Frankish Empire

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The Franconian Empire or Franconian Empire , which existed between the 5th and 9th centuries and was essentially formed from Roman Gaul and neighboring Germanic settlement areas on the right bank of the Rhine , was the most important successor state to the Western Roman Empire , which fell in 476, and the historically most important formation of an empire in Europe since of antiquity .

The empire of the Franks went back to several West Germanic warrior associations during the migration period . After the fall of the Western Roman Empire , it rose in the early Middle Ages under the dynasties of the Merovingian and Carolingian in three centuries a great power on which large parts of western , central and southern Europe dominated. As the caretakers of the Merovingian kings , the Carolingians had already exercised actual political power since the late 7th century, before they themselves theTook over royal dignity . The Franconian Empire reached the height of its power and expansion under the rule of Charlemagne (768–814). After it had been divided in the 9th century, the Holy Roman Empire developed from the eastern half of the empire and the later Kingdom of France from the western half .

The expansion of the Franconian Empire from 481 to 814

The Merovingian Frankish Empire

Gaul in 481, shortly before Clovis came to power; his sphere of influence initially included only part of the Franconian territories

Since the 4th century Germanic groups settled in the area of ​​the Roman Empire as federates . They were warriors who fought under their own leaders in the service of the emperors and who were entitled to supplies from the Roman state. At the northeastern end of Gaul, the Franks settled , who are mentioned as Franci in Roman sources for the first time in the 50s of the 3rd century and were responsible as foederati for the defense of the Rhine border against looters since the late 4th century . It is controversial how and when these mostly Germanic mercenaries developed into a people with their own identity over time (see ethnogenesis ).

The first mention of the Salfranken tribe or association can be found in the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus , who reported on the battle of the Roman Caesar (lower emperor) Julian against the Franks in 358:

“After these preparations he turned against those Franks who are usually called Salians; they had enjoyed a long time ago to take up residence on Roman soil in Toxandria . "

After Gaul had slipped more and more from Western Roman control at the latest since the death of the power-conscious master Aëtius in 454, the Franks used the collapse of the Western Roman Empire (around 476), which had been shattered by civil wars , to fill the power vacuum that had arisen and to enlarge their territory on their own like the Visigoths in the south. In the north of Gaul, a remaining Roman empire under the Roman commander Syagrius , the son of the army master Aegidius , was able to hold onto in the area around Soissons , which was cut off from the rest of the empire (since 464, see also Paulus ). Possibly allied with the Gallo-Romans, but possibly also in competition with them, was the Sal-Franconian rex Childerich von Tournai .

In 486/487 Childeric's son Clovis I defeated Syagrius, conquered his territory and took command of the remaining Roman troops. As a result, the border of the Merovingian sphere of influence shifted to the Loire . Clovis, who was previously only one of several Frankish warlords , then used the opportunity to eliminate the remaining partial empires and to found a Germanic-Romanic empire. He eliminated successively, among others, the rex Sigibert of Cologne and Ragnachar and waged successful wars against the Alamanni in 496/506 . In 507 Clovis defeated the Visigoths at the Battle of Vouillé (or at Voulon ), after which he drove them almost entirely from Gaul.

The property of those Roman landlords who were killed or expelled during the Frankish wars of conquest came into the possession of the ruler. Thereby Clovis financed his further campaigns and strengthened his power. He gradually became the largest landowner. Through donations of land he brought other nobles into direct dependency, from which, according to older research, perhaps the feudal system developed - a hypothesis that is, however, very controversial today. In the course of time, the position of the Frankish rex turned more and more into that of a regular king.

Clovis, who had to care for his warriors, took over, as far as possible, the functional late antique Roman administrative and financial apparatus (the core of which was the civitates , especially in the south ). The power of the local bishops, who had often taken on administrative tasks in the civitates , played an important role, so that the church should develop into a further pillar of power for the ruler, who managed to bring the bishops largely under his control. Allegedly under the influence of the Burgundian Chrodechild , Clovis, who had previously been either a pagan or an Arian , converted to Catholic Christianity . With his baptism (maybe 496/98 or 508; the date is controversial) he secured the support of the Roman Christians and thus paved the way for Frankish warriors and Gallo-Roman civilians to live together. Around the middle of the 6th century, the late antique transition period passed in Gaul, and the early Middle Ages slowly took shape. The local authorities (counts and bishops) were appointed to enforce Clovis' orders. In addition, in 511, at the first Frankish imperial council , Clovis enforced a significant influence of the Frankish kings on the bishops' investment and tried to create uniform church legislation for the Frankish Empire. In the early 6th century (after 507), the Lex Salica was a collection of Franconian law , which modern research no longer traces back to old Germanic tribal law, but to late Roman soldier law.

