The Franks

The Franks were a Germanic tribe that lived in the region of modern-day Germany and France during the early Middle Ages. They played a significant role in the history of Europe, particularly during the Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties. The Franks were known for their military prowess and their expansionist policies, which led to the establishment of the Frankish Empire. They also had a strong influence on the development of Western European culture and language.

The Franks Facts For Kids

  • The Franks were a group of Germanic tribes.
  • They first appeared in the 3rd century AD.
  • Charlemagne, a famous Frank, ruled in the 8th century.
  • The Franks helped form modern-day France and Germany.
  • They were initially pagan, but converted to Christianity.
  • Their language, Old Frankish, evolved into Dutch and Flemish.
  • The Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties were Frankish.
  • The Franks used a legal system called the Salic Law.
  • They played a major role in the fall of the Roman Empire.
  • The word “France” comes from “Francia,” the land of the Franks.

Merovingian Dynasty

The Merovingian Dynasty, founded by the Franks and named after the semi-legendary leader Merovech, holds an important position in European history.

His grandson, Clovis I, is notable for his unification of all of Gaul in the late 5th century, marking the rise of this dynasty known for its long-haired kings. Dominating Western Europe from 476 to 750 AD, the Merovingian Frankish state was instrumental in the transition from Roman to medieval conventions, effectively laying the foundation for the future Carolingian Empire.

A significant milestone in the dynasty’s reign was Clovis I’s conversion to Catholicism, which played a critical role in spreading Christianity across the region. Despite their eventual fall and succession by the Carolingians, the Merovingians left a lasting legacy on the Frankish lands.

Carolingian Dynasty

The Franks, a collection of Germanic tribes, were instrumental in the establishment and success of the Carolingian Dynasty, a prominent ruling power in Western Europe from 751 to 987, which was named after its most notable member, Charlemagne, or Charles the Great.

Having initially established their influence in the Roman province of Gaul during the 5th century, the Franks formed the powerful Merovingian Dynasty. However, by the 7th century, the Merovingian’s power had significantly diminished, resulting in their mayors of the palace, notably Pepin II and his son Charles Martel, effectively gaining control over the Frankish realm and successfully fending off Muslim invasions.

The ascension of Pepin the Short, Charles Martel’s son, marked the end of the Merovingian reign, as he deposed the last Merovingian king and was elected king himself, thus establishing the Carolingian Dynasty.

Under the rule of Charlemagne, the Carolingian Dynasty experienced a cultural and intellectual rebirth known as the Carolingian Renaissance, signifying the significant contribution of the Franks not only to the formation of this dynasty but also to its accomplishments.


Renowned as the most illustrious ruler among the Franks, the Germanic-speaking invaders of the western Roman Empire in the 5th century, Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, ruled from 768 to 814. His reign, often referred to as the Carolingian Renaissance, was marked by substantial military victories and territorial expansion, leading to the establishment of the Carolingian Empire.

Under his rule, significant advancements in education, arts, culture, and administration occurred, largely due to Charlemagne’s initiatives, sparking a cultural and intellectual revival. Not only did Charlemagne become the first ruler to unify all Germanic peoples into a single entity, but he also solidified the cultural and linguistic bedrock for what would later evolve into modern France and Germany.

Charlemagne’s reign had a lasting imprint, steering the direction of European history and paving the way for the eventual rise of the Holy Roman Empire.

Clovis I

Clovis I, born around 466 AD, emerged as a pivotal figure in Frankish history, becoming their first King to unite all tribes under one ruler at the tender age of 15 and initiating rapid territorial expansion. His reign brought about the establishment of the Merovingian Dynasty, a regime that dominated the Franks for nearly three centuries.

Aside from his political achievements, Clovis I’s religious transformation from Frankish paganism to Christianity resonates as a milestone in the annals of the Franks.

His conversion, which made the Franks the first major Christian kingdom in Western Europe post-Roman Empire, also fostered a profound alliance with the Roman Catholic Church, thereby influencing the religious and cultural trajectory of his kingdom and the larger region.

