Tuesday, May 01, 2007


In this fearsome instalment of ‘Barbarians’, we examine the Franks: a group of Germanic peoples who conquered most of Gaul, Italy and Germany between the third and ninth centuries. The kingdom of the western Franks became France; the kingdom of the eastern Franks became Germany.

Firstly, we examine the ferocious figure of Merovius, the legendary Frankish leader who was rumoured to be ‘half-man, half-monster’. He led the Salian Franks during the fifth century; the Merovingian dynasty was named after him. This legendary leader set the stage for his sons’ enormous territorial conquests. His son, Childeric I, triumphed militarily against the Visigoths, Saxons and Alemanni.

Childeric’s own son, Clovis I, managed to unite most of Gaul under his control when he defeated Syagrius, the Roman ruler of the area. He united the Salians with the Ripuarian (eastern) Franks, and oversaw their conversion to Christianity. Clovis himself relinquished his vociferous paganism; he allegedly believed that the Christian god granted him greater battlefield success. His strategy was apparently quite successful: he won the Battle of Tolbiac against the Alemanni, and subjected the Visigoth kingdom of Toulouse to a crushing and decisive defeat at the Battle of Vouillé.

The agriculture of the Merovingian dynasty was far more advanced than that of the Romans. Their introduction of the ‘three-field system’ was one of many ingenious and modern innovations. Their dynasty lasted until the eighth century when the Carolingian dynasty was founded under Charlemagne. By the ninth century, the kingdom of the western Franks was fused into a single people with the Gallo-Romans; they spoke the modified form of Latin that became modern French.

Clovis’ role was fundamental in leading his people to complete power over the land we now call France, and building the bridge between barbarian and statesman that Charlemagne eventually embodied.


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