The Franks were Germanic-speaking people that first emerged in to recorded history in the 3th century AD, as a tribe leaving on the east bank of the lower Rhine River. In this period they were divided in three groups: Salians, Ripurians and Chatti. They were all related to each other by language and customs, but politically they were divided. The origin of the name is still debated. Historians have claimed a link with the English word “frank” meaning “truthful”, while others reject this claim, citing the more probable origin as “franca or “frakka”, the Germanic-Norse word for the javelin the Franks used in battle. Romans routinely referred to them as ferocious and cited their use of the throwing axe (in Latin, a francisca), so most likely this could be the source of their name.

In the middle of 3rd century they tried to expand westwards across the Rhine into Roman-held Gaul, but failed. In the mid-4th century the Franks again attempted to invade Gaul, and in 358 Rome, they were compelled to abandon the area between the Meuse and Scheldt rivers (now in Belgium) to the Salian Franks. During the course of these struggles the Franks were gradually influenced by the Roman civilization. From the 5th century CE onwards, as Roman power declined in northern Gaul, the Franks expanded. The Vandals launched a massive invasion of Gaul in 406, weakening Rome’s control. The Franks used this to take permanent control of the lands immediately west of the middle Rhine River, and edged into what is now northeastern France.

Establishing the Merovingian dynasty

In 481/482 Clovis I succeeded his father Childeric, as the ruler of the Salian Franks. Appointed as king at young age of 15, he became a powerful ruler who took advantage of the dying Roman order. He was part of the Merovingian dynasty, a Frankish lineage established by Childeric. In order to sustain the uniqueness of the dynasty, the Franks came up came up with a fictional account about the origin of Childeric’s family. The story began with a bull-like creature, which had mated in the sea waters with the wife of Clodio, a Frankish noble. The woman gave birth to Merovech, the founder of the Merovingian Dynasty, who was supposed to be the father of Childeric. The franks at this period of time were mostly pagan, unlike the majority of the barbarian tribes entering Roman territories who fallowed Arian Christianity. They converted to Catholic Christianity during the reign of Clovis I, who was converted after he married the Burgundian princess Clotild and defeated the Alemanni in 496. These made the assimilation and control of the conquered Gallo-Romans much easier. After his death in 513, fallowing the Frankish custom, control of the kingdom passed to his four sons, and each of them took control of one part of the Frankish realm. Theuderic I, Clovis’ oldest son overpowered the rest of his brothers and he was succeeded in 533 by his son Theudebert, who controlled the west bank of the Rhine from North Sea to the Alps.

Conquest of North Italy

In 536 Justinian I send large military force to reconquer Italy from the Goths. Theudebert took advantage of this situation and played bout sides, offering aid both to the Romans and to the Ostrogoths. They took control of Province from the Ostrogoths who were unable to defend it. In 539 they entered Northern Italy taking Milan and occupied most of Liguria. In 548 Theudebert died and was succeeded by his son Theudebald, who immediately lost control of northern Italy to the Byzantines. He died in 555 and his power passed on to his great-uncle Clothar I who then became king of all the Franks until his death in 561. After Clothar’s death, the kingdom was divided in four parts, each ruled by one of Theudebald’s sons: Charibert, Sigebert, Chilperic and Guntram, each based in a residence at Paris, Reims, Soissons and Orleans. Charibet died in the civil war which broke out between Sigebert and Chilperic because they both claimed control of the same area of Poitiers and Tours. As a result of the divisions and political turmoil, the four kingdoms coalesced into three sub-kingdoms: Austrasia, Neustria, and Burgundy. Despite the new division, the conflict between the sub-kingdoms continued.

End of the Merovingian dynasty

In 613, the Franks were again united by Chlotar II, son of Chilperic, but the division still undermined the stability of the kingdom and internal struggles escalated. The battle of Terty in 687 between Austrasia on one side and Neustria and Burgundy on the other side marked the loss of power and the authority of the Frankish kings gradually declined. This was the era of the “lazy kings”, when the king was only a figure who had the title “king” but no power at all. In this period the kingdom was ruled by mayordomos (major domus, mayors of the palace). This lasted until the last Merovingian king was deposed by Pope Zachary in 752. This was the end of the Merovingian dynasty and marked the begging of the new Frankish dynasty, Carolingian.