Frankish Kingdom

The Frankish Kingdom, an influential historical entity in Western Europe, existed from the 5th to the 10th century. It was formed by the Franks, a group of Germanic tribes, and laid the groundwork for modern France and Germany.

The Franks implemented Salic Law, a legal system that prevented women from inheriting land. Under Charlemagne’s rule, the kingdom reached its pinnacle as he broadened its territories and introduced administrative, legal, and educational reforms. This era, known as the Carolingian Renaissance, was a time of cultural and intellectual reawakening.

The Frankish Kingdom’s crucial role in spreading Christianity throughout Western Europe significantly shaped the region’s history and culture. The enduring legacy of the Franks is evident in their profound influences on European politics, law, and society.

Battle of Tours

In 732 AD, the Franks, a coalition of Germanic tribes who had settled in what is now France and the Low Countries, played a pivotal role in the Battle of Tours, one of the most significant battles of the Middle Ages.

Under the leadership of Charles Martel, who held the powerful title of Mayor of the Palace, the Frankish forces were able to establish a formidable kingdom known as Francia. This battle is a key historical event as it marked a crucial confrontation with the advancing Islamic Umayyad Caliphate, which had previously conquered Spain and Portugal.

Martel’s strategic victory at the Battle of Tours is often attributed to halting the Muslim advance into Western Europe, rendering it a defining moment in the history of the Frankish people.

Feudal System in Medieval Europe

From the 3rd to the 5th century AD, the Franks, a Germanic tribe, wielded power over parts of Western Europe, significantly contributing to the development of the feudal system in Medieval Europe.

The initiation of this system is largely credited to Charlemagne, a Frankish king who ascended to become the first Emperor of the Romans in the West post the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.

Charlemagne’s model was based on a loyalty hierarchy, with lesser lords swearing their fidelity to superior lords in exchange for protection and land, which they would subsequently allocate further down the chain. This Frankish introduction of the system set the foundation for the socio-political framework throughout the Middle Ages in Europe and, in certain instances, even beyond.

Conversion of the Franks to Christianity

In the late 5th century, during the reign of Clovis I, the Franks underwent a significant conversion to Christianity, thereby becoming one of the first Germanic tribes to do so. Clovis I, instrumental in unifying all Frankish tribes under his rule, played a pivotal role in this conversion, particularly to the Roman Catholic form of Christianity, significantly influencing the course of European history.

His Christian wife, Clotilde, significantly influenced his decision. This strategic conversion allowed Clovis to secure the support of the Catholic population in Gaul and gain political leverage in his relations with the Eastern Roman Empire.

The Franks’ conversion marked the commencement of a close alliance with the Roman Catholic Church, a relationship that endured throughout the Middle Ages and significantly molded Europe’s religious landscape. This alliance also enabled the Franks to play a crucial role in Christianity’s expansion across Western Europe.

Treaty of Verdun

Signed in 843 AD, the Treaty of Verdun stands as a notable landmark in the history of the Frankish Empire, governed by the Franks – a collection of Germanic tribes that had flourished under Charlemagne’s rule, extending their reign across much of Western Europe.

This treaty marked a consequential shift in the empire’s political dynamics following Charlemagne’s death, which had ignited a power struggle among his three grandsons – Louis the German, Charles the Bald, and Lothair I. The Treaty of Verdun was a strategic move to avert further conflict by dividing the empire into three distinct kingdoms – a pivotal decision that eventually led to the formation of present-day France and Germany.

This division and subsequent distribution of power symbolized the termination of the unified Frankish Empire, signifying a new era of decentralization.

Barbarian Invasions of the Roman Empire

The Franks, a coalition of Germanic tribes hailing from the lower and middle Rhine region, were pivotal players in the Barbarian Invasions that precipitated the demise of the Western Roman Empire. Their territorial expansion began in the late 3rd century and involved numerous campaigns against Rome, often in alliance with other Barbarian tribes.

