gigatos | June 1, 2023


The Franks (Latin: Franci or gens Francorum) were a group of Germanic tribes, whose name is first mentioned in Roman sources of the 3rd century, associated with tribes on the Rhine, on the edge of the Roman Empire. Later, the term became associated with the Romanized Germanic dynasties within the collapsing Roman Empire, who eventually ruled the entire region between the rivers Loire and Rhine and imposed their rule on many other post-Roman kingdoms and Germanic peoples, later recognized by the Catholic Church as successors to the old rulers of the Western Roman Empire.

Although the Frankish name appears in the 3rd century, at least some of the original Frankish tribes had long been known by their own names to the Romans, both as allies providing soldiers and as enemies. The new name first appeared when the Romans and their allies were losing control of the Rhine region. The Franks were first mentioned as collaborating to invade Roman territory, but from the beginning this was also associated with attacks against them organized outside their border region, for example by the Saxons, and by the desire of the border tribes to move into Roman territory.

The Germanic tribes set schematic-linguistic group.

Known Frankish peoples within the Roman frontiers of the Rhine were the Salian Franks, who were allowed to live in Roman territory, while other Franks after many attempts conquered the Roman frontier town of Cologne and settled on the left bank of the Rhine. Later, in a period of conflict throughout Gaul in the 450s and 460s, Frank Hilderich I was one of the military leaders who commanded Roman forces of various ethnic ties. Hilderichus and his son, Clovis I, faced competition from Aegidius and his son as claimants to the Frankish kingdom and commanders of the Roman forces in the Loire (according to Gregory Turonius, Aegidius ruled the kingdom for 8 years when Hilderichus was in exile, while his son is referred to as “king of the Romans”). This new type of kingdom, perhaps inspired by Alaric I, represents the beginning of the Merovingian dynasty, which succeeded in conquering most of Gaul in the 6th century, as well as consolidating its leadership of all the Frankish kingdoms on the Rhine’s borders. On the basis of this empire, the emerging Carolingians were eventually regarded as the new emperors of western Europe in 800.

The terms “Frankish” or “Frankish” were then developed at many different levels, sometimes representing a very large part of Europe, and sometimes limited to France. During the Middle and Late Middle Ages, Western Europeans shared their faith in the Roman Catholic Church and cooperated as allies in the Crusades across Europe in the Levant. In 1099 the crusader population of Jerusalem consisted mostly of French colonists, who at the time were still referred to as Franks, and other Europeans such as Spaniards, Germans and Hungarians. French knights made up the bulk of the steady stream of reinforcements throughout the two hundred years of the Crusades, so that the Arabs continued to refer uniformly to the crusaders and Western Europeans as Franjī, caring little whether they actually came from France. The French Crusaders also introduced the French language to the Levant, making it the basis of the lingua franca (“Frankish language”) of the Crusader states. This had a lasting impact on the names of Western Europeans in many languages… Western Europe is known alternatively to the Persians as “Fraggistan”.

After the Treaty of Verdun in 843, the Frankish Kingdom was divided into three separate kingdoms: western Francia, Middle Francia and eastern Francia. In 870 Middle Francia was further divided, with most of its territory divided between West Francia and East Francia, which would then form the nuclei of the future Kingdom of France and the Holy Roman Empire respectively, with West Francia (France) eventually retaining the chorionic title.

The name Franci was not a tribal name, but within a few centuries it had eclipsed the names of the original peoples to whom it referred. Following the precedent of Edward Gibbon and Jacob Grimm, the name Franci has been linked to the English adjective frank, which originally meant “free”. There have also been speculations that Frank is derived from the Germanic word for “javelin” (as in Old English franca or Old Norse frakka). Words in other Germanic languages meaning “hard”, “bold” or “impudent” (German frech, Middle Dutch vrac, Old English frǣc and Old Norse frakkr) may also be significant.

Eumenius addressed the Franks on the issue of the execution of Frankish prisoners at the racecourse of Trir by Constantine I in 306: Ubi nunc est illa ferocia; Ubi semper infida mobilitas (“Where is this unreliable instability?”). The Latin feroces was often used to describe the Franks. Period definitions of the Frankish ethnicity varied according to both time and point of view. Marculf’s typology written around 700 AD described a continuation of national identities in a mixed population when he stated that “all the peoples who dwell , Franks, Romans, Burgundians and those of other nations, live… according to their laws and customs.” Writing in 2009, Professor Christopher Wickham pointed out that “the word ‘Frankish’ quickly ceased to have an exclusively ethnic connotation. North of the Loire River everyone seems to have been considered Frankish no later than the mid-7th century . After that the Romani were essentially the inhabitants of Aquitaine.”

Apart from Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks, two early sources mention the mythological origins of the Franks: a 7th-century work known as the Chronicle of Fredegar and the anonymous Liber Historiae Francorum, written a century later.

