Frankish mythology

Golden cicadas or bees with garnet inserts, discovered in the tomb of Childeric I (died 482). They may have symbolised eternal life (cicadas) or longevity (the bees of Artemis).[1]

Childeric's bees

Frankish mythology comprises the mythology of the Germanic tribal confederation of the Franks, from its roots in polytheistic Germanic paganism through the inclusion of Greco-Roman components in the Early Middle Ages. This mythology flourished among the Franks until the conversion of the Merovingian king Clovis I to Nicene Christianity (c. 500), though there were many Frankish Christians before that. After that, their paganism was gradually replaced by the process of Christianisation, but there were still pagans in the Frankish heartland of Toxandria in the late 7th century.

Abeilles de Childéric Ier

Pre-Christian traditions

The majority of pagan Frankish beliefs may share similarities with that of other Germanic peoples. If so, then it may be possible to reconstruct the basic elements of Frankish traditional religion.[2]

The migration era religion of the Franks likely shared many of its characteristics with the other varieties of Germanic paganism, such as placing altars in forest glens, on hilltops, or beside lakes and rivers, and consecration of woods.[3] Generally, Germanic gods were associated with local cult centres and their sacred character and power were associated with specific regions, outside of which they were neither worshipped nor feared.[4] Other deities were known and feared and shared by cultures and tribes, although in different names and variations. Of the latter, the Franks may have had one omnipotent god Allfadir ("All Father"), thought to have lived in a sacred grove. Germanic peoples may have gathered where they believed him to live, and sacrificed a human life to him.[5] Variants of the phrase All Father (like Allfadir) usually refer to Wuotan (Wodin, Odhinn), and the Franks probably believed in Wuoton as "chief" of blessings, whom the first historian Tacitus called "Mercurius", and his consort Freia,[6] as well as Donar (Thor), god of thunder, and Zio (Tyr), whom Tacitus called "Mars". According to Herbert Schutz, most of their gods were "worldly", possessing form and having concrete relation to earthly objects, in contradistinction to the transcendent God of Christianity.[4] Tacitus also mentioned a goddess Nerthus being worshipped by the Germanic people, in whom Perry thinks the Franks may have shared a belief.[7] With the Germanic groups along the North Sea the Franks shared a special dedication to the worship of Yngvi, synonym to Freyr, whose cult can still be discerned in the time of Clovis.[8]

In contrast to many other Germanic tribes, no Merovingians claimed to be descended from Wodan.[9]

Some rich Frankish graves were surrounded by horse burials, such as Childeric's grave.

Symbolism of cattle

The bulls that pulled the cart were taken as special animals, and according to Salian law the theft of those animals would impose a high sanction. Eduardo Fabbro has speculated that the Germanic goddess Nerthus (who rode in a chariot drawn by cows) mentioned by Tacitus, was the origin of the Merovingian conception of Merovech, after whom their dynasty would be named. The Merovingian kings riding through the country on an oxcart could then be an imaginative reenactment the blessing journey of their divine ancestor.[10] In the grave of Childeric I (died 481) was found the head of a bull, craftily made out of gold. This may have represented the symbol of a very old fertility ritual,[11] that centred on the worship of the cow. According to Fabbro, the Frankish pantheon expressed a variation of the Germanic structure that was especially devoted to fertility gods.[2]

However, a more likely explanation is that the Merovingian ox-cart went back to the Late-Roman tradition of governors riding through the province to dispense justice in the company of angariae, or ox wagons belonging to the imperial post.[12] [13] The bull in Childeric's grave was probably an insignificant object imported from elsewhere, and belongs to a wide artistic usage of bulls in pre-historic European art.[13]

Foundation myth

The Frankish mythology that has survived in primary sources is comparable to that of the Aeneas and Romulus myths take in Roman mythology, but altered to suit Germanic tastes. Like many Germanic peoples, the Franks told a founding myth story to explain their connection with peoples of classical history. In the case of the Franks, these people were the Sicambri and the Trojans. An anonymous work of 727 called Liber Historiae Francorum states that following the fall of Troy, 12,000 Trojans led by chiefs Priam and Antenor moved to the Tanais (Don) river, settled in Pannonia near the Sea of Azov and founded a city called "Sicambria". In just two generations (Priam and his son Marcomer) from the fall of Troy (by modern scholars dated in the late Bronze Age) they arrive in the late 4th century AD at the Rhine. An earlier variation of this story can be read in Fredegar. In Fredegar's version an early king named Francio serves as namegiver for the Francs, just as Romulus has lent his name to Rome.

These stories have obvious difficulties if taken as fact. Historians, including eyewitnesses like Caesar, have given us accounts that places the Sicambri firmly at the delta of the Rhine and archaeologists have confirmed ongoing settlement of peoples. Furthermore, the myth does not come from the Sicambri themselves, but from later Franks (of the Carolingian age or later), and includes an incorrect geography. For these reasons, and since the Sicambri were known to have been Germanic, current scholars think that this myth was not prevalent, certainly not historical: For example, J. M. Wallace-Hadrill states that "this legend is quite without historical substance".[14] Ian Wood says that "these tales are obviously no more than legend" and "nonsensical", "in fact there is no reason to believe that the Franks were involved in any long-distance migration".[12]

In Roman and Merovingian times it was customary to declare panegyrics. These poetical declarations were held for amusement or propaganda, to entertain guests and please rulers. Panegyrics played an important role in the transmission of culture. A common panegyrical device was anachronism, the use of archaic names for contemporary things. Romans were often called "Trojans" and Salian Franks were called "Sicambri". A notable example related by the sixth-century historian Gregory of Tours states that the Merovingian Frankish leader Clovis I, on the occasion of his baptism into the Catholic faith, was referred to as a Sicamber by Remigius, the officiating bishop of Rheims.[15] At the crucial moment of Clovis' baptism, Remigius declared, "Bend down your head, Sicamber. Honour what you have burnt. Burn what you have honoured." It is likely that in this way a link between the Sicambri and the Salian Franks, who were Clovis' people, was being invoked. Further examples of Salians being called Sicambri can be found in the Panegyrici Latini, the Life of King Sigismund, the Life of King Dagobert, and other sources.

Sacral kingship

The religion of Clovis before his adherence to Catholic faith has been disputed,[16][17] and he may have doubted between Catholicism and Arianism for a while.[12]

Pagan Frankish