However, the tide turned in the 5th century when the Franks, under the Merovingian dynasty, shifted from being Roman invaders to allies. This pivotal shift was solidified when King Clovis I adopted Christianity in 496 AD, setting a religious precedent for subsequent Frankish kings and enhancing their alliance with the Roman Empire.

This evolution of the Franks from adversaries to allies and protectors of Rome was instrumental in the establishment of the Frankish Kingdom. This kingdom emerged as a stabilizing force in Western Europe following Rome’s downfall.

Early History

In the 400s, Roman armies struggled to defend Gaul from Hun and Vandal invaders along the Rhine River. Some Franks served in the Roman army during this time. As the Roman Empire collapsed in western Europe, Frankish warriors claimed parts of it and established their own small kingdoms.

King Clovis I

Clovis was born into the ruling family of a Frankish kingdom in what is now Belgium and northern France. At that time, Franks still practiced a pagan religion that included horse sacrifices. At age 15, Clovis succeeded his father, Childeric, to become king. Over time, he expanded southward and overthrew the last Roman governor of Gaul and also battled the Goths and Visigoths. His kingdom eventually spread from the North Sea to the Pyrenees Mountains and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Main River in present-day Germany.

Clovis brought various tribes under his rule. He converted to Catholic Christianity in 496 in the city of Reims. Some historians say his decision to convert came after he tried praying and then won battles against the Alemanni tribes and pushed them east of the Rhine River. He may also have agreed to convert when he married Clotilde, a princess of Burgundy and a devout Catholic. In any case, his conversion won support from popes in Rome for many generations of Frankish leaders.

Clovis eventually decided to rule his realm from Paris. When he died around 513, he left behind a kingdom that uniquely blended Roman and Germanic cultures and would go on to become France.

According to Frankish custom, a ruler should divide his inheritance among his sons. This became one of the weak points of Frankish Rule. Clovis’ four sons divvied up the kingdom. For some time, the kings lost influence, but the dynasty lived on. The Frankish name “Clovis” eventually changed to the French “Louis”––a name adopted through many generations of French royalty.

Charles Martel, “The Hammer”

By the 700s, the kings descended from Clovis ruled in name only and granted other nobles the right to govern. Charles Martel was born into one of these noble ruling families and went on to unite much of France. He is best known for leading an army against Muslim invaders at the Battle of Tours in 732. In this battle, Charles earned his nickname Martel, meaning “The Hammer.” The decisive Frankish victory at Tours discouraged Muslim armies from making other major invasions into the North.

Charlemagne (“Charles the Great”)

Grandson of Charles Martel, Charlemagne became sole ruler of the Frankish realm in 771. His armies fought bloody battles against the Saxons for thirty years. Meanwhile, Charlemagne conquered northern Italy, invaded Spain, and annexed Bavaria. Those defeated had to convert to Christianity or face death.

Charlemagne did more than conquer. He also supported education and the arts including:

• manuals for teaching Latin
• a royal library
• a new writing system
• poetry and religious writings in court circles

A pope crowned Charlemagne “Emperor of the Romans” on Christmas Day in 800. This revived the ideal of the Roman Empire in Western Europe for a short time.

Charlemagne died in 814. Rather than passing the empire to one heir, Charlemagne followed Frankish customs and divided it among his three sons. Fighting over the next few generations weakened Frankish realms.

Knightly Traditions

Frankish rulers relied on many foot soldiers to win their victories in war. They also used smaller numbers of knights on horseback. The first knights rode to battle on horseback, then dismounted to fight. With the introduction of stirrups, knights could fight from horseback. This gave Frankish armies a great advantage over others. For their service, knights were awarded land and the right to pass those lands onto their descendants. This created an elite warrior class of knights that endured through medieval times in Western Europe.

The Treaty of Verdun

For some time, the Treaty of Verdun (843) ended the civil warring of Charlemagne’s descendants and laid rough boundaries for what would become France, Germany and Italy. But small, squabbling kingdoms of Western Europe became vulnerable to Viking invasions from the North and other invasions along eastern and southern borders.

Although the Frankish empire broke up into many small feudal states, Frankish influences lived on.