The Franks were a former tribal confederation of Germanic origins which conquered Roman territory in Gaul between the 4th-5th centuries CE. By the eigth-ninth centuries, the Franks achieved absolute supremacy in western Europe under the rule of Charles the Great, Aka. Charlemagne, the Rex Francorum (King of the Franks) and Imperator Romanorum (Emperor of the Romans), the latter title he earned defending the Papacy from the Lombards in Italy. Under Charlemagne, the Franks forged an empire larger than any Europe had seen since the fall of Rome. Stretching across most of Western Europe, including present day Germany, France, and northern Italy, the Frankish dominion would come to be known as the Carolingian Empire. However, Charlemagne's vast empire lasted only one generation after his death. Following the death of his successor, Louis the Pious, the empire was divided into three main successor kingdoms: East, Middle and West Francia.
Under Clovis' leadership, the Franks abandoned their pagan religion and converted to Christianity. They also gradually abandoned their Germanic language and adopted Gallo-Roman Latin as their language (this language in the future will evolve in the French language). Franks were the most powerful promoters of the Christian faith in post-Roman Europe, either through military conquest or diplomatic marriages with other Germanic kings. The reign of Charlemagne, however, would witness the beginnings of the Viking Age, aiding in the deterioration of centralized government in the Frankish realms and the rise of what is often defined as Feudalism in Europe. The Frankish conquest of Saxony and Frisia, both countries close to Denmark and the suppression of their ancestral ethnic religion is believed to be one of the factors which spurred Viking activity among the Norse people.
The Merovingians were a dynasty named for a legaendary chieftain named Merovech, whom led the Salian Franks in an alliance with the Romans against Attila the Hun. Under the rulership ofhis son, Childeric, the Salian Franks were unified with the Ripuarian Franks before they expanded beyond the region of Toxandria (modern Dutch Noord-Brabant and Belgian Antwerpin), which was previously granted to them by the Romans as the Salian Franks were allies. Much of Gallia Belgica (parts of the Netherlands and Belgium Luxembourg and parts of the French region of Champagne-Ardenne) and Germania Inferior (German Rhineland).
Under Childeric's son, King Clovis, the Franks would conquer the Roman rump-state of Soissons under it's ruler, the Dux Syragius, in 486 CE. The so-called 'Kingdom of Soissons', a Roman province which maintained itself twelve years after the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire, and maintaining it's distinct Gallo-Roman culture, was absorbed by the growing power of the Germanic Franks. Clovis would also conquer the lands of Aquitaine in south-western Gaul from the Visigoths. He established the city of Paris as his capital, moving from the former Salian capital of Tounai in Belgium. Clovis would marry the Burgundian princess Clotilde, who is considered responsible for her husbands ultimate conversion to Catholic Christianity, although the majority-Christian nobility among the Gallo-Roman population of Clovis' kingdom had a part to play in his conversion.
After his death Clovis' kingdom was divided between his four sons, in accordance with a precedent in Frankish tradition. Clovis' son went on to conquer the neighbouring kingdom of the Burgundians in the south-east, but would turn against each other. The realm of the Franks would periodically by divided amongst the king's heirs. Only three sub-kingdoms would consistantly emerge; Neustria, Austrasia and Burgundy.
Neustria was composed of Aquitaine, the Paris region, Normandy, Anjou, Poutiou, Maine and Tourraine. It contained the cities of Paris, Soissons, Rheims and Tours. Much of the Gallo-Roman population inhabited Neustria, shaping the culture of their new Frankish overlords.
Austrasia was composed of the French Champagne region, German Swabia and much of what is now Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands. Austrasia was more distinctly Germanic in culture than Neustria. Austrasia also produced the family of administrators and generals who were first known as the Pippinids, named for Pepin of Herstal, and later as the Carolingians after the family's most famous scion, Charlemagne.
Burgundy was founded by a distinct Germanic tribe called the Burgundii, under the reign of King Gunderic, whom settled his people in the Rhone valley. Even after their conquest by the Franks under Clovis and Clotilde's sons, integrating Burgundy, it's people would still maintain their own national identity from the Franks down through the Medieval era. The Burgundians converted to Catholic Christianity even before the Franks had, as Clotilde, Clovis' wife, was the daughter of the Burgundian king Chilperic II. Burgundy would later become a duchy in the future kingdom of France.