Many say that the Franks originally came from Pannonia and first lived on the banks of the Rhine. Then they crossed the river, marched through Thuringia and placed in every district and in every city long-haired kings chosen from their most prominent and noble family.

(Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks (6th century AD))

The author of Fredegar’s Chronicle claimed that the Franks were descended from Troy and quoted the works of Virgil and Jerome:

Blessed Jerome has written about the ancient kings of the Franks, whose story was first told by the poet Virgil: their first king was Priam and, after the conquest of Troy by treachery, they fled. Then they had as king Phrygas, then they divided into two parts, the first went to Macedonia, and the second, which left Asia with Phrygas and was called Phrygians, settled on the banks of the Danube and the ocean. Divided again into two groups, half of them entered Europe with their king Frankius. After crossing Europe with their wives and children they occupied the banks of the Rhine and not far from the Rhine they began to build the city of “Troy” ( Colonia Traiana-Xanten).

According to historian Patrick T. Geary, these two stories are “similar as they betray both the fact that the Franks knew little about their origins and that they may have felt some inferiority compared to other peoples of antiquity who had an ancient name and a glorious tradition. (…) Both legends are of course equally fantastic because, even more than most barbarian peoples, the Franks had no common history, ancestry or tradition of a heroic age of migration. Like their Alamanian neighbours, they were in the 6th century a fairly recent creation, a coalition of Rhine tribal groups who had long maintained separate identities and institutions.”

The other work, Liber Historiae Francorum, formerly known as Gesta regum Francorum before its republication in 1888 by Bruno Cruz, described how 12,000 Trojans, led by Priam and Antinorius, sailed from Troy to the Don River in Russia and then to Pannonia, located on the river , and settled near the Sea of Azov. There they founded a city called Chicambria. (The Sicambrians were the best known tribe in the Frankish homeland at the beginning of the Roman Empire, whose memory is preserved, though they were defeated and dispersed long before the name of Frankish appeared.) The Trojans joined with the Roman army to complete the task of driving their enemies into the marshes of Maeotida, hence the name Franks (meaning “fierce”). A decade later the Romans killed Priam and drove out Marcomerus and Sunnus, the sons of Priam and Antinorius, and the other Franks.

Ancient history

The main primary sources for the early Franks include the Panegyrici Latini, Ammanus Marcellinus, Claydianus, Zosimo, Sidonian Apollinaris and Gregory of Tours. The Franks are first mentioned in the Historia Augusta, a collection of biographies of Roman emperors. None of these sources give a detailed list of which tribes or tribal sections became Franks, or about politics and history, but to quote James (1988, p. 35):

A joyful Roman song recorded in a fourth-century source is associated with the 260s, but the first appearance of the Franks in a source of that period was in 289. The Hamavoi) are mentioned as a Frankish people as early as 289, the Brukteroi from 307, the Hatuari from 306-315, the Salis or Salians from 357, and the Amcibari and Tuvantes from 364-375.

The Franks were described in Roman texts as both allies (laeti) and enemies (dediticii). Around the year 260 a group of Franks infiltrated as far as Tarragona in present-day Spain, where they sacked the region for about a decade before being subdued and driven out by the Romans. In 287 or 288 the Roman Caesar Maximian forced the Frankish leader Genovaldo and his people to surrender without a fight.

In 288 the Emperor Maximian defeated the Salian Franks, the Hamavas, the Frisians and other Germanic peoples living along the Rhine and brought them to Lower Germany to supply it with manpower and prevent the settlement of other Germanic tribes. In 292 Constantine, father of Constantine the Great, defeated the Franks who had settled at the mouth of the Rhine and relocated them to the neighbouring region of Tuscany. Eumenius mentions that Constantine “killed, drove out, captured and kidnapped” the Franks who had settled there and others who had crossed the Rhine, using the term nationes Franciae for the first time. It seems likely that the term Franks in this early period had a broader meaning, sometimes including the coastal Frisians.

The Life of Aurelianus, probably written by Vopiskos, states that in 328 Frankish raiders were captured by the 6th Legion camped at Mainz and then 700 of them were killed and 300 sold as slaves. The Frankish raids on the Rhine became so frequent that the Romans began to install Franks on their borders to control them.

The Franks are mentioned in Poitinger’s Map, an atlas of Roman roads. It is a 13th century copy of a 4th or 5th century document reflecting information from the 3rd century. The Romans knew the shape of Europe, but their knowledge is not evident on the map, which was only a practical guide to the roads to be followed from point to point. In the middle Rhine area of the map the word Francia looks like a misspelling of Brukteroi. Beyond Mainz is Sweden, the land of the Swedes, and beyond that is Alamania, the land of the Alamanni. Four tribes are depicted at the mouth of the Rhine: the Hauks, the Amsibari (‘inhabitants of the Ems’), the Cheruscans and the Hamavas, followed by the qui et Pranci (‘who are also Franks’). This means that the Hamavas were considered Franks. The map was probably based on the Orbis Pictus, a twenty-year map commissioned by Augustus and then kept in the Roman Treasury for the assessment of taxes but not preserved. The information about the imperial parts of Gaul probably comes from it.

