Frankish Empire or Frankia/Francia, also called the Kingdom of the Franks or Frankish Kingdom (Latin: regnum Francorum), Frankish Realm or occasionally Frankland, was the territory inhabited and ruled by the Franks, a confederation of Germanic tribes, during Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.
The kingdom was founded by Clovis I, crowned first King of the Franks in 496. Under the nearly continuous campaigns of Pepin of Herstal, Charles Martel, Pepin the Short, Charlemagne, and Louis the Pious—father, son, grandson, great-grandson and great-great-grandson—the greatest expansion of the Frankish empire was secured by the early 9th century.
The tradition of dividing patrimonies among brothers meant that the Frankish realm was ruled, nominally, as one polity subdivided into several regna (kingdoms or subkingdoms). The geography and number of subkingdoms varied over time, but the particular term Francia came generally to refer to just one regnum, that of Austrasia, centred on the Rhine and Meuse rivers in northern Europe. Even so, sometimes the term was used as well to encompass Neustria north of the Loire and west of the Seine.
Eventually, the singular use of the name Francia shifted towards Paris, and settled on the region of the Seine basin surrounding Paris, which still today bears the name Île-de-France and gave its name to the entire Kingdom of France. Most of Frankish Kings were buried in the Basilica of Saint Denis, near Paris. Modern France is still named Francia in Spanish and Italian.
The Franks emerged in the 3rd century as a confederation of smaller tribes, such as the Sicambri, Bructeri, Ampsivarii, Chamavi and Chattuarii, in the area north and east of the Rhine. Some of these peoples, such as the Sicambri and Salians, already had lands in the Roman Empire and delivered troops to Roman forces at the border. In 357 the Salian king entered the Roman Empire and made a permanent foothold there by a treaty granted by Julian the Apostate, who forced back the Chamavi to Hamaland.
As Frankish territory expanded, the meaning of "Francia" expanded with it. Some of the early Frankish leaders, such as Bauto and Arbogastes, were committed to the cause of the Romans, but other Frankish rulers, such as Mallobaudes, were active on Roman soil for other reasons. After the fall of Arbogastes, his son Arigius succeeded in establishing a hereditary countship at Trier and after the fall of the usurper Constantine III some Franks supported the usurper Jovinus (411). Jovinus was dead by 413, but the Romans found it increasingly difficult to manage the Franks within their borders. The Frankish king Theudemer was executed by the sword, in c. 422.
Around 428 the Salian king Chlodio, whose kingdom included Toxandria and the civitatus Tungrorum (Tongeren), launched an attack on Roman territory and extended his realm as far as Camaracum (Cambrai) and the Somme. Though Sidonius Apollinaris relates that Flavius Aëtius fought the Franks and temporarily drove them back (c. 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.
The kingdom of Chlodio changed the borders and the meaning of the word "Francia" permanently. Francia was no longer barbaricum trans Rhenum (barbarians across the Rhine), but a landed political power on both sides of the river, deeply involved in Roman politics. Chlodio's family, the Merovingians, extended Francia even further south. Due to pressure from the Saxons, the northeastern borders of Francia were pressed southwest so that most of the original Frankish people came to live more southwesterly, roughly between the Somme and Münster. The core territory of the Frankish kingdom later came to be known as Austrasia (the "eastern lands").
Merovingian rise and decline, 481–687
Chlodio's successors are obscure figures, but what can be certain is that Childeric I, possibly his grandson, ruled a Salian kingdom from Tournai as a foederatus of the Romans. Childeric is chiefly important to history for bequeathing the Franks to his son Clovis, who began an effort to extend his authority over the other Frankish tribes and to expand their territorium south and west into Gaul. Clovis converted to Christianity and put himself on good terms with the powerful Church and with his Gallo-Roman subjects.
In a thirty-year reign (481–511) Clovis defeated the Roman general Syagrius and conquered the Roman exclave of Soissons, defeated the Alemanni (Tolbiac, 504) and established Frankish hegemony over them. Clovis defeated the Visigoths (Vouillé, 507) and conquered their entire kingdom (save Septimania) with its capital at Toulouse, and conquered the Bretons (according to Gregory of Tours) and made them vassals of Francia. He conquered most or all of the neighbouring Frankish tribes along the Rhine and incorporated them into his kingdom.
He also incorporated the various Roman military settlements (laeti) scattered over Gaul: the Saxons of Bessin, the Britons and the Alans of Armorica and Loire valley or the Taifals of Poitou to name a few prominent ones. By the end of his life, Clovis ruled all of Gaul save the Gothic province of Septimania and the Burgundian kingdom in the southeast.
The Merovingians were a hereditary monarchy. The Frankish kings adhered to the practice of partible inheritance: dividing their lands among their sons. 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 Merovingian kings ruled by divine right and their kingship was symbolised daily by their long hair and initially by their acclamation, which was carried out by raising the king on a shield in accordance with the ancient Germanic practice of electing a war-leader at an assembly of the warriors.
