The Franks or Friingii, formed one of several west German Tribes who
entered the late Roman Empirefrom Frisia as foederati
and established a lasting realm in an area that covers part of today's France , and Germany (Franconia), forming the historic kernel of both these
two modern countries.
The Frankish realm underwent many partitions and repartitions, since the Franks divided their
property among surviving sons, and lacking a broad sense of a res publica, they could only conceive of the realm as
a large extent of private property. This practice explains in part the difficulty of describing precisely the dates and physical
boundaries of any of the Frankish kingdoms and whoever ruled the various sections. The contraction of literacy while the Franks
ruled compounds the problem: they produced few contemporary written records. In essence however, two dynasties of leaders
succeeded each other, the Merovingians and then the Carolingians.
The word frank meant "free" in the Frankish language. Freedom did not extend to women or to the population
of slaves that moved with the free Franks. Initially two main subdivisions existed within the Franks: the Salian
("salty") and the Ripuarian ("river") Franks. By the 9th century, if not earlier, this division
had in practice become virtually non-existent, but continued for some time to have implications for the legal system under
which a person could go on trial.
Foundation of the Frankish kingdom
The earliest Frankish history remains relatively unclear. Our main source, the Gallo-Roman chronicler whose History
of the Franks covers the period up to 594, quotes from otherwise lost sources like Sulpicius Alexander and Frigeridus
and profits from personal contact with many leaders of the Franks known to Gregory. Apart from Gregory's History there
exist some earlier Roman sources, such as Ammianus and Sidonius Apollinaris
Modern scholars of the period of the migrations have suggested that the Frankish people emerged from the unifications of various
earlier, smaller Germanic groups inhabiting the Rhine valley
and lands immediately to the east, a social development perhaps related to the increasing disorder and upheaval experienced
in the area as a result of the war between Rome and the Marcomanni , which began in 166 C.E., and subsequent conflicts of the late 2nd century and
the 3rd century C.E.
For his part, Gregory states that the Franks originally lived in Pannonia , but later
settled on the banks of the Rhine. A region in the northeast of the modern-day Netherlands--
i.e. north of the Roman border -- bears the name Salland, and may have received that name from the Salians.
250 CE a group of Franks, taking advantage of a weakened Roman Empire, penetrated as far
as Tarragona in present-day Spain plaguing this
region for about a decade before Roman forces subdued them and expelled them from Roman territory.
About forty years later, the Franks had the Scheldt region under control and interfered
with the waterways to Britain ; Roman forces pacified the region, but did not expel the
In 355- 358 the later Emperor Julian once again found the shipping lanes on the Rhine under control of the Franks and again pacified
them. Rome granted a considerable part of Belgica to the Franks. From this time on they become foederati of the Roman
A region roughly corresponding to present day Flanders and the Netherlands
south of the rivers remains a Germanic-speaking region to this day. (The Dutch languagepredominates
there now). The Franks thus became the first Germanic people who permanently settled within Roman territory. (For a map see
the external link <http://www.roman-emperors.org)
At first they helped defend the border as allies; for example, when a major invasion of mostly East Germanic tribes
crossed the Rhine 406, the Franks fought against these invaders. The major thrust of the
invasion passed south of the Loire river. (In the region of Paris, Roman control persisted
until 486, i.e. a decade after the fall of the emperors of Ravenna,
in part due to alliances with the Franks.)
The reigns of earlier Frankish chieftains -- Pharamond (about 419
until about 427 ) and Chlodio (about 427
until about 447) -- seem to owe more to myth than fact, and their relationship to the Merovingian line remains uncertain.
Gregory mentions Chlodioas
the first king who started the conquest of Gaul by taking Camaracum (today's Cambrai) and
expanding the border down to the Somme. This probably took some time; Sidonius relates that
Aetius surprised the Franks and drove them back (probably around 431).
This period marks the beginning of a situation that would endure for many centuries: the Germanic Franks became rulers over
an increasing number of Gallo-Roman subjects.
In 451 Aetius
called upon his Germanic allies on Roman soil to help fight off an invasion by the Huns.
The Salian Franks answered the call, the Ripuarians fought on both sides as some of them lived outside the Empire. At this
time Merovech reigned as king of the Franks. Gregory's (oral) sources did not seem
sure whether Chlodio was his father.