Salian Franks

The Salians were first mentioned by the Ammanian Marcellinus, who described Julian’s victory over “the first Franks of all, those who are customarily called Salians” in 358. Julian allowed the Franks to remain in Toxicandria as phaediles within the Empire, having migrated there from the Rhine-Meuse delta. The 5th century Notitia Dignitatum refers to a group of soldiers as Salii.

A few decades later Franks in the same area, probably the Salish, controlled the River Scaldes and cut off communications with Britain on the Channel. Although Roman forces managed to pacify them, they failed to drive out the Franks, who continued to strike fear as pirates.

The Salesians are generally regarded as the predecessors of the Franks who pushed southwestward into what is now modern France, which was eventually ruled by the Merovingians (see below). This is because when the Merovingian dynasty published the Salic Law (Lex Salica) it was applied to the region of Neustria from the Loire River to Silva Carbonaria, the western kingdom founded by them outside the original area of Frankish settlement. In the 5th century the Franks under Claudione advanced into Roman territory through and beyond the ‘Silva Carbonaria’ or ‘Forest of Carbon’, which ran through the area of modern western Wallonia. The forest was the boundary of the original Salian territories to the north and the more Etruscan region to the south in the Roman province of Belgica Secunda (almost equivalent to what Julius Caesar had long ago called “Belgium”). Claudione conquered Tournai, Artois, Cambrai and as far as the river Somme. Claudione is often considered the ancestor of the future Merovingian dynasty. Hilderich I, who according to Gregory of Tours was a famous descendant of Clodiones, was later regarded as an administrative leader in Roman Belgica Secunda and possibly other regions.

The records of Hilderichus show that he was active with the Roman forces in the Loire region, quite far to the south. His descendants ended up ruling Roman Gaul up to there and this became the Frankish kingdom of Neustria, the base of which would become medieval France. Hilderich’s son Clovis I also took control of the more independent Frankish kingdoms east of Silva Carbonaria and Belgica Secunda. This later became the Frankish kingdom of Australia, where the early legal code referred to it as “Ripuarian”.

Ripuarian Franks

From the time of Emperor Posthumus (258-262 AD) some Franks were enlisted individually as auxiliaries in the Roman army. The Ripuarians settled mainly in present-day Flanders. They adopted the culture of the Christian West in only the 8th century.

The Franks of the Rhineland, who lived near the section of the Rhine from about Mainz to Duisburg, the area around the city of Cologne, are often considered different from the Salians and are sometimes referred to in modern texts as the Ripuarian Franks. The Ravenna Cosmography states that Francia Renensis included the old Uvian civitas in Germania II (Germania Inferior), but also the northern part of Germania I (Germania Superior), including Mainz. Like the Salians, they appear in Roman sources both as raiders and as contributors to military units. Unlike the Salanians, there is no mention of when, if ever, the Empire formally accepted their settlement within it. Eventually they managed to retain the city of Cologne and at some point they seem to have acquired the name Ripuarians, which may have meant “river people”. In any case, a Merovingian legal code was called Lex Ribuaria, but it probably applied to all the older Frankish territories, including the original Salian territories.

Jordan in the Getica mentions the Ripuarians as an auxiliary to Flavius Aetius during the Battle of the Catalan Fields in 451: “Hi enim affuerunt auxiliares: Franci, Sarmatae, Armoriciani, Liticiani, Burgundiones, Saxones, Riparii, Olibriones. … but these Riparii (“river dwellers”) are not considered today to be Ripuarian Franks, but a well-known military unit based on the Rhône River.

Their territory on both sides of the Rhine formed a central part of Merovingian Australia, which extended to include the Roman Germania Inferior (later Germania Secunda), which included the original Saliana and Ripuarian lands and roughly identified with medieval Lower Lotharingia) as well as the Belgian Gaul Prima (late Roman “Belgium”, roughly medieval Upper Lotharingia) and lands on the east bank of the Rhine.

Kingdom of Merovingian (481-751)

Gregory of Tours (Book II) reported that small Frankish kingdoms existed in the fifth century around Cologne, Tours, Cambrai and elsewhere. The Merovingian kingdom eventually dominated the others, probably because of its association with the Roman power structures in northern Gaul, which apparently incorporated the Frankish military forces to some extent. Aegidius was originally the magister militum of northern Gaul appointed by Mayorian, but after his death he was apparently seen as a Roman rebel based on Frankish forces. Gregory of Tours reported that Hilderich I was exiled for 8 years while Aegidius had the title of “King of the Franks”. Eventually Hilderich returned and was given the same title, while Aegidius died in 464 or 465… Hilderich and his son Clovis I were both described as rulers of the Roman province of Belgica Secunda, by its spiritual leader in Clovis’ time, St. Remigius.

