The Franks (Latin: Franci or gens Francorum) were a confederation of Germanic tribes first attested in the third century AD as populating a broad strip of land on the right bank of the Lower and Middle Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a kingdom on Roman-held soil that was acknowledged by the Romans after 357. In the climate of the collapse of imperial authority in the West, the Frankish tribes were united under the Merovingians and conquered all of Gaul except Septimania in the 6th century. The Salian political elite was one of the most active forces in spreading Christianity over western Europe. The Frankish had created one of the most strong and stable barbaric kingdoms.
The Merovingian dynasty, descended from the Salians, founded one of the Germanic monarchies which replaced the Western Roman Empire from the fifth century. The Frankish state consolidated its hold over large parts of western Europe by the end of the eighth century, developing into the Carolingian Empire which dominated most of Western Europe. This empire would gradually evolve into France and the Holy Roman Empire.
The name, Franci, applied by the tribes consequently considered Frankish to themselves and their confederacy; i.e., the endonym, was never intended to be an ethnonym. Comprising multiple tribes each with its own ethnonym, it was in origin a socio-political term. To the people who shortly were to counter the invasions of the Franks: the Romans, the Celts, the Suebi, who in the first two instances spoke significantly different languages, the Franks must have seemed to be all alike: they looked the same and had the same language, so that the word was in fact treated as an ethnonym.
Within a few centuries the names of the original tribes had been eclipsed by the name, Franci. The Franks themselves had developed a new ethnic identity, which they retained until language development created new ethnicities along the geographic lines of the modern Germanic languages, which were now mutually unintelligible to the casual speaker. The old tribal names often remained as local geographic names; for example, Hesse from the name of the Chatti, a constituent tribe of the Franks. The same process happened to the name of the Franks: Franconia is a local name within the ethnic identity of German, or Deutsch.
Following the precedents of Edward Gibbon and Jacob Grimm, the name of the Franks is universally agreed to be the same word as English frank and counterparts in numerous other languages. The word is Germanic; however, it cannot credibly be traced back further. Frank has a range of meanings, all of which have been proposed at one time or another as the basis for the name of the confederacy: free, honest, bold. There is even a suggestion that the meaning of "free" was adopted because, after the conquest of Gaul, only Franks were free of taxation. Another theory is that it came from the Germanic word for "javelin" (cf. Old English franca, Old Norse frakka); however the opposite may be the case, as in the Latin francisca "throwing axe", which was named after the tribe. A weapon-based tribal name would be comparable to that of the Saxons and have an Indo-European precedent in the name of the Skythians ("shooters" or "bowmen"), even though an Indo-European etymology is missing.
There is some historical reason for selecting "bold, fierce" (cf. Middle Dutch vrac, Old English frǣc, Old Norwegian frakkr). Eumenius rhetorically addresses the Franks regarding the execution of some Frankish prisoners in the circus at Trier by Constantine I in 306 and certain other measures such as bridging the Rhine and stationing a fleet there: Ubi nunc est illa ferocia? Ubi semper insida mobilitas?, "Where now is that famed ferocity of yours, that ever untrustworthy fickleness?" Feroces was used often of the Franks.
Contemporary definitions of the ethnicity of the Franks vary by period and point of view. Wickham points out that
...the word 'Frankish' quickly ceased to have an exclusive ethnic connotation. North of the Loire everyone seems to have been considered a Frank by the mid-seventh century at the latest; Romani were essentially the inhabitants of Aquitaine after that."On the other hand, Marculf's Formulary of circa 700 still mandates that:
"all the peoples who dwell there [i.e. in the official's province], Franks, Romans, Burgundians, and those of other nations, live ... according to their law and their custom;..."which implies a continuation of national identities within a mixed population. Viewing the region from the outside, many Eastern peoples used (and still use) the term "Franks" with reference to Western Europeans and Roman Catholic Christians in general; for example, the Arabic word for "Europe" to this day is Firanja.
"Their eyes are faint and pale, with a glimmer of greyish blue. Their faces are shaven all round, and instead of beards they have thin moustaches which they run through with a comb. Close fitting garments confine the tall limbs of the men, they are drawn up high so as to expose the knees, and a broad belt supports their narrow middle."
A mythological origin story is a fiction devised by a source to account for an unknown ethnic origin. It is characterized by being patently fictional. The remaining early Frankish sources include two of these, which are subsequent to the main source, Gregory of Tours (6th century), and fill in for events for which Gregory could find no information: a 7th century work termed the Chronicle of Fredegar and an anonymous 8th century work called the Gesta Regum Francorum or the Liber Historiae Francorum. Neither of these works can be totally ignored for their historical value, but neither, because of their tendencies to mythologize, can they be trusted as much as Gregory's Historia Francorum.
The farthest Gregory goes in the direction of speculative origin is to relate a belief ("It is commonly said....") that the Franks came from Pannonia (vicinity of Hungary), which would involve their migrating up the Danube and down the Rhine. This view is not supported by the archaeology: the Germanics populating the Rhine migrated there from North Germany; nor is it consistent with other sources on the early Germanics, such as Tacitus. The Celtic Boii inhabited the Danube lands (Bavaria) until almost the time of Julius Caesar, from which they were driven by the incursions of the Suebi, the central tribe of the Alamanni, enemies of the Franks.
The author of the Chronicle of Fredegar goes further afield to the fall of Troy (by modern scholars dated in the late Bronze Age). He claims Vergil and Hieronymous as sources, but only by twisting the names. The Franks as such are not to be found in those works, except in general mention by Hieronymous. Priam was a Frankish king. After the fall of Troy, the Franks migrated to Macedonia under King Friga (from which the Frigians or Phrygians). Quite apart from the language differences, the migration in history was in the opposite direction, as the Phrygians became one ancestral stream of the Armenians. Subsequently false genealogies of Frankish kings to Armenian ones became common. In Macedonia the putative Franks divided again. The European Franks reached their known location by the river route under King Francio, who serves as namegiver for the Franks, just as Romulus has lent his name to Rome. Another branch under King Turchot became the Turks, an anachronism as well as a language error. Fredegar does state that Theudemer, named king of the Franks by Gregory, was descended from Priam, Friga and Francio.
