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Franks


Origin disputed (1)



Officially, the origin of the Franks is shrouded in mystery. French historians (and most others follow them) are convinced that they were a German tribe. German historians are unwilling to contradict that, as the Franks had conquered Gaul. Those convictions became an 'absolute certainty' after the defeat of France in the war of 1870 against Germany. It gave the French (and the Germans) a precedent, so this was not the first time that France had been conquered by Germans. But there are some contra-indications for that theory. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote around AD 98 his book 'Germania' in which he tried to give a complete catalogue of all the German tribes, including habits and origin. The Franks are not mentioned, although tribes up to the Polish border and probably beyond were referred to. That is at least strange, given the importance (only some 110 years later) of the Franks. Therefore, historians accepted the idea that the Franks appeared later and that they originated from a mixture of tribes living upon the east bank of the Rhine. This must have happened between AD 98 and AD 210, the first time the Franks were mentioned. The question is why the Franks were described as a united, well-organized and distinct people. How is that possible in such a short time? The eastbank of the Rhine was inhabited by Germans in AD 98. Tacitus gave us the names of those local tribes. He never wrote that those peoples were melting together. All German tribes along the Rhine were well organized and since ages. There is no sign of some disorganisation which could lead to a merge of people of different tribes.

One can't compare this with the emerging colonies of the Europeans in the east of the (later) United States. The Europeans chased the native Americans and merged with themselves (as they came from England, Ireland, Germany, etc.). Internal organisation was entirely new. This initial mixture was reason enough to give the colonists a new name: Americans. There was a huge gap in development between the native Americans and the Europeans, separating both effectively.

That was not the case on the right bank of the Rhine. The local native Germans were not that retarded. Influence from the Empire was efficiently absorbed. Their chiefs remained locally in power. They were capable of absorbing migrants and most of the local power base (politics), laws and traditions would have subsisted. In consequence, there would have been no need to rename those tribes. The idea that the Franks were a mixture of existing, local German tribes can therefore be rejected. As Tacitus does not mention the Franks, it's unlikely that they were a genuine tribe from within Germany. The only possibility left is that they came, or from very far away, like say Poland, and beyond Tacitus' horizon, or from within the Roman Empire. Had they come from eastern Europe, then the question is why their (well attested) language was German-like. A distinct people is in general not prepared to give up its own language. Language is often what binds a people. For example: the Goths maintained their language for hundreds of years, despite their long migration.

And there is an other problem: the well-known location of the Franks. They lived on a small stretch of land, the east Rhine bank, which was hardly a few kilometres wide, between Xanten (close to the modern Dutch border) and more of less Karlsruhe (where the Rhine becomes the modern French-German border). This territory is some 300 km long and clearly not defendable by classic means. Any mobilization of troops would have been time consuming. A German tribe like the Saxons could have raided this land easily, and withdraw as quickly as they came. The real mystery is how the Franks managed to maintain themselves for more than 300 years on that spot. So, where did they come from, and why did they occupy the right Rhine bank?