History Files
 

 

European Kingdoms

The Franks

 

 

 

Frankish Minor Kings (Germans)
Incorporating the Ripaurian Franks
AD 480s - c.509

The Franks were one of several West Germanic federations which were formed of elements of first century tribes that had fought against the Romans. The majority of this large group of tribes were living along the Lower Rhine's borders in what was, by the third century AD, becoming known as Francia. The Salian (Western) Franks led the influx of Frankish and sub-Frankish peoples into the Roman empire from across the Rhine, where they were treated as foederati. They formed a kingdom that was acknowledged by the Romans in AD 358, although in reality it was a confederation of smaller states which were formed along the line of their advance, such as at Cambrai. The Bructeri, Tencteri, Tubantes, and Usipetes (and possibly others, such as the Chattuarii) coalesced to form the Ripaurian Franks who remained on the east bank of the Rhine when the main body of Franks crossed into Gaul.

Those Franks who settled on the west bank of the Rhine at the start of the fifth century created minor kingdoms which covered much of north-eastern Gaul. They defended the Rhine against invading fellow Germanic tribes and remained a strong force in support of Rome for most of the century. However, when Clovis son of Childeric I of the Salian Franks of Yssel succeeded his father in AD 481, he pursued an aggressive policy of conquest. He wanted to create a single Frankish kingdom, and his fellow Frankish kings were not going to stand in his way. They were eliminated between the 480s and around 509, fulfilling Clovis' dream of a single Merovingian-controlled Frankish state. This included both the Ripuarian Franks and those Frankish kings in Gaul who were not initially under Clovis' control.

Cambrai was an important location for the early Franks, once they started threatening the Roman empire. Today it lies on the northern border of France, very close to Belgium, on the River Scheldt. In the later years of the Roman empire it replaced Bavay (Roman Bagacum) as the tribal capital for the Nervii. As for the origin of the name, Salii, as in Salian Franks, it was long understood to be derived from the River Yssel or Saal. Instead, it is more probable that it arose from the fact that the Salians for a long period occupied the shores of the 'salt sea', the North Sea coast, while the Ripaurians dwelt on the banks of the Rhine.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Ethnology of Germany Part 3: The Migration of the Saxons, Henry H Howorth (Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol 7, 1878), from The History of the Franks, Volume II, Gregory of Tours (O M Dalton, Trans, 1967), from Chronicon, Marius, from the Chronicle of Fredegar / Latin Chronicle (author unknown but the work has been attributed to Fredegar since the sixteenth century thanks to his name being written in the margin), from the Passio of St Killian, from Atlas historique mondial, Georges Duby (Larousse, 1978), from Genealogy of the Kings of France, Claude Wenzler (Editions Ouest-France, Rennes, 2008), from The History of Great and Little Bolton, J Brown (1823), and from External Link: Le Mans Roman Walls (Spotting History).)

fl 480s - 509

Ragnachar / Ragnacaire / Ragnarius

King of the Salian Franks of Yssel (Cambrai). Killed by 509.

before 509

Ragnachar is a king of the Salian Franks of Yssel (Cambrai) who aids the Merovingian king, Clovis, in the conquest of Soissons in 486. As he has the same title as Clovis' father, Childeric I, it is possible that Ragnachar has either inherited a portion of his territory, or has captured it, or is a relative in some way who governs territory nearby. The Gesta episcoporum Cameracensium states that Clovis and Ragnachar are related through Clovis' mother, Basina, a Thuringian princess.

Raganchar's name is a variant of Raganhar. The 'rag-' element is sometimes attributed to 'advice' but it makes more sense if it is something with a military connection: 'rag-' in combining form, cognate with 'regr' in Old Norse fits the bill, meaning 'coward', with the middle 'an' probably meaning 'without', and 'char/har' meaning 'army'. The combination would be 'fearless army'.

Map of Western Europe between AD 481-511
With the accession of Clovis, son of Childeric I of the Salian Franks, the Germanic occupiers of north-eastern Gaul had found a king who would change their fortunes out of all recognition (click on map to view full sized)

When Clovis accepts baptism in 496, many Franks turn to Ragnachar as a pagan for leadership. As a major rival, Clovis is refused entry into Cambrai no later than 509, so he bribes some of Ragnachar's guards and storms the stronghold. Disadvantaged, Ragnachar and his brother, Ricchar, are forced to flee. Both are captured and are killed by Clovis with an axe.