The author of the Gesta has Aeneas ruling as the king of Troy at its fall. Aeneas led a party ultimately to Latium, but 12000 Trojans led by chiefs Priam and Antenor sailed to the Tanais (Don) river, and with total disregard of geography sailed up it to Pannonia, which is on the Danube, not the Don, and settled there near the Maeotis, now the Sea of Azov and not near Pannonia either. There they founded a city called "Sicambria". Eventually an emperor named Valentinianus (mythical as stated) drove the anachronistic Alamanni into the marshes of Maeotis offering a 10-year abatement of taxes to those who could drive them out. The Trojans joined the Roman army in accomplishing the task, for which exploit they received the name of Franks, which, the author relates, is Attic Greek for feri, "savage." Ten years later the Romans attempting to reinstitute taxes against the will of the Franks killed Priam and drove the Franks downstream under Marcomer, son of Priam, and Sunno, son of Antenor.
After this fantasy it has been difficult for serious scholars to accept the two works as historical. Nevertheless, the Trojan origin of the Franks appears often, especially in contexts where the pedigree of Germanic kings is a topic of social interest. In view of the fact that until the late 20th century the Roman ideology of fallen Trojans remained seriously unquestioned, the Trojan Franks seemed more likely to the general public, even though many scholars had it tagged as a myth from an early date. Starting with circumstances vouched for by Gregory, the two works in question appear more reliable and are often used as historical supplements.
The major primary sources on the early Franks include Panegyrici Latini, Ammianus Marcellinus, Claudian, Zosimus, Sidonius Apollinaris and Gregory of Tours. The Franks are mentioned also on the Tabula Peutingeriana (a chart of the itineraries along Roman roads).
The "first undoubted mention" of any Franks occurs in the Augustan History, a collection of biographies of emperors written possibly in the 4th century. The Life of Aurelian, possibly by Vopiscus, mentions that the Franks had been raiding across the Rhine and the raiders were captured by the 6th Legion stationed at Mainz. The Romans killed 700 and sold 300 into slavery. This event happened in the first year of Gordian III, or 238. No mention of Ripuarian is made but these Franks if they were in the jurisdiction of the 6th very likely came from that territory.
Subsequently Frankish incursions over the Rhine were so frequent that the emperors began to adopt them into the empire and settle them on the borders so that they could control them better. In 292 Constantius defeated and removed some Franks who had settled on the then island of Batavia at the mouth of the Rhine. These were resettled not far away, in Toxandria, the seat of the later Salian Franks. Eumenius mentioned that Constantius "killed, expelled, captured, kidnapped" two groups of Franks, the one that had settled on Batavia and the other having crossed the Rhine. He also uses the term nationes Franciae, the first use of Francia.
Salian was used for the first time by Ammianus Marcellinus on the occasion of Julian in 358 campaigning against "the first Franks of all, those whom custom has called the Salians," who at that time were in Toxandria. He defeated them but left them in place, promoting them instead to foederati of the empire. Their soldiers are listed as the Salii in the 5th century Notitia Dignitatum, a book of Roman unit insigniae. The Merovingians were to come from these Salian Franks.
"Hi enim affuerunt auxiliares: Franci, Sarmatae, Armoriciani, Liticiani, Burgundiones, Saxones, Riparii, Olibriones ..."Considering that Franci is already listed, there is no definite statement that these Riparii are the Ripuarian Franks. They do not appear for certain under that name until their final subjugation by Clovis, who united all the Franks of Neustria making a capital at Paris. By that time the Salians extended south to the Loire, where they reached the border of the then Basque country of Aquitania. Their leadership had descended to the Merovingian family, hereditary kings first of the Salian Franks, then of all the Franks, of whom Clovis was king. According to his chronicler, or quasi-chronicler, Gregory of Tours, in Historia Francorum, he subjected the previously independent Ripuarians.
One of the key documents in identifying the earliest known Franks is the Tabula Peutingeriana, a 13th century copy of a Roman road map (or perhaps chart) from a 4th or 5th century original reflecting information from the 3rd century. The northernmost limit of the empire depicted there is the right bank of the Rhine. North of it is the ocean. The Romans were well aware from their geographers of the rough outline of Europe; however, the chart was only a practical guide to the roads, to be followed from point to point.
The date of the information is only known through internal evidence; i.e., the disposition of the geopolitical terrain. As this disposition has been the topic of extensive scholarly debate the estimated date varies by a few critical centuries. The information may well be the earliest; if not, the 238 of the Augustan History must stand.
In the middle Rhine region is the word Francia followed upstream by a misspelling of Bructeri. Bonnae (Bonn) is in their territory, but Moguntiaco (Mainz) is further upstream. Beyond Mainz is Suevia, country of the Suebi, and beyond them Alamannia, country of another confederacy, the Alamanni. More follow. Agripina (Cologne) is between the Bructeri and Francia. Downstream after a gap are four tribes at the mouth of the Rhine: Chauci, Amsivarii ("Ems dwellers"), Cherusci and Chamavi, followed by qui et Pranci, "who are also Franks."
Ultimately the tabula was probably based on the Orbis Pictus, a map of 20 years' labor commissioned by Augustus and kept locked away in the Roman Treasury Department for assessment of taxes. It did not survive as such. Some of the data probably derives from it, such as the early imperial divisions of Gaul. A number of configurations specific to early imperial Rome can be cited, but in general none of the tribes and confederacies are depicted on the left bank of the Rhine, which places them at least as early as the 3rd century. The Alamanni first appeared on the Danube River in the reign of Caracalla, ca. 211, but no Goths appear there, suggesting a date of 211-221, the year before the reign of Alexander Severus, when they are known to have been on the Danube.
As the phrase indicates, the table may not have been intended to be interpreted sequentially. Gregory of Tours includes the Bructeri among the Franks. Cologne is shown on the tabula opposite the Bructeri, not far from Suevia. Francia, then, might be considered to have extended from the mouth of the Rhine upstream past Cologne, and there were no separate Franks from the tribes mentioned.
