1902 Encyclopedia > Franks


THE FRANKS. When, in the year 241 A.D., the sol-diers of Aurelian, who just before had been on the north German frontier, marched out of Rome on their way to the Persian war, they sang (Vopiscus in Aureliano, c. 7) a rough barrack song—

'' Mille Sarmatas, mille Francos, semel et semel occidimus; Mille mille mille mille mille Persas quaaimus;"

and the words, caught up by the admiring mob, became a street boys' ballad in those days of debased imperialism. Unless we give to Peutinger's Itinerary an earlier date than is probable, this street song marks the first appearance in history of the Frankish name. Cajsar, Tacitus, Ptolemy, are alike silent as to it, although they often speak of other tribes which occupied the very districts in which we after-wards find the Franks. It is therefore probable, though Jacob Grimm (Geschichte der Deutschen Sprache, p. 518) says that the view has " only a moderate value," that Frank is the newest of ail German names, and represents, somewhat vaguely, a group of tribes who dwelt about the lower and middle Rhine. The Frank lived in districts previously occupied by tribes bearing other names ; nor have we proof of any incursion of a strange tribe called Franks from north or east. The old Frankish legend that they came from the Danube to the Rhine probably arose from the fact that a colony of the Sicambrian cohort was planted by the Romans on the spot where Buda-Pesth now stands ; nor need we seriously consider the usual annalist statement that they were " reliquiae Troianorurn." The meaning and origin of the term also lends itself to the view above stated,—the words " frank and free," usually grouped together, are in fact the same in origin and meaning (fri, frech, M.H.G.; frekkar, Scand,; friks, Goth = audax, avidus; then, by insertion of n, cp. linquo from root of liqui, we get frank). The two words thus grouped together form, an epithet rather than a proper name: the " free Franks " are those tribes whose freedom suffered most attack ; the name probably came into being in the 3d century A.D. as a part of the resistance 01 northern and northwestern Germany to the ceaseless attempts of Rome. " Francus habet nomen a feritate sua," says Ermoldus Nigellus (i. 344) ; and the word carries the sense of boldness, defiance, freedom. As it did not lend itself well to Latin verse-endings, and as its origin was late, we find the silver and leaden poets delighting to call the Franks Sicambri, as in the famous speech of St Remi to Hlodowig, " Depone mitis colla, Sicamber," &c.

When their history begins, the Franks are in three groups, mostly on the left bank of the Rhine, from Mainz to the sea. It is, however, quite clear that in earlier days they dwelt also on the right or German bank; for if at first the Romans pressed on them, ere long they began to press on the Romans in return. The oldest Frankish land was then on the Rhine ; some of it lay to the north of the Betuwe (the island between Meuse and Rhine), having the river Yssel as its eastern limit, and a line drawn through Durstede, Utrecht, and Muyden as its western boundary. The Franks of this district, afterwards called Salians (a name derived either from Sal a, an inheritance, or from the river Saal, or Yssel), filled the parts called the Veluwe and the territory of the Sicambri; south-east of these was a

The Salians and Eipuarians, cir. 400.

second group, the Chamavi, Bructeri, Attuarii, also at first on the right bank of the Rhine ; beyond these, a group of Chatti and Suevi, from a little above Cologne to ths Main, filling up all the country between the Taunus hills and the Rhine. It is to this group of tribes, says Watterich (Germanen des Rheins, p. 166), that the title Frank was first given. This view of their geographical distribution is supported by the evidence of Peutinger's Itinerary, in which Francia stands on the right bank of the Rhine from just above Nimwegen to a little below Coblentz ; and though this famous map is a road-chart rather than a record of ethnology and tribal distribution, still it may fairly be urged that its author would not have placed the Franks on the very outside of his map had their home been on the left bank of the Rhine.

In the middle of the 3d century these Franks began to press into the First and Second Germany, two tracts of land on the left bank of the Rhine from Alsace to the sea. In 240 the Chatti crossed at Mainz; in 258 Franks are in the army of Postumus as well as opposed to him; with them he drove their brethren across the Rhine and made Cologne his capital. By degrees they filled the whole district from the Moselle to the Betuwe,. occupying the lands of the Ubii and Tungri, that is, from the Ardennes to the Rhine and Meuse. These Franks are known to his-tory as the Eipuarians, receiving, as was not unnatural, a partly Latin name (Ripuarii, Riparii, bank-men ; or pos-sibly Bip-wehr-ii, bank-defenders). About the same time the Salian Franks also moved southward, crossing the Rhine, which in those days was slow and shallow in its lower course, the main waters having been diverted into the Meuse. They occupied the whole Betuwe, and spread down to the sea, inhabiting the marshy delta of the rivers (" paludicolse Sigambri," or " Franci inviis strati palu-dibus," circa 280 A.D.); and presently (287) they took part in naval expeditions down the coast of Gaul. Then, pass-ing the Meuse also, they seized on Toxandria, which was given over to them in 358 by the emperor Julian, who defeated them, and admired their bravery and independ-ent spirit. Henceforth we find plenty of Franks taking service under the empire : Frankish chiefs, like Bald, Mellobald, Arbogast, rise to high places in court and army; their names appear even in the Consular Fasti; they make or unmake emperors. By the end of the 4th century the frontiers of the empire to the north had permanently receded: Andernach was the outmost Rhine station held by the R,omans; Tournay was still theirs; they had a fleet on the Sambre; all beyond was Frankish land. Before long the Franks advanced again : in 429 we hear (in Gregory of Tours) that the Salians, coming " from Dispargum (Disiburg, the city of the goddesses), in Tor-ingia," won a great battle at Cambrai under Chlodion their king, and penetrated even as far as the Loire. This Toringia is probably a confusion with Tongria, a little district on the Meuse; the Franks were never in Thuringia, With their two capitals, the Salians at Dispargum, the Ripuarians at Cologne, the Franks now became the bulwark of the Romans : they resisted the barbarians who crossed the Rhine at Mainz in 406 ; and in 451 again joined the legions to repel at Chalons the bideous invasion of Attila. Thus feeling their strength, it was not long be-fore, under their young king Hlodowig, or Clovis, the Salian Franks became masters of northern Gaul, while their brethren the Ripuarians remained for the time near the Rhine. And " as the son of Childerich, following in the steps of his kinsfolk, pressed southwards, in mid career of victory he met the Christians' God. The Disi, the wild goddesses, abandoned him; he trusted in the god of Hlotehild, and conquered all his foes" (Watterich, Die Germanen des Rheins, p. 238). These Christianized Salians, under the Merwing house, became in time lords of all Gaul, and gave it a new name, Francia Occidentalis, or Interior, or Latin a, to distinguish it from the older Francia Orientalis, the Germany of the middle Rhine ; the latter name drifted off towards the east, and has found a home in that central district of Franconia, which lies far away from the true Frankish land.

