An early dynasty of the confederation of Germanic peoples known as the Franks, who had been permitted by the Romans to settle in the region of modern Belgium in AD 358 as defenders of the Rhine frontier. The Merovingians, who wore long hair as a symbol of their power, are named after their semi-legendary, fifth-century founder Merovech. The grave of the Merovingian king Childeric (died in 481) was discovered at Tournai in 1653.

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, the Merovingian monarchy was firmly established by King Clovis (481-511). At first Clovis ruled over both the Franks and native Gallo-Romans in north-eastern Gaul. Around 500 he converted to Christianity. Clovis was soon followed in his faith by the rest of the Franks, and this helped integrate them with the native population. The Franks and Romans were free to intermarry and many Roman customs and institutions were preserved. Clovis was made an honorary consul by the Eastern Emperor. He made his capital at Paris, to the north of which a royal burial place later grew up at the church of St Denis. Here a number of high-status female graves have been discovered, including one of a sixth-century queen.

Both by warfare and the assassination of rival kings and kindred, Clovis extended his realm (especially after his defeat of the Visigoths at Vouillé in 507), to the rest of the former Roman province, except for Burgundy, Provence and Septimania. His sons went on to annex all but the last of these, as well as the Germanic peoples of Thuringia (531), Alemannia (506) and Bavaria (555). The Frankish kingdom became the most powerful of the successors to the Western Roman Empire and the conquered lands were used to reward loyal followers.

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