Frankish Empire

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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.

Frankish ascendancy


Rise of the Frankish Empire.jpg
Diachronic map of the Frankish Empire at its greatest extent.png

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

Main article: Merovingians

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.

Carolingian Empire (800–888)

Main article: Carolingian dynasty

The term "Carolingian Empire" is a modern convention and was not used by its contemporaries. The language of official acts in the empire was Latin. The empire was referred to variously as universum regnum ("the whole kingdom", as opposed to the regional kingdoms), Romanorum sive Francorum imperium[1] ("empire of the Romans and Franks"), Romanum imperium ("Roman empire"), or even imperium christianum ("Christian empire").[2]

Divided empire, after 840

Map of the division of the Frankish Empire enacted at Verdun in 843; grey was now the "Kingdom of the West Franks", which would be known as France at the end of the Middle Ages, yellow was "Middle Francia" or Lotharii Regnum (German: Mittelreich), which would soon be swallowed up by the Holy Roman Empire, blue was the "Kingdom of the East Franks" (Regnum Francorum orientalium), which would become the Kingdom of Germany. After 962, when Otto the Great was crowned emperor, East Francia formed the bulk of the Holy Roman Empire, which also included the Kingdom of Italy and, after 1032, the Kingdom of Burgundy.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


Painting (1861) "Die Erziehung der Kinder von Chlodwig" from Lawrence Alma-Tadema. It shows Chlodwig I. (Clovis, King of the Salian Franks and from 509 until 511 King of all Franks) and his wife Chrodechild looking on as their children are raised and taught for warfare. Clovis' sons are throwing the "Franziska", the historical throwing axe of the Franks.
Louis the Pious (Ludwig der Fromme), son of Charlemagne and Hildegard, was the last king of the united Franks.

Early rulers (incomplete)

Henry I (Heinrich I.), King of the East Franks (left) meets Charles III, King of the West Franks on 7 November 921 on the Rhine on a moored ship; both conclude the Treaty of Bonn (Treaty of Bonn 921).
  • Ascaric
  • Merogais
  • Mallobaudes
  • Genobaud
  • Sunno
  • Marcomer
  • Pharamond, son of Marcomer, semi-legendary king
  • Theudemeres, son of Richomeres, King circa 422
  • Aegidius
  • Sigobert the Lame, King 483 – 507, killed by his son Chloderic the Parricide
  • Chlodoric the Parricide, son of Sigebert, King 507, dethroned by Clovis

Rulers of the Salians

  • Clodio, possible son of Pharamond, King at Dispargum and later Tournai (426 – 447)
  • Merovech, possible son of Chlodio, King at Tournai (447 – 458)
  • Childeric I, son of Merovech, King at Tournai (458 – 481)
  • Clovis I, son of Childeric I, King at Tournai (481 – 511), later united most of the Franks and Roman Gaul

All of the following may have been related to Clovis in some degree and eventually removed by before 509:

  • Chararic
  • Ragnachar, probably king at Cambrai from before 486, killed by Clovis
  • Ricchar, brother of Ragnachar, killed by Clovis at Cambrai
  • Rign, brother of Ragnachar, killed by Clovis at Mans