? - 509

Ricchar / Riccar

Brother. Killed in 509.

after 486

Rignomer / Rigomer

Brother. King of the Franks of Le Mans (Breton March). Killed.

 

Rignomer, brother of Ragnachar, gains Le Mans from the fall of Soissons, the former Civitas Cenomanorum, capital of the Gaulish Aulerci Cenomani people. The city still retains most of its Roman city walls (in fact even today the walls form one of the most intact Roman city walls still in existence). Given the location, Rignomer clearly commands the defence of Frankish territories against incursions from the neighbouring Bretons - in fact in 491 the city of Nantes becomes the headquarters of the newly-formed Breton March, possibly with Rignomer as its first commander under the authority of Clovis.

The name Rignomer or Rigomer probably originates in the Indo-European word used to denote a king - 'rigno'. This is usually used to refer to a king's domain in German tongues, with the addition of '-mer' in this case, which is probably '-mar', meaning 'famous'. The 'rigno' element may be borrowed, which provides a probable meaning of 'famous king'.

However, Ragnachar is seen as a rival by Clovis. As such he is swiftly dispatched at some point by 509, shortly after his two brothers. If Rignomer has pretensions of being the 'famous king' he is named, then Clovis would do well to remove him. Le Mans cannot have been a Frankish kingdom until after 486 and the fall of Soissons, placing the murders of the three brothers between these two dates (486-509). Their territories are annexed by Clovis.

pre-486 - c.509

Chararic

King of the Salian Franks of a location close to Yssel?

486

Chararic and his son wait to see the outcome of the battle between the Merovingian king, Clovis, and the domain of Soissons before taking sides. By then it is too late and Clovis has him and his son imprisoned. They are tonsured and ordained as priests, and when they rebel by growing back their hair, Clovis has them killed (around 509, at the same time as he kills Chlodoric the Parricide - see below), and annexes their lands.

Cambrai Cathedral
Cambrai formed the heartland of early Salian Frankish territory and the seat of one of the most important early kingships once they had crossed the Rhine, although at this time they were fervently pagan, apparently suffocating any lingering Christianity here when they took over

? - c.509

Sigobert / Sigibert the Lame

King of the Ripuarian Franks of Zülpich & Cologne. Murdered.

496

The Franks conquer the Alemanni at the Battle of Tolbiac in 496, although the victory is a narrow one. The Alemanni and their western neighbours, the Ripaurian Franks on the east bank of the Rhine have long been engaging in minor skirmishes. Now the Alemanni appear to instigate a full-blown attack on the Ripaurian Franks who are led by Sigobert the Lame. He calls on his ally, Clovis, of the Salian Franks, and a relief army soon arrives. Even Clovis is hard-pressed to defeat the Alemanni, and Gregory of Tours equates his victory with his subsequent conversion to Christianity.

The site of the battle, Tolbiac or Tulpiacum, is usually linked to Zülpich in the modern German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, not far from the Belgian border. This is one of the two main cities of the Ripaurian Franks so its use as a battlefield supports the claim that the Alemanni had been the aggressors. The Alemanni are now arranged into a formal duchy which is commanded by Clovis, who is responsible for appointing the governing duke.

c.509

Sigobert is murdered by his son, Chlodoric, at the instigation of the Merovingian king, Clovis. Clovis then publicly accuses Chlodoric of the murder and mounts a campaign against the Salian Franks, killing both Chlodoric and another king, Chararic (see above), and absorbing Zülpich and Cologne into his kingdom.

c.509

Chlodoric the Parricide

Son. King of the Ripuarian Franks of Zülpich & Cologne. Killed.

509

By this time the Merovingian king, Clovis, counts himself master of all the Salian Franks, and a single kingdom has clearly emerged in north-eastern Gaul. Along the way he has probably disposed of many more minor Frankish leaders, such as that of the Germanic tribe of the Chattuarii.