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From Roman Gaul to the Merovingian Kingdom of the Franks (450-511)

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From Roman Gaul to the Merovingian Kingdom of the Franks (450-511)

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From Roman Gaul to the Merovingian Kingdom of the Franks (450-511)

From Roman Gaul to the Merovingian Kingdom of the Franks (450-511)

From Roman Gaul to the Merovingian Kingdom of the Franks (450-511)

From Roman Gaul to the Merovingian Kingdom of the Franks (450-511)

More directly relevant for us, though, is that the Pirenne Thesis tempts us to forget the sheer degradation resulting from the Frankish domination in Gaul, in terms of socio-economic order and political-legal technology. First, we must remember that the Franks were the last substantial German tribal group to enter into Gaul. They were Romanized in only the most superficial way, and should thus be seen as part of the second Barbarian wave of Germans migrating only to the Roman provinces directly adjoining their ancestral areas across the Rhine. Also, the sheer numbers of them that came, settling the land thickly as peasants and warriors, made it impracticable for them to shed any aspect of their Germanic identity. Contact with Ripuarian Franks on the pother side of the Rhine guaranteed maintenance of Germanic custom, just as it provided an inexhaustable source of Frankish manpower. This ultimately subdued totally any remaining aspects of Roman society in northern Gaul, which had been the least thoroughly integrated in the Roman political and cultural system to begin with. Even when the Salic Franks came over the Rhine in the fifth century, they had gone through only the most rudimentary process of political unification. Clovis was only one of many petty kinglets vying with each other in the quest for booty and the warrior retinues that raiding would attract. Luckily for him, his father had raided sufficiently successfully to attract growing numbers to Clovis' banner. There was no political acumen to Clovis' rise, just effective thuggery in the bogs and forests of Gaul.

All this had ramifications for the nature of the Merovingian polity unfolding under Clovis and his successors. In short, Roman institutions were replaced in almost their entirety by their much more primitive Frankish analogues. In the sphere of trade and commerce, there was no Frankish analogue. While an Frankish peasants provided an agricultural base, other commodities found their way into Frankish hands through requisition, imposition of new duties, or simply by plunder. Indeed, part of Clovis' success was that he was an open-handed raider, providing for his friends and protege in the manner of the comitatus from which the kingdom evolved. Indeed, unlike Roman political culture, the glue of the Merovingian dominions was the personal tie between war- leader-cum-king and warrior. This personal bond would evolve into feudalism in the future.

Fiscally speaking, the Frankish approach was exceedingly retrogressive. While Clovis did not abolish traditional Roman land taxes, his Frankish warriors and peasants would not pay, considering a tax on mere land-use to be subversive. Franks were therefore exempt, with indigenous Gallo-Romans still having to pay it. As their population declined, though, so did the revenues. Also, Frankish kings often gave gifts to local elites, one of which was an exemption from land taxes, and when there was an urban disturbance, Frankish leaders would burn tax registers (as well as homes) to gain allies. As fixed taxes ebbed away, indirect taxes such as tolls remained. The problem here was ensuring that local royal agents actually transferred the funds to the palace treasury. Over time, too, the coinage system declined. In the early sixth century, Franks stopped minting the Roman bronze coins, preferring gold. With no small change for daily transactions, a monetary trade system reverted t commodity barter.

The closest thing to a royal bureaucracy was the King's camp-turned-house- turned-palace. It was quite basic, similar to pre-migration chieftains' residences, only now, rulers' trusted associates bore Roman-sounding titles with marginal resemblance to actual functions. The treasury was often a huge chest under the king's bed, for example. Beyond that, royal officers had extremely tenuous links to the local level, based either on familial bonds or extortion. Thus, the king's closest warrior associates provided the rudimentary administration of the kingdom. Based upon the declining urban units called civitates, counts, or comes, would be appointed to various regions, based upon their pre-existing residence there, or participation in its plundering/conquest. They had three tasks: A) To administer the royal lands. These were lands which had belonged to the Roman government, and which Clovis had requisitioned to himself upon conquest. The count was to collect the indirect duties and send them to the king. Here, of course, was much room for individual power cultivation. Personal ties could weaken if the sovereign was not a dominant individual, and the lack of technology or coercive resources meant that over time, revenues could remain with the counts. Of course, the mere fact that kingship in Germanic society was a relativistic, tenuous institution implied that all counts, given the slightest chance, would try to increase their powers at the expense of the king and other counts. B) The count was also to provide a local court for Frankish law. Called the mallus, it contained elders as advisers--rachinburgii. The court was a non-compulsory service for Franks, and rather than impersonal justice based on precedent, etc., as in Roman times, traditional Germanic justice was pursued, based on wergeld, blood money, so as to avoid blood- feuds. Thus, practices such as oath-taking in order to exonerate oneself-- compurgation--were accompanied by ordeals of physical suffering for individuals whose character was deemed less trust-worthy. In time, as more and more of the roman tradition receded, the indigenous Gallo-Roman population would accept this kind of justice as well. C) Every spring the count was to bring his armed retinue to wherever the king was camping out. After gathering together a retinue-based army, the royal host would conduct wars incorporating plunder, discipline of wayward notables, and raiding on the frontiers in hopes of expanding the borders. In this scheme, there was no concept of continuous policing of counties by their leaders. Administration of the countryside, or provision of rural security, was not a concern of either kings or most counts. As well, there was no relatively regular army on Frankish frontiers, as there had been in roman times. Aside from campaigns of conquest, borders were left undefended and thus vulnerable. Of course, that military organization was localized meant that aspiring counts, as well as disappointed royal relatives, could usurp a fair amount of power.

By the mid-seventh century, something kindly referred to as a fusion of Gallo- Romans and Franks was occurring. Based on the decay of Roman forms not maintained by a weakened demographic base and an unconcerned Frankish component, it was evidenced in shared attitudes to principles of law, kingship, and social bonds. Beyond this, the Frankish choice of Catholicism from the beginning, as opposed to heretical Arianism, smoothed the process of growing together. Borders to intermarriage and common spiritual expression were removed, though the Christian patina in Gaul remained superficial at best into the 700s. Still, Merovingians often did patronize the Church, allowing some entry of culture into early medieval Western Europe.

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