Who were Franks?

Franks were Germanic-speaking people who attacked the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century. Controlling present-day northern France, Belgium, and western Germany, the Franks established the most dominant Christian kingdom of early medieval western Europe. France owes its name to franks.

The Franks appeared in recorded history in the 3rd century CE as a Germanic tribe inhabiting the east bank of the lower Rhine River. Linguistically, they were member of the Rhine-Weser group of Germanic speakers. They were divided into three different groups: the Ripuarians, the Salians, and the Chatti, or Hessians. These branches were intrinsically related to each other by language and custom, but politically these tribes were independent. In the mid-3rd century the Franks made an unsuccessful attempt to expand westward across the Rhine into Roman-held Gaul. In the mid-4th century the Franks once again tried to invade Gaul, and in 358 Rome was forced to abandon the expanse between the Meuse and Scheldt rivers (now in Belgium) to the Salian Franks. The Franks gradually got influenced by Roman civilization in the course of these drawn-out struggles. Some Frankish leaders became Roman allies (foederati) and many Franks even served as auxiliary soldiers in the Roman army.

The Vandals invaded Gaul in 406, and in the subsequent decades the Franks took full advantage of the overstressed Roman defences. They solidified their hold on present day Belgium territory, made their control permanent on lands immediately west of the middle Rhine River, and edged into present day north-eastern France. Firming of control of the Franks in north-eastern Gaul by the year 480 meant that Romans lost Germania province and part of its two Belgic provinces. The miniscule Gallo-Roman population there amalgamated with the German immigrants, and Latin lost its status of being the language of everyday speech. Present day limit of Frankish settlement is marked by the linguistic frontier that even now divides the Romance-speaking peoples of southern Belgium and France from the Germanic-speaking peoples of the Netherlands, northern Belgium, and Germany.

In 481/482 Clovis I became the ruler of the Salian Franks of Tournai succeeding his father Childeric. In the subsequent years Clovis forced the other Salian and Ripuarian tribes to submit to his authority. Now taking advantage of the disintegration of the Roman Empire he led the united Franks in a series of campaigns that brought all of northern Gaul under his control by 494. He established and secured a unified Frankish kingdom in northern Gaul. Clovis became a catholic, and the mass conversion to orthodox Christianity by the Franks further united them into one people. It won them the support of the orthodox clergy and the residual Gallo-Roman elements in Gaul too as Arianism had been adopted by most other Germanic tribes. Arianism negated the divinity of the Christ.

Name of grandfather of Clovis was Merovech and hence his dynasty was called Merovingian dynasty. The Merovingians under successors of Clovis were able to extend Frankish power east of the Rhine. The Merovingian dynasty was unseated by the Carolingian family in the 8th century. The Carolingian Charlemagne (Charles the Great) ruled from 768 AD to 814 AD and restored the western Roman Empire in collaboration with the papacy. He spread Christianity into central and northern Germany. His empire crumbled by the mid-9th century.

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