The Franks were a
group of Germanic peoples inhabiting the lower and middle Rhine
Valley by the 3d century AD, when they are first mentioned by
classical authors. Identified by these writers as the Salians,
Ripuarians, and Chatti, they are said to have shared the same
language and to have had many similar laws.
Toward the middle of
the 3d century the Franks began penetrating the Roman frontier around
Mainz. They were driven back by Emperor Probus. In 358, Julian the
Apostate handed over Toxandria, the region between the Meuse and the
Scheldt rivers, to the Salian Franks, who became Roman allies and
provided troops for the imperial army.
The Salian Franks
were divided into several groups led by chiefs (reguli). One of these
groups, the Merovingians, which took its name from the chief Merovech
(Merowen), was particularly successful. Merovech and his successor,
Childeric (d. 481), extended Salian domination to the south, perhaps
as far as the Somme River. Childeric aided the Romans, but after the
death (461) of Emperor Majorian he sought to overthrow Aegidius, the
imperial governor in northern Gaul. Aegidius forced Childeric into
exile among the Thuringians, but he returned after a few years and,
in alliance with some Saxons, defeated the Romans.
son and successor, was able to keep Childeric from moving his people
south of the Somme, but another regulus took control of Le Mans.
Cambrai and Therouanne were also held by Salian reguli. Clovis,
Childeric's son, conquered most of Gaul and unified the Franks under
the Merovingian dynasty. Clovis also converted to Christianity.
The Ripuarian Franks
and the Chatti raided across the middle Rhine frontier during the
first quarter of the 5th century. In the wake of the Hunnic invasion
of Gaul, a band of Ripuarians gained control of Cologne. By c.470,
Trier was in Ripuarian hands, and thereafter Metz, Toul, and Verdun
fell to the Franks. The Carolingian dynasty, which succeeded the
Merovingians, is considered to have been of Ripuarian origin.
Carolingians, the Franks formed a vast empire that reached its
pinnacle in the reign (768-814) of Charlemagne. This empire was
divided in the mid-9th century, from it emerging the West Frankish
kingdom (France) and the East Frankish kingdom (Germany).
Much is known about
the material civilization of the Franks during the period before they
became Christians. Thousands of graves have been discovered in which
have been found not only skeletons but various kinds of weapons,
jewelry, and even bits of cloth and leather. The most celebrated find
was the grave of Childeric, discovered at Tournai in 1653. A great
wealth in gold, including a signet ring with his portrait on it, and
the severed head of his horse were among its contents.
Bernard S. Bachrach, Professor of History, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
Source: The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Release #9, ©1997
Bibliography: James, E., The Franks (1988; repr. 1991); Lasko, Peter, Kingdom
of the Franks (1971); Thorpe, Lewis, trans., The History of the Franks: Gregory of
Tours (1976); Wallace-Hadrill, J. M., The Long-Haired Kings and Other Studies in
Frankish History (1961).