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From Merovingians to Carolingians

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The Western Roman empire fell under the strikes of German tribes strikes during the 5th century A.D. It was the end of the Roman empire which had led to such a Barbaric Europe. The Roman empire's dynamism had gone out of breath. Latifundia had shut upon themselves against a monetary economy, provinces had tended to autonomy and broken the political unity as slavery had begun to fade due to Christianity. As the state intervened into with prices' maxima, corporations, professions turned hereditary, workforce requisitioned, that only increased such those trends. State itself turned centralized, excessive and authoritarian bringing to a increase of the number of civil servants, and of taxes, thus to a increase of crisis. A other aspect of the crisis of the Roman empire was the crisis into the military which at the time had turned to be in charge both of the 'limes' and the public order. No more people wanted to be drafted into the Roman legions and Rome being obliged to appeal to Barbarians. That internal crisis came thus to add to the Germans or Persians exerting pressure upon Roman borders. As until then Barbarians had progressively infiltrated into, like tribes used like the wardens of limes against others, Barbarian Invasions eventually gave the crisis a definitive turn. The Roman empire eventually jammed, the settlement of Germans increased disorders. Villas ended turning independent, and to increase in the administrative, political and military respects included. Troubles kept developing and Barbaric settlements turned into independent kingdoms, or groups of bandits settled in whole provinces. The Western Roman Empire, about 450 A.D., eventually dissolved into the new political entities which had been born from the arrival of Germans. During the centuries to come, the synthesis between Germans, the legacy of Rome, and the Church was to occur. A neat distinction occurred in France between North and South to the benefit of the North where the Franks had settled and as the South was lacking skills

The Frankish and Anglo-Saxon excepted, Germanic kingdoms founded in the West generally swiftly vanished as assimilated by native populations. The eventual conquest of Roman Gaul by the Franks in the late 5th century A.D., turned a milestone of European history. Franks were one of the largest Germanic tribes or confederation. The Frankish kingdom founded by Clovis about 486 A.D. was a mixed, Roman-Germanic one where the influence of Rome was continuing in terms of administrative structures, language, learning, or many forms of art. Childeric I, Clovis' father, was a commander in the Roman army. The other landmark of the Merovingians of course was the conversion of Clovis to Christianity, inaugurating a alliance between the popes in Rome and Frankish rulers. The remaining period of the Merovingian rule however rapidly turned into internecine struggles and a gradual decline

Merovingian dynasty eventually took power over former Gaul, under the rule of Clovis, and this was secured by his heirs. Merovingian Franks eventually had managed to control vast and wealthy territories as they could keep their identity there -of which their warlike aptitude- not taking in account their conversion to Roman Catholicism. One of their weakness, which existed too among other Germanic peoples, was that the Frankish king had to reckon a rowdy nobility as they had not reached to a theoretical design of state. A 30-year struggle then took place between two of Clovis' grandsons during the end of the 6th century A.D.; it eventually led to weaken the Merovingian kingship. The Merovingian kingdom knew unity for 72 years only, against a total duration of 263. Clovis 'regnum Francorum' decline was due to the will of the Greats to appropriate and to exploit State, which was performed through the 'mayors of the palace' who were their representants. From about 613 AD the latter passed under the control of mayors who were acting as a prime minister of sort to Merovingian kings. As the kingdom was divided into king's heirs, Clovis kingdom had been divided into sub-kingdoms; Austrasia was one of these and it became in 623 the birthplace of Carolingians, the next Frankish dynasty. Austrasian aristocracy had put an end to the 30-year struggle. Once peace brought back to the Frankish world, the Merovingian king continued to grant a separate king to Austrasia. Arnulf, bishop of Metz, became king's counselor as Pippin of Landen, one of the aristocrats who had fought during the disorders, became mayor of the palace. Adalgisil, son of Arnulf, married Begga, daughter of Pippin. This yielded the lineage of the first Carolingians. Austrasia however had eventually found itself astride the former Roman limes with its West tending to latinity and East to Germany. Pippin of Landen based its rise upon its domains he held around Liège or Herstal, on the Meuse river, those of Trier, on the Mosel and those in the Ardennes forest. Such possessions allowed to weapons workshops and to control the river trade in the area. Through his alliance with Arnulf, bishop of Metz, a family which already had given numerous saints, the founder of the Carolingian dynasty added the Church strength to his material power. St. Arnulf (ab. 582 A.D.-640 or 641 A.D.), was a member of a great Frankish family in Lorraine as he was the 27th bishop of Metz, from 613 to 628 A.D. His feast is celebrated each July 18th. He is the patron of beer brewers. When young, he trained himself into a practical political expertise first near his grand-uncle at the court of the Austrasian king and then of his own at the cour of King Theudebert II. He maried and got two sons. He associated himself with Pippin of Landen in his opposition to Queen Brunehilde and he had King Chlothar II of Neustria to intervene. Arnulf and Pippin then united their families through the mariage of Adalgisil, son of Arnulf with Begga, daughter of Pippin. By 613 A.D., Arnulf was awarded, by Chlothar II who had recouverd the whole of the Frankish kingdoms, with the bishopric of Metz which was then the capital city of Austrasia. Arnulf also kept his political role at the Austrasian court and he eventually turned preceptor to King Dagobert I, the son to Chlothar, who became the last really effective Merovingian king. When Dagobert reigned, in 629, Pippin and Arnulf were finally discarded -which likely aimed to preserve the unity of the Merovingian kingdom. St. Arnulf retired into the Colombanian monastery of Remiremont, which was governed by his friend Romaric and he died in Saint-Mont, a nearby monastery. His remains were transfered, few after his death, into the church of Saint Apostles, in Metz as it took the name of church of St Arnulf in 717 A.D. Arnulf was instrumental into founding the early power of the Carolingians as he and his family were part of a constellation of saints in the Austrasian region which served like a potent background to the dynasty. The network of churches and monasteries built during the Merovingian period, generally, was to eventually provide Charlemagne with an administrative infrastructure allowing to unite his large number of dominions. Older origins of St Arnulf are still complex as Carolingians, as far as they are concerned, early favoured the side of Pippin, albeit through women -Begga was the daughter to Pippin of Landen- at the expense of the one of Arnulf -which began with Adalgisil, the son of Arnulf. Further on the side of Arnulf, a debate is extant since the times of Charlemagne. A lot of ancient chronicles are linking Arnulf with a antique Frank family, which itself was linked to a antique family of 'senators' and to the kingly family of the Merovingians. The link to Roman senators allowed to commemorate the alliance betwen Franks and Gallo-romans as the one to the Merovingians to legitimize the Carolingian dynasty, respectively. Other source are stressing the Austrasian origins of Arnulf and link him to the Frankish kings of Cologne of around 500 A.D. Things get more complicated still for some chronicles as the ascendancy of Arnulf is found as far away as in Aquitaine with a Alaman female ancestor, or by the 11th century A.D. Arnulf is taking part into the Trojan legend of the Franks, or in the 17th century his ancestor is the Roman emperor Avitus. The first of such versions likely is the one to trust as, in the areas where German peoples had settled, a mixing, generally, between aristocraties had occurred most of the time. Another plausible aspect is to have the bishops of Metz of the 6th and 7th centuries A.D. the main ascendancy to Arnulf