On the other hand the tabula does not correspond as well in that area with the maps of Ptolemy, composed perhaps a generation earlier. Ptolemy's two maps of Germany portray Germania Inferior, confined to the left bank of the Rhine, populated by Germanics who had been in the region before the Romans, as well as Celticised former Germanics. These were divided from the rest of the Germanics, Magna Germania, by the selection of the Rhine as the Roman frontier. Although the upper Rhine and the Danube were a sharp line of demarcation between Germanic and non-Germanic, the middle and lower Rhine were not.
Much of the problem between the empire and Franks was the artificial division of the Germanics along the Rhine frontier. The Franks saw no reason why they should be kept from settling there, and eventually they convinced the emperors. The topography of the Rhinemouth region was even more troubling, as the Rhine divided far inland into a fan of outlets, in which was a significant settlement area, Batavia, an island, as the suffix -avia, "island,", suggests. The Romans altered the topography by diverting the Rhine into the Yssel through a canal, which emptied into an inland lagoon. The area has since subsided, inundating the lagoon in a series of catastrophic infarctions of the North Sea to form the Zuider Zee. Since the Frisians to the north of the sea were never part of the Franks, this process may have begun in Roman times. Batavia is currently high and dry. After the construction of the canal it was on the left bank and therefore under Roman jurisdiction, although Germanic. The Roman naval base on the canal, Navalia, appears in Ptolemy's map of Germania Magna; Batavia, on the map of Germania Inferior.
Ptolemy's maps reflect generally the same tribal names as the tabula, with a notable exception: the Sicambri occupy the right bank upstream past Asciburgium (modern village of Asberg now in Neuss) not far from Cologne, in the region later part of the kingdom of the Ripuarians. The tabula calls this entire part of the bank Francia and does not mention the Sicambri. This difference suggests that in the few decades between the Ptolemaic map and the tabula the name of the Sicambri was submerged in that of the Franks.
"The name of the Sugambri is related to the Old High German word Gambar, for 'vigorous.'"which is in fact not far in meaning from bold. According to Gregory, Sicamber, from Sicambri, was a title of the Merovingian kings, who were Salians. At his baptism Clovis was told: "Bow your head in meekness, Sicamber." These Sicambri, however, were mainly not located near either the sea or the Yssel, but were on the right bank of the Lower and Middle Rhine. The "sea" was being held by the Romans and the Frisians.
Apparently the distinction between the Salians and the Ripuarians did not yet exist. In the 3rd century, the tribes on or near the right bank of the Rhine were subsumed under a new confederacy, the Franks, that extended from the Yssel as far as Suebia, where it collided with another confederacy, the Alamanni. The two were kept apart by the large Roman base at Mainz. The tribes were already beginning to lose their names and political status in favor of the larger nation. A few large German cities had been founded by the Romans as an interface, such as Cologne, placed among the Ubii. The name means "river men,", from ab, stream, a common element of place names of the times. The Ubii were a Frankish people. Only the presence of the Roman garrison prevented it from declaring for the Franks. Later Cologne would be the capital of the Ripuarian Franks. In the third century neither Salii nor Ripuarii were to be found. When they did appear they were not distinguished as to tribe.
See main article: Ripuarian Franks. According to the ancient writers, the Frankish identity emerged at the first half of the 3rd century out of various earlier, smaller Germanic groups: the Sicambri, Chamavi, Bructeri, Chatti, Chattuarii, Ampsivarii, Tencteri and Ubii. These tribes inhabited the lower and middle Rhine valley from the right bank of the Yssel (which flows from the Rhine) between Lacus Flevo, the predecessor of the Zuider Zee, and Mainz. The Romans held the left bank, including Lacus Flevo and all the marsh and riverland to the south.
The Frankish confederation probably began to coalesce in the 210s north of the Roman province called Germania Inferior, "Lower Germany", which had been settled earlier by Celticised Germanic immigrants called by Julius Caesar the Belgae (from which Belgium). Along the Rhine itself were a number of Germanic-speaking cities, the interface between Roman and Germanic civilization. Germanics not already there were not allowed south of the Rhine without Roman permissions. Any unauthorized entry at all was regarded as a hostile act, which must be punished.
The initial unity of the Franks did not outlast the 3rd century. They were interested in reoccupying the left bank of the Rhine, which the Romans were preventing them from doing. There was also a strong interest in marauding expeditions to the south by land or by sea, which they accomplished by forced marches showing up unexpectedly in the Roman undefended rear. About mid-century an attempt was made to appropriate Batavia south of Lacus Flevo (vicinity of Nijmegen). This time the Romans allowed them to stay, settling them in Toxandria (vicinity of Antwerp) where they became a maritime power and were called the Salians (most likely "maritime people.") This group went their own way politically. Of the Franks who were left on the Rhine, those from Mainz to Duisburg raided across the river independently and at some point acquired the name Ripuarians (most likely "river people.") Both groups remained politically distinct until the unification of Francia as it was then by Clovis, the first Christian king, a Salian and a member of the Merovingian dynasty.
See main article: Salian Franks. Franks appear in Roman texts as both allies and enemies (laeti or dediticii). Around 250, one group of Franks 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. In 287 or 288, the Roman Caesar Maximian overwhelmed the Salian king Gennobaude. He and his people surrendered without a fight. Maximian accepted the surrender and installed the Salians in Toxandria (Germania inferior) at the mouth of the Rhine behind the limes in Belgic Gaul, under the statute of Laeti (subject to imperial authority). This success, however, did not allow him to regain Britain. Later, Constantius completed the reconquest of Britain and, having had problems with some Franks, deported Chamavi and Frisians in Gaul in the country Ambiani and Bellovaci.
About forty years later, the Franks had the region of the Scheldt river (present day west Flanders and southwest Netherlands) under control and were raiding the Channel, disrupting transportation to Britain. Roman forces pacified the region, but did not expel the Franks, who continued to be feared as pirates along the shores at least until the time of Julian the Apostate (358), when Salian Franks were granted to settle as foederati in Toxandria, according to Ammianus Marcellinus.
