France under the Merovingians (Between 481 and 715) Part I

France under the Merovingians 1

The history of modern France begins in 482, when, after King Childeric died, the government of the Franks Salî of Tournai passed to the young Clovis. The warlike exploits of the Merovingian king transformed the political aspect of Roman Gaul and began a new historical epoch.

In the last decades of the life of the Western empire, Gaul had lost the political and moral unity given to it by the Roman conquest and civilization. The old centrifugal tendencies had been revived by the appearance of the invading Germanic peoples, who had created Roman-barbarian states in the various river basins. From the Loire to the Pyrenees, the Visigoths; in the Rhone valley the Burgundians; from the Doubs to the Moselle, the Alemanni; from the Moselle to the Ardennes, the Ripuarian Franks; from the lower Rhine to the Scheldt, to the Somme, the Franks Salî. Around Soissons, a large but indefinable area remains faithful to the imperial generals: Egidio, who triumphed over the Visigoths in Orleans in 463, then Count Paolo, then Siagrio son of Egidio. The various barbarian groupings cloak themselves in Roman-style paludaments, but they fail to have been, to be stable organisms. Among all, the Visigoths seem perhaps to have such strengths as to impose dominance in Gaul; but the conquest of Spain forces them to scatter over too vast territories; and on the death of King Henry in 485, a policy of recollection, or rather of renouncing to deal with what was happening north of the Loire, became necessary. It is the fortune of the Franks Salî of Tournai: in front of the small but compact forces of Clovis, the Romans of Soissons dissolve and the barbarians become masters of the vast extension of territories crossed by the Seine and its tributaries (486-487). Perhaps only slowly could the occupation of the country take place south of the Seine as far as the Loire. In the following years Clovis managed, with a series of interventions, to unify his people. L’ intervention in the deeply Romanized and Christianized regions of Gaul determined Clovis to switch to the religion of the vanquished. In this way a typical state, neither Roman nor German, was established in which Romans and barbarians were on the foot of almost perfect equality; and the political configuration of Gaul was suddenly transformed. The Frankish monarchy extending from the Loire to the Rhine now threatened the southern Visigothic monarchy and the conversion gave Clovis a reason for superiority over the Aryan rivals of Toulouse and Dijon.

According to, Clovis did not dare to attack the Visigoths at first: he contented himself with intervening in the struggles of the Burgundian royal family (501). But then, with the support of the Roman populations and the Burgundians, he was able to think about the great decisive conflict. At Vouillé (near Poitiers) the Visigoths were vanquished (507). Gaul now belonged to the Franks; the Visigoths were able to keep the small strip of the Settimania. When Clovis died in 511, he was leaving a monocentric Gaul. The shortcomings of Clovis’s work were corrected by his sons. The frank war effort now took place in the Rhone valley, where the kingdom of Burgundy was living. In 523 Burgundy was invaded and occupied, except for the Provençal area where the Goths of Theodoric settled. A Burgundian reaction pushed the Franks back for a few years, but in 532 the valleys of the Saone and the Rhone finally fell into the possession of the Franks. The fall of the Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy in the following years also allowed the annexation of Provence to the Merovingian kingdom. Thus the Franks came to the Roman Mediterranean, not as allies or vassals of Rome, but as conquerors. The Settimania, however, was tenaciously disputed by the Visigoths of Toledo, instead the Franks were able to expand into the upper Rhine.

The history of modern France therefore sees at its dawn the existence of a vast monarchical state spreading from the Rhine valley to all of Roman Gaul up to the Pyrenees. Unifying policy of Gaul? Kingdom of France? Conceptions alien to the mind of the Merovingians: to conquer and loot, this is more properly the barbaric program, simpler and coarser, but also more profitable, than the conciliatory program of Ataulf and Theodoric. No prejudice to respect for Roman institutions. The will of the Merovingian king is the only element that supports the edifice of Frankish conquest. All the same subjects, from any region, from any origin. The episcopate and the senatorial aristocracy thus adhere to the monarchy; of all the monarchy equally profits for its wars, for its unconscious development, because in the century. VI France was a chaos of rough and broken elements, it was a social and political force in the making.

France for the Roman writers of the century. III and IV had been the area on the right of the Rhine inhabited by the various Frankish tribes. In the century VI, after the conquests of Clovis, France is called the country north of the Loire and then the Rhenish region. On the other hand, all the regions over which the kings of the Franks dominate, in which the free public law dominates, is the regnum Francorum. It may be that Clovis actually had the consulate ad honorem, but in substance the Franks did not know what the empire meant in law and did not think of identifying their king in the magistrate who represented the respublica. The Merovingians treat their kingdom as private property to be shared as a patrimony under Salic law:

France under the Merovingians 1