The Franks were a collection of Germanic tribes who migrated to the land between the Lower and Middle Rhine in the third century A.D. They merged with the Gallo-Roman population, lending their name to the current country of France.
One tribe of Franks, the Salian Franks, lived in the area that is now Belgium and the Netherlands; in ancient times it was controlled by the Romans. The Romans acknowledged the Franks after 357 A.D., but they were the least of the Roman’s worries. When Rome collapsed, the Franks were united under the Merovingians, who had successfully conquered most of Gaul in the 6th century. Under the new leadership, the Franks became very powerful. By the end of the 8th century, the Frankish state had absorbed the majority of western Europe, creating the Carolingian Empire. It was this empire that would evolve into France and the Holy Roman Empire.
The Carolingian Empire was very strong. Though there was some internal warfare, the language and culture of the Franks, along with the strong influence of Roman Christianity, brought an overall unity to the land. However, the kingdom was not to last. The sons of Louis the Bald started a civil war with each other, and the kingdom was divided up between the three of them.
The most famous Frank was Charlemagne, son of Charles the Great. Charlemagne took the Frankish throne in 768 A.D. Initially co-ruler with his brother, Charlemagne became the sole ruler of the Frankish kingdom in 771 A.D. Charlemagne became a protector of the papacy, just as his father had. He removed the Lombards from power in northern Italy. In Spain, he lead an incursion against the Muslims. He also fought against the Saxons, forcing them to convert to Christianity under penalty of death. A great leader, he became known as the “Father of Europe” because he was able to unite most of Western Europe, something that hadn’t been done since the Romans.
Always considered a strong, fighting people, Germanic peoples, especially the Franks, were part of the Roman army as early as Julius Caesar. They were well trained and adaptable, and even after the fall of Rome, they remained an organized fighting force. Their armies worked in legions, fought with Roman-like weapons and armor, and used Roman techniques, although innovations were made. In the late 6th century, the levy was introduced to the army, enabling the army to boost its numbers at a moment’s notice. These levies were reasonably well armed and dressed, and might even have been mounted, depending on where they came from.
The goal of the campaigns was usually either tribute or pillaged booty. The Carolingian Empire was a wealthy one, producing its own literature, art, jewelry, and monuments. Most of the actual buildings haven’t survived from this time period, though there are a few fine examples such as a some baptisteries in southern France and the beautiful chapel at Aachen, Germany. Beautiful examples of brooches, chalices, decorative swords, and clothing have all been found in lavish grave site, and show the development of not only the Carolingian Empire but of the Frankish people as a whole.
The Goths were an eastern Germanic collection of Tribes. The Goths migrated from their homeland in Scandinavia to mainland Europe in the first half of the 1st century A.D. A powerful people, they quickly expanded their territory, going all the way to the coast of the Black Sea. They ravaged the Balkans and Anatolia, going as far as Cyprus; they sacked Athens, Byzantium, and Sparta.
In the late 4th century, the Huns arrived from the east and invaded the territory of the Goths. Some Goths were subdued and joined the Hun ranks, but others fled back across the Danube. These Goths later revolted and won against the Romans, gaining more lands.
During the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries, the Goths divided into two main groups: the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths. The Visigoths became a federate of Rome, enjoying Roman benefits in exchange for military assistance. This didn’t last long, however, and the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 A.D. They continued their expansion and eventually settled into a kingdom in Aquitaine. However, in the early 6th century, the Franks pushed the Visigoths into Hispania. They were conquered by the Muslim Moors, but regained control in the 8th century and created the kingdom of Asturias, which eventually evolved into Spain and Portugal.
The Ostrogoths sided with and joined the Huns. However, this was short lived, and the Ostrogoths successfully revolted against the Huns and settled in northern Italty, eventually taking over the entire peninsula. After the death of the Ostrogoth King Theodoric in 526 A.D., Italy was captured by the Byzantine Empire. The war was devastating, and surviving Goths joined the Lombards, who had invaded northern Italy in 567 A.D. and started a kingdom there.
Though maybe their greatest legacy is the extensive migration and legendary fighting skills, the Goths also were wonderful craftsmen. They were heavily influenced by Greek and Roman craftsmen before the Huns arrived, but they developed their own style soon enough. Jewelry, weapons, and decorations have been found at important archaeological sites and among grave goods.