Clovis engaged in a campaign of consolidating
the various Frankish kingdoms in Gaul and the Rhineland, which included defeating Syagrius in 486. This victory ended Roman control in the Paris
In the Battle of Vouill, Clovis, with the help of Burgundy defeated the
Visigoths, expanding his realm eastwards up to the Pyrenees mountains.
The conversion of Clovis to Roman Christianity, after his marriage to the Catholic
Burgundian princess Clothilde in 493, may have helped to increase his standing in the eyes of the Pope
and the other orthodox Catholic rulers. Because they were able to worship with their Catholic neighbors, the formerly Arian Franks found much easier acceptance from the local Gallo-Roman population than did the Visigoths, Vandals , Burgundians.
The Merovingians thus built what eventually proved the most stable of the successor-kingdoms
in the west.
Stability, however, did not feature day-to-day in the Merovingian era. While casual violence existed
to a degree in late Roman times, the introduction of the Germanic practice of the blood-feud to obtain personal justice led
to a perception of increased lawlessness. Disruptions to trade occurred, and civic life became increasingly difficult, which
led to an increasingly localized and fragmented society based on self-sufficient villas. Literacy practically disappeared
outside of churches and monasteries.
The Merovingian chieftains adhered to the Germanic practice of dividing their
lands among their sons, and the frequent division, reunification and redivision of territories often resulted in murder and
warfare within the leading families. So, on Clovis's death in 511, his four sons divided
his realm between themselves, and over the next two centuries his descendants shared the kingship.
The Frankish area
expanded further under Clovis' sons, eventually covering most of present-day France, but including areas east of the Rhine
river as well, such as Alamannia (today's southwestern Germany) and Thuringia (from 531 ). Saxony , however, remained outside the Frankish realm until
conquered by Charlemagne centuries later.
After a temporary reunification of the
separate kingdoms under Clotaire I , the Frankish lands split once again in 561
into Neustria , Austrasia , and Burgundy.
In each Frankish kingdom the Mayor of the Palace served as the chief officer of
state. From about the turn of the eighth century, the Mayors tended to wield the real power in the kingdom, laying the foundation
for the new dynasty, the Carolingians.
The Carolingian kingship traditionally begins with the deposition of the last Merovingian
king and the accession in 751 of Pippin the Short ,
father of Charlemagne. Pippin had succeeded his own father, Charles
Martel, as Mayor of the Palace of a reunited and re-erected Frankish kingdom comprised of the formerly independent
Pippin reigned as an elected king. Although this happened infrequently, a general rule in Germanic law stated
that the king relied on the support of his leading men. These men reserved the right to choose a new leader if they felt that
the old one could not lead them in profitable battle. While in later France the kingdom became hereditary, the kings of the
later Holy Roman Empire were unable to abolish this tradition and continued as elected rulers
until the Empire's formal end in 1806.
Pippin solidified his position in 754 by entering into an alliance with Pope Stephen III against
the Lombards ; this papal support proved crucial to silencing any objections to his new
position. Pippin donated the re-conquered areas around Rome to the Pope, laying the foundation for the Papal
States, of which only the Vatican City remains today, and in turn received the
title patricius Romanorum, protector of the Romans.
Upon Pippin's death in 768 ,
his sons, Charles and Carloman once again divided the kingdom between themselves.
However, Carloman withdrew to a monastery and died shortly thereafter, leaving sole rule to his brother, who would later become
known as Charlemagne and become an almost mythical figure for the later history of both
France and Germany.
From 772 onwards, Charles conquered and eventually defeated
the Saxons to incorporate their realm into the Frankish kingdom. This campaign expanded
the practice of non-Roman Christian rulers undertaking the conversion of their neighbors by armed force; Frankish Catholic
missionaries, along with others from Ireland and Anglo-Saxon
England, had entered Saxon lands since the mid-8th century,
resulting in increasing conflict with the Saxons, who resisted the missionary efforts and parallel military incursions. Charles'
main Saxon opponent, Widukind , accepted baptism in 785
as part of a peace agreement, but other Saxon leaders continued to fight.
Upon his victory in 787 at Verden , Charles ordered
the wholesale killing of thousands of pagan Saxon prisoners. After several more uprisings,
the Saxons sufferred definitive defeat in 804. This expanded the Frankish kingdom eastwards
up to the Elbe river, something the Roman empire had only
attempted once, and at which it failed in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. In order to
more effectively christianize the Saxons, Charles founded several bishoprics, among them Bremen ,
Paderborn , and Osnabr
At the same time (7730, Charles conquered the Lombards and
thus could include northern Italy in his sphere of influence. He renewed the Vatican donation and the promise to the papacy
of continued Frankish protection.