The rise of the Arnulfinger and Pippiniden

Growth and decay of the Franconian Empire

After the death of Clovis (511) the rule was divided among his four sons along the lines of the late Roman Empire (and not, as was previously believed, based on Germanic tradition). However, the imperial unity, which was formally never abolished, could be re-established again and again by Clovis's successor (whereby Theudebert I , who pursued an expansive policy in Italy , is particularly important ). In fact, from 558 to 561 Chlothar I succeeded in re-establishing unity, but in turn inherited the kingdom to his four sons who were still alive at the time. From 623 at the latest , an emancipation movement of the nobility began in the eastern part of the empire, which was now called Austrasia , which demanded from Chlothar II his own sub-king in the person of his son Dagobert I. This became the last important Merovingian king. From then on, however, the real power lay with the caretaker Aegas and Scrooge's widow.

The Hausmeier now also strived for total power in the empire. It is not clear whether the Merovingian kings after Dagobert were consistently as weak as the later pro-Carolingian sources describe. More recently, historians such as Ian N. Wood , Bernhard Jussen or Johannes Fried have at least increased doubts about the reliability of the partisan reports from the Carolingian era.

The years 657-662 brought an intermezzo, in which the son of the house maid Grimoald , who went down in history under the name Childebertus adoptivus , was given by the Merovingian Sigibert III. was adopted and was on the throne during those years. In the battle of Tertry (687), the Austrasian house master Pippin II defeated the rightful ruler of the entire Frankish empire and thus created the conditions for the further rise of the Arnulfinger and Pippiniden and later that of the Carolingians . However, after Grimoald's "coup d'état", which ultimately failed, Pippin did not dare to raise himself to king because the dynastic thinking was too strong, which in late antique tradition only gave one family the right to rule.

In 714, after Pippin's death, power struggles broke out, in which his illegitimate son Karl Martell prevailed in 719 . Known for his toughness and assertiveness, Karl faced difficult domestic and foreign policy problems. Again and again some leaders of the old noble families in the Franconian Empire tried to revolt against his rule. The year 732 represented a turning point. In the battle of Tours and Poitiers , Charles, together with his former enemy Eudo of Aquitaine and supported by the Lombards , defeated the Muslim Arabs . For this he was celebrated as the savior of the West . The battles against Frisians , Saxons , Bavarians and Alamanni also consolidated his rule. He also supported the missionary work of Bishop Boniface in these areas. From 737, after the death of the Merovingian King Theuderic IV, he ruled the Franconian Empire alone, like his father without a royal title. According to Franconian tradition, Karl Martell divided the empire shortly before his death under his sons Karlmann and Pippin III. on.

The Franconian Empire under the Carolingians

Pippin III became sole ruler after his brother Karlmann went to the monastery. In 751 he set the last Merovingian king, Childeric III , after consultation with Pope Zacharias . , and then had himself anointed king, following the example of the Old Testament . Three years later, Pope Stephen II anointed him a second time. In the Treaty of Quierzy (754) Pippin promised to transfer the former Eastern Roman exarchate of Ravenna to the Pope as secular rule ( Pippin donation ); in return, the Pope legitimized the Carolingians as kings of the Franconian Empire. As early as 755, the Frankish king was asked to comply with the contract. Until his death, Pippin led two successful campaigns against the Lombards and gave the conquered territories to the Pope. Pippin III is considered to be the founder of the Papal States . At his death in 768 he left his sons Karl and Karlmann an empire that was politically and economically under construction.