Later Clovis defeated Aegidio’s son Syagrius in 486 or 487 and then imprisoned and executed the Frankish king Chararichus. A few years later he killed Ragnar, the Frankish king of Cambrai, and his brothers. After conquering the Kingdom of Suasson and expelling the Visigoths from southern Gaul at the Battle of Buye, he established Frankish hegemony over most of Gaul, with the exception of Burgundy, Provence and Brittany, which were eventually absorbed by his successors. By the 490s he had conquered all the Frankish kingdoms west of the Meuse River, except the Ripuarian Franks and was able to make the city of Paris his capital. He became the first king of all the Franks in 509, having conquered Cologne.

Clovis I divided his kingdom among his four sons, who united to defeat Burgundy in 534.Internal strife occurred during the reigns of the brothers Siberius I and Hilperichus I, largely fuelled by the rivalry of their queens, Brünnhilde and Fredegonde, and continued during the reigns of their sons and grandsons. Three distinct sub-kingdoms emerged: Australia, Neustria and Burgundy, each of which developed independently and sought to exert influence on the others. The influence of the Arnulfid family of Australia confirmed the gradual shift of the political centre of gravity of the kingdom eastwards to the Rhineland.

The Frankish kingdom was reunited in 613 by Chlotor II, son of Hilperich I, who granted his nobles the Edict of Paris in an attempt to reduce corruption and reassert his power. Following the military successes of his son and successor Dagobert I, royal power quickly declined under a succession of kings, traditionally known as les rois fainéants. After the Battle of Tertrey in 687, each lord of the palace, formerly the king’s chief servant, effectively held power until 751, when, with the approval of the pope and the nobles, Pepinus the Short dethroned the last Merovingian king, Hilderich III, and was crowned king. This inaugurated a new dynasty, the Carolingians.

Carolingian Empire (751-843)

The unification achieved by the Merovingians ensured the continuation of what became known as the Carolingian Renaissance. The Carolingian Empire was beset by internal warfare, but the combination of Frankish rule and Roman Christianity ensured its fundamental unity. Its government and culture depended very much on each ruler and his goals, and so each region of the empire developed differently. Although a ruler’s goals depended on the political alliances of his family, the leading families of France shared the same basic beliefs and ideas about government, which had both Roman and Germanic roots.

The Frankish state consolidated its dominance over most of Western Europe by the end of the 8th century, evolving into the Carolingian Empire. With the coronation of the ruler of Charlemagne as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by Pope Leo III in 800 AD, he and his successors were recognized as the legitimate heirs of the emperors of the Western Roman Empire. As a result, the Carolingian Empire gradually came to be regarded in the West as a continuation of the ancient Roman Empire. Many successor states were later created from this empire, including France, the Holy Roman Empire and Burgundy, although the Frankish identity remained closely identified with France.

After Charlemagne’s death, his only living adult son became Emperor and King as Louis the Pious. After his death, however, according to tradition and Frankish law, which required equality between all adult male heirs, the Frankish Empire was now divided between his three sons.

Participation in the Roman army

The Germanic peoples, including those tribes in the Rhine delta that later became the Franks, are known to have served in the Roman army since the time of Julius Caesar. After the collapse of the Roman administration in Gaul in the 260s, the armies under German Batavius Postumus revolted and proclaimed him emperor and subsequently restored order. Since then German soldiers of the Roman army, mostly Franks, were promoted from his ranks. A few decades later Menapius Carausius created a Batavian-British state on Roman soil, supported by Frankish soldiers and raiders. Frankish soldiers such as Magnentius, Silvanus and Arvidius held command positions in the Roman army in the mid-4th century. It is clear from Ammanus Marcellinus’ account that both the Frankish and the Alamanni tribal armies were organized according to Roman standards.

After the invasion of Claudione the Roman army on the Rhine border became a Frankish “subcontractor” and the Franks were known to recruit as Roman troops supported by an oenai Roman armour and weapons industry. This lasted at least until the days of the scholar Procopius (c. 500 – 565), more than a century after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, who described the former Barbarians, who had merged with the Franks, as maintaining their organization into legions, as their ancestors had done in Roman times. The Franks under the Merovingians combined Germanic customs with Roman organization and several important tactical innovations. Before the 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.

Military practices of the early Franks

The main sources on the military customs and armament of the Franks are Ammanus Marcellinus, Agathias and Procopius. The last two Eastern Romans wrote about the Frankish involvement in the Gothic War.