In 788, Tassilo, dux (duke) of Bavaria
rebelled against Charles. After the quashing of the rebellion Bavaria became incorporated into Charles' kingdom. This not
only added to the royal fisc, but also drastically reduced the power and influence of the Agilolfings (Tassilo's family),
another leading family among the Franks and potential rivals. Until 796 , Charles continued
to expand the kingdom even farther southeast, into today's Austria and parts of Croatia .
Charles thus created a realm that spanned from the Pyrenees in the southwest (actually,
including an area in Northern Spain after 795) over almost all of today's France (except Brittany,
which the Franks never conquered) eastwards to most of today's Germany, including northern Italy and today's Austria.
December 23 and 24, 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charles
as Emperor in Rome in a ceremony that formally acknowledged the Frankish Empire as
the successor of the (Western) Roman one. The coronation gave the Empire the backing of the church, and gave permanent legitimacy
to Carolingian primacy among the Franks. The Ottonians later resurrected this connection
in A.D. 962 . In 812 the Byzantine
Emperor Michael I acknowledged Charlemagne's position as Emperor.
death on January 28 , 814 in Aachen,
he was buried in his own Palace Chapel at Aachen.
Charlemagne had several sons,
but only one survived him. This son, Louis the Pious, followed his father as the ruler of
a united Empire. But sole inheritance remained a matter of chance, rather than intent. When Louis died in, the Carolingians
adhered to the custom of partible inheritance, and the Treaty of Verdun in 843 divided the Empire in three:
Louis' eldest surviving son Lothair
became Emperor and ruler of the Central Franks. This kingdom was in turn divided among his three sons, into Lotharingian,
Burgundy and (Northern) Italy. These areas would
later vanish as separate kingdoms.
Louis' second son, Louis the German, became King of the East Franks. This area is the
kernel of the later Holy Roman Empire, which eventually evolved into modern Germany.
His third son Charles the Bald became King of the West Franks; this area is the foundation
for the later France.
Although an historical accident, the unification of most of what is now western and central Europe under one chief ruler
provided a fertile ground for the continuation of what is known as the Carolingian Renaissance.
Despite the almost constant internecine warfare the Carolingian Empire endured, the extension of Frankish rule and Roman
Christianity over such a large area ensured a fundamental unity throughout the Empire. Each part of the Carolingian Empire
developed differently; Frankish government and culture depended very much upon the individual ruler and his aims. Those aims
shifted as easily as the changing political alliances within the Frankish leading families. However, those families, the Carolingians
included, all shared the same basic beliefs and ideas of government. These ideas and beliefs had their roots in a background
that drew from both Roman and Germanic tradition, a tradition that began before the Carolingian ascent and continued to some
extent even after the death of Louis the Pious and his sons.
When modern historians (from the late 18th
century on) hearken back to an example of a unified Europe, they turn to the
Carolingian Empire, not to the Roman Empire.
Whether the Carolingian Empire lasted (or, it could be argued, ever really existed as an Empire per se) in a geographical
or political sense has no material bearing on this view. The model of several individual kingdoms (or regna, to give
them their proper names) under one rule clearly resonates today. One might argue that the divisions of Verdun still provide
the general borders of Germany, France, and Italy, but one can scarcely suppose that they provide any clear cultural divide.
They cannot divide the Germanic-Roman Christian legacy begun by the Carolingians.
Charlemagne (April 2 - January 28 or Charles
the Great, in German Karl der Gro?, in Latin
Carolus Magnus, and hence the adjective form 'Carolingian'), was king of the Franks
from 771 to 814 , nominally King of the Lombards
, and Roman Emperor.
Arguably the founder of a Frankish Empire in Western
Europe, Charlemagne was the elder son of Pippin the Short (751-768), the
first Carolingian king, and his wife Bertrada of Laon .
Pippin the Short indulged in the monopoly of the coining of money, deciding on the opening and closure of minting shops,
the weight, title and the subjects represented. European coinage began with Pippin the Short who revived the system put in
place by the ancient Greeks and Romans and kept going by the Eastern Roman Empire (1 libra
= 20 solidi = 240 denarii). On the death of Pippin the kingdom was divided between Charlemagne and his brother Carloman
(Carloman ruled Austrasia ). Carloman died on December
5, 771, leaving Charlemagne with a reunified Frankish kingdom.
