Frankish Empire

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Regnum Francorum
Frankish realm


509 – 843

Location of Frankish realm
The Frankish Realm under the Carolingians
Capital Paris





Language(s) Old Frankish
Religion Germanic Christianity
Government Monarchy
King of the Franks
 - 509511 Clovis I
 - 840843 Lothair I
Mayor of the Palace
 - 533548 Parthemius
 - 7477511
- 7417512
Pepin the Younger
Historical era Early Middle Ages
 - Established 509
 - Merovingian Dynasty 481751
 - Carolingian Dynasty 751887
 - Treaty of Verdun 843
Currency French livre
1 In Austrasia.
2 In Neustria and Burgundy

The Frankish Empire or Frankish realm, often just Francia or Frankia, was the territory of the Franks from the 5th to the 10th century. The Franks were a Germanic people, almost unique in that they converted to the Catholicism of Rome instead of the Arianism of most of the barbarian invaders of Western Europe.

The various Frankish kingdoms were united by Clovis I (481–511). The kingdom was repeatedly divided among several kings; the division of 843 after the death of Louis the Pious turned out to be permanent. The resulting Western and Eastern Kingdoms eventually developed into the nations of France and Germany respectively.

Since the term "empire" properly applies only to times after the coronation of Charlemagne as imperator in 800, and since the unified kingdom was repeatedly split and reunited, most historians prefer to refer to "Frankish kingdoms" or the "Frankish realm."


[edit] Merovingians (481–751)

Growth of Frankish Power 481-814 AD
Growth of Frankish Power 481-814 AD
Main article: Merovingians

Sixth-century historian Gregory of Tours mentions Chlodio as the first Frankish king who started the conquest of Gaul by taking Camaracum (Cambrai) and expanding the border of Frankish territory south to the Somme. This probably took some time; Sidonius relates that Aëtius the Franks and drove them back (probably around 431). This period marks the beginning of a situation that would endure for many centuries: the Germanic Franks ruled over an increasing number of Gallo-Roman subjects.

But the Franks were still divided. The two major tribes were the Salians, who lived near the coast in Gallia Belgica and Germania Inferior, and the Ripuarians, who lived along the Rhine. Each tribe (and there were many others) had its own ruler, usually titled "king." In 451, Aëtius called upon his Germanic foederati (allies living on Roman soil) to help fight off an invasion by the Asiatic Huns. The Salians answered the call, the Ripuarians fought on both sides as some of them lived outside the Empire. Gregory's sources tentatively identify one Meroveus as king of the Franks and possibly a son of Chlodio. Meroveus was succeeded by Childeric I, whose grave, rediscovered in 1653, contained a ring that identified him as king of the Franks. Hereafter, the history of the Franks is less murky. Childeric's son Clovis engaged in a campaign of consolidating the various Frankish kingdoms in Gaul and the Rhineland, which included defeating Syagrius at the Battle of Tolbiac in 486, and decisively defeating the Visigothic kingdom of Toulouse in the Battle of Vouillé in 507. This victory ended Roman control in the Paris region. In the Battle of Vouillé (507), Clovis, with the help of the Burgundians, defeated the Visigoths, expanding his realm eastwards down to the Pyrenees mountains.

The conversion of Clovis to Trinitarian Roman Christianity, after his marriage to the Catholic Burgundian princess Clothilde in 493, may have helped to increase his standing in the eyes of the Pope and the other orthodox Christian rulers. Clovis' conversion signalled the conversion of the rest of the Franks. Because they were able to worship with their Catholic neighbours, the newly-Christianized Franks found much easier acceptance from the local Gallo-Roman population than did the Arian Visigoths, Vandals or Burgundians. The Merovingians thus built what eventually proved the most stable of the successor-kingdoms in the west.

The Merovingian chieftains adhered to the Germanic practice of dividing their lands among their sons, and the frequent division, reunification and redivision of territories often resulted in murder and warfare within the leading families. So though Clovis drove the Visigoths out of Gaul, at his death in 511, his four sons divided his realm between themselves, and over the next two centuries his descendants shared the kingship. Even when multiple Merovingian kings ruled, the kingdom — not unlike the late Roman Empire — was conceived of as a single realm ruled collectively by several kings and the turn of events could result in the reunification of the whole realm under a single king.

The Frankish area expanded further under Clovis' sons, eventually covering most of present-day France, but including areas east of the Rhine river as well, such as Alamannia (today's southwestern Germany) and Thuringia (from 531). Saxony, however, remained outside the Frankish realm until conquered by Charlemagne centuries later.

