The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751

The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751

The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751

The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751

Excerpt

In the history of Europe the period between the end of the Roman Empire in the fifth century and the cessation of Viking raids in the eleventh is one of particular importance. It was a time of transition, or rather transitions, from a Mediterranean-based empire to a world of states which were to develop into those of modern Europe. Within these six centuries of transition, the earliest saw the greatest changes: the collapse of the Empire and the first emergence of what might be called the Nation State. It was the fifth century that saw the origins of France and the sixth that saw those of England. And if the lines of development from Visigothic Spain and from Ostrogothic and Lombard Italy to their modern counterparts were not to be so direct, they nevertheless marked major developments in the transformation of the Roman World.

Within the first three centuries which followed the end of Roman rule the kingdom which emerged in France, Belgium, the Rhineland and Switzerland holds a preeminent place. Of the states which succeeded the Roman Empire it was the longest lasting. It was also, for much of the time, the most powerful. Nevertheless it has had a bad press. The reasons for this are complex, but two stand out. First the dynasty which ruled the Frankish kingdom from 481 to 751, the Merovingian dynasty, was subject to a damnatio memoriae by the family which usurped its power, the Carolingians. Nor was this damnatio memoriae difficult to effect. Despite their achievements the Merovingians themselves had been the subject of hostile comment from the late sixth century onwards. The historian Gregory of Tours thought that the Merovingians failed for the most part to live up to the example of their great forebear Clovis 1 (481-511). The next major historian to write about the Franks, the seventh-century chronicler Fredegar, implicitly compared Clovis's sons to bears and wolves and his grandsons to dogs. The second reason for the bad press which has greeted the Merovingian Age is its lack of great cultural figures. The kingdom of the Franks produced no equivalent to . . .

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