Eras and Their Highlights

The Middle Ages

Who were the Franks?

The Franks were another Germanic people who divided into two branches: the Salians, who settled near the lower Rhine River, near the North Sea; and the Ripuarians, who moved into what is now Germany, along the middle Rhine River.

In 359 the Franks entered into the Roman Empire as allies, but in 481 Clovis (c. 466–511) gained the Salerian Frank kingship. By 486 he had begun a campaign of aggression, conquering Romans, Gauls, Visigoths, and other groups. Under this cruel and cunning king, the Franks soon controlled all of Europe—from the Mediterranean to the English channel, and from the Pyrenees Mountains to the Rhine River. Even after clovis’s death, the Franks maintained their stronghold in the region, which is how France eventually got its name.

Though clovis was a powerful ruler, he was succeeded as king of the Franks by the even more powerful Charlemagne (also called Charles the Great; 742–814), who ruled from 771 to 814, creating a vast empire. In 800 Pope Leo III (c. 750–816) crowned him Emperor of the West, thus initiating the Holy Roman Empire. It was after charlemagne that the empire of the Franks began to break up, becoming the kingdoms of France, Germany, and Italy.


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