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The Story of Old France by  H. A. Guerber
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HOW THE FRANKS CAME INTO GAUL

THE Romans ruled over Gaul nearly five hundred years. During the first two centuries the people improved, and the country prospered greatly, for the Romans thought of their good and worked hard to secure it. But the bad example set by many Emperors, and by the rich men at Rome, was in time followed by most of their countrymen, who became lazy and selfish.

As they needed more and more money and slaves, they laid always heavier taxes upon the Gauls, who had been happy and industrious as long as they were fairly treated, but who now became poor and sullen, and were finally so discouraged that many of them ceased to work. Peasants, who had lost all ambition, forsook their fields and wandered aimlessly around, stealing whenever they were hungry, and hating any and every one who was better off then they.

A mob of such angry peasants began a revolt in the fourth century, and although these people were soon brought to order, other revolts like this frequently took place in Gaul during the next three hundred years. Orderly people suffered much from such violence as well as from the inroads of the barbarians, who often crossed the Rhine when the roman army began to weaken.

In fact, the state of affairs in Gaul was so unsatisfactory [42] that Julian was sent there by the Emperor in 355 A.D. to restore order. After putting down a peasant revolt, he spent one winter in Paris, where he built a palace for himself, the ruins of which can still be seen there in a park. Next, Julian defeated seven barbarian chiefs near Strass'-burg. There, he first met the Franks, a tribe of brave German warriors who had already often crossed the Rhine to raid northern Gaul, and from whom, later, were to come the names France and French. Julian made friends with this tribe, took some of its warriors into his own army, and allowed the rest to settle between the Rhine and the Meuse, on condition that they should not permit any other German nations to cross the river.

Julian had scarcely finished this arrangement when he was made Emperor in his turn. Not long after his death, the vast Roman Empire was divided into two parts, and governed by Emperors of the East and of the West. During this time, while the Romans were growing weaker and weaker, the Franks kept growing stronger and stronger, until they became to daring that one of them actually killed a Roman Emperor in 392 A.D. and set up another in his place.

These Franks were heathen; their name meant "bold fearless, open"; but they were so grasping that the Gauls used to say, "Take a Frank for a friend, but never for a neighbor!" Very little is known about their origin, except that they belonged to the German branch of the great human family. Later on, however, when people learned to read the old Greek and Latin poems, and everybody talked about the siege of Troy, a story was invented as follows: One of the Trojan heroes, Hector, had a son [43] named Francus, who escaped from the burning city and lived to become the father of a family, the Franks, which in time formed a great nation.

At the yearly meeting, which was called the Field of March or May, the Franks elected a chief, whom they them raised upon a shield, and carried several times around the assembly on their shoulders. They also made laws for all the people of the tribe.

Some Frankish laws provided that if one man killed another, on purpose or by accident, he should atone for it by paying a fine. The amount depended on the rank of the person slain; while a large fine was paid for killing a chief, a slave's life was held to be worth even less than that of a horse or cow! Any Frank accused of a crime could be called before the assembly. If a certain number of persons did not appear to swear to his innocence, he was obliged to submit to a test, or ordeal, to decide whether he was guilty or not.

There were different kinds of ordeals. The accused was sometimes bound hand and foot and cast into the water. If he floated, he was considered guilty, and punished; but if he sank, he was held to be innocent. Often this did not do him much good, for by the time the judges were quite sure he would not float, and pulled him out of the water, he might be dead! Sometimes the accused was forced to dip his hand into boiling water or oil. If his burns healed quickly, he was acquitted; but if his recovery proved slow, he was punished as guilty. Some of the accused were compelled to walk blindfold over red-hot plowshares placed at short intervals along the ground. If they managed to avoid touching these, they were allowed [44] to go free; but if they were burned, they were declared guilty.

The Franks were great warriors, and loved fighting, but even they were frightened when they heard that two hundred thousand barbarians, the Vandals and Burgundians, were nearing the Rhine (406). They made a desperate effort to check the advance of these foes, and killed some twenty thousand, but the rest managed to cross the Rhine on the ice, swept over a great part of the country, and destroyed so much that their names became a by-word; we still speak of reckless destruction as an act of "vandalism."

Many of these barbarians passed over into Spain, but the Burgundians settled in eastern Gaul. These people became very skillful manufacturers of all sorts of tools, ornaments, ad playthings, for they were born carpenters and wood carvers, and their descendants still excel in this kind of work.

Meantime, another great host of fierce barbarians, the Vis'igoths, took possession of northern Spain and southwestern Gaul. They quickly adopted Roman ways, and their realm in Gaul, stretching from the Pyrenees to the river Loire (lwär), bore the old Roman name of Aquitania. Their capitol was Toulouse (too-looz'), where their king settled down with his newly won bride, a sister of the Roman Emperor.


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