The Salian Franks invaded the Roman Empire and were accepted as Foederati by Julian the Apostate in 358. By the end of the fifth century, the Salian Franks had largely moved onto Roman soil, to a territory now comprising the Netherlands south of the Rhine, Belgium and northwestern Gaul where, during the chaos of the migration period, they formed a kingdom, eventually giving rise to the Merovingian dynasty.
See main article: Merovingians. In the 5th century, numerous small Frankish kingdoms existed, among them the ones in Cologne, Tournai, Le Mans and Cambrai. The kings of Tournai eventually came to subdue the other Frankish kings. This was probably enabled by their association with Aegidius, the magister militum of northern Gaul; King Childeric I fights on Aegidius' side in 463. It is assumed that Childeric and Clovis I, his son, were commanders of the Roman military in the Province of Belgica Secunda, and thus subordinate to the magister militum. Clovis later turned against the Roman military leaders and won a battle against Syagrius in 486/487. After this battle, Clovis had Chararic, another Frankish king, imprisoned; he was later executed. A few years later, Ragnachar, Frankish king of Cambrai, and his brothers were killed by Clovis. By the 490s, Clovis had conquered all the Frankish kingdoms to the west of the River Maas, leaving only the Ripuarian Franks. The city of Paris became his capital.
Clovis I became the first king of all Franks in 509, when he conquered the kingdom of Cologne. He had conquered the Kingdom of Soissons of the Roman general Syagrius and expelled the Visigoths from southern Gaul at the Battle of Vouillé, thus establishing Frankish hegemony over most of Gaul, excluding Burgundy, Provence, and Brittany, which he left to his successors, the Merovingians, to conquer.
Clovis divided his realm between his four sons in a manner which would become familiar, as his sons and grandsons in turn divided their kingdoms between their sons. Clovis' sons united to defeat Burgundy in 534, but internecine feuding came to the fore during the reigns of the brothers Sigebert I and Chilperic I and their sons and grandsons, largely fueled by the rivalry of the queens Fredegunda and Brunhilda. This period saw the emergence of three distinct regna (realms or subkingdoms): Austrasia, Neustria, and Burgundy. Each region developed in its own way and often sought to exert influence over the others. The rising star of the Arnulfing clan of Austrasia meant that the centre of political gravity in the kingdom gradually shifted eastwards from Paris and Tours to the Rhineland.
The Frankish realm was united again in 613 by Chlothar II, son of Chilperic. Chlothar granted the Edict of Paris to the nobles in an effort to cut down on corruption and unite his vast realm under his authority. After the militarily successful reign of his son and successor Dagobert I, royal authority rapidly declined under a series of kings traditionally known as rois fainéants. By 687, after the Battle of Tertry, the chronicler could say that the mayor of the palace, formerly the king's chief household official, "reigned." Finally, in 751, with the approval of the papacy and the nobility, the mayor Pepin the Short deposed the last Merovingian king, Childeric III, and had himself crowned, inaugurating a new dynasty, the Carolingians.
See main article: Carolingian Empire. 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 that beset the Carolingian Empire, 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 individual rulers and their 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 deaths of Louis the Pious and his sons.
The sons of Louis the Pious, Charlemagne's grandsons, fought a civil war after Louis' death over their inheritance, which only ended in exhaustion. The Frankish lands were divided between them. Charles the Bald was given the western lands, "West Francia", that would later become France. Louis the German received the eastern lands, which would become Germany. Lothair I was given the lands between the two, "Middle Francia" which consisted of Lotharingia, Provence, and northern Italy. Middle Francia was not united in any way, and in the next generation disintegrated into smaller lordships, with West Francia and East Francia fighting for control over them. Arguably, France and Germany continued to fight over these lands up until World War II.
In general Germanic peoples on the borders are known to have served in the Roman army since the days of Julius Caesar. The tribes at the Rhine delta that later became Franks were no exception to that general rule. Despite the fact that from the 3rd century onward large numbers of Germanic peoples served in the Roman army, others kept on invading and raiding Roman soil. This caused confrontations between Franks and their neighbours on Roman soil such as the Batavi and Menapii. When Roman administration collapsed in Gaul in the 260's due to joint invasions of Franks and Alamanni, the Germanic Batavian Postumus was forced to usurp power and restore order. From that time on Germanic soldiers in the Roman army, most notably Franks, were visibly promoted from the ranks. A few decades later the Menapian Carausius (born in Batavia) created a Batavian-British rumpstate on Roman soil that was supported by Frankish soldiers and raiders. In the mid 4th century Frankish soldiers like Magnentius, Silvanus and Arbitio held command positions in the Roman military. From the narrative of Ammianus Marcellinus it becomes clear that both Frankish and Alamannic tribal armies were organised along Roman lines and fought comparably.
After the invasion of Chlodio the Roman armies at the Rhine border became a Frankish "franchise", and Franks were known to levy Roman-like troops that were supported by a Roman-like armour and weapons industry. This lasted at least till the days of Procopius, when the Western Roman Empire was gone for more than a century, because this historian reports that the former Rhine army was still in operation and that "legions" kept on using the same standard and insignia as had their forefathers during Roman times.
Militarily, the Franks under the Merovingians melded Germanic custom with Romanized organisation and several important tactical innovations. Before their conquest of Gaul, the Franks fought primarily as a tribe unless they were part of a Roman military unit fighting in conjunction with other imperial units.
The primary sources for Frankish military custom and armament are Ammianus Marcellinus, Agathias, and Procopius, the latter two Eastern Roman historians writing about Frankish intervention in the Gothic War.
