally known for cold-rolled stainless steel production and is home to a hat-manufacturing company; 16 kilometers south, past farms raising Charolais beef cattle, the Loire River town of Digoin (pop. 11,341) produces a substantial portion of the country's dinnerware.

Division of Labor and Land Tenure. The presence of women has always been important in agricultural enterprises, where besides traditional household duties women undertake nearly every task on the farm except fieldwork. In recent years they have even sold stock at the weekly cattle market in Sainte Christophe-en-Brionnais, long a bastion of exclusively male activity. Since the beginning of the rural exodus in the last century, women have joined the industrial and commercial workforce in increasing numbers. Many farm families partake of both worlds: family members cooperate to keep up with farm duties while maintaining industrial or commercial jobs in nearby towns. The presence of small industrial towns in an otherwise rural landscape underscores the marked heterogeneity of Burgundy and the variety of economic and Social options it generates. Although few landless farm laborers remain, as a dual result of agricultural mechanization and the lure of higher-paying industrial jobs, the agricultural population has stabilized in the past few decades, thanks both to government farm subsidies and to effective competition by French agriculturalists in the international marketplace. This favorable economic climate has enabled many farms to keep operating and remain in the family, although in less desirable agricultural areas (e.g., Morvan highlands) the visitor is struck by the number of abandoned dwellings. Rarely, However, is the land out of production, even in these areas; it is rented (or purchased) and often farmed collectively by relatives from a nearby farmstead.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kinship is reckoned bilaterally, monogamy is the only legal marital relation, and among farm families patrilocal residence is often practiced. Overall, inheritance is equitable within the senior surviving generation. Inheritance of the farm is usually by the eldest male sibling, but on occasion (absence or inappropriateness of senior male siblings) younger sons or daughters inherit and (in the latter case) marriages are uxorilocal. The size of farm families has been greatly reduced in this Century for two reasons: the toll on three successive generations of war (the Prussian War of 1870, and World Wars I and II) and industrialization. No longer is a large familial workforce either necessary or desirable, and birth spacing and control is clearly practiced, despite the nominal Roman Catholicism of the French population (overall French population growth rate is 1.7 percent). Having children is considered highly desirable in the society as a whole, and, if not indulged, children are certainly given as many advantages as the family can afford. Christenings are as important for designating godparents as for celebrating a new member of the community.

Sociopolitical Organization

France is a parliamentary democracy, governed for a seven-year term by a president whose party has constructed a majority coalition. The primary political parties represent rightist, centrist, socialist, and communist interests, all of which enjoy considerable support in Burgundy. In general, industrial and highland agricultural areas support candidates to the left of center, while small towns and business communities vote more conservatively. Burgundy is considered an administrative unit only on certain issues (e.g., environment, tourism); more important are the hierarchical departmental, prefectural, cantonal, and communal divisions that both mirror and crosscut geographic, economic, and cultural differences. Politics are of central interest to French people in general and to heterogeneous Burgundians in particular, and political matters are a perennial subject of conversation in cafés and on the street.

Social Control and Conflict. A national police, the Gendarmerie Nationale, patrols the highways and rural areas, while municipalities have their own peacekeeping forces. As in many industrialized nations, France has had to combat increasing social disruption as old values and structures disappear and are replaced with an alienated, mobile urban population. Although rural areas of Burgundy remain remarkably free of such disruption, inhabitants are much more alert to such dangers than they were only a few years ago. Rural Burgundians prefer to control tense situations socially rather than by overt conflict, and gossip is a potent Community weapon. The court in which the meaning of an act and its ramifications are considered, and moral judgment is passed, is the café.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. Although most Burgundians are nominal Catholics, church attendance, especially in rural areas, is limited to women, children, and the elderly. Most rural men await the end of mass at the café, and even at a funeral they stand hatless outside the church and pass by the bier only just before the coffin is carried out of the sanctuary and to the cemetery. Participation in weddings and christenings is more representative. Burgundy, like many rural areas, harbors little-discussed non-Christian beliefs relating to features of the landscape and the seasons. Burgundy has for centuries been attractive to a variety of religious orders; the important monastery of Cluny was founded in a.d. 910. More recently, the main Buddhist temple in the West and the European home of the Dalai Lama has been built in southern Burgundy.

Arts. Rural artisans continue to manufacture sabots (wooden shoes), vielles (musical instruments like the hurdy-gurdy), and other crafts both for the tourist trade and their own use. Continuing interest by young and old alike (since at least the nineteenth century) in folklore societies has kept many Burgundian traditions vibrant and has contributed greatly to community and regional pride.


Aldrich, Robert (1984). Economy and Society in Burgundy since 1850. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Bonnamour, Jacqueline (1966). Le Morvan: La terre et les hommes. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Chaume, Maurice (1925-1937). Les origines du Duché de Bourgogne. 2 vols. Dijon.

Commeaux, Charles (1977). Histoire des Bourguignons. Dossiers de l'Histoire. Paris: Éditions Fernand Nathan.

Crumley, Carole L., and William H. Marquardt, eds. (1987). Regional Dynamics: Burgundian Landscapes in Historical Perspective. San Diego: Academic Press.

Gras, Christian, and Georges Livet, eds. (1977). Régions et régionalisme en France du XVIIIe siècle à nos jours. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

van Gennep, Arnold (1934). Le folklore de la Bourgogne (Côte d'Or ). Contributions au Folklore des Provinces de France, no. 1. Paris: Librairie Orientale et Américaine.