King of the Franks

  • 509–511 Clovis I (King of the Salian Franks 481 – c. 509)
    • Upon Clovis' death, the kingdom was split among his four sons.
      • Childebert I 511-558 (Paris)
      • Chlothar I 511-561 (Neustria)
        • Chlothar eventually took over the other three kingdoms after the deaths of his brothers (or their successors). After his own death, the kingdom was once again divided into Neustria (in the west), Burgundy, and Austrasia (in the east).
      • Chlodomer 511-524 (Orleans)
      • Theuderic I 511-534 (Reims)
        • Theudebert I 534-548 (Reims)
        • Theudebald 548-555 (Reims)
    • 561–584 Chilperic I (King of Neustria, not of the Franks)
  • 613–629 Chlothar II (King of Neustria 584–613)
  • 629–639 Dagobert I (King of Austrasia 623–634)
    • Clovis II (633 – 657) was only King of Neustria and Burgundy
  • 657-662 Chlothar III (King of Neustria and Burgundy 657-673; King of Austrasia 657-662)
  • 673–675 Childeric II (King of Neustria and Burgundy 673-675; King of Austrasia 662-675)
  • 679–691 Theuderic III (King of Austrasia 679-691; King of Neustria and Burgundy in 673 and 675-691)
  • 691–694 Clovis IV
  • 694–711 Childebert III
  • 711–715 Dagobert III
  • 718–721 Chilperic II
  • 721–737 Theuderic IV
  • 743–751 Childeric III
  • 751–768 Pepin the Short
  • 9 October 768 – 4 December 771 Carloman I/Karlmann
  • 9 October 768 – 28 January 814 Charlemagne (Emperor of the Carolingian Empire 800–814)
    • Charlemagne was the eldest son of Pepin the Short and Bertrada of Laon. He was born before their canonical marriage. He became king of the Franks in 768 following his father's death, and was initially co-ruler with his brother Carloman I until the latter's death in 771. As sole ruler, he continued his father's policy towards protection of the papacy and became its sole defender, removing the Lombards from power in northern Italy and leading an incursion into Muslim occupied Spain. He also campaigned against the Saxons to his east, Christianizing them (upon penalty of death) which led to events such as the Massacre of Verden. He reached the height of his power in 800 when he was crowned Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day at Old St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
  • 814–840 Louis the Pious (Emperor of the Carolingian Empire 813–840)

Rulers after the division of the Empire

East Francia (eventually Kingdom of Germany)

  • Louis II, called the German, 843–876
    • Bavaria: Carloman, with his father 864–876

Louis divided his lands between his three sons, but they all ended up in the hands of the youngest by 882:

  • Carloman, King of Bavaria 876–880. King of Italy 877
  • Louis III, called the Younger, King of Saxony, Franconia, and Thuringia 876–882, inherited Bavaria from his brother Carloman in 880
  • Charles III, called the Fat, King of Swabia, Alemannia and Rhaetia 876–887, inherited Italy from his brother Carloman in 879, and inherited the remainder of East Francia from his brother Louis in 882. Emperor 881

On the deposition of Charles the Fat, East Francia went to his nephew:

Louis the Child was the last East Frankish Carolingian ruler. He was succeeded by Conrad I of Germany (Konrad I.) in 911 and then the Saxon Ottonian dynasty with Henry the Fowler (Heinrich I.) in 919:

  • Henry the Fowler (Henry I), Duke of Saxony from 912, King of East Francia from 919 until 936, founder of the Saxon dynasty
  • Otto I, the Great, Duke of Saxony and King of East Francia from 936, King of Italy from 951, Holy Roman Emperor from 962 until 973
  • Otto II, co-ruler from 961, Holy Roman Emperor from 967, sole ruler from 973 until 983
  • Otto III, King of the Romans from 983, Holy Roman Emperor from 996 until 1002
  • Henry II, the Saint, Duke of Bavaria from 995 (as Henry IV), King of the Romans from 1002, King of Italy from 1004, Holy Roman Emperor from 1002 until 1024

Middle Francia

After Lothair's death in 855, his realm was divided between his sons:

  • Louis II, 855–875, the eldest son, succeeded his father as Emperor and received Italy. For the continuation, see King of Italy.
  • Lothair II, 855–869, the second son, received the northern half of Middle Francia, which came to be named "Lotharingia" (Lorraine) from his name.
  • Charles II, 855–863, the youngest son, received the southern half of Middle Francia, consisting of Provence and Burgundy.

West Francia (eventually Kingdom of France)

Names marked with an asterisk (*) were not Carolingians, but Robertians.

Franks to French
  • Hugh "Capet"
  • Robert II
    • Hughes (junior king)
  • Henry I
  • Philip I "the Amorous"
  • Louis VI "the Fat"
    • Philippe (junior king)
  • Louis VII "the Young"
  • Philip II "Augustus"
    • After Louis VII or Philip II, historians chiefly use French and France, although it is historically debated, when exactly the Western Franks became the French.


Primary sources
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.

External links


  1. Sometimes with Romanum (Roman) replacing Romanorum (of the Romans) and atque (and) replacing sive (or).
  2. Garipzanov, Ildar H. (2008). The Symbolic Language of Authority in the Carolingian World (c.751–877). ISBN 9789047433408.