After a temporary reunification of the separate kingdoms under Clotaire I, the Frankish lands split once again in 561nd Burgundy, which had been absorbed into the Frankish realms through a combination of political marriage and force of arms.

In each Frankish kingdom the Mayor of the Palace served as the chief officer of state. A series of premature deaths beginning with that of Dagobert I in 639 led to a series of underage kings. By the turn of the 8th century, this allowed the Austrasian Mayors to consolidate power in their own hereditary regency, laying the foundation for a new dynasty: their descendants, the Carolingians.

Clotaire II defeated Brunhilda and her offspring and reunified the kingdom. However, in 623 he created the sub-kingdom of Austrasia, in order to appease particularistic forces and also to secure the borders. His son and successor Dagobert I emulated this move by appointing sub-kings for Aquitaine in 629 and Austrasia in 634.

[edit] Carolingians (751–887)

Main article: Carolingian Empire
Map of the Carolingian Empire.
Map of the Carolingian Empire.

However, from the days of Pepin the Elder, the King was effectively powerless, and the Mayor of the Palace, one of the Carolingians, effectively ruled the Realm. But this came to a clear head during the reign of Charles Martel, forever remembered in history as Christianity's champion at the Battle of Tours. At the end of his life, Charles Martel did not even bother appointing a King, which his family had been doing for generations. The in-name-only (by then called the do-nothing King), had died, and Martel was so secure in his ultimate power he did not even bother to appoint a successor. Not caring about titles, he merely called himself "maior domus" and "princeps et dux Francorum", ("First or Dominant Mayor and Prince of the Franks").

Historians have commented on his remarkable dispensing with royal prerequisites and pomp, while maintaining absolute power. As the historian Charles Oman says (The Dark Ages, pg 297), "he cared not for name or style so long as the real power was in his hands." Echoing Oman, Norwich has said:

He kept no court, cared not for titles, and the thought of a crown amused him. All that interested him was the true essence of power, and what could be done with it. He believed he had a mission to preserve what his ancestors had struggled so to build after Rome's fall, and intended that it not be destroyed during his stewardship. For a man of such enormous power—the real master of today's Europe at his life's end—he cared naught for show, but only for results.

Martel so cemented his place in history with his ferocious defense of Christian Europe against what had been an undefeated Muslim Army, that Gibbons called Charles Martel "the paramount prince of his age."

Martel's son, Pippin the Short succeeded his father as Mayor of the Palace of a reunited and re-erected Frankish kingdom comprised of the formerly independent parts, which Charles Martel had managed to reunite, and expand, during a war-filled lifetime. Most historians believe the Carolingian Empire truly was founded by Charles Martel, who united all the fractions and factions of the Franks, defeated all their enemies, and incorporated most of what would become the Empire under Frankish dominion. Pippin finished his father's work and drove the Emirite of Cordoba completely over the Pyrenees back into what is now Spain, defeated the Saxons, and had the Frankish army proclaim him King, after the Pope, who depended on those same armies to protect him, had endorsed Pippin as the real King of the Franks.

Pippin reigned as an elected king. Although such elections happened infrequently, a general rule in Germanic law stated that the king relied on the support of his leading men. These men reserved the right to choose a new "kingworthy" leader out of the ruling clan if they felt that the old one could not lead them in profitable battle. While in later France the kingdom became hereditary, the kings of the later Holy Roman Empire proved unable to abolish the elective tradition and continued as elected rulers until the empire's formal end in 1806.

Pippin solidified his position in 754 by entering into an alliance with Pope Stephen II, who presented the king of the Franks a copy of the forged "Donation of Constantine" at Paris and in a magnificent ceremony at Saint-Denis anointed the king and his family and declared him patricius Romanorum ("protector of the Romans"). The following year Pippin fulfilled his promise to the pope and retrieved the Exarchate of Ravenna, recently fallen to the Lombards, and returned it to the Papacy. Pippin donated the re-conquered areas around Rome to the Pope, laying the foundation for the Papal States in the "Donation of Pippin" which he laid on the tomb of St Peter. The papacy had good cause to expect that the remade Frankish monarchy would provide a deferential power base (potestas) in the creation of a new world order, centred on the Pope.

Upon Pippin's death in 768, his sons, Charles and Carloman, once again divided the kingdom between themselves. However, Carloman withdrew to a monastery and died shortly thereafter, leaving sole rule to his brother, who would later become known as Charlemagne or Charles the Great, a powerful, intelligent, and modestly literate figure who became a legend for the later history of both France and Germany. Charlemagne restored an equal balance between emperor and pope.

