Franks

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Franks

Franks, group of Germanic tribes. By the 3d cent. A.D., they were settled along the lower and middle Rhine. The two major divisions were the Salian Franks in the north and the Ripuarian Franks in the south. The two groups expanded independently, although they sometimes united against a common enemy. The Salian Franks became allies of the Roman Empire late in the 4th cent. In the following century they moved southward into Gaul, and under their leader Clovis I they overthrew (486) the Romans. Clovis permanently united the Salian and Ripuarian Franks, accepted Roman Catholicism, and founded the Frankish empire. By the conquest of the First Kingdom of Burgundy, of Bavaria, of the territories of the Alemanni, the Thuringians, and the Saxons, and of the kingdom of the Lombards, the Frankish empire grew (6th–9th cent.) to include most of France, the Low Countries, Germany W of the Elbe, Austria, Switzerland, and N and central Italy. Under its first dynasty, the Merovingians, the empire was, for most of the time, divided into several kingdoms, notably Neustria in the west, Austrasia in the east, and Burgundy in the south. Internal warfare among the kingdoms was almost constant. In contrast to the high degree of political organization, commerce, and culture under the Romans, the Merovingians represented a barbaric civilization. Only the Church kept alive the remnants of Gallo-Roman culture. The height of Frankish development and power occurred under the Carolingians, who first ruled as mayors of the palace, and then, from 751, as kings of the reunited Frankish domains. Charlemagne was the greatest Frankish ruler. His empire was partitioned in 843 (see Verdun, Treaty of) and again in 870 by the Treaty of Mersen. From these partitions developed the kingdom of the West Franks, who merged with the far more numerous Gallo-Roman population of Gaul and became France; and the kingdom of the East Franks, who retained their Germanic speech and became Germany. Both France and the region of Franconia in Germany derive their names from the Franks. Throughout the Middle Ages the word Frank was identified with the word free (Fr. franc).

Bibliography

See study by P. Lasko (1971).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Franks

 

a group of west Germanic tribes that formed a tribal alliance first mentioned in the mid-third century; the tribes included the Chamavi, Bructeri, Usipetes, Tencteri, and Sugambri. Historians divide the Franks into two groups. The nucleus of the first group was made up of the Salian Franks, later the West Franks, whose name derived from the Celtic sal (“sea”). The Salian Franks originally lived along the Ijssel River but by the mid-fourth century had moved into the regions along the lower Rhine, as far as the Schelde River, in Toxandria. The second group was made up of Franks who later came to be known as the Ripuarian Franks, from the Latin ripa (“river bank”). They lived further upriver along the Rhine, as far as the Main River.

In the mid-fourth century, the Salian Franks were defeated by the Romans but were allowed to remain in Toxandria as foederati, or allies. In 451 they fought in the battle of the Cata-launian plains against the Huns. By the beginning of the fifth century, they had conquered Gaul as far as the Somme River.

The social system of the Salian Franks, who were in transition from the agricultural commune to the mark commune (see), was reflected in the Salic Law (seeSALIC LAW). As the Salian Franks continued to conquer Gaul, the Frankish state came into being; it existed from the late fifth to the mid-ninth centuries. The Franks were the dominant ethnic group in the state, although they represented a small minority of the population, particularly south of the Seine; south of the Loire, there were only isolated settlements of Franks. As they were assimilated by the local Gallo-Roman population, the Franks living in the interfluve of the Maas and Loire became part of the northern French and Walloon nationalities; the Franks south of the Loire became part of the southern French, or Provençal, nationality.

The Franks living along the middle Rhine and in the Maas River basin retained their ethnic identity longer and formed the basis of a regional group, the Franconians. The Franks inhabiting the basin of the lower Rhine, who also retained their ethnic identity longer, played a major role in the ethnogenesis of the Dutch and Flemish.

IU. L. BESSMERTNYI

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.