Salian Franks

:"Salians redirects here, for the eleventh-century dynasty, see Salian dynasty, for Roman priests see Salii.

The Salian Franks or Salii were a subgroup of the early Franks who originally had been living north of the limes in the coastal area above the Rhine in the northern Netherlands, where today there still is a region called Salland. The Merovingian kings, responsible for the conquest of Gaul were of Salian stock. From the 3rd century on the Salian Franks appear in the historical records as warlike Germanic people and pirates, and as "Laeti" (allies of the Romans). They were the first Germanic tribe from beyond the "limes" that settled permanently on Roman land.

The Salians fully adopted the Frankish identity and ceased to appear by their original name from the 5th century onward, when they evolved into the Franks par excellence. [De Franken in Nederland - Dr.D.P.Blok, 1979, Bussum, Holland. ISBN90 228 3739 4, p.17] This is long before the Ripuarian Franks were first mentioned. The "Lex Ripuaria" originated about 630 around Cologne and has been described as a later development of the Frankish laws known from "Lex Salica". Unlike popular opinion, there was no division of Franks between Salians and Ripuarians. [F.Beyerle, Völksrechtliche Studien I-III, Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung, germ. Abt. LXII 264vv, LXIII ivv; Ewig 450vv;487vv]


From the early 7th century on the name "Salian Franks" (or "Salii" in Latin) [The ethnonym is unrelated to the name for the dancing priests of Mars, who were also called Salii.] is used to contrast with the Ripuarian Franks. "Salii" may have derived from the name of a river in the Netherlands: once called "Hisloa", or "Hisla", currently named "IJssel" [Perry, p. 48.] signalling the people's movement and residence in that area. Even nowadays, this area is called Salland. The name "Salian" may also refer to salt and, by extension, the sea, "i.e." 'sea-dwelling'. [Chisholm 1910:35]


Their language belongs to, and is ancestral to, the family of Low Franconian dialects. The Salian Franks are one of the people that formed the foundation for early Dutch culture and society (along with for example the Frisians, Batavians and Saxons). According to modern scholars like Robinson their language evolved from Franconian into Dutch. After settling within Roman territory, they were to develop an organized society that tilled the land and did not pose a threat over the neighboring Romans.

The Salian tribes constituted a loose confederacy, that stood up together in order to negotiate with Roman authority. Each tribe was made up of extended familiar groups, gathered around a particular family, seen as specially renowned and noble. The importance of such a family bond was made clear by the Salic Law, that ordained that an individual has no right to protection in the case he is not part of a family.

Mythology and religion

Ancient mythology and religion was pagan and Germanic in nature. Their polytheistic beliefs are thought to have flourished among the Salian Franks until the conversion of Clovis to Christianity, after which paganism withered slowly.


The Salian Franks' original vicinity to the sea has been attested by the first historic records. In about 286 Carausius was put in charge of defending the coasts of the Straits of Dover against Saxon and Frankish pirates. [Eutropius, "Abridgement of Roman History" [ Book IX:21] ] This changed when the Saxons drove them south into Roman territory. Among others, their history is attested by Ammianus Marcellinus and Zosimus, who described their migrations towards the southern Netherlands, and Belgium. They first crossed the Rhine during the Roman upheavals and subsequent Germanic breakthrough in 260 AD. When peace had returned, Roman Emperor Constantius I Chlorus allowed the Salians to settle in 297 AD between the Batavians, where they soon came to dominate the Batavian island in the Rhine delta. It is not known whether this people were obliged to serve the Roman army like the Batavians before them, or if they were assigned another territory close to the Black Sea, so the backgrounds of the seafaring Franks whose story was written down during the reign of emperor Probus (276-282), are not clear when a large group decided to hijack some ships and return from Eastern Europe – reaching their homes in the Rhine estuaries without large losses through Greece, Sicily and Gibraltar, although not without causing mayhem.Zosimus 1814; Musset 1975:68.] Franks ceased to be associated with seafaring when other Germanic tribes, probably Saxons, drove them to the south. The Salians received protection from the Romans and in return were recruited by Constantius Gallus – together with the other inhabitants of the Batavian isle. However, this did not prevent the onslaught of the Germanic tribes to the north especially by the Chamavi. The subsequent "insolent" settlement of the Salians within Roman territory in Toxandria (between the Meuse and the Scheldt rivers in the Netherlands and Belgium) was rejected by the future Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate who attacked them. The Salians surrendered to him in 358 AD accepting Roman terms [Ammianus Marcellinus, "Res Gestae", Book XVII-8] .