A short time later (771) Karlmann died and Charlemagne became sole ruler. By the contract concluded by his father with the Pope, Charles was obliged to this. Since the Lombards, the donations of Pepin unrecognized, Karl went on to fight against them and captured their kingdom in 774. In addition to the Langobardenfeldzügen crossed the missionary work in the East ahead. The wars against the Saxons in particular determined Karl's policy until 785, when Widukind finally submitted to the Frankish king. The Saxon Wars lasted until 804 (last Franconian campaign to northern Elbe). In 811 the Eider was established as the border between the Frankish and Danish empires; thus the northern expansion of the Franks was completed.

The numerous wars brought about a progressive feudalization , a strengthening of the rich and an increase in feudal peasants. As a result of this development, the property and power of the feudal lords , especially the king (and later emperor) and the dukes, grew . The church was also able to consolidate its power. Karl consolidated the state power to the outside through the establishment of border marks . These were bulwarks for the defense of the empire and deployment areas for wars of aggression. He used margraves for administration , who were given special rights, since the brands were not directly part of the empire and thus also stood outside of the imperial constitution . Castles were built in the Marche and a well-fortified peasant population settled. Particularly important were the brands in the east of the empire, the Awarenmark (see also Marcha Orientalis ) and the Mark Karantanien , from which Austria later emerged (see also Ostarrîchi ).

In order to consolidate his rule internally, Charles centralized the royal rule around 793 through an administrative reform. The royal rule was based on the royal court, the palatinate court and the chancellery . In the empire, counts administered the royal estates ( Palatinate ). Palatine and margraves were controlled by royal messengers ( missi dominici ) and spoke royal law. Under Charles, Aachen became the imperial palace and the center of the Franconian Empire.

Charles reached the height of his power on December 25th, 800 with his coronation as Roman emperor. The Franconian Empire - alongside the Byzantine Empire and the Abbasid Caliphate - was now finally a recognized great power.

The fall of the Franconian Empire

After 46 years of reign, Karl died in Aachen in 814. His son Ludwig the Pious became emperor. Contrary to the Frankish tradition, which provided for the division of the inheritance and as also determined by Charlemagne in the Divisio Regnorum of 806, he tried to preserve the unity of the empire and in 817 enacted an empire division or rather unity law ( Ordinatio imperii ). After all, the imperial dignity was also considered indivisible. That is why Ludwig designated his son Lothar as co-emperor. The law stipulated that the eldest son of the emperor should always inherit the title of Roman emperor. Ludwig opted for the idea of ​​imperial unity, albeit under ecclesiastical influence, which saw the unity of the empire as a counterpart to the unity of the church. Therefore, the bishops also played a special political role: They opposed the emperor's sons, who were in favor of the division of the empire. From 829 onwards, these tensions led to military clashes between the emperor and his sons.

When Ludwig died in 840, Lothar I became emperor, but in 843 the sons agreed in the Treaty of Verdun to divide the Franconian Empire. Later, the kingdom was further divided by the Prüm partition (855) and the treaties of Mersen (870) and Ribemont (880). The imperial unit was, except for a short time under Karl III. (885–887), not restored. The individual parts developed different manners, customs, languages ​​and thus became independent states. Some time later people spoke of a West and East Franconian Empire, until this reference to their common origin disappeared a century later. Only the western part of the old Franconian Empire was supposed to take over the name " France ". The Holy Roman Empire emerging from Eastern Franconia , from which Germany later emerged, continued the tradition of the Roman Empire. A Duchy of Franconia could not assert itself there in the early Middle Ages and was split up. However, the Franconian name in the Franconian region , which makes up a small or larger part of the states of Baden-Württemberg , Bavaria , Thuringia and Hesse , has survived into modern times, as has the use of the word "Franconia" in some dialect groups: Lower Franconian , Middle Franconian , Rhine Franconian , South Franconian and East Franconian .

Divisio Regnorum (806)

The will of Charlemagne provided for the division between his sons Pippin , Louis the Pious and Charles the Younger. However, since Pippin and Karl the Younger died in 810 and 811 respectively, and thus before their father, this plan was abandoned and Ludwig instead made a co-emperor in 813, who was able to succeed him in possession of all imperial rights after the death of his father in 814.