From 772 onwards, Charles conquered and eventually defeated the Saxons to incorporate their realm into the Frankish kingdom. This campaign expanded the practice of non-Roman Christian rulers undertaking the conversion of their neighbours by armed force; Frankish Catholic missionaries, along with others from Ireland and Anglo-Saxon England, had entered Saxon lands since the mid-8th century, resulting in increasing conflict with the Saxons, who resisted the missionary efforts and parallel military incursions. Charles' main Saxon opponent, Widukind, accepted baptism in 785 as part of a peace agreement, but other Saxon leaders continued to fight. Upon his victory in 787 at Verdun, Charles ordered the wholesale killing of thousands of pagan Saxon prisoners. After several more uprisings, the Saxons suffered definitive defeat in 804. This expanded the Frankish kingdom eastwards as far as the Elbe river, something the Roman empire had only attempted once, and at which it failed in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (9 AD). In order to more effectively Christianize the Saxons, Charles founded several bishoprics, among them Bremen, Münster, Paderborn, and Osnabrück.

At the same time (773774), Charles conquered the Lombards and thus included northern Italy in his sphere of influence. He renewed the Vatican donation and the promise to the papacy of continued Frankish protection.

In 788, Tassilo, dux (duke) of Bavaria rebelled against Charles. Quashing the rebellion incorporated Bavaria into Charles' kingdom. This not only added to the royal fisc, but also drastically reduced the power and influence of the Agilolfings (Tassilo's family), another leading family among the Franks and potential rivals. Until 796, Charles continued to expand the kingdom even farther southeast, into today's Austria and parts of Croatia.

Charlemagne's kingdom survived its founder and covered much of Western Europe from 795 until 843 when a treaty split it amongst his grandsons: Central Franks ruled by Lothair I (green), East Franks ruled by Louis the German (yellow), and Charles the Bald led West Franks (purple).
Charlemagne's kingdom survived its founder and covered much of Western Europe from 795 until 843 when a treaty split it amongst his grandsons: Central Franks ruled by Lothair I (green), East Franks ruled by Louis the German (yellow), and Charles the Bald led West Franks (purple).

Charles thus created a realm that reached from the Pyrenees in the southwest (actually, including an area in Northern Spain (Marca Hispanica) after 795) over almost all of today's France (except Brittany, which the Franks never conquered) eastwards to most of today's Germany, including northern Italy and today's Austria. In the hierarchy of the church, bishops and abbots looked to the patronage of the king's palace, where the sources of patronage and security lay. Charles had fully emerged as the leader of Western Christendom, and his patronage of monastic centres of learning gave rise to the "Carolingian Renaissance" of literate culture. Charles also created a large palace at Aachen, a series of roads, and a canal.

On Christmas Day, 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charles as "Emperor of the Romans" in Rome in a ceremony presented as a surprise (Charlemagne did not wish to be indebted to the bishop of Rome), a further papal move in the series of symbolic gestures that had been defining the mutual roles of papal auctoritas and imperial potestas. Though Charlemagne, in deference to Byzantine outrage, preferred the title "Emperor, king of the Franks and Lombards", the ceremony formally acknowledged the Frankish Empire as the successor of the (Western) Roman one (although only the forged "Donation" gave the pope political authority to do this), thus triggering a series of disputes with the Byzantines around the Roman name. After an initial protest at the usurpation, in 812, the Byzantine Emperor Michael I Rhangabes acknowledged Charlemagne as co-Emperor. The coronation gave permanent legitimacy to Carolingian primacy among the Franks. The Ottonians later resurrected this connection in 962.

Upon Charlemagne's death on January 28, 814 in Aachen, he was buried in his own Palace Chapel at Aachen. At his death, the Carolingian Empire was larger in terms of land mass than the original Roman Empire. Unlike the Romans, who had never ventured beyond the Rhine after the disaster at Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (9 AD). , Charlemagne crushed all Germanic resisitence and extended his realm completely to the Elbe, and influenced events almost to the Russian Steppes.

