The group of people called the “Franks” were a Germanic tribe that emerged from the European country of Gaul during the 3rd century. The country that was then known as Gaul is now called France.
The name “France” comes from the Frank people. At first, the Franks were most famous for being warriors, and served as auxiliary (extra/backup) troops in the Roman army, but quickly established dynasties of their own that had a great impact on European society and politics. The Frank dynasties formed the basis for modern French culture and contributed greatly to the cultural development of mainland Europe.
The first Frank dynasty was the Merovingian Dynasty, who ruled over the Merovingian Kingdom. Although the Franks had once fight with Rome, they took advantage of Rome’s weakness after a particularly lengthy military campaign and seize control of several countries in mainland Europe – most notably, Gaul and Belgium.
By the year 507 AD, all of Gaul and Belgium had been united under the rule of a man named Clovis. Clovis was the founder of the Merovingian Kingdom. Clovis converted to Catholicism shortly after becoming the ruler of Gaul, and imposed Christianity as the state religion for his people.
Because of this decision, Clovis was the first king of the Franks to be recognized by the Pope; this made him seem more legitimate to other European leaders and helped to consolidate his rule. The Merovingian Dynasty lasted for about two centuries.
After the Merovingian Kingdom came the Carolingian Empire, which officially began when a man named ‘Pepin the Short’ seized control of Frank territory with the help of a noble alliance. The Franks reached true greatness during the rule of the Carolingian Empire.
The greatest ruler of the Carolingian Empire was a man named Charlemagne, who ruled from 742-814. Under Charlemagne, the Carolingian Empire expanded to cover most of Europe. His empire grew so much that he even managed to take over Italy and Rome – because of this, the Pope recognized Charlemagne as the First Holy Roman Emperor, and he was regarded as the ruler of all European monarchs.
By 843, the Carolingian Empire was divided in two, and split into the Kingdoms of Germany and France. This divide shaped the politics of mainland Europe for years to come.
There was a great number of cultural developments during the Frank regime of the Middle Ages. For starters, the Franks invented the feudal system during their time in power. The feudal system is a system of politics and land ownership in which land is distributed to knights and lords in return for their service to the crown.
The landowning lords and knights would employ workers (peasants/serfs) to tend to their land, in return for a small amount of space to call their own. The feudal system remained in place across Europe for centuries, and established the strict system of European social hierarchy that remained in place until approximately the 16th century.
The Franks also invented the concept of a “knight” – during the Frank regime, only the best soldiers were given the suit of armor and horse which define the medieval knight, and these same people were rewarded for their service after military success.
Although the idea of the ‘knight’ is regarded as a British invention, it comes from the first Frank dynasty. The system of warfare developed by the Franks was also important to the development of similar systems globally, and had a great impact on how countries interacted with each other. The idea of cavalry – soldiers who ride horses into battle – was invented by the Franks, and remained popular until the beginning of the 1900s.
Because the Franks were a Catholic people and controlled so much of Europe, they naturally contributed to the spread of Catholicism across the continent, and helped to make the Church more powerful than it already was. The Pope recognizing Charlemagne as a “holy” emperor also helped to strengthen his rule, and popularized the idea of rulers being special/chosen by God to fulfil their job.
– The Merovingian Dynasty and the Carolingian Empire.
– The feudal system is a system of politics and land ownership in which land is distributed to knights and lords in return for their service to the crown.