The Franks: Paganism to Christianity
During the 3rd and 4th centuries, land-hungry Germans migrated southward and westward. It was these tribes that resulted in Rome losing control over its great frontier. One tribe in particular was the Merovingian tribe. The Merovingian tribe clashed with the Romans all the time, eventually the tribe would take over Rome in the “Gallic Wars." The Merovingian was also called the Franks. The Franks were the most powerful of the Germanic tribes. The Franks managed to create, after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire; the strongest and most stable barbarian kingdom. In the Frankish language the word “Frank” means free or fierce. Under the reign of Clovis, the first Christian king of France whose conversion to Christianity led to a string of victories and laid the foundations of France, would soon change the religion of many Franks who would later be recognized as the French.
Germanic paganism was the religious practice, during the Iron Age, of the Franks. The Franks, before their Christianization, worshiped or believed in multiple gods and goddesses, which means that the Franks were polytheistic. The Franks did not have a holy place of worship, had feast and rituals of sacrifice to please their gods, and prayed to their gods and goddesses, not for prosperity or fruitful crops but for luck in defeating their opponents. The Franks called them Norse gods and goddesses.These gods and goddesses were classified into two groups, the Vanir and Aesir. The two most powerful gods the Franks worshiped were:
Odin: The god of battle, poetry, magic and wisdom. Odin means “frenzy" or “fury", the ruler of the Aesir and sometimes called Allfather. Odin played a central role in myths about the creation and destruction of the world. Between 700 and 800 A.D., the cult of Odin flourished across much of northern Europe, during the age of the Vikings.
Thor: The god of thunder, war, and strength. Thor carried a Mjolnir, a short-handed hammer, which became the symbol of Germanic paganism. Thor was worshiped by the Franks because of the very basic phenomena of war and the power of lighting. Germanic tribes prayed to Thor and no other god or goddess for protection.
Sacrilege and polytheism ceased to exist during the reign of Clovis I. At the age of 15, Clovis was named chief of his tribe. Even at this young age, Clovis showed that he was a leader and great warrior. Clovis disposed of the other chiefs in his tribe and took control over all the tribes. Clovis knew that if he could unite all of the Frankish warriors together he would be able to wage war against other tribes in Europe. Clovis, in 486, embarked on his journey to take control. His first victim was Syagrius, the last remaining Roman governor of Gaul. After Clovis defeated Syagrius he became an influential ruler in Gaul. Everyone treated Clovis as if he was a god, the people worshiped him and with his fame came the Orthodox Catholic Church. The Church apparently assumed that a converted pagan would more likely champion their cause than a nominal Christian who had chosen an errant, nonTrinitarian interpretation of scripture.
Clovis was not so easily swayed to covert over to Christianity, after all he was accustomed to his religion, Germanic paganism. Clotilde, a Christian woman, persuaded Clovis to convert to Christianity. It took Clotilde a while to convince Clovis to convert. Even after Clovis converted, Clovis remained on friendly terms with Catholic and Arian leaders alike, allowing people of different religious perspectives to worship as they pleased. Clotilde’s uncle, Gundobad, killed his brother and kept Clotilde prisoner. When Clovis found out that Gundobad, king of Burgundy had kidnaped Clotilde. Clovis threatened war against Gundobad, until a betrothal was agreed upon and a marriage could be arranged.
In 496, Clovis went into battle with his cousin Siegbert against the Alemanni. The Alemanni had the upper hand against Clovis and his cousin Siegbert. Clovis made a promise to himself and said that if he won the battle against the Alemanni that he would get baptized. Clovis prayed to God and swore to become a believer and devote his life to Christianity, if God would help him defeat his enemies. Clovis and Siegbert beat the Alemanni and Clovis lived up to his pledge, being baptized by Bishop Remigius in Reims on Christmas Day. This was the turning point from Germanic paganism to Christianity for the Franks.
Clovis encouraged the men of his army to be baptized and convert over to Christianity, 3,000 of his men did convert. Clovis removed from mind and destroyed the idols of the gods and goddesses of his past religion. Men who did not want to convert were hunted down and persecuted. A union was made between the barbarian conquerors and the Gallo-Romans; thus, expanding the influence of Christianity in the west. Clovis went on to build the Church of Saint Genevieve in Paris, at his wife request.
Clovis was the first king to influence people way beyond the borders of Rome to convert to Christianity and leave pagan gods alone. He was the first to lay the foundation of the French nation and ally himself with the pope. Although Clovis conversion to Christianity was personal; his belief in his knew found faith influenced the French nation, other Germanic peoples and the pope. The Law of Salian Franks, which is a code that was written during the reign of Clovis followed the Christian way of life and would influence European and French religion for centuries to come.
Shakka James (author) from Dallas, TX on July 02, 2015:
Thanks, it was a topic I had in school. It was really a hassle finding information on the Franks and figured this article could help anyone else in school with the same topic.
Blackspaniel1 on April 02, 2015:
Well done. Enjoyed this one.
Cathy Nerujen from Edge of Reality and Known Space on July 21, 2012:
An interesting hub about Clovis and the Franks. Very informative.
Timothy Wesley on June 13, 2012:
Thanks for the information. It really helped me out on my classroom discussion question
Quittis Nash on June 11, 2012:
Thank you for this information, I have this as a discussion question in my online classroom and your information was very helpful.
Samantha Gold on May 29, 2012:
Wow, a lot of interesting history there. Thanks for the input.
Marlene Bertrand from USA on May 29, 2012:
Very interesting! I must not have been paying attention in history class. I enjoyed reading about the other gods, but the only one I slightly remember hearing about is Thor. Nice research and presentation of information.