In ancient times, the country now known as France was the home of the Gauls, a Celtic-speaking group of tribes. After the Romans conquered Gaul, it became a province of the Roman Empire. When German tribes began to attack the declining Roman Empire, Gaul was conquered again by Clovis I, the King of the Franks.

Celt, Roman and German

When the German tribes from east of the Rhine began to become a major security threat to Gaul in the third century C.E., Rome was increasingly unable to defend it. In the year 406, Germanic tribes such as the Visigoths and Vandals began migrating on a large scale into Gaul. Unable to provide security, Rome made military alliances with some German leaders. Roman Gaul was being absorbed by Germanic tribes, and the Franks decided to join the conquest.

The Ferocious Franks

The Franks were a German tribe from just east of the Rhine. According to a 2011 article in "History Today" magazine, their name may mean "the ferocious." The Franks, like the other Germanic tribes, took pride in being a warrior people with a fierce attitude toward life. Clovis I became king of the Franks when he was only 16 years old. Despite his young age, he took on the Roman general Syagrius in a battle at Soissons. Syagrius was the last commander of Roman forces in Gaul. With his defeat, the Roman province of Gaul quickly ceased to exist.

The Vase of Soissons

During the era of Clovis, tribal kings were entitled to a larger share of the booty than the other warriors after a victory -- but they could not yet expect unquestioning obedience. According to the medieval historian Gregory of Tours, Clovis quarreled with one of his own warriors over the division of the spoils after the battle of Soissons. The warrior deliberately broke a vase with his ax rather than let the king claim more than his fair share. A year later, Clovis took his vengeance by killing the warrior in the same way.

Birth of France

The ancient Franks, like the ancient Gauls, had been a polytheistic people. Clovis himself was originally a worshiper of the old Frankish gods, but after he married a Burgundian princess named Clotilde in 493, he adopted her Catholic religion. The Frankish language was a Germanic language, but the people of what used to be Gaul did not adopt the language as their own. Instead, the Franks adopted a version of Latin from their Gaulish subjects that eventually developed into French. The conquest of Roman Gaul by the German Franks did not turn Gaul into a Germanic nation. Instead, it led to the birth of what is now France.