Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


The Merovingians were a dynasty of Frankish kings who ruled a (frequently fluctuating) area in parts of present-day France and Germany from the 5th to 8th century AD. They were sometimes referred to as the "long-haired kings" by contemporaries, though the significance of their long hair is not clear.

The Merovingian dynasty (see List of Frankish Kings) owes its name to Merovech (sometimes Latinised as Meroveus or Merovius), leader of the Salian Franks from about 447 to 457, and emerges into wider history with the victories of Childeric I (reigned about 457-481) against the Visigoths, Saxons and Alamanni. Childeric's son Clovis I went on to unite most of Gaul north of the Loire (486), to adopt Roman Catholicism (496), and to decisively defeat the Visigothic kingdom of Toulouse in the Battle of Vouillé (507). Clovis on his death partitioned his kingdom to his four sons according to Frankish custom which would then be subdivided again into numerous tiny principalities, these rulers were called the Merovingian kings.

The Merovingian kings appointed magnates to be comites, counts, charging them with defense, administration, and the judgement of disputes. This happened under the backdrop of the collapse of the centralized Roman system of adminstration and taxation and the disappearance of the old civil service structure as the Franks took over adminstration from the Romans. The counts had to provide armies; they enlisted them from their subordinates who were named knights and endowed with land in return for service. These armies were subject to the kings call for offense or defense. The counts paid no money to the king, for there was little money in circulation. The King was expected to support himself with the products of his private, or royal, domain. The system developed in time to feudalism. From the point of the view of the king it was a poor system, he received no revenues, he had nothing to give but land that once given never returned. He became poorer and poorer, more and more a do-nothing or rois faineants. By the 7th century these pathetic kings gave up an serious effort to rule and contended themselves with nightly outings in the royal ox-drawn cart and other such frivilous activities. In such a situation of a weak ruler power naturally shifts to the major-domo, the estate administrator and mayor of the kings palace.

By the early 7th century, the Merovingian kings began to allot more and more day-to-day administration to a powerful official in their household called the maior domo or major-domo.This Latin title literally translates to "big man in the house"; the usual English translation is Mayor of the Palace, although this official was not a mayor in the modern sense of the word. The office of Mayor of the Palace itself became hereditary in the Carolingian family. Soon the Mayors were the real military and political leaders of the Frankish kingdom. This fact became manifest in 732 when an invading Arab army (Moors) from Spain was defeated by an army led not by the King, but rather by the Mayor Charles Martel.

Charles' son, the Mayor Pippin III, gathered support among Frankish nobles for a change in dynasty. When the Pope appealed to him for assistance against the Lombards, he insisted that the church sanction his coronation in exchange. So, in 751, Childeric III, the last Merovingian, was deposed. He was allowed to live, but his long hair was cut and he was sent to a monastery.

Merovingian coins are on display at Monnaie de Paris, (the French Mint) at 11, quai de Conti, Paris, France.

Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln put forth an esoteric pseudohistory of the Merovingians in their book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail.

See also: list of Frankish Kings