Pippin of Heristal, son to Adalgisil and Begga, was put aside from power during about 20 years, after a premature attempt by a son of Pippin to otherthrow the legitimate king for Austrasia. Pippin returned at the favour of new struggles between the mayor of the palace of Neustria (the other main Merovingian sub-kingdom) and the aristocraties. About 687 he eventually became mayor of the palace for both Austrasia and Neustria, having a vast power and really embodying the passage to Carolingians: Frankish monarchy was passing from Salians to Austrasians, to Ripuarian Franks, most Germanic, less romanized elements of Franks. Power of Pippin was such that at his death in 714 he might consider Frankish world like an hereditary patrimony. He conferred the office of mayor of the palace to his grandson Theodoald. Theodoald was under the control of Pippin's widow, and the Austrasian aristocraty eventually rebelled. Charles, a son of Pippin, took rebellion's head. And he won over Pippin's widow. Charles earned his nickname of Martel (the Hammer) at the battle of Poitiers (732) when he preserved Europe from the advance of Muslims of Spain. Until his death in 742 Charles Martel developped the power of the Frankish kingdom: he secured carolingian army by grants of lands, and he helped St. Boniface to bring Gospel to Germany. Such was the power of Charles Martel that between 737 and 742 he could reign alone without designating an heir to the passed Merovingian king. By 737 A.D. however, a part of the Austrasian nobility still remained attached to the Merovingians. Charles Martel was succeeded by his two sons, Pippin (the Short) and Carloman. They reigned together until 747. They fought some wills of revolts against their power. Together with St. Boniface they put order into the Frankish Church which had suffered during the previous struggles, and they re-instated temporarily a Merovingian king (Childeric III). As Carloman retired voluntarily in a monastery near Rome (747) Pippin remained sole ruler. He eventually decided to definitively assume Frankish power: he asked Pope Zachary whether such a change of dynasty was possible and pope responded that "it were better to call king who was holding the power than who was still king without the royal power." Pippin the Short was proclaimed king in 751 and consecrated by the pope self, as that ancien Hebrew rite had be taken back, like the Wisigoths had done. Carolingians thus were keeping on with the privileged alliance between Clovis and the Church as they also were protecting missions in their dominions. This was the offical beginnings of the Carolingian dynasty. It is still ill-known why the ceremony held in presence of the pope, which officialized the change of dynasty, took place in the abbey of St-Denis, which was lying in the Neustrian country. Carolingians since were to deepen -for the worst or best- their union to papacy up to the restoration of the Empire for the West by 800 A.D., a union which was to served to unify western Erope. As the Merovingians were still in touch with Byzantines and kept focused upon the Mediterranean Sea, the Carolingians were decidedly German and focused upon the North Sea. 'France,' generally, during the Early Middle Ages, kept attached to the Roman tradition as it was also to better listen than elsewhere in Europe the new needs, like those of the pilgrimages. As the power of the Carolingiens grew, they appended to them the Burgondian people who, however, retained a strong originality

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times / Erudition et savoir à l'époque carolingienne, Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 3/7/2016. contact us at