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- For other uses of the term 'Merovingian', see Merovingian (disambiguation).
The Merovingians were a dynasty of Frankish kings who ruled a frequently fluctuating area in parts of present-day France and Germany from the 5th to 8th century AD. They were sometimes referred to as the "long-haired kings" by contemporaries, though the significance of their long hair is not clear.
The Merovingian dynasty (see List of Frankish Kings) owes its name to Merovech (sometimes Latinised as Meroveus or Merovius), leader of the Salian Franks from about 447 to 457, and emerges into wider history with the victories of Childeric I (reigned about 457-481) against the Visigoths, Saxons and Alamanni. Childeric's son Clovis I went on to unite most of Gaul north of the Loire (486). He won the Battle of Tolbiac against the Alamanni by adopting Roman Catholicism (496), and decisively defeated the Visigothic kingdom of Toulouse in the Battle of Vouillé (507). Clovis on his death partitioned his kingdom among his four sons according to Frankish custom. Over the next two centuries, this tradition would continue; however, accidents of fertility would ensure that occasionally the whole realm would be reunited under a single king; and even when multiple Merovingian kings ruled, the kingdom was conceived of as a single realm ruled collectively by several kings. In this way, the Frankish Kingdom resembled the late Roman Empire.
The Merovingian kings appointed magnates to be comites, counts, charging them with defense, administration, and the judgement of disputes. This happened against the backdrop of the collapse of the centralized Roman system of administration and taxation and the disappearance of the old civil service structure as the Franks took over administration from the Romans. The counts had to provide armies; they enlisted them from their subordinates who were named knights and endowed with land in return for service. These armies were subject to the king's call for military support. The counts paid no money to the king, for there was little money in circulation. The king was expected to support himself with the products of his private, or royal, domain. The system developed in time to feudalism.
By the 7th century, the kings ceased to wield effective political authority and had become symbolic figures; they began to allot more and more day-to-day administration to a powerful official in their household called the maior domo or major-domo. This Latin title literally translates to "big man in the house"; the usual English translation is Mayor of the Palace, although this official was not a mayor in the modern sense of the word. The office of Mayor of the Palace itself became hereditary in the Carolingian family. Soon the Mayors were the real military and political leaders of the Frankish kingdom. This fact became manifest in 732 when an invading Arab army (Moors) from Spain was defeated by an army led not by the King, but rather by the Mayor Charles Martel.
Charles' son, the Mayor Pippin III, gathered support among Frankish nobles for a change in dynasty. When the Pope appealed to him for assistance against the Lombards, he insisted that the church sanction his coronation in exchange. So, in 751, Childeric III, the last Merovingian, was deposed. He was allowed to live, but his long hair was cut and he was sent to a monastery.
Merovingian coins are on display at Monnaie de Paris, (the French Mint) at 11, quai de Conti, Paris, France.
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