Treaty of Verdun (843)

The division of territory in the Treaty of Verdun 843

The division of the Franconian Empire went back to the sometimes armed succession dispute that Emperor Ludwig I, the pious, led with his sons. After a palace revolution and capture, Emperor Ludwig I was ousted by his sons in the early 830s. From 831/832 onwards, the sons increasingly made their areas of dominion in the Reichsverband independent and left their father in the position of titular emperor . Three years after the death of their father, Emperor Lothar I , King Karl the Bald and King Ludwig the German in 843 in the Treaty of Verdun introduced the division and thus the end of the Frankish Empire; imperial unity could no longer be guaranteed and in fact ended with the Treaty of Verdun.

The division created three new empires:

Prümer division (855)

In 855, Lothar I arranged the division of the Middle Kingdom among his sons in the Prüm division .

Treaty of Meersen (870)

The division of territory in the Treaty of Meerssen 870

After the death of Lothar I's sons, the former Middle Kingdom was divided up under Charles the Bald and Ludwig the German in the Treaty of Meersen .

Treaty of Ribemont (880)

The division of territory in the Treaty of Verdun and Ribemont 879/880

After Charles the Bald's unsuccessful attempts to conquer the entire Middle Kingdom ( First Battle of Andernach in 876), the East Frankish King Ludwig III. the western half of Lotharingia through the Treaty of Ribemont . The division of the Franconian Empire was thus provisionally completed, the border between the western and eastern parts remained almost unchanged throughout the Middle Ages.

After the death of King Ludwig III. (882) and Karlmann (884) became the East Franconian King Karl III. until 888 last emperor of the entire empire (except Lower Burgundy).

Way of life in the Franconian Empire

The population

In the Franconian Empire, the majority of the population were farmers or farm servants . In many areas there were no cities , as Gaul had already been one of the less urbanized parts of the Roman Empire in ancient times . Especially in the south, however, smaller Roman systems continued to exist, which continued to exist as administrative centers of civitates under bishops or comites ("counts"). In the south of the Franconian Empire, the Gallo-Romans made up the vast majority of the population, which is why the Germanic dialects of the Frankish warrior class never prevailed here. In the north, on the other hand, the Franconian language and way of life became more prevalent. Life here was generally more primitive than in the south. Above the lower folk there was a thin layer of nobles , mostly called "the great" at that time.

After the disintegration of ancient structures, material culture was now considerably simpler than in Roman times, and unlike in the imperial era, only a fraction of the people could now read and write. Most of the people lived in the same village all their lives. Work was carried out from sunrise to sunset every day, except on Sundays and on religious holidays. If you were old enough you got married and had a child almost every year; most of the children died young. In general, life expectancy was much lower than it is today; at the age of 50, a farmer was considered an old man. Besides their village, most people only knew the way to the nearest church and the surrounding villages. Most of them had no idea what was going on at a greater distance. An additional obstacle was the lack of paved roads other than those laid out by the Romans. Work in the countryside was carried out by the peasants in the same way as their fathers once did before them.

Exact figures about the population at that time are not known, so that historians have to rely on estimates. This resulted in an approximate number of 2 million inhabitants in the northern, “German” -speaking part of the Franconian Empire. An average population density of around 8 inhabitants / square kilometer is assumed for the entire empire, whereas for the Franconian-speaking areas it is only an average of 4 to 5 inhabitants / square kilometer.


Establishment of the manor

After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the warriors of the Franconian rex often took over the mansions of their Gallo-Roman predecessors, while other latifundia did not change hands. It is unclear exactly how the subsequent transformation of the late Roman economy and society took place; in any case, the process was far more complex than research long assumed. Details are only known from the Carolingian era: the servants and maids who lived next to the manor house now looked after the master’s land. They didn't get any money, but they got food and accommodation. The craftsmen among them made and looked after the clothes and weapons. The poor were forced to serve in the army. The others who could pay dues were released home.

The peasants as the predominant part of the rural population in the Middle Ages were differentiated precisely according to their legal status. There were free, semi-free and unfree, later a distinction was made between serfs and servants. Even the nobles were initially only large farmers with particularly extensive property on land, called allod , and in people. The nobleman exercised a far-reaching lordship over these members of his house. In a broader sense, the house also included dependent families. A similar position was previously held in late Roman society by the large landowners, who owned extensive holdings of latifundia , at the center of which was a luxurious mansion that was managed by numerous dependent farmers. In addition, craftsmen belonged to its property, so that one can almost assume self-sufficiency. These farmers were tied to their piece of land and were not allowed to move away to look for another master or even another profession in another place. From these two roots, the new social order of today's so-called manorial rule in the Franconian Empire emerged in a long development .