Writing of 539, Procopius says:
At this time the Franks, hearing that both the Goths and Romans had suffered severely by the war ... forgetting for the moment their oaths and treaties ... (for this nation in matters of trust is the most treacherous in the world), they straightway gathered to the number of one hundred thousand under the leadership of Theudebert I and marched into Italy: they had a small body of cavalry about their leader, and these were the only ones armed with spears, while all the rest were foot soldiers having neither bows nor spears, but each man carried a sword and shield and one axe. Now the iron head of this weapon was thick and exceedingly sharp on both sides, while the wooden handles was very short. And they are accustomed always to throw these axes at one signal in the first charge and thus to shatters the shields of the enemy and kill the men.
His contemporary, Agathias, says:
The military equipment of this people [the Franks] is very simple .... They do not know the use of the coat of mail or greaves and the majority leave the head uncovered, only a few wear the helmet. They have their chests bare and backs naked to the loins, they cover their thighs with either leather or linen. They do not serve on horseback except in very rare cases. Fighting on foot is both habitual and a national custom and they are proficient in this. At the hip they wear a sword and on the left side their shield is attached. They have neither bows nor slings, no missile weapons except the double edged axe and the angon which they use most often. The angons are spears which are neither very short nor very long they can be used, if necessary, for throwing like a javelin, and also in hand to hand combat.
While the above quotations have been used as a statement of the military practices of the Frankish nation in the sixth century and have even been extrapolated to the entire period preceding Charles Martel's reforms (early - mid eighth century), post-Second World War historiography has emphasised the inherited Roman characteristics of the Frankish military from the date of the beginning of the conquest of Gaul. The Byzantine authors present several contradictions and difficulties. Procopius denies the Franks the use of the spear while Agathias makes it one of their primary weapons. They agree that the Franks were primarily infantrymen, threw axes, and carried a sword and shield. Both writers also contradict the authority of Gallic authors of the same general time period (Sidonius Apollinaris and Gregory of Tours) and the archaeological evidence. The Lex Ribuaria, the early 7th-century legal code of the Rhineland or Ripuarian Franks, specifies the values of various goods when paying a wergild in kind; whereas a spear and shield were worth only two solidi, a sword and scabbard were valued at seven, a helmet at six, and a "metal tunic" at twelve. Scramasaxes and arrowheads are numerous in Frankish graves even though the Byzantine historians do not assign them to the Franks.
The evidence of Gregory and of the Lex Salica implies that the early Franks were a cavalry people. In fact, some modern historians have hypothesised that the Franks possessed so numerous a body of horses that they could use them to plough fields and thus were agriculturally technologically advanced over their neighbours. The Lex Ribuaria specifies that a mare's value was the same as that of an ox or of a shield and spear, two solidi, and a stallion seven or the same as a sword and scabbard, which suggests that horses were relatively common. Perhaps the Byzantine writers considered the Frankish horse to be insignificant relative to the Greek cavalry, which is probably accurate.
The Frankish military establishment incorporated many of the pre-existing Roman institutions in Gaul, especially during and after the conquests of Clovis I in the late fifth and early sixth centuries. Frankish military strategy revolved around the holding and taking of fortified centres (castra) and in general these centres were held by garrisons of milities or laeti, that is, former Roman mercenaries usually of Germanic origin. Throughout Gaul the descendants of Roman soldiers continued to wear their uniforms and perform their ceremonial duties.
Immediately beneath the Frankish king in the military hierarchy were the leudes, sworn followers of the king, generally "old soldiers" in service away from court. They could be Gallo-Romans or Franks, laymen or clergy. Some historians have gone to the length of relating their oath-making to the later development of feudalism. The king also had an elite bodyguard called the truste (trustis). Members of the truste, antrustiones, often served in centannae, garrison settlements of Franks (or others) established for military and police purposes throughout the realm. The actual day-to-day bodyguard of the king was made up antrustiones (senior soldiers who were aristocrats in military service) and pueri (junior soldiers and not aristocrats, who in time would be promoted to antrustiones). All high-ranking men had pueri.
The Frankish military was not composed solely of Franks and Gallo-Romans, but also contained Saxons, Alans, Taifals, and Alemanni. After the conquest of Burgundy (534) the well-organised military institutions of that kingdom were integrated into the Frankish realm. Chief among these was the standing army under the command of the Patrician of Burgundy.
In the late sixth century, during the wars instigated by Fredegund and Brunhilda, the Merovingian monarchs introduced a new element into their militaries: the local levy. A levy consisted in all the able-bodied men of a district who at the call had to report for military service. The local levy applied only to a city and its environs. Initially only in certain cities in western Gaul, in Neustria and Aquitaine, did the kings possess the right or power to call up the levy. The commanders of the local levies were always different from the commanders of the urban garrisons. Often the former were commanded by the counts of the districts. A much rarer occurrence was the general levy, which applied to the entire kingdom and included peasants (pauperes and inferiores). General levies could also be made within the still-pagan trans-Rhenish stem duchies at the bequest of a monarch. The Saxons, Alemanni, and Thuringii all had the levy and it could be depended upon by the Frankish monarchs until the mid-seventh century, when the stem dukes began to sever their ties to the monarchy. Radulf of Thuringia called up the levy for a war against Sigebert III in 640.
Soon the local levy spread to Austrasia and the less Romanised regions of Gaul. On an intermediate level, the kings began calling up territorial levies from the regions of Austrasia (which did not have major cities of Roman origin). However, all the forms of the levy gradually disappeared in the course of the seventh century after the reign of Dagobert I. Under the so-called rois fainéants, the levies disappeared by mid-century in Austrasia and later in Burgundy and Neustria. Only in Aquitaine, which was fast becoming independent of the central Frankish monarchy, did complex military institutions persist into the eighth century. In the final half of the seventh century and first half of the eighth in Merovingian Gaul, the chief military actors became the lay and ecclesiastical magnates with their bands of armed followers called retainers. The other aspects of the Merovingian military, mostly Roman in origin or innovations of powerful kings, disappeared from the scene by the eighth century.