Procopius wrote in 539:

At that time the Franks, hearing that both the Goths and the Romans had suffered severely from the war …, forgetting for a moment their oaths and their treaties … (for this nation in matters of trust is the most deceitful in the world), they immediately assembled in numbers of a hundred thousand under the leadership of Teudevere I, and invaded Italy: they had a small body of cavalry around their chief, and they were the only ones armed with spears, while all the rest were foot soldiers who had neither bows nor spears, but each carried a sword, a shield, and an axe. The iron head of this weapon was thick and extremely sharp on both sides, and the wooden handle was very short. And they were always accustomed to throw these axes with a signal at the beginning, and thus crush the enemy’s shields and kill the men..

His contemporary Agathias, who based his writings on the models of Procopius, says:

The military equipment of this people is very simple… They do not know the use of the plate breastplate or the harness and the majority of them leave their heads uncovered, only a few wear helmets. They have their chests and back to the loins bare and cover their thighs with either leather or linen. They do not operate on horseback except on very rare occasions. Fighting on foot is both a custom and a national custom and they are proficient at it. On the hip they wear a sword and on the left side is fastened their shield. They have neither bows, nor slings, nor any projectile weapons except the double-edged axe and the agon (a kind of spear), which they use most frequently. Angons are spears that are neither too short nor too long. They can be used, if necessary, for throwing as spears, but also for hand-to-hand combat.

While the above quotes have been used as a statement of the military practices of the Frankish nation in the 6th century and indeed have been extended to the entire period before Charles Martel’s reforms (early to mid-8th century), post-World War II historiography has emphasized the inherited Roman military characteristics of the Franks from the beginning of the conquest of Gaul. Byzantine writers present several contradictions and difficulties. Procopius denies for the Franks the use of the spear while Agathias considers it one of their main weapons. They agree that the Franks were mostly on foot, threw axes and carried a sword and shield. Both authors also refute the authority of Gallic writers of the same general time period (Sidonius Apollinaris and Gregory of Tours) and the archaeological evidence. The Lex Ribuaria, the legal code of the early 7th century Rhineland or Ripuarian Franks, defines the values of various goods. While a spear and shield were worth only two soles, a sword and scabbard were worth seven, a helmet six, and a “metal robe” twelve. Saxes and arrowheads abound in Frankish tombs, although Byzantine historians do not associate them with the Franks.

The sources of Gregory and the Lex Salica imply that the early Franks were a people of horsemen. In fact some modern historians have argued that the Franks had so many horses that they could use them to plough their fields and were thus agriculturally technologically advanced over their neighbours. Lex Ribuaria specifies that the value of a mare was the same as that of an ox or a shield and spear, two saddles, and a stallion seven or the same as a sword and scabbard, suggesting that horses were relatively common. Perhaps Byzantine writers considered the Frankish insignificant compared to the Greek cavalry, which is probably accurate.


The Frankish military establishment incorporated many of the pre-existing Roman institutions in Gaul, particularly during and after the conquests of Clovis I in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. Frankish military strategy revolved around the occupation and capture of fortified centres (castles), and generally these centres were guarded by militiesή laeti, who were former Roman mercenaries of Germanic origin. Throughout Gaul the descendants of Roman soldiers continued to wear their uniforms and perform their etiquette duties.

Immediately below the Frankish king in the military hierarchy were the leudes, his sworn followers, who were generally “old soldiers” on duty away from the court. The king had an elite bodyguard, called a truste. Its members often served in centannae, settlements of guards established for military and police purposes. The king’s daily bodyguard consisted of antrustiones (senior soldiers who were aristocrats in military service) and pueri (junior soldiers rather than aristocrats). All high-ranking men had pueri.

The Frankish army was not only composed of Franks and Gaulish-Romans, but also included Saxons, Alans, Typhalians and Alamanni. After the conquest of Burgundy (534) the well-organized military institutions of this kingdom were incorporated into the Frankish kingdom. Chief among them was the standing army under the command of Patrick of Burgundy.

At the end of the 6th century, during the wars instigated by Fredegonde and Brunhilda, the Merovingian monarchs introduced a new element to their armies: local recruitment. Recruitment included all able-bodied men in a district who were to report for military service when called upon. Local recruitment applied only to a city and its environs. Initially only in certain cities of western Gaul, Neustria and Aquitaine did kings have the right or power to enforce it. The commanders of the local conscription were always different from the commanders of the urban garrisons. Often the former were commanded by the counts of the districts. A much rarer phenomenon was the general conscription, which applied throughout the kingdom and included peasants (pauperes and inferiores). General conscription was also imposed in the pagan duchies even beyond the Rhine by order of a monarch. The Saxons, Alamanni and Thuringians all had the institution of conscription, and the Frankish monarchs were dependent on it until the middle of the 7th century, when the dukes began to break their ties with the monarchy. Radulph of Thuringia imposed conscription for a war against Sigbert III in 640.