The manorial rule prevailed throughout the empire. It spread rapidly in the areas that came into Frankish possession around 800. Landlords were nobles, monasteries, bishops and the king, who was the largest landowner at the time. The peasants who came under such rule did not manage the majority of the time independently, but instead had to help out on the owner's fields at the same time. The lordship became the "basic building block" of the community building at that time and at the latest in Carolingian times it became the usual agricultural operation, similar to how the farm is the usual agricultural operation today.


In Carolingian times, the landlords were all nobles (bishops, abbots). The servant peasant of the Middle Ages was not allowed to leave the manor without the permission of his landlord. The serfs had to do services for their master and regularly pay him taxes, mostly in the form of shares in the harvest. But the owner also had duties that had to be fulfilled. He had to offer his subordinates “protection and protection”, that is, to protect and support him, for example in the event of illness, a fire or a bad harvest. He had to both defend him from attackers and take revenge on his behalf in case he should be killed. Within his own manorial rule he was the keeper of the peace, so he also stepped in as a mediator and judge in disputes and was able to punish the peace-breaker in the event of a dispute.

The manor was divided into different areas. Depending on the size of the farm, there was a church, various workshops (leather workshop, blacksmith's shop, wagon shop, tailoring, cloth dyeing, shoemaker), a brewery, a mill and a wine press. There were of course a large number of fields, the majority of which were made available to the serfs. However, some of the fields were still owned by the landlord. And so, in addition to the taxes, it was also part of the farmers' responsibility to work in these fields for a certain amount of time every day before they could take care of the cultivation of their own land.

In addition to the serfs, there was also the so-called servants . This term is used to designate the servants and maids of the landlord, whose only job was to do slave labor in the fields of their owner . Most of them lived in the Fronhof or right next to it.


In addition to the numerically largest strata of the population, the subservient peasants and the manorial servants , there were two other peasant strata in the Franconian Empire: the interest farmers and the kings-free . The interest farmers are farmers who were not obliged to work on the Fronhof or the Herrenacker, but paid a certain fee to the landlord so that he would protect them from any dangers. In the course of time they were slowly adapted to the serfs and towards the end of the Franconian Empire (around 900) they practically no longer differed from them.

The king peasants were peasants who apart from the king had no one above them. Most of them belonged to the Franconian tribe. They were bound to military success when the king raised his army and served there as foot warriors. Ever since the Franks broke into Gaul, the Franconian kings had for the most part placed the king peasants on ownerless land. Charlemagne settled these peasants, especially in Saxony, whom he presumably had selected from among the servants of the royal estates over which he was the landlord. You should at the same time secure the Frankish rule over Saxony.

It was not uncommon for kings to give away land that had previously been given to a person who was free of kings, for example as a gift to a monastery or if they wanted to provide a vassal with land. In this case, the land was given away along with the king-free. Although theoretically he remained a free man, he was at the same time subject to his new owner. At first he lost the right to move away from his property and was gradually made a servant.

But there were also cases in which a king-free man voluntarily submitted to a landlord. There could be various reasons for this: impoverishment and the inability to continue to work on one's own, a large number of debts to a landlord that could no longer be repaid or because he no longer wanted to be called up for the army. In the absence of a specific law, it became common practice over time that subservient peasants were no longer obliged to fight in wars.

Towards the end of the Early Middle Ages it was decided in various parts of France and Germany that no rural dweller could be free. That means that every farmer had to have a landlord over himself and thus belonged either to the servants of a master or to his servant peasants.

Monasteries in the Franconian Empire

Over the centuries, the number of monasteries in the empire increased sharply. Since the first Carolingian king and since Bishop Boniface, more and more such institutions adopted the Rule of St. Benedict , written in 530 . Benedict of Nursia had determined the coexistence and behavior of the monks in his monastery on the Montecassino near Naples . In the period that followed, it became a model institution for the entire European monastic system.