The equipment of the Merovingian armies was as varied as the composition. Magnates were known to provide their retainers with coats of mail, helmets, shields, lances, swords, bows and arrows, and war horses. The magnates' private armies resembled in armament those of the Gallo-Roman potentiatores of the late Empire. The descendants of Roman soldiers continued to use their service weapons. There was a strong element of Alanic cavalry settled in Armorica which influenced the fighting style of the Bretons down into the twelfth century. Local urban levies could be reasonably well-armed and even mounted, but the more general levies were composed of pauperes and inferiores who were mostly farmers by trade and carried into battle whatever weapons they had at hand, often tools or farming implements which made them militarily ineffective and thus rarely called upon. The peoples east of the Rhine - Franks, Saxons, and even Wends - who were sometimes called upon to serve wore less and more rudimentary armour and carried more primitive weaponry, including spears and axes. Few of these men were mounted and they were not affected very much by Roman traditions and technologies.
Merovingian strategy was wound up in the militarised nature of the entire society. The Franks, unlike their Germanic neighbours to a great extent in this respect, were disposed to call annual meetings each 1 March (the so-called Marchfeld, because assemblies so large had to meet in large open fields) whereat the nobles in the presence of the king determined the military target or targets for the coming season of campaigning. This also served as a "show of strength" on behalf of the monarch, and a way for the monarch to retain the loyalty of common troops. In their civil wars with one another, the Merovingian kings concentrated on the holding of fortified places and cities (castra) and siege warfare was a primary aspect in all their endeavours. Siege engines of Roman type were used extensively and the greatest emphasis on tactics was tied to sieges. In offensive wars waged against external foes, the objective was typically the acquisition of booty or the enforcement of tribute. Only in the lands beyond the Rhine did the Merovingians seek to extend their political control over their neighbours.
Tactically, the Merovingians borrowed heavily from the Romans, especially regarding siege warfare. However, they were not bereft of innovation and there seems to be little remnant of tribal custom in their battle tactics, which were highly flexible and designed to meet the specific circumstances under which battle was being given. Subterfuge, as a tactic, was endlessly employed. Cavalry formed a large segment of the Merovingian military, but mounted troops readily dismounted when appropriate to fight on foot with the infantry. The Merovingians were capable of raising naval forces when necessary. The most significant naval campaign was waged against the Danes by Theuderic I in 515 and involved ocean-worthy ships. More regular was the use of rivercraft on the Loire, Rhone, and Rhine.
Germanic Frankish socio-political unity survived for most of the first thousand years of the Christian Era, beginning with a confederation of tribes on the Lower and Middle Rhine whom the Romans called Franci, and ending perhaps with the Treaty of Verdun in 843. That event marked the formal common recognition by the grandchildren of Charlemagne that a single government over a united country comprising all the populations called Franks, Francia, no longer existed and could not be restored by its heirs. From then on Frankia was divided into distinct East and West Frankish kingdoms, with an intermediate zone, Lotharingia. The Holy Roman Empire went on as predominantly German, while the western Franks populated the new nation of France, which was predominantly Gallo-Roman, and the mixed duchies of the Lowlands. Over this nearly thousand years of socio-political unity, except for the first few centuries, no common Frankish language existed.
When the Franks first appeared as such in the 3rd century they were all speaking the same hypothetical language, the Proto-Germanic language, reconstructed from reflex languages, in this case all the Germanic languages, chance personal and place names in documents and utterances of other languages, such as the Latin language, and inscriptions in a native script called the Elder Futhark. Late Proto-Germanic included a number of hypothetical dialects, one of which must have been Frankish, as traces of it survived in subsequent times and languages. By the 5th century phonetic developments of Futhark indicate that for a very brief period West Germanic was distinct from East Germanic but not from North Germanic. The Frankish dialect must have been in West Germanic along with a Frisian Dialect, a Saxon Dialect, and many others.
Most Frankish tribes were united as Franks by being on the right bank of the Rhine. Except for tribes friendly to Rome, the Roman Empire kept them from the left bank and from entering Gaul. Those who were on the left bank constituted the Roman province of Lower Germany. For the century before the 5th century fall of Rome, Lower Germany and northern Gaul were being governed by Frankish officials and high Frankish officers in the Roman army. These Franks inherited the entire region when the Roman administration evacuated it after the fall of Rome.
By the 6th century the Franks no longer spoke a common language. A phonetic change called the High German consonant shift had occurred along an east-west zone now termed the Benrath Line, creating Low German on the west and High German on the east, with the Rhenish Fan, approximately equal to the Rhineland, serving as a middle zone of mixed high and low. These changes reached beyond the Franks; generally coastal Germanic as far north as the shores of the Baltic Sea was low, while inland high prevailed to the borders of the Slavic states on the east.
The Franks considered as the descendants of the population originally residing along the Rhine and speaking a single language were over the centuries following the 6th divided by the development among them of two modern languages, German and Dutch, featuring the presence or absence respectively of the consonant shift. At the end of the Proto-Germanic Period the language must have been divided into dialects, of which Frankish, or Franconian, was one. Others were the predecessors of Frisian and Saxon. These dialects persisted through the evolution of German and Dutch, which, like the modern Germanic languages, can be divided into old, middle and new phases, the latter being currently spoken; i.e., New German, New Dutch, etc. Frankish, or Franconian, refers to the sequence of dialects from each phase of German and Dutch spoken by the Frankish people, and not to a distinct language.
The system of naming Frankish dialects is analogous to, but not the same as, the naming of phases of complete languages. Frankish or Franconian is like a language name but it names dialects rather than a complete language or group of languages. Analogous to the split between High German and Low German is High Frankish and Low Frankish. Low Frankish, or Dietsch, is not identical to Dutch, as the latter is divided into dialects also: Low Frankish, Friesian (not the language) and Saxon (not the languages). The Franks incorporated some of Friesland and Saxony into the Netherlands, who learned Dutch in their own way. High Frankish comprises Central and Upper Frankish groups of dialects, which contain a number of widely spoken dialects of New German: (Ripuarian, Moselle-Franconian, Rhine-Franconian, East-Franconian, South-Franconian), France (Lorrainian) and Luxemburg (Luxembourgish). They mark the locations of formerly Frankish elements of the population.
