The Franks (Latin: Franci or gens Francorum) were a collection of Germanic peoples, whose name was first mentioned in 3rd century Roman sources, associated with tribes on the Lower and 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 Loire and 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.[a]
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, with which they had centuries of close contact.
Known Frankish peoples inside the Roman Rhine river frontier were the Salian Franks who from their first appearance 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 took control of the left bank of the Rhine. Later, in a period of factional conflict in the 450s and 460s, Childeric I, a Frank, was one of several military leaders commanding Roman forces with various ethnic affiliations in Roman Gaul (roughly modern France). Childeric and his son Clovis I faced competition from the Roman Aegidius as competitor for the "kingship" of the Franks associated with the Roman Loire forces. (According to Gregory of Tours, Aegidius held the kingship of the Franks for 8 years while Childeric was in exile.) This new type of kingship, perhaps inspired by Alaric I, 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.
In the 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.
From the beginning the Frankish kingdoms were politically and legally divided between an eastern Frankish and Germanic part, and the western part which the Merovingians had founded on Roman soil. The eastern Frankish kingdom came to be seen as the new "Holy Roman Empire", and was from early times occasionally called "Germany". Within "Frankish" Western Europe itself, it was the original Merovingian or "Salian" Western Frankish kingdom, founded in Roman Gaul and speaking Romance languages, which has continued until today to be referred to as "France" - a name derived directly from the Franks.