Divided empire, after 840
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 after a brief civil war between the three sons, they made an agreement in 843, the Treaty of Verdun, which divided the empire in three:
- Louis' eldest surviving son Lothair I became Emperor in name but de facto only the ruler of the Middle Frankish Kingdom, or Middle Francia, known as King of the Central or Middle Franks. His three sons in turn divided this kingdom between them into Lotharingia (centered on Lorraine), Burgundy, and (Northern) Italy Lombardy. These areas with different cultures, peoples and traditions would later vanish as separate kingdoms, which would eventually become Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Lorraine, Switzerland, Lombardy and the various departments of France along the Rhône drainage basin and Jura massif.
- Louis' second son, Louis the German, became King of the East Frankish Kingdom or East Francia. This area formed the kernel of the later Holy Roman Empire by way of the Kingdom of Germany enlarged with some additional territories from Lothair's Middle Frankish Realm: much of these territories eventually evolved into modern Austria, Switzerland and Germany. For a list of successors, see the List of German monarchs.
- His third son Charles the Bald became King of the West Franks, of the West Frankish Kingdom or West Francia. This area, most of today's southern and western France, became the foundation for the later France under the House of Capet. 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 12 December 884, Charles the Fat (son of Louis the German) 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. Charles retired and soon died on 13 January 888.
Odo, Count of Paris was chosen to rule in the west, and was crowned the next month. At this point, West Francia was composed of Neustria in the west and in the east by Francia proper, the region between the Meuse and the Seine. The Carolingians were restored ten years later in West Francia, and ruled until 987, when the last Frankish King, Louis V, died.
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, 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.
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 north Italy.
East Francia was the land of Louis the German. It was divided into four duchies: Swabia (Alamannia), Franconia, Saxony and Bavaria; 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 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.
King of the Franks
- 481–511 Clovis I
- 613–629 Clotaire II
- 629–639 Dagobert I
- 751–768 Pepin the Short
- 768–814 Charlemagne
- 814–840 Louis the Pious
- Primary sources
- Ammianus Marcellinus. Roman History. trans. by Roger Pearse. London: Bohn, 1862.
- Procopius. History of the Wars. trans. by H. B. Dewing.
- Fredegar. The Fourth Book of the Chronicle of Fredegar with its Continuations. trans. by John Michael Wallace-Hadrill. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1960.
- Fredegar. Historia Epitomata. Woodruff, Jane Ellen. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, 1987.
- Gregory of Tours. Historia Francorum.
- Gregory of Tours. The History of the Franks. trans. by Earnest Brehaut. 1916. Excerpts here
- Gregory of Tours. The History of the Franks. 2 vol. trans. O. M. Dalton. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967.
- Bachrach, Bernard S. (trans.) Liber Historiae Francorum. 1973.
- Secondary sources
- Bachrach, Bernard S. Merovingian Military Organization, 481–751. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1971. ISBN 0-8166-0621-8
- Collins, Roger. Early Medieval Europe 300–1000. London: MacMillan, 1991.
- Fouracre, Paul. "The Origins of the Nobility in Francia." Nobles and Nobility in Medieval Europe: Concepts, Origins, Transformations, ed. Anne J. Duggan. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2000. ISBN 0-85115-769-6.
- Geary, Patrick J. Before France and Germany: the Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-19-504458-4
- James, Edward. The Franks. (Peoples of Europe series) Basil Blackwell, 1988. ISBN 0-631-17936-4
- Lewis, Archibald R. "The Dukes in the Regnum Francorum, A.D. 550–751." Speculum, Vol. 51, No 3 (July 1976), pp 381–410.
- McKitterick, Rosamond. The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians, 751–987. London: Longman, 1983. ISBN 0-582-49005-7.
- Murray, Archibald C. and Goffart, Walter A. After Rome's Fall: Narrators and Sources of Early Medieval History. 1999.
- Nixon, C. E. V. and Rodgers, Barbara. In Praise of Later Roman Emperors. Berkeley, 1994.
- Schutz, Herbert. The Germanic Realms in Pre-Carolingian Central Europe, 400–750. American University Studies, Series IX: History, Vol. 196. New York: Peter Lang, 2000.
- Wallace-Hadrill, J. M. The Long-Haired Kings. London: Butler & tanner Ltd, 1962.
- Wallace-Hadrill, J. M. The Barbarian West. London: Hutchinson, 1970.
- The Frankish Empire, The Saylor Foundation, 2021 ([archive]https://web.archive.org/web/20211104232947/https://resources.saylor.org/wwwresources/archived/site/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/HIST201-1.1.1-FrankishEmpire-FINAL1.pdf )
- TABLE. Capitals of the Frankish Kingdom according to the years, in 509 – 800