By the late 7th century, heirs of the Merovingian dynasty increasingly left the governance of their realm in the hands of the Pippinid family, who had become the traditional Maior Dormo (Mayors of the Palace). One such man was Charles Martel, who organized the military of the Frankish realms against the Muslim Arab invasion of Gaul 732 CE. Charles Martel would gain the title of Dux et Princeps Francorum (Duke and Prince of the Franks) in his capacity as the supreme commander of all the forces of Neustria, Austrasia and Burgundy.
Under the administration of Martel's son, Pepin the Short, after becoming Mayor of the Palace in all three Frankish realms, gained the co-operation of Pope Zachary, in anointing him king over the Franks, so he could depose Childeric III, the last of the Merovingians, who was confined to a monastery. Pope Zachary needed the Franks military aid to defend Rome from the depradations of the Lombard king Aistulf in Italy.
In 768 C.E, Pepin's son, Charles I, better known as Charlemagne, took the throne. Though he initially shared the kingship with his brother, Carlomon, Charlemagne became the sole King of the Franks after his brother's mysterious and unexpected death.
Charlemagne would repel the Umayyad invasion of France, achieve the conquest of the Lombards in Italy and conquest and ultimate conversion of the northern German Saxons to Christianity. It was during the lifetime of Charlemagne when the Viking Age had begun. The recent conquests of the Saxon tribes of northern Germany had put the Franks into closer contact with the Norse of Scandinavia. The King of the Danes Gudfred (father to King Horik) would order the construction of the Danevirke to protect his realm from the Franks.
Due to the longstanding alliance between the Frankish crown and the papacy, Charlemagne was crowned "Emperor of the Romans" in 800 C.E. by Pope Leo III. Ruling with divine authority, he and his Franks conquered most of Western Europe and forged a vast kingdom that would come be called the Carolingian Empire. This empire was the largest Europe had seen since the fall of Rome.
After the death of Charlemagne in 814 CE, the vast Carolingian Empire was inherited by his only surving legitimate son, Louis the Pious. After Louis' death in 840 CE, the Frankish realm was divided between his four sons:
- Lothair, the eldest, inherited the imperial crown, Lotharingia (the Low Countries, Rhineland and western Switzerland), Burgundy, Bavaria and Italy.
- The third son, called Louis II or "the German", inherited the eastern territories called Francia Orientalis (East Francia), which consisted of the Frankish conquered lands of Saxony, Franconia Thuringia and Allamania, all being the so-called 'stem-duchies' which would compose the future Holy Roman Empire in Germany.
- The youngest son, Charles the Bald would inherit the erstwhile realm of Neustria, which was by then called Francia Occidentalis (West Francia), the bedrock of the future Kingdom of France.
- Pepin, the second son, inherited Aquitaine as it's king, Maine as Duke, and the marches of Vasconia in the Pyrenees and the border with the Bretons in north-western Gaul. However, he was a subordinate of Charles.
The pre-Christian Franks may have referred to their kings as Kuningaz, (Common Germanic). After Clovis' conversion to Christianity, Latin sources written by church chroniclers would have used the term Rex Francorum (King of the Franks).
Dukes, derived the Latin military rank Dux, were chieftains with lesser authority than the king, but governed major territories on his behalf. For example, Aquitaine, on the frontier with the Visigoths of Spain, was governed by a duke. While Bavaria, conquered by the Franks in the 6th century CE, had a duke appointed from among the local nobility.
Comites or Counts would govern over a region called a Pagus or 'county', or to a lesser extent, individual cities. Their ecclesiastical counterparts were bishops. This position was not a hereditary office during the Merovingian era, but this would change during the breakdown of central authority during the final years of the Carolingian dynasty in the ninth-tenth centuries.
Barons were originally the sworn warriors in the retinues of Frankish chieftains before they became a class of landowners. From these came the ranks of cavalrymen in the Frankish armies.
Before converting to Christianity, the Franks were followers of a pagan Germanic religion, believing in the same gods that the Norse follow, but only with different names, because of their original language: Allfadir (All Father), usually refering to Wuotan (Odin); Freia; Donar (Thor); Zio (Tyr), etc. But in the time that the Vikings series is set, the Franks had completely abandoned their original pagan religion and converted to Christianity. It has been 3 centuries since the Franks were Christianized.