Monks and nuns became mainly those who wanted to withdraw from the rest of the world with their friends or bonds in order to devote their lives to the service of God. However, there were other reasons for joining, such as monastery brothers and sisters were adequately provided for economically. Five times a day and twice a night the monks gathered in their church for prayers and to sing psalms. At meals one monk took turns reading to his brothers from the scriptures of saints. Because of the three vows monks had to take when they entered, they were not allowed to marry or have children. They were supposed to be destitute and were obliged to obey the respective abbot. All of this was intended to ensure that a monk could focus his life only on God.

Since inactivity was considered a sin, the regulations stipulated that monks should work several hours a day and read for several hours. Everything you needed to live was made in the monastery complex. Some of the monks did their work in the fields, some in the monastery garden. Still others did their job as copyists, writing parchments or copying books from the monastery libraries. In addition to predominantly Christian writings, books by “secular” authors were also adopted, for example the writings of Titus Livius , Caesar and Virgil . From the 6th century onwards, in addition to the monastic monasteries, women's monasteries for nuns were established. Nuns did not work in the fields, but often did garden work.

In the Franconian Empire, monasteries were given land in many ways and in this way were able to develop into rich landlords. The large monasteries also employed servants who worked as craftsmen in certain workshops. The monasteries were not infrequently used by noblemen as supply centers for their sons and daughters whom they had not been able to marry off. Here they could not lead a noble life, but they could live without economic hardship. In addition, the abbots in charge of a monastery were in many cases of aristocratic origin.

See also: monastery , monastery everyday life (Cistercians)

Position of the king

Kaiserpfalz Goslar , one of the king's bases. The Palatinate, however, dates from the 11th century and was used by the Salians and Staufers .

Since Carolingian times, the king stood not only above the common peasants and the nobles, but also above the abbots and bishops in his empire. He was by far the greatest landlord in the country. He had made counts of nobles in a large number of territories; With this title they supervised the nearby royal estates and individual Fronhöfe, participated in the army formation and collected the taxes due to the king from the country (border, shipping and road duties, coin minting and market taxes). From the Carolingian era onwards, the king had larger stone buildings erected in some of his manors, the so-called Pfalzen (from Latin palatium , "palace"). All royal estates had to pay their surpluses to the nearest such facility. Each Palatinate was headed by a Count Palatine.

The king had no fixed capital, but moved with his court from palatinate to palatinate. On the one hand, his entourage was easier to take care of, and on the other hand he was able to show his presence in the empire - since the ancient infrastructure and administration had also disintegrated with the end of the western Roman empire, this was essential in order to exercise control. The entourage included a chamberlain , whose job it was to administer the royal treasure and the king's income, and the marshal , who commanded the mounted warriors of the royal guard. A clergyman was also present and ran the office. He read the letters of other rulers or bishops to the king, wrote the letters of reply and had the chaplains subordinate to him draw up the donation and other royal deeds . The ruler himself could only read and write in very few cases. Charlemagne also had this problem: instead of his signature, he drew a small line on a certificate or a letter and thus completed his monogram in order to validate the certificate.

See also



Monographs / edited volumes

Articles in specialist dictionaries

To the Merovingians

Monographs / edited volumes

Articles in specialist dictionaries

To the Carolingians

Monographs / edited volumes

Articles in specialist dictionaries

Web links

Commons : Frankish Empire  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Friedrich Prinz : Foundations of German History (4th – 8th centuries) . Gebhardt: Handbook of German History, Volume 1, 10th edition. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2001, p. 286.
  2. Cf. Alexander Demandt : Die Spätantike. 2nd edition, Munich 2007, p. 50 f. General see Eugen Ewig: Die Franken und Rom (3rd – 5th centuries). Attempt an overview. In: Rheinische Vierteljahrsblätter 71, 2007, pp. 1–42.
  3. Ammianus Marcellinus 17.8.3.
  4. See the overview in Henning Börm : Westrom. From Honorius to Justinian . Stuttgart 2013.
  5. See Bernhard Jussen : Clovis and the peculiarities of Gaul. A warlord at the right moment. In: Mischa Meier (Ed.): They created Europe. Historical portraits from Constantine to Charlemagne . Munich 2007, pp. 141–155.
  6. a b Ulrich Knefelkamp: The Middle Ages. History at a glance. Paderborn 2002, p. 40.
  7. See Johannes Fried: The Middle Ages. Munich 2008, p. 53.