Study the Franks


Who on earth were those Franks who conquered parts of Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire? Well, there are two clues given by their name. ‘Franks’ sounds a lot like ‘France’ and that is exactly the area they decided to conquer. ‘Frank’ also is the word we use to describe  people who are forthright, who freely give their opinions,  and the Franks were also bold people who did not even mind going to war.  Their name means ‘free’ and it is a name they gave to themselves.

Of course, over the years, the Franks had many rulers. One family, the Merovingian family, ruled for almost three hundred years. The most famous person in this family was Clovis I who ruled from 481 to 511 C.E. It is not surprising he is remembered since he founded the country of France and made Paris the capital city.  After Clovis I died, his children took over but they spent more time fighting each other than doing a good job of ruling. Not surprisingly, their kingdom fell apart as a result.

The Franks had a different legal code than the Romans. Their laws were collected, written down and called the Salic Code. One interesting feature of this code was that everything and everyone was assigned a specific value.  Then, if something was stolen or someone was killed, the offender had to pay a fine.  This fine was called a wergild.  Of course, just like today, murder was treated more seriously, and back then, the family of a murdered person could demand that the murderer be put to death.

What were some of the other punishments back then? They were quite different than punishments today. If someone stole a slave, they could be lashed 120-150 times. If someone committed arson, they might have to work as a slave themselves, or they might be banished or put to death. If someone stole something, they could be fined, tortured or put to death. Doesn’t it sound like something from a science fiction novel?

Just like many other societies in the history of the world, the Franks had various social classes. Some people were very rich and other people were very poor. Most of the people, about 60% of the people, were serfs who had to work as farmers.  They were not allowed to move away from the manors and their lords could take their crops away. It was a difficult life for most people.


A.    For each paragraph, write two to four  key facts to remember.
B.    With a partner, create a one-minute speech telling key facts about the Franks.
C.    Go further: read your S.S. text: Pathways: Civilizations Through Time by Michael Cranny (PrenticeHall, 1997), pages 21-23. Then write a paragraph telling something new you learned from the ‘Primary Sources’.

[This page may be copied for use with students if the following credit is provided: ©2012 Sophie Rosen.]

Print Friendly