One particular Salian family comes to light of Frankish history in the early fifth century, in time to become the Merovingians – Salian kings named after Childeric's mythical father Merovech whose birth was attributed with supernatural elements. From the 420s onwards, headed by a certain Chlodio, they expanded their territory to the Somme into northern France. They formed a kingdom in that area with the Belgian city of Tournai becoming the center of their domain. This kingdom was extended even further by Childeric and especially Clovis, who gained control over Roman Gaul, i.e. France, which bears its current name after the Franks.

In 451, Flavius Aëtius, "de facto" ruler of the Western Roman Empire, called upon his Germanic allies on Roman soil to help fight off an invasion by Attila's Huns. The Salian Franks answered the call and fought in the battle of the Catalaunian Fields in a temporary alliance with Romans and Visigoths, which de facto ended the Hunnic threat to Western Europe.

Clovis, king of the Salian Franks, became the absolute ruler of a Germanic kingdom of mixed Roman-Germanic population in 486. He consolidated his rule with victories over the Gallo-Romans and all the other Frankish tribes and established his capital in Paris. After he had beaten the Visigoths and the Alemanni his sons drove the Visigoths to Spain and subdued the Burgundians, Alemanni and Thuringians. After 250 years of this dynasty, however, they were marked by internecine struggles and a gradual decline. The position in society of the Merovingians was taken over by Carolingians who again came from a northern area around the river Maas in what is now Belgium and southern Netherlands.

In Gaul, a fusion of Roman and Germanic societies was occurring. During the period of Merovingian rule, the Franks reluctantly began to adopt Christianity following the baptism of Clovis I in 496, an event that inaugurated the alliance between the Frankish kingdom and the Roman Catholic Church. Unlike their Goth and Lombard counterparts, who adopted Arianism, the Salians adopted Catholic Christianity early on; they had an intimate relationship with their ecclesiastical hierarchy, subjects, and conquered territories.

The division of the Frankish kingdom among Clovis’s four sons (511) was a precedent that would influence Frankish history for more than four centuries. By then the Salic Law had established the exclusive right to succession of male descendants. However, this principle turned out to be an exercise in interpretation, rather than the simple implementation of a new model of succession. No trace of an established practice of territorial division can in fact be discovered among Germanic peoples other than the Franks.

By the 9th century, if not earlier, the division between Salian and Ripuarian Franks had in practice become virtually non-existent, but continued for some time to have implications for the legal system under which a person could go on trial. The adjective "Salian" as applied to the Frankish people is the origin of the name of the Salic Law.



*"Area Handbook" of the US Library of Congress
* Ammianus Marcellinus, "History of the Later Roman Empire."
* Chisholm, Hugh (1910). "Franks", In "The Encyclopædia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information", V. 11, pp. 35-36. []
*Gregory of Tours, "Decem Libri Historiarum" ("Ten Books of Histories, better known as the Historia Francorum").
*Musset, Lucien : "The Germanic Invasions: The Making of Europe, Ad 400-600",1975, ISBN 1-56619-326-5, p. 68.
*Orrin W. Robinson, "Old English and its closest Relatives – A Study of the Earliest Germanic Languages."
*Perry, Walter Copland (1857). " [ The Franks, from Their First Appearance in History to the Death of King Pepin] ". Longman, Brown, Green: 1857.
*Wood, Ian, "The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751 AD." 1994.
*Zosimus (1814): "New History", London, Green and Chaplin. Book 1. []

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