The Western Church was generally in decline from, say, 400 to 700 AD. Yet, Clovis converted, and more to the point, so did many other dukes. In the end, the Pippinids conducted various wars with the Frisians and Saxons to crush their paganism. They even appointed bishops from outside their realm. It almost seems that their aim was to have a "Christian" land. How true is all this, and why were they so fervent in supporting a religion whose leader was getting weaker by the decade?

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    Why do you think the Western Church was in decline during the said period? Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 12:06
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    Which leader was getting weaker by the decade?
    – MCW
    Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 12:08
  • The Pope during this period was indeed losing liturgical territory. First due to Arianist Germans, then more permanently due to Islamic Arabs and Berbers. Colin's book I linked in my answer has a great set of maps and discussion on this.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 13:31
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    The expansion of Islam into lands associated with the west date to after 650 AD, at which time the Merovingians were very weak. So your question really covers two distinct dynasties and time periods: 400-550, and then after 650. Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 16:04
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    @Felix Goldberg: The Church in 400AD was the state religion of a vast empire; in 700AD the pope had practically no power. In 390, emperor Theodosius submitted to a Church imposed public penance for the Thessaloniki massacre; no pope in the eighth century would have dreamed of thus humiliating a mayor of France. So I don't mean spiritual decline, but political decline of the Church. Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 19:00

1 Answer 1


Colin McEvedy argued in his Penguin Atlas of Medieval History that conversion was a good political move for the Franks.

The thing you have to realize about France is that even though it was essentially conquered by the Franks (Germans), they were never much more than a ruling class. The common people continued to speak Latin, which over the millennium slowly became the language we today call French. We can assume they would have been inclined to keep other aspects of their culture too, and that includes their religious beliefs.

At this time most of the larger German tribes had converted too, but they generally would convert to the heretical version called Arianism*. This conveniently allowed them to call themselves Christian, but without acknowledging the authority of the Pope. Colin's argument was that by converting to the standard version of the faith, the Franks were able to better appeal to their subjects, the common people of France, as their protectors. This would have strengthened their grassroots political support.

* - No this has nothing to do with Nazi "Aryiansim". It was a minor difference over the mechanics of the Trinity, which ended up being far more important politically than theologically.

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    At the time arianism was just a neutral flavor of christianity. It became "ugly and bad" for us today as a result of long running popes' political efforts. It's a myth that pope had any a priori authority over entire christianity. But I agree that the pope might be influential in Christian Gaul at the time, that's about it.
    – kubanczyk
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 9:52
  • @kubanczyk - It wasn't even neutral for a while. When the first Germans were converted (pre Nicea), the Roman emperor at the time was a supporter of Arius. That's how this all started.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 16:18
  • The history of the Franks is rather unique in that for more then a century (since 270-75 AD) they had lived on former Roman territory south and west of the Rhine. Roman power in that area for the last time collapsed in 406 AD, so they had 130 years to become accustomed to Roman customs of all kind including religious ones. They also incorporated useful former Roman citizens and ex- Roman soldiers in their kingdoms. That fact alone made them less inclined to choose for Arianism.
    – JRB
    Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 19:06

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