Charelemagne was engaged in almost constant battle throughout his reign. He conguered Saxony in the 8th century, a goal
that had been the unattainable dream of Augustus. It took Charlemagne over 18 times at battle to win this victory. He forced
Catholicism on them, and led massive slaughters of those who refused. He dreamed of the reconquest of Spain, but never fully
succeeded in this goal.
In 800, at Mass on Christmas day in Rome, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor, a title that had been out of use in the West since
the abdication of Romulus Augustulus in 476. While this title helped to make Europe independent
of Constantinople, Charlegmagne did not use the title until much later, as he feared it
would create dependence on the Pope.
Pursuing his father's reforms, Charlemagne did away with the monetary system based on the gold sou. Both he and king Offa of Mercia took up the system set in place by Pippin. He set up a new standard, the livre (pound
-- both monetary and unit of weight) which was worth 20 sous (as per the solidus, and later the shilling) or 240 deniers (as
per the denari, and eventually the penny). During this period, the livre and the sou were counting units, only the denier
was a coin of the realm. Charlemagne applied the system to much of the European Continent, and Offa's standard was voluntarily
adopted by much of England.
Charlemagne organized his empire into 350 counties, each led by an appointed count. Counts served as judges, administrators,
and enforced capitularies. To enforce loyalty, he set up the system of Missi Dominici, meaning 'Envoys of the Lord.' In this
system, one representative of the church and one representative of the emperor would head to the different counties and every
year report back to Charlemagne on their status.
When Charlemagne died in 814, he was buried in his own Cathedral at Aachen. He was succeeded
by his only son to survive him, Louis the Pious, after whose reign the empire was divided
between his three surviving sons according to Frankins tradition. These three kingdoms would
be the foundations of later France and the Holy Roman Empire.
After Charlemagne's death, continental coinage degraded and most of Europe resorted to using the continued high quality
English coin until about AD 1100. It is difficult to understand Charlemagne's attitude toward his daughters. None of them
contracted a sacramental marriage. This may have been an attempt to control the number of potential alliances. After his death
the surviving daughters entered or were forced to enter monasteries. At least one of them, Bertha, had a recognized relationship,
if not a marriage, with Angilbert, a member of Charlemagne's court circle.
Charlemagne's reign is often referred to as the Carolingian Renaissance because of the
flowering of scholarship, literature, art and architecture. Most of the surviving works of classical Latin
were copied and preserved by Carolingian scholars. The pan-European nature of Charlemagne's influence is indicated by the
origins of many of the men who worked for him: Alcuin, an Anglo-Saxon;
Theodulf a Visigoth ; Paul
the Deacon, a Lombard; and Angilbert and Einhard, Franks .
Charlemagne enjoyed an important afterlife in European culture. One of the great medieval literature cycles, the Charlemagne
cycle or Matter of France, centers around the deeds of Charlemagne's historical commander
of the Breton border, Roland, and the paladins who served as a counterpart to the knights
of the Round Table; their tales were first told in the chansons de geste. Charlemagne
himself was accorded sainthood inside the Holy Roman Empire after the 12th Century. He was a model knight as one of the Nine Worthies.
It is frequently claimed by genealogists that all people with European ancestry alive today are probably descended
from Charlemagne. However, only a small percentage can prove descent from him. Charlemagne's marriage and relationship politics
and ethics did, however, result in a fairly large number of descendants, all of whom had far better life expectancies than
is usually the case for children in that time period. They were married into houses of nobility and as a result of intermarriages
many people of noble descent can indeed trace their ancestry back to Charlemagne.
The greatest European unifiers: Frederick Barbarossa , Louis XIV , Napoleon , Jean Monnet ,
Helmut Kohl, and present leaders such as Gerhard Schröder have all mentioned Charlemagne's
name in the context of unification.
Himiltrude, Desiderata ,Hildegard
of Savory (married Abt 771) Fastrada (married
784died 794) Luitgard
(married 794died 800)
Pepin the Hunchback (d. 810) Charles, King of Neustria (d.
811) Pepin, King of Italy (ruled 781-810)
Louis I The Pious, King of Aquitaine, Emperor (ruled 814-840 )
Lothar (d. 780) Six Daughters (Hildegarde?, Gisele?, Adelheid?, Bertha?, Lothaire?, Rotrud?)