Frankly speaking: The medieval culture of the Merovingians

Ancient medieval cultures are an essential yet often-neglected study, according to some historians.

Bailey Young, a professor of history at the Eastern Illinois University, says that this was an important time in the beginning of the study of ­­­­­­­­archeology and should not be overlooked. “We see the early middle ages as the time of crucial and rational transformation,” he said.

On a soggy day in 1693 a laborer building a house in present-day Belgium discovered gold, later determined to be Merovingian. The discovery was accidental, uncovering a culture buried for nearly 500 years.

Rain had uncovered the gold, said Young, and the laborer “started jumping about excitedly to attract attention. Gold was glittering in the mud. There was treasure.”

“In this case, luck made it the beginning act – the opening act – of Merovingian and arguably of medieval archeology.”

Numerous modern historians, archeologists and even schoolkids know about the early medieval culture, however in 1693 the culture was nearly forgotten.

Gold from the discovery had jump started an interest in the French/Germanic culture, paving the way for later Merovingian and other Frankish-culture discoveries.

Little was known about the culture that the so-called treasure came from, further fueling the interest to learn about the culture the treasure came from.

Eventually the gold was identified as belonging to the early Frankish king Childeric.

“Childeric was the father of the founding monarch of the Merovingian dynasty, Clovis,” said Young.

The Merovingians were an influential Frankish culture in the early medieval period, controlling a large portion of France, Belgium, western Germany and the Netherlands, especially in the Rhine River area of Germany.

“Until the seventh century all of this part of western Europe was under Merovingian rule,” said Young.

Resources such as Gregory of Tour’s History of the Franks in the late-500s help historians understand the culture. “His history is one of our most important single sources for medieval history on the continent,” said Young.

Even though the culture thrived under the rule of Clovis and his descendants, the Merovingians eventually merged with the rest of the Franks in the late-700s, ending the rule of the medieval dynasty.

The event, the eighth in an eight-part series of free public lectures, was sponsored by the East Tennessee Society, a division of the Archaeological Institute of America.

As a result, over half of the medium-sized audience was composed of older archaeological enthusiasts. Students made up the other half of the audience.

For more information on Merovingian and other archeological excavations, visit

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