The Franks were a tenuous confederation of Germanic tribes settled in a strip of land along the right bank of the Lower Rhine, the border of Rome in Germania. In the 3rd Century AD, some Franks raided Roman territories along the river, while others migrated into the empire and settled in Gaul. This brought a split in the Franks into the Ripuarian Franks (the first group) and the Salian Franks (the second).
Primarily a pastoral people, the Ripuarian Franks lived in small settlements and homesteads along the west bank of the Rhine, supporting themselves by fishing and hunting along with the occasional raid on Roman holdings. Beyond being an annoyance, the Ripuarians were among the most peaceful of Rome's neighbors. In 310 AD, the Emperor Constantine had a bridge built across the Rhine at Cologne to facilitate trade with them. The Ripuarians, given an impetus towards social unity by the Roman-administered city, were increasingly relied upon to provide protection for the empire, serving as a buffer against the more warlike tribes to the east. The last chieftain of the Ripuarian Franks, Sigobert the Lame, joined forces with Clovis I, who rallied the Franks against the Alemanni and reunited the Frankish tribes.
The Salian Franks meanwhile, displaced by the onslaught of barbarians from the north, migrated into the Roman territory of Toxandria (the region of modern-day Antwerp). This "insolent" settlement of Roman lands was rejected by Emperor Julian the Apostate, who attacked. In 358 AD, the Salians surrendered to Roman forces in exchange for citizenship. Under the emperor Honorius's patronage, the Salian Franks expanded their holdings considerably under Chlodio beginning in the 420. The Salians proved loyal friends of Rome. In 451, Flavius Aetius called upon his Germanic allies to fight off the invasion by Attila's Huns. The Salians fought alongside the Romans at the Battle of Chalons, which effectively ended the Hunnic threat to Western Europe. As a reward, the Romans allowed further Salian expansion. In 486, Clovis became absolute ruler of a mixed Roman-Germanic kingdom. He unified the Franks and defeated the Visigoths and Alemanni. Clovis established his new capital at Paris, laying the foundation for the nation of France.
Charles the Great, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, fathered a kingdom that encompassed France, Germany, Italy and much of Eastern Europe. Legends of his conquests are pervasive throughout history, and he is considered one of the great figureheads of European Chivalric society.
During his lifetime Charlemagne successfully campaigned in many countries. Some wars he completed personally and others were left for his sons to finish. His first campaign was against Desiderius of Lombardy who, soon after the succession of Pope Hadrian I, marched on Rome. Charlemagne pressed into Lombardy, and after a lengthy siege (772-774), he accepted Desiderius' unconditional surrender. Desiderius would live out the remainder of his life confined to a monastery.
The longest lasting and most challenging conquest of Charlemagne's reign would be that of Saxonia. It would be a theater that he would continually revisit during his lifetime. After Charlemagne's initial push into Saxonia he was continuously forced to retake previously conquered land which had rebelled against his authority. Weary of war and losing more rights and freedoms with every capitulation, the Saxons eventually accepted Charlemagne's terms, including renouncement of their national religious customs and adoption of the Christian faith and its associated Frankish customs.
Charles was both a highly religious man and a philanthropist. He often built friendly relationships with other countries, such as Egypt and India, so that he could later send money in an effort to assist struggling Christians in those regions. Although much more of a conqueror than an economic or social reformer, Charles often contributed money to relieve the poor and sick in his kingdom.
Charlemagne, despite being unable to write well himself, had a vast love of literature and education. Due to his conquests, Charlemagne came into contact with many different cultures and learning institutions. Having contributed considerable funding to existing monastic schools and institutions of learning, Charlemagne's era became known as the Carolingian Renaissance, with a blossoming of the arts and sciences.
As a member of the Nine Worthies, a group of both fictional and real people that represented the pinnacle of chivalry during their eras, Charlemagne was the embodiment of honor in both person and position. A conqueror, a philanthropist, lover of the arts and a highly devout Christian, Charlemagne stands as one of the important figures of the first millennium, and the forefather of Central Europe as it stands today.
The paladins, sometimes known as the Twelve Peers, were the foremost warriors of Charlemagne's court, according to the literary cycle known as the Matter of France. They first appear in the early chansons de geste such as The Song of Roland, where they represent Christian valor against the Saracen hordes. The paladins and their associated exploits are largely later fictional inventions, with some basis on historical Frankish retainers of the 8th century and events such as the Battle of Roncevaux Pass and the confrontation of the Frankish Empire with Umayyad Al-Andalus in the Marca Hispanica.
The francisca is a throwing axe used as a weapon by the Franks during the Early Middle Ages, among whom it was a characteristic national weapon at the time of the Merovingians from about 500 to 750 and is known to have been used during the reign of Charlemagne (768–814). Although generally associated with the Franks, it was also used by other Germanic peoples of the period including the Anglo-Saxons, and several examples have been found in England. The Roman historian Procopius (c. 500–565) described the Franks and their use of throwing axes: "...each man carried a sword and shield and an axe. Now the iron head of this weapon was thick and exceedingly sharp on both sides while the wooden handle was very short. And they are accustomed always to throw these axes at one signal in the first charge and thus shatter the shields of the enemy and kill the men."