The phases of the complete languages have analogous counterparts among the Frankish dialects as well. Old High German contains a dialect, Old High Franconian (Old East Franconian). Old Dutch is the same as Old Low Franconian; Old Low German comprises also Old Frisian and Old Saxon. The later phases of Frankish civilization expressed themselves through Old Frankish, the dialect analog of Old High German and Old Dutch. It includes Old High and Old Low Franconian dialects.
The Old Frankish phase; that is to say, Old High German and Old Dutch, ran from approximately the late 5th to approximately the 11th centuries of the Christian era. After them a Middle Franconian is defined but the Frankish identity as a social and political force had been submerged in French, Dutch and German. Some few writers consider the Old period to extend earlier to the Proto-Germanics but this usage is inconsistent with the naming conventions of Frankish. The linguists define Proto-Frankish, analogous to Proto-Germanic, as follows:
"The Frankish dialects have a clear and separate identity as a consequence of exclusively shared common innovations.... And these innovations in turn reflect a period of exclusively shared common prehistory during which the dialects were in contact only with each other, so that innovations spread only through these dialects."
The Franks, being situated on and within the border of Roman Gaul, and across the channel from Roman Britain, were the most educated, most literate and most literarily prolific of all the Germanics of the Old High German and Old Dutch language phases. The first Germanic cities were located in their territory. Many Franks were high officers in the Roman administration, for which positions a Roman literary education was a sine qua non. Frankish troops guarded the Roman frontier from Britain to the Middle East.
Thousands of documents have been discovered within Frankish territory in several scripts and media, from tombstones to laws recorded on parchment. Their writers are by far the major sources of medieval European history outside the Gallo-Roman world. It is surprising therefore that very few of these documents were written in Frankish dialects. Old Frankish was very nearly an entirely verbal means of communication, as far as can be judged from the surviving writings. For more formal communications of any kind the Franks used the lingua franca, Medieval Latin. To be educated was to know Latin. As an administrative language it was indispensable. Monarchs prided themselves in their ability to communicate via Latin, especially to emissaries and rulers of foreign nations. Latin served in place of translation; with it all educated and administrative Europe spoke the same language.
There is no surviving work of literature in the Frankish language and perhaps no such works ever existed. Latin was the written language of Gaul before and during the Frankish period (e.g. Salic law). Of the Gallic works which survive, there are a few chronicles, many hagiographies and saints' lives, and a small corpus of poems.
See main article: History of French. Modern French began as the language of the province of Neustria in northern France, which was created by the Franks after the Roman administration departed from northern Gaul. The language originally had been Gallo-Roman but as the Franks gradually settled there it evolved into Old French. The main theory concerning the generation of Old French is that a Frankish superstrate imposed much of their vocabulary and some features, mainly phonetic, on the Gallo-Roman. The Franks assimilated to Gallo-Roman rather than vice versa. The questions of the extent to which Gallo-Roman was influenced by Frankish and what Frankish features were adopted have long been questions of scholarly debate.
Other Romance languages were more influential in France outside Isle de France (the most populous descendant of Neustria) until the French Revolution. During and after the revolution French replaced all the others as the standard language of France, often called "Parisian French". Paris had been the Frankish capital for much of the MIddle Ages.
Echoes of Frankish paganism arise in the primary sources. Some Franks converted early to Christianity; a sizeable portion of the Frankish aristocracy quickly followed Clovis in converting to Christianity (the Frankish church of the Merovingians). The conversion of all under Frankish rule required a considerable amount of time and effort.
See main article: Frankish mythology. Echoes of Frankish paganism arise in the primary sources, but their meaning is not always clear. Modern scholars vary wildly about their interpretation, but it is very likely that Frankish paganism shared most of its characteristics with the other varieties of Germanic paganism. The mythology of the Franks was probably a form of Germanic polytheism, later adapted and supplanted in the wake of their incursion into the Roman Empire.
It was highly ritualistic and many daily activities centred around the multiple deities, chiefest of which may have been the Quinotaur, a water-god from whom the Merovingians were reputed to have derived their ancestry. Most of the pagan gods were associated with local cult centres and their sacred character and power were associated with specific regions, outside of which they were neither worshipped nor feared. Most of the gods were "worldly", possessing form and having concrete relation to earthly objects, in contradistinction to the transcedent God of Christianity.
Archaeologically, Frankish paganism has been observed in the burial site of Childeric I, where the king's body was found covered in a cloth decorated with numerous bees or flies. The symbolism of these insects is unknown.
Some Franks converted early to Christianity, like the usurper Silvanus in the 4th century. In 496, Clovis I, who had married a Burgundian Catholic named Clotilda three years earlier, was baptised into the (Trinitarian) Catholic faith by Saint Remi after a decisive victory over the Alemanni at the Battle of Tolbiac. According to Gregory of Tours, over 3000 of his soldiers were baptised alongside him. Clovis' conversion to Catholicism would prove to have an enormous effect on the course of European history, for at the time the Franks were the only major Christianized Germanic tribe without a predominantly Arian aristocracy (their contemporary rivals, the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Burgundians and Lombards, had converted to Arian Christianity), and this led to a naturally amicable relationship between the Church of Rome and the increasingly powerful Franks.
Though a sizeable portion of the Frankish aristocracy quickly followed Clovis in converting to Christianity, the conversion of all under Frankish rule required a considerable amount of time and effort - in some places two centuries or more. Early efforts towards organized resistance were quickly squelched: the Chronicle of St. Denis relates that, following Clovis' conversion, a number of devout pagans, unhappy with this turn of events, rallied around Ragnachairus (or Ragnachar), a powerful figure who had played an important role in Clovis' initial rise to power. Though the text remains unclear as to the precise pretext, Clovis soon had Ragnachairus thrown in chains and then executed. As for the remaining pockets of resistance, they were overcome region by region - primarily due to the work of the quickly expanding network of monasteries.
