Germania Inferior (13)


Germania Inferior: small province of the Roman empire, situated along the Lower Rhine. Its capital was Cologne.

The Franks

Frankish brooches

No visitor of Germania Secunda in the year 400 could have guessed that the end of the Roman presence in the Low Countries was near. The fleet of the Rhine was functioning, the frontier castles were occupied by loyal soldiers, the cavalry armies in the hinterland were well-trained. Military installations were perfectly maintained (e.g., the Roman bridge at Cuijk was repaired in 393). Frankish peasants in Toxandria were producing cereals for the soldiers, and treaties tied the Franks outside the empire with Rome. They were no longer regarded as a threat, and the Roman orator Libanius could claim with some justification that they had finally become romanized (Oration 59.132).

A Frankish jar

However, the Roman peace was not to last forever. In 405, one of the Germanic tribes crossed the Danube and attacked Italy. The emperor Honorius and the supreme commander of the Roman forces in Europe, Stilicho, transferred the cavalry armies of Gaul to northern Italy. They knew that other tribes would cross the Rhine, but Stilicho reckoned that he could deal with them later. It had been done before: in 70, after 240, in 256-259, in 277, in 355-358 - the Romans had always been able to expel the invaders.

In the winter of 406/407, several tribes invaded the Roman empire. The Franks remained loyal to the central government and defeated the Vandals, but were in turn defeated by the Alans. If Stilicho had been been able to concentrate his forces on Gaul, the crisis might have been averted, but this did not happen. The Roman troops in Britain panicked, proclaimed their general Constantinus emperor, and crossed to the continent, where the British emperor was recognized by the Gauls. The Romans never returned to Britain, and the Germanic tribes benefited from the civil war between Honorius and Constantinus. Without opposition, they continued to Hispania, where Andalusia still has the name of the Vandals. In 410, the Visigoths even sacked Rome.

A Frankish war lord (the "Lord of Morken")

Eventually, order was restored in Hispania and central Gaul. The invaders received land and were swiftly assimilated by the native population. However, the Rhineland was now lost and Frankish warlords seized several towns. Krefeld and Deutz became the residences of new leaders, and the same happened in Nijmegen. The old coastal defenses were lost too, and Saxonian pirates could settle in Flanders, which they used as a base for attacks on Britain.

During the fifth century, the Frankish warlords added new territories to their chiefdoms. One of them, a man named Chlodio, was able to move from Toxandria to the southwest, to the Somme river. To be acceptable to his new subjects, he presented himself as a Roman leader. As late as 463, his grandson Childeric considered himself governor of Germania Secunda. They were sincere. Often, the Frankish leaders sided with the Romans when the Roman armies fought against other Germanic tribes (or rival Frankish warlords).

Many Franks went to the south, where they settled in the old villas on the other side of the language boundary. Childeric took Tournai as his capital, and Cambrai became the residence of another Frankish king. Along the Rhine and Meuse, other leaders controled parts of the former province Germania Secunda. Because the new leaders were forced to use the services of the old bureaucrats, the inevitable result was that the Franks were assimilated by the native population, were converted to Christianity, and started to speak the language of the Gallo-Roman population. The proverbal lingua Franca is Latin.

In the 460s, Roman power in Gaul started to disintegrate. The last emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed in 476 and the Frankish kings enlarged their territories in all directions. In the last quarter of the fifth century, the Frankish states of Le Mans, Cambrai, Tournai, Trier, and Deutz were united by the son of Childeric, Chlodovech or -to use a name that has been invented by French scholars- Clovis. About 486, he added the remains of the Roman province Lugdunensis Secunda, and twenty years later he conquered the Alsace. In 507, he crossed the Loire and took all country north of the Pyrenees from the Visigoths.

From now on, Gaul was united under a Frankish king. According to a famous medieval legend, Clovis was the first Frank to become Christian. This is probably untrue, but the close cooperation between the Church and the Frankish state is a fact. The creation of a Christian state with strong Roman traditions under a Frankish dynasty was the predictable outcome of processes that had started in late Antiquity in Germania Secunda.