[edit] Later Carolingians

Charlemagne had several sons, but only one survived him. This son, Louis the Pious, followed his father as the ruler of a united empire. But sole inheritance remained a matter of chance, rather than intent. When Louis died in 840, the Carolingians adhered to the custom of partible inheritance, and the Treaty of Verdun in 843 divided the empire in three:

  1. Louis' eldest surviving son Lothair I became Emperor and ruler of the Central Franks. His three sons in turn divided this kingdom between them into Lotharingia, Burgundy and (Northern) Italy. These areas would later vanish as separate kingdoms.
  2. Louis' second son, Louis the German, became King of the East Franks. This area formed the kernel of the later Holy Roman Empire, which eventually evolved into modern Germany. For a list of successors, see the List of German Kings and Emperors.
  3. His third son Charles the Bald became King of the West Franks; this area became the foundation for the later France. For his successors, see the List of French monarchs.

Subsequently, at the Treaty of Mersen (870) the partitions were recast, to the detriment of Lotharingia.

On December 12, 884, Charles the Fat reunited most of the Carolingian Empire, aside from Burgundy.

In late 887, his nephew, Arnulf of Carinthia revolted and assumed the title as King of the East Franks ('Germany'). Charles retired and soon died on January 13, 888. Odo, Count of Paris was chosen to rule in the west ('France'), and was crowned the next month.

The Carolingians were 10 years later restored in France, and ruled until 987, when the last Frankish King, Louis V, died

[edit] After the Treaty of Verdun

[edit] West Francia (843–987)

Main article: West Francia

West Francia was the land under the control of Charles the Bald. It is the precursor of modern France. It was divided into the following great fiefs: Aquitaine, Brittany, Burgundy, Catalonia, Flanders, Gascony, Gothia (Septimania), the Île-de-France, and Toulouse. After 987, the kingdom came to be known as France, because the new ruling dynasty (the Capetians) were originally dukes of the Île-de-France.

[edit] Middle Francia (843–869)

Main article: Middle Francia

Middle Francia was the territory ruled by Lothair I, wedged between East and West Francia. The kingdom, which included the Kingdom of Italy, Burgundy, the Provence, and the west of Austrasia, was an unnatural creation of the Treaty of Verdun, with no historical or ethnic identity. The kingdom was split on the death of Lothair II in 869 into those of Lotharingia, Provence (with Burgundy divided between it and Lotharingia), and Italy.

[edit] East Francia (843–962)

Main article: East Francia

East Francia was the land of Louis the German. It was divided into four duchies: Swabia (Alamannia), Franconia, Saxony and Bavaria (including Moravia and Carinthia); to which after the death of Lothair II were added the eastern parts of Lotharingia. This division persisted until 1268, the end of the Hohenstaufen dynasty. Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor was crowned on 2 February 962, marking the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire (translatio imperii). From the 10th century, East Francia became also known as regnum Teutonicum ("Teutonic kingdom" or "Kingdom of Germany"), a term that became prevalent in Salian times. The title of Holy Roman Emperor was used from that time, beginning with Conrad II.

[edit] Frankish Society

[edit] Society in Frankish Gaul

Stability did not exist day-to-day. While casual violence existed to a degree in late Roman times, the introduction of the Germanic practice of the blood-feud to obtain personal justice led to a perception of increased lawlessness. The Roman systems of taxation and administration were gradually replaced by the feudal system. Literacy practically disappeared outside of churches and monasteries, despite Charlemagne's efforts to revive learning.

The Catholic Church exercised a huge moral influence. One manifestation of that influence was found in the replacement of slavery with the somewhat more humane system of serfdom.

During the Merovingian period, the Gallo-Romans (descendents of the Celts and/or descendents of Roman settlers) and the Franks were governed by separate law codes. However, in the ninth century, territorially-based legal systems emerged in parts of the realm.

Trade declined after the fall of the Roman Empire, and economic life centered on self-sufficient villas. However, foreign merchants (such as Syrians and Vikings) carried goods such as papyrus and silver into the Frankish Empire. In addition, domestic trade grew around market towns.

The standard of living of the peasants was appalling; however, the occasional church holidays and fairs ensured that peasant life was not joyless.

Agricultural production began to grow after the eighth century with the introduction of a heavy plough. This paved the way for a period of demographic and economic recovery, and the end of the Dark Ages.

[edit] Society in Frankish Germania

Western Germania came under Frankish control by the sixth century. The eastern portions of Merovingian Germania consisted of often autonomus duchies. Efforts were made to spread Christianity among the local peoples, and Frankish colonists entered these regions.

The Saxons and Avars remained independent until Charlemagne invaded their territories, conquered them, and converted them to Christianity.

[edit] Society in Frankish Italy

[edit] External links

[edit] Sources