FRANKS: A name applied after the middle of the third century to the Germanic tribes of Chattic descent dwelling on the middle and lower Rhine, who during the decline of the Roman power became the most formidable enemies of the empire. In spite of repeated defeats they succeeded in making themselves masters of the Roman possessions on the lower Rhine, establishing themselves in Batavia, Toxandria or Holland, Zealand, and Brabant. A distinction in names now appears between the inhabitants of the coastlands or Salic Franks and the dwellers on the banks of the Rhine or Ripuarians. In the course of time the left bank of the Rhine, the basins of the Scheldt and the Somme, and the valley of the Moselle came into their power; their victory over Syagrius at Soissons in 486 shattered the Roman power in Gaul and extended their authority to the Loire; their victory over the Visigoths in 507 carried it to the Garonne, while on the east the overthrow of the Alemanni (496) and of the Thuringians (531) made the Neckar and the Rednitz the boundary of their kingdom. On the east bank of the Rhine the inhabitants remained purely Germanic, but in Gaul the Frankish element was speedily absorbed by the Roman and the Romanized Celtic.


The great episode in the advance of the Franks was the conversion of their king Clovis in the year 496. That he was from the beginning no enemy to Christianity is shown by the fact that his wife was of that faith and that his sons were baptized with his permission. His own conversion was primarily actuated by the belief that the step was necessary for the preservation of his kingdom. The common legend that Clovis while hard pressed in battle by the Alemanni made a vow of baptism if the god of the Christians would grant him victory finds no historical substantiation. On the contrary, his conversion seems to have been the result of deliberation and to have been hastened by the exhortations of his Christian wife. The baptism of Clovis is of primary importance in the history of the Church in that it rallied to its support the most powerful of the barbarian kingdoms and thus insured the triumph of Christianity among the Germanic tribes. Moreover, it marked the beginning of the end of Arianism and guaranteed the unity of the Church in the West. The conversion of the Frankish king was followed by that of his people, but the new faith made unequal progress in the different parts of his dominions, most in Gaul, least in the Germanic territories to the east of the Rhine, where, as late as the beginning of the eighth century, the greater part of Hesse was still pagan. The organization of the Church under Clovis remained unchanged. The Gallic and Rhenish bishoprics extended their influence across the Rhine where no new sees were created. The Church remained in possession of the rights which it had enjoyed under the Romans, but in the course of time the king succeeded in gaining the right of confirming the nomination of bishops and summoning the church assemblies, powers which, together with the restriction of the papal jurisdiction, made the Frankish Church a truly national one, a character which it retained throughout the Merovingian period.