Franks

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The Franks were one of several west Germanic tribes who entered the late Roman Empire as foederatii and established a lasting realm. The word frank means "free" in their language. There were initially two main subdivisions within the Franks, the Salian ("salty") and the Ripuarian ("river") Franks. By the 9th century, if not earlier, this division was in fact virtually non-existent, but continued for some time to have implications for the legal system under which a person could be tried.

They were the first Gemanic tribe to be converted to Catholicism, while all the other branches were converted to Arianism, which was condemned as heretical by the Catholic Church. Because they were able to worship with their Catholic neighbors, they assimilated better with the local population (as compared with the Visigoths, Vandals, Burgundians), and under the Merovingians built the most stable of the successor-kingdoms in the west. The Merovingians ruled two closely interrelated kingdoms, Neustria and Austrasia.

The Merovingians adhered to the Germanic practice of dividing their lands among their sons, and the frequent division, reunification and redivision of territories often resulted in murder and warfare within the leading families. The chief officer of each kingdom was the mayor of the palace. From about the turn of the eighth century, the Mayors tended to wield the real power in the kingdom.

In 751, Pepin the short, who had succeeded his father, Charles Martel, as Mayor of the Palace for a united Frankish kingdom, was elected King by his fellow leading-men. Although this happened infrequently, a general rule in Germanic law was that the king relied on the support of his leading-men. These men reserved the right to choose a neew leader, if they felt that the old one was unable to lead them in profitable battle. Pepin solidified his position by entering into an alliance with the Pope against the Lombards; this papal support was crucial to silencing any objections to his new position.

Pepin's sons, Charlemagne and Carloman, succeeded him. Carloman withdrew to a monastery and died shortly thereafter, leaving sole rule to his brother. After forging yet another papal alliance, Charlemagne was crowned emperor in 800. He was succeeded by his son Louis (the Pious), who was fortunate enough to have survived his brothers and to inherit the entire kingdom.

Upon Louis' death, his three sons agreed upon the boundaries of their kingdoms at a meeting at Verdun. These kingdoms included the lands that they had ruled under their father as separate regna, and incorporated the lands their father had himself ruled. Charles the Bald, kept most of the western kingdom, which eventually became France. The central kingdom, including the Italy and the title of Roman Emperor, passed to Lothar, the eldest son. This kingdom, Lotharingia, comprised a corridor from the Low Countries through Burgundy into Italy. The name has suvived to the present as Lorraine. Louis' middle son, Louis the German, inherited all of Francia east of Lotharingia, including the Northern and Eastern Marches.

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