Local recruitment quickly spread to Australia and the less robust areas of Gaul. At an intermediate level, kings began to impose local recruitment from regions of Australia (which did not have large cities of Roman origin). All forms of recruitment gradually disappeared, however, during the 7th century after the reign of Dagobert I. Under the so-called rois fainéants, conscription disappeared in mid-century in Australia and later in Burgundy and Neustria. Only in Aquitaine, which quickly became independent of the central Frankish monarchy, did complex military institutions remain until the 8th century. In the last half of the 7th century and the first half of the 8th in Merovingian Gaul the main military actors became the lay and ecclesiastical rulers with their groups of armed followers. The other aspects of the Merovingian army, mainly of Roman origin or innovations of powerful kings, disappeared in the 8th century.

Merovingian armies used tunics, helmets, shields, spears, swords, bows and arrows and war horses. The armament of private armies resembled that of the Galatorian potentiatores of the late Empire. A strong element of the Alanian cavalry that settled in Armorica influenced the way the Britons fought until the 12th century. Local town recruits were reasonably well armed and even mounted, but generally they were pauperes and inferiores, who were mainly farmers in trade and carried ineffective weapons such as agricultural implements. The peoples east of the Rhine – Franks, Saxons and even Vendees – who were sometimes called upon to serve, wore rudimentary armour and carried weapons such as spears and axes. Few of these men were on horseback.

The society of the Merovingians had a military character. The Franks called annual assemblies every Marchfeld (1 March), when the king and his nobles gathered in large open fields and set their goals for the next campaign period. The meetings were a show of force on behalf of the monarch and a way to maintain loyalty among his troops. In their civil wars, the Merovingian kings focused on holding fortified positions and using siege engines. In wars waged against external enemies, their aim was usually to obtain loot or impose taxes. Only in the territories beyond the Rhine did the Merovingians seek to extend political control to their neighbours.

In terms of tactics, the Merovingians borrowed a lot from the Romans, especially in terms of siege warfare. Their battle tactics were extremely flexible and were designed to meet the specific circumstances of a battle. Artifice tactics were used extensively. Cavalry made up a large part of the army, but troops often arrived to fight on foot. The Merovingians were able to deploy naval forces: the naval campaign waged against the Danes by Teiderich I in 515 included seagoing ships, while riverboats were used on the Loire, the Rhône and the Rhine.


In a modern linguistic context the language of the early Franks is variously called “Old Frankish” or “Old Franconian”, and these terms refer to the language of the Franks before the occurrence of the shift of consonants to Upper Germanic, which took place between 600 and 700 AD. After this consonant shift, the Frankish dialect diverged, with the dialects that would become modern Dutch not undergoing this shift, while all others did to varying degrees. As a result the distinction between Old Dutch and Old Low Franconian is largely negligible, with Old Dutch (also called Old Low Franconian) being the term used to distinguish between affected and unaffected variants after the aforementioned Second Germanic consonant shift.

The Frankish language has not been directly attested, except for a very small number of Runic inscriptions that have been found in Frankish territory at the time, such as the Bergacker inscription. However, a significant amount of Frankish vocabulary has been reconstructed by examining early Germanic loanwords found in Old French as well as through comparative reconstruction via Dutch. The influence of Old Franconian on the Gallic-Roman vocabulary and phonology of the period has long been a matter of scholarly debate. The Frankish influence is thought to include the designations of the four main directions: nord ‘north’, sud ‘south’, est ‘east’ and ouest ‘west’ and at least an additional 1000 basic words.

Although the Franks eventually conquered all of Gaul, the speakers of Frankish seem to have expanded in sufficient numbers only in northern Gaul to have a linguistic effect. For several centuries northern Gaul was a bilingual region (Lao Latin and Frankish). The language used in writing, government and the Church was Latin. Urban T. Holmes argued that a Germanic language continued to be spoken as a second language by public officials in western Australia and northern Neustria until the late 850s and that it disappeared completely as a spoken language in the 10th century from areas where only French is spoken today..

Art and architecture

Early Frankish art and architecture belongs to a phase known as the art of the Migration Period, which has left few remains. The next period is called Carolingian art or, especially in architecture, pre-Romanesque. Little of the Merovingian architecture has been preserved. The earliest churches appear to have been of wood, with the largest examples of the basilica type. The fullest surviving example, a baptistery at Poitiers, is a three-arched building of the Gallo-Romanesque style. A number of small baptisteries can be seen in the south of France, as these fell out of fashion, were not modernised and then survived as they were.

Jewellery (such as brooches), weapons (including swords with decorative handles) and items of clothing and footwear (such as capes and sandals) have been found in a number of burial sites. The tomb of Queen Aregunda, discovered in 1959, and the Treasure of Gurdon, created shortly after 524, are notable examples. The few extant Merovingian illuminated manuscripts that have survived, such as the Gelasian Mystery, contain many zoomorphic representations. Such Frankish objects show a greater use of Late Antiquity rhythm and motifs and a lesser degree of skill and sophistication in design and construction than comparable works from the British Isles. So little has survived, however, that the best quality of work of this period may not be represented.

