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The Terror of Gaul: The Franks!

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The author is a student of ancient and modern European history.

A map roughly depicting modern day France. During the reign of Julius Caesar, this area was called Gaul.

A map roughly depicting modern day France. During the reign of Julius Caesar, this area was called Gaul.

Roman Gaul

The country of France is riddled with history, and is one of Europe's most vibrant cultures. Before there were the French people, the territory that was France was inhabited by Gauls. The Gauls were a Gallic people similar to the Celts in Scotland and Ireland. Gallic tribes were organized into a confederation that stretched from the coast on the North Sea down into the Iberian Peninsula.

Culturally the Gauls were as advanced as the Romans to the south. They minted coins, had advanced iron-works, and built cities. The difference between the two people came in engineering. The Romans were master engineers, and their fortifications and siege machines were unsurpassed by the ancient world. As Rome worked to dominate the Mediterranean world it came in to inevitable conflict with the Gallic tribes.

Southern Gaul was pacified by the Roman legions over time. The Gauls were driven out of Iberia when they sided with the Carthaginians in the Punic Wars. After being swept off the Mediterranean coasts, the Gallic people were slowly consumed by Roman ways, but they would not go quietly in to the annals of history.

The Gauls attempted a series of rebellions beginning in 58 BC and lasting till about 52 BC. Julius Caesar was charged with putting down the rebellion and his actions were so thorough that the Gauls were never again able to resist Roman rule. Caesar wrote his account of his campaigns in the Gallic Wars. Rome annexed Gaul, and the two peoples mingled. It was the Gallo-Romans that met the Franks.

The Franks

The Franks are Germanic tribesmen from the Rhineland and Central Germany. They are not one single tribe, but a confederation of smaller tribes that have banded together to oppose other Germanic tribes, and the Roman Empire. Military forces in the Germanic tribes during the early Roman Empire are not professional soldiers. They are part time soldiers that spend their time being hunters or farmers when not fighting. This changes as a result of the Romans.

The Roman Empire is almost constantly expanding. This requires fresh soldiers every year, but as time passed the Roman citizens became less likely to want to be soldiers and they became more interested in trade. To make up the short fall in armed forces the Roman generals began to hire more barbarians. Germans, Spaniards, and Turks were all hired by the Roman army to serve as auxiliaries. Many were made citizens and trained to fight like the legions. They would be Romes undoing.

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Clovis I, Merovingian king of the Franks

Clovis I, Merovingian king of the Franks

Frankish Francesca axe head

Frankish Francesca axe head


The Franks were brought over to Gaul in small numbers to fight against other Germanic tribes, and even in Rome's civil wars. By the time the Franks invaded Gaul they had multitudes of well armed and trained warriors. In year 405-406 the Franks crossed the frozen Rhine and seized northern Gaul, which includes parts of modern Luxemburg, Belgium, and France. The Franks established a kingdom there, and the Roman's were forced to accept them.

The Franks were not the only tribes to cross the Rhine. The Visigoths crossed as well, but they went to southern Gaul and Hispania. Once the Franks established their kingdom in northern Gaul they were never dislodged. They slowly expanded their territory on both sides of the Rhine through alliances and conquests. The greatest test for the Frankish was the Hunnic invasion.

The Huns cut a swathe across Eastern and Central Europe, killing and pillaging the Germans as they went. Their path of destruction finally ended in Gaul, when a Roman general, Aetius, led a combined army of Franks, Visigoths, and Romans to defeat the Huns. The Battle of Chalons was a victory for the Romans, but it was also a great victory for the Franks. The Visigoth's king, Theodoric, died in the fighting. This left the Visigoths in disarray, and the Franks swept up his Gallic territories into a single Frankish kingdom.


The Franks seized all of Gaul as the Roman Empire died. Their victory set the stage for Frankish domination of Europe. They defeated the Moors in the Battle of Tours, thus checking Islamic expansion in to Europe. Under the Merovingian dynasty the Franks continued to rise as Europe's only major power.

The Carolingian dynasty completed the Frankish dream of uniting the Germanic people under a new empire. Carl Magnus, or Charlemagne, conquered Western and Central Europe and created the Holy Roman Empire. This made the Franks a unique people in European history. They were not conquered or assimilated into some other culture. European nations stem from the Franks, and they became the people we know today. It was Frankish rulers that ruled in France, Italy and the German states, and they left their legacy in the customs and people of those lands.


Blackspaniel1 on February 22, 2015:

An interesting view of a complex history.

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