Henceforth the history of the Franks falls under that of France; while their institutions were mainly those of all Germans., (See FRANCE and GERMANY.) Their physical features were also those of the race in general: the fierceness of their looks; the wrinkled scowl about their brows, "torvi Sicambri;" their wild blue eyes; their large limbs, which contrasted with the little stature of the Romans; their long fair hair, which was a choice commodity at Rome, being bought eagerly by the ladies of fashion in those late imperialist days,—all these things had little in them that was specially Frankish. Their weapons were more characteristic, being their own and connected closely with their name. They fought either with the "framea" (a word

is almost certainly a copyist's error for "franca"), which was a light javelin, tipped with iron sharpened on either side, a weapon fit for casting or smiting, and sometimes spoken of as a little axe ; or with the francisca, which was a heavy battle-axe. It is to the Franks that the great Siegfried Saga properly belongs; and their early history is hopelessly mixed up with legend. It is not till the days of Hlodowig that any light is thrown on their institutions,—the Lex Salica, the law of the Salian Franks, and the Lex Ripuaria, of which the origin was a little later, belonging probably to the end of the 5 th and the early part of the 6th centuries. The Lex Salica was afterwards enlarged and altered; in its earliest form it presents to us the Franks in their Toxandrian or Tongrian time, before Christianity had touched them. This law shows no trace of a feudal nobility or a " feudal system" of any kind; as Waitz (Deutsche Verfassungsgeschichte : Das alte Recht der Salischen Franken, p. 103) says, "Das Salische Gesetz kennt keinen Adel; auch nicht die leiseste Spur desselben findet sich." The tribes had chiefs or kings, elected by the whole body of free men from one family (as Hlodowig from among the Merwings); there were also sundry officers of justice and administration, rachimburgs or grafs, but these are no more noble than the rest of the free Franks, who formed a republic of fighting men, each man's voice being as potent in the mall as his arm was in the battle. The " lseti," or the " pueri regis," the king's " dam-sels," and the antrustions belong to the later editions of the law. King, free Frank, and slave of war,-—these are the only grades. The code endeavours, always by imposition of carefully graduated fines, to protect the sanctity of the Frank's family, to determine his duties towards the king, the graf, and the tribal council or mall, to provide for the security of his property, whether personal or landed. It is in this last part of the code that we find the famous clause (Lex Salica, lix., De Alodis, § 5; Waitz, p. 266) on which the so-called Salic law of France was afterwards based: " De terra vero nulla in muliere hereditas est, sed ad virilem sexum qui fratres fuerint tota terra perteneat." This special limitation as to the inheriting of Salic land (the Stamm-land as the Germans call it, the Odal of the Icelanders) is but a scanty basis on which to build a great law of royal succession, which lasted in France as long as the monarchy continued, and might still reappear, were the present republic to prove untrue to itself. Up to the time of the Revolution, the French noblesse prided themselves on being the "proud descendants of the conquerors;" but though it is possible, in earlier times, to trace or to fancy distinctions of feature and character, marking off the noble from the roturier or the peasant, still in the later days of the monarchy the " noble race of conquerors " was so much changed, so many old houses had become extinct, so many had been diluted with foreign blood, so many new patents of nobility had been issued, that it would require no small ingenuity and imagination to see in the courtiers of Louis XVI. the representatives of the Franks of Hlodowig or Charles the Great.

The chief authorities for the Franks are Jakob Grimm, Geschichte der deutschen Sprache, Leip., 1848; "Waitz, Das alte Recht der Salischen Franken: Beilage zur deutschen Verfassungsgeschichte, Kiel, 1846; Gohm, Fränkische Reichs- und Gerichts- Verfassung, "Weimar, 1871; Watterich, Die Germanen des Rheins, Leip., 1872. There is also an ingenious lecture by Giesebrecht. In modern days not much has been written on the Franks, except in connexion with the history of institutions. (G. "W. K.)

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