The Franks (
Latin: Franci or
Latin: gens Francorum) were a collection of
Germanic peoples, whose name was first mentioned in 3rd century Roman sources, associated with tribes on the
Middle Rhine in the 3rd century AD, on the edge of the
Roman Empire. Later the term is associated with Romanized Germanic dynasties within the collapsing Roman Empire, who eventually commanded the whole region between the rivers
Rhine, and imposed power over many other post-Roman kingdoms and Germanic peoples, later being recognized by the
Catholic church as successors to the old rulers of the
Western Roman Empire.
Although the Frankish name only appears in the 3rd century, at least some of the original Frankish tribes had long been known under their own names to the Romans, both as allies providing soldiers, and as enemies. The new name first appears when the Romans and their allies were losing control of the Rhine region. The Franks were first reported as working together to raid into Roman territory, but from the beginning this was associated also with attacks upon them from outside their frontier area, for example by Saxons, and a desire by frontier tribes to move into Roman territory.
Known Frankish peoples inside the Roman Rhine river frontier were the
Salian Franks who were permitted to live in Roman territory, and the
Ripuarian or Rhineland Franks who, after many attempts, eventually conquered the Roman frontier city of
Cologne and settled the left bank of the Rhine. Later, in a period of factional conflict all over Gaul in the 450s and 460s,
Childeric I, a Frank, was one of several military leaders commanding Roman forces with various ethnic affiliations. Childeric and his son
Clovis I faced competition from
Aegidius and his son as competitors for the kingship of the Franks, and commanders of the Roman Loire forces. (According to
Gregory of Tours, Aegidius held this kingship for 8 years while Childeric was in exile, while in contrast Gregory refers to his son Syagrius as "King of the Romans".) This new type of kingship, perhaps inspired by
 represents the start of the
Merovingian dynasty, which succeeded in conquering most of Gaul in the 6th century, as well as establishing its leadership over all the Frankish kingdoms on the Rhine frontier. It was on the basis of this Merovingian empire that the resurgent
Carolingians eventually came to be seen as the new Emperors of Western Europe in 800.
Middle Ages, the term Frank came to be used as a synonym for Western European, as the Carolingian Franks were rulers of most of
Western Europe, and established a political order which was the basis of the European
ancien regime that only ended with the
French revolution. Western Europeans shared their allegiance to the Roman Catholic church and worked as allies in the
Crusades beyond Europe in the
Levant, where they still referred to themselves and the Principalities they established as Frankish. This has had a lasting impact on names for Western Europeans in many languages.