French History

French History
  • Prehistory
  • Ancient History
  • The Middle Ages
  • Hundred Years' War
  • The Black Death
  • Joan of Arc
  • The Renaissance
  • The 17th century
  • The French Revolution
  • The Era of Napoleon
  • The late 19th century
  • The early 20th century
  • The Fifth Republic

Ancient History

The Celts first came into contact with the Mediterranean cultures when the Greeks began exploring western territory in the 7th century B.C. A Greek colony was established at Massila (now known as Marseille), used mainly for trade.

This Greek colony later became a Roman protectorate in 121 B.C. along with other settlements in the region until several decades later, after the Gallic Wars which lasted from 58 to 51 B.C., Julius Caesar managed to conquer the rest of Gaul.

Two centuries of general peace and prosperity followed the Roman conquest of Gaul, a time referred to as the Pax Romana, during which Augustus reigned as emperor of Rome. It was in the 3rd century that the mighty Roman Empire began to show a decline. A major problem for the Romans was the north-east frontier, which was very long and difficult to defend effectively against the Germanic tribes. Other problems that contributed to this gradual downfall included political instability, plague and a generally bad economic situation.

Some of the Barbarian tribes the Romans fought against the included the Suevi, the Alans, the Vandals the Visigoths and the Franks. Constant Barbarian invasions instilled fear in the people, who began banding together with local lords in exchange for protection against the invaders. This arrangement eventually evolved into what would later be known as the feudal society, typical of Medieval Times.

It was during the 2nd century that the Romans brought Christianity into Gaul. Originally a persecuted sect, it began flourishing during these times of political and social turmoil until by the 5th century most of the aristocracy was converting.

By the end of the 5th century, Roman dominion over the region faltered and ended completely when the Salian Franks, a Germanic tribe led by their king Clovis invaded and conquered Gaul. Clovis further boosted Christianity when he decided to convert to the religion, a move that further strengthened his hold over the country. Gaul enjoyed stability and unity under Clovis's reign, however the division of the territory the King made in order to distribute land as rewards and gifts would lead to certain fragmentation in the future.

Clovis belonged to the Merovingian dynasty, which began declining after his death in 511. A series of weak, incompetent kings followed, as well as a continuous struggle for the throne until in 751, the Carolingian dynasty took over with Pepin the Short assuming power and being crowned King of the Franks. Contributing to Gaul’s expansion, it was actually under the rule of Pepin's son, Charlemagne, otherwise known as Charles the Great that the country began to flourish. He led many campaigns that greatly expanded the region he controlled. Not only militarily inclined, Charlemagne was also a great admirer of the arts and supported education. He also supported the Papacy and in 800 was crowned Emperor of the Romans.

After Charlemagne died, the throne was passed on to his son, Louis the Pious who ruled until 840. After Louis's death, power was split among his four sons Lothair, who would inherit the empire, Pepin of Aquitaine and Louis II (Louis the German) and Charles the Bald. Different alliances formed around the four sons and tensions flared, ending in bitter fights and eventual fragmentation.