The Frankish church of the Merovingians was shaped by a number of internal and external forces: it had to come to terms with an established Gallo-Roman Christian hierarchy entrenched in a culturally resistant aristocracy; it had to Christianize pagan Frankish sensibilities and effectively suppress their expression; it had to provide a new theological basis for Merovingian forms of kingship, which were deeply rooted in pagan Germanic tradition; it had to accommodate Irish and Anglo-Saxon missionary activities on the one hand and papal requirements on the other. The Carolingian reformation of monastic life and teaching and church-state relations can be seen both as the culmination of the Frankish church and a transformation of it.
The increasing personal wealth of the Merovingian elite allowed the endowment of many monasteries, such as those of the Irish missionary Saint Columbanus. The fifth, sixth and seventh centuries saw two major waves of hermitism in the Frankish world, a movement which was eventually reorganised by legislation requiring that all monks and hermits follow the Rule of St Benedict.
The period of Frankish rule saw the gradual replacement of the Gallican rite of the Gallo-Roman church with the Roman rite (an event always advocated and encouraged by Rome).This does not seem to have stirred passions outside the clergy.
The Church seems to have had a somewhat uneasy relationship with the Merovingian kings, whose claim to rule depended on a mystique of royal descent that the Church had not yet come to terms with, and who tended to revert to the polygamy of their pagan ancestors. When the mayors took over, the Church was supportive, and an Emperor crowned by the Pope was much more to their liking.
See main article: Merovingian art and architecture and Carolingian art. Early Frankish art and architecture belong to that phase of European art called Migration Period art, and have left very few remains. The later period is called Carolingian art, or, especially in architecture, the Pre-Romanesque.
Very little is preserved in the way of Frankish architecture of the Merovingian period. The works of Gregory of Tours praise the churches of his day, which mostly seem to have been timber-built, with larger examples using the basilica plan, but the most completely surviving example of Merovingian architecture is a baptistery dedicated to Saint John in Poitiers. It is a small building with three apses, now much rebuilt, essentially continuing Gallo-Roman style. In the South of France a number of small baptistries have survived, as separate baptistries fell permanently out of fashion in later periods, so they were not updated as the main churches have been.
What is preserved of the visual and plastic arts largely consists of archaeological finds of jewellery (such as brooches), weapons (such as swords with decorative hilts), and apparel (such as capes and sandals) found in grave sites, such as the famous grave of the queen Aregund, discovered in 1959, or the Treasure of Gourdon, deposited soon after 524. Not many illuminated manuscripts survive from the Merovingian period, though the few that do, like the Gelasian Sacramentary, contain a great deal of zoomorphic representations. Compared to the similar hybrid works of Insular art from the British Isles, Frankish works in all these media show more continuing use of late Antique style and motifs, and a lesser degree of skill and sophistication in design and manufacture. The numbers surviving are so small, however, that the best quality of work may not be represented.
The work of the main centres of the Carolingian Renaissance represents a great transformation from that of the earlier period, and has survived in far greater quantity. The visual and literary arts were lavishly funded and encouraged by Charlemagne, using imported artists where necessary, and Carolingingian developments were in many areas decisive for the future course of Western art.
The main surviving monument of Carolingian architecture is the Palatine Chapel in Aachen, which is an impressive and confident adaptation of San Vitale, Ravenna, from where some of the pillars were brought. Many other important buildings can be largely reconstructed, such as the monasteries of Centula or St Gall, or the old Cologne Cathedral, now rebuilt. These were now large structures and complexes with a distinctive and sophisticated style, including an emphasis on the vertical and the frequent use of towers.
See also: Lex Salica and Lex Ripuaria. Like other Germanic peoples, the legal models of the Franks were originally housed only in the memory of designated specialists, rachimburgs, parallel to Scandinavian lawspeakers. By the time codes began to be written down in the sixth century, there persisted two basic legal subdivisions within the Frankish nation: Salian Franks were subject to Salic law, Ripuarian Franks to Ripuarian law. Gallo-Romans south of the Loire River and the clergy remained subject to traditional Roman law. Germanic law was overwhelmingly concerned with private law, which protects individuals, over public law, which protects the interest of the state. According to Michel Rouche, "Frankish judges devoted as much care to a case involving the theft of a dog as Roman judges did to cases involving the fiscal responsibility of curiales, or municipal councilors."
Because the Frankish kingdom (Francia, the name origin of "France") dominated Western Europe for centuries, terms derived from "Frank" were used by many in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and beyond as a synonym for Latin Christians or Western and Northern Europeans in general (e.g., al-Faranj in Arabic, farangi in Persian and Urdu, Frenk in Turkish, Feringhi in Hindi, and Frangos in Greek). In particular, Latin Christians resident in the Middle East in general or the Levant in particular are called Franco-Levantines. A Thai derivative is ฝรั่ง Farang.
During the crusades, which were at first led mostly by nobles from northern France who claimed descent from Charlemagne, both Muslims and Christians used these terms as ethnonyms to describe the Crusaders. Another term with similar use was "Latins" (cf. the Latin Empire). This usage is often followed by modern historians, who call Western Europeans in the eastern Mediterranean "Franks" or "Latins" regardless of their country of origin. Compare with Rhomaios, Rûmi ("Roman"), used for Orthodox Christians. Catholics on various islands in Greece are still referred to as Φράγκοι, "Frangoi" (Franks). Examples include the naming of a Catholic from the island of Syros as "Frangosyrianos" (Φραγκοσυριανός). The term Frangistan was used by Muslims to refer to the land where the Crusaders came from, i.e. Christian Europe. In contemporary Israel the Yiddish word "Frenk" (פרענק) has, by a curious etymological development, come to refer to Mizrahi Jews and carries a strong pejorative connotation. During the Mongol Empire in the 13-14th centuries, the Mongols used the term, Franks, to designate Europeans.
. harv. Gregory of Tours. Gregory of Tours. Ernst Brehaut (Translator). Paul. Halsall. 1997. 1916. History of the Franks: Books I-X (Extended Selections). Medieval Sourcebook. New York. Columbia University Press; Fordham University.
. harv. Edward James (historian). The Franks. The Peoples of Europe. Oxford, UK; Cambridge, Massachusetts. Basil Blackwell. 1988. 0-631-17936-4.