The objects produced by the main centres of the Caroline Renaissance, representing a transformation from those of the previous period, have survived in much greater quantity. The arts were lavishly funded and encouraged by Charlemagne, using imported artists where necessary, and Carolingian works were instrumental in the future course of Western art. The Carolingian manuscripts and ivory plaques, which have survived in reasonable numbers, approach in quality those of Constantinople. The principal surviving monument of Carolingian architecture is the Palace Chapel at Aachen, which is an impressive and faithful copy of St. Vital of Ravenna – from which some of the columns came. There were also many other important buildings, such as those of Centula or St. Gall, or the old Cathedral of Cologne, since rebuilt. These large structures and complexes made frequent use of towers.

A significant part of the Frankish aristocracy quickly followed Clovis into Christianity (the Frankish church of Merovingian). Converting all those under Frankish rule required considerable time and effort.


The echoes of Frankish paganism can be found in primary sources, but their meaning is not always clear. Interpretations by modern scholars vary widely, but it is likely that Frankish paganism shares most of the characteristics of other varieties of Germanic paganism. Frankish mythology was probably a form of Germanic polytheism. It was highly ritualistic. Many daily activities centered around multiple deities, the most important of which may have been Kinotaurus, the water god from whom the Merovingians are said to have descended. Most of their gods were associated with local centres of worship and their sacred character and power were linked to specific regions, outside of which they were neither worshipped nor feared. Most of the gods were “secular”, possessing form and associated with specific objects, unlike the God of Christianity.

Frankish paganism appears in the burial place of Hilderich I, where the body of the king was found covered with cloth decorated with numerous bees. There is a possible connection with the bees of the traditional Frankish weapon, the angon (meaning ‘sting’), from the characteristic spearhead.

Some Franks, such as the 4th-century usurper Silvanus, converted to Christianity early on. In 496 Clovis I, who had married a Burgundian Catholic named Clotilde in 493, was baptized by St. Remillo after a decisive victory over the Alamanni at the Battle of Tolbiac. According to Gregory of Tours over three thousand of his soldiers were baptized with him. Clovis’ conversion had a profound effect on the course of European history, for at that time the Franks were the only major Christianized Germanic race without a predominantly Arian aristocracy, and this led to a naturally friendly relationship between the Catholic Church and the increasingly powerful Franks.

Although many of the Frankish aristocracy quickly followed Clovis into Christianity, the conversion of all his subjects was achieved only after considerable effort and, in some areas, over a period of more than two centuries. The Chronicle of St. Dionysius reports that, after Clovis’ conversion, several pagans who were unhappy with this development rallied around Ragnarion, who had played an important role in Clovis’ initial rise to power. Although the text remains unclear as to the exact pretext, Clovis ordered Ragnarion’s execution… The remaining pockets of resistance were eliminated one by one, largely due to the work of an expanding network of monasteries.

The Merovingian Church was shaped by both internal and external forces. It had to come to terms with an established Gallican hierarchy that resisted changes in its culture, to Christianize pagan sensibilities and suppress their expression, to provide a new theological basis for Merovingian forms of kingship deeply rooted in the pagan Germanic tradition, and to keep pace with Irish and Anglo-Axon missionary activities and papal demands. The Carolingian reformation of monasticism and church-state relations was the main concern of the Frankish Church.

The increasingly wealthy Merovingian elite endowed many monasteries, including that of the Irish missionary Columbanus. In the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries, two great waves of hermitism appeared in the Frankish world, leading to legislation requiring all monks and hermits to follow the Rule of St. Benedict. The Church sometimes had a difficult relationship with the Merovingian kings, whose claim to rule depended on a secret royal lineage and who tended to revert to the polygamy of their pagan ancestors. Rome encouraged the Franks to gradually replace the Gallican liturgy with the Roman liturgy. Later the Church was supportive and an Emperor crowned by the Pope was much more to their liking.

As with other Germanic peoples, the laws of the Franks were memorized by “rachimburs,” who were analogous to the lawgivers of Scandinavia. In the 6th century, when these laws first appeared in written form, there were two main legal subdivisions: the Salian Franks were subject to Salian law and the Ripuarian Franks to Ripuarian law. The Galatians south of the Loire River and the clergy continued to be subject to traditional Roman law. Germanic law was largely concerned with the protection of individuals rather than the protection of the interests of the state. According to Michel Rousse, “Frankish judges devoted as much attention to a case involving the theft of a dog as Roman judges did to cases involving the fiscal responsibility of curiales, or municipal councillors.”

The term Frankish has been used by many Orthodox and Muslim neighbours of the medieval Latin Christian world (and beyond, as in Asia) as a general synonym for a European from Western and Central Europe, regions that followed the Latin ritual of Christianity under the authority of the Pope of Rome. Another term with similar usage was Latins.

Modern historians often refer to Christians who follow the Latin ritual in the eastern Mediterranean as Franks or Latins, regardless of their country of origin, and use the words Greek and Rumi for Orthodox Christians. On many Greek islands Catholics are still referred to as Franks, for example on Syros, where they are called Fragosirians. The period of Crusader rule in Greek lands is known to this day as the Frankish rule (“rule of the Franks”).

During the Mongol Empire in the 13th-14th centuries, the Mongols used the term “Franks” to identify Europeans. The Persians used and spread the term throughout the Middle East by expanding their language. The term Frankistan (“Country of the Franks”) was used by Muslims to refer to Christian Europe for several centuries in Iran and the Ottoman Empire.

The Chinese named the Portuguese Folgi 佛郎機 (“Franks”) in the 1520s at the battles of Tumen and Xicaouan. Some other varieties of Mandarin Chinese pronounced the characters as Fah-lan-ki.

The Mediterranean Common Language (Lingua Franca or “Frankish”) was a mixed simple language first spoken by 11th century European Christians and Muslims in the Mediterranean ports and remained in use until the 19th century.

Examples of derived words :

In Thai the word can refer to any European. When the presence of American soldiers during the Vietnam War brought the Thais into contact with African Americans, they (and people of African descent in general) were called Farang Dham (“Black Farang”, ฝรั่งดำ). Such words sometimes also denote things, plants or creatures introduced by Europeans

Some linguists (including Drs. Jan Ted and Paul Gerati) have argued that the term Palaggi for Samoan Europeans and Polynesians in general may also be related, possibly a loan term derived from early contact between Pacific Islanders and Malays.

The Franks were tall, had fair skin and blond hair. They wore breeches of linen or animal skin and often left their upper body uncovered. They were “barbarians”, they had very primitive means of cultivating the land, they considered it very normal to engage in plundering to meet their needs. Being obliged to manufacture and repair their weapons, the Franks had developed into very skilled craftsmen. Their talent for metalworking is particularly evident in their goldsmithing, which was modelled on the art of the steppe.

After the Fourth Crusade and the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the Crusaders established states in Greece, in a period from the 12th to the 16th century called the Frankish Empire.

The Franks gave their name to the state of France (France, Frankreich), although their language did not prevail. They have also given their name to the region of Franconia (Franken) in Bavaria.From the inhabitants of the Greek, Slavic and Muslim countries, the Latin and Germanic peoples of Europe were (and in some cases still are) indiscriminately called Franks. The word also denoted the Roman Catholic faith (francokklisia, frangopapas, frangeyos).


  1. Φράγκοι
  2. Franks
  3. ^ a b H. Schutz: Tools, Weapons and Ornaments: Germanic Material Culture in Pre-Carolingian Central Europe, 400-750. BRILL, 2001, p.42.
  4. ^ “Holy Roman Empire |”.
  5. ^ “Coronation of Charlemagne”. Archived from the original on 2018-04-05. Retrieved 2017-12-08.
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  10. Vgl. zu den Hintergründen Henning Börm: Westrom. Stuttgart 2013.
  11. Vgl. unter anderem Heike Hawicks: Der Name und die Sprache der Franken. In: Dieter Geuenich, Thomas Grünewald, Reinhold Weitz (Hrsg.): Chlodwig und die „Schlacht bei Zülpich“. Geschichte und Mythos 496-1996. Begleitbuch zur Ausstellung in Zülpich, 30.08.-26.10.1996. Euskirchen 1996, S. 40–47.
  12. Jörg Jarnut: Germanisch. Plädoyer für die Abschaffung eines obsoleten Zentralbegriffes der Frühmittelalterforschung. In: Walter Pohl (Hrsg.): Die Suche nach den Ursprüngen. Von der Bedeutung des frühen Mittelalters. Wien 2004, S. 107–111.
  13. Ludwig Rübekeil: Völkernamen Europas. In: Ernst Eichler, Gerold Hilty, Heinrich Löffler, Hugo Steger, Ladislav Zgusta (Hrsg.): Namenforschung. Ein internationales Handbuch zur Onomastik Zweiter Halbband, de Gruyter, Berlin/New York 2008, ISBN 978-3-11-020343-1, S. 1330–1343, hier: 1330–1332; Ludwig Rübekeil: Stammes- und Völkernamen. In: Andrea Brandler (Hrsg.): Namenarten und ihre Erforschung – Ein Lehrbuch für das Studium der Onomastik. Festschrift für Karl-Heinz Hengst, Baar, Hamburg 2004, ISBN 3-935536-34-8, S. 744–771, hier: S. 757–761 (zur grundlegenden Methodik etc.).
  14. a et b Feffer et Périn 1987, p. 20.
  15. a et b Feffer et Périn 1987, p. 26.
  16. a et b Feffer et Périn 1987, p. 32.
  17. Feffer et Périn 1987, p. 34-35.
  18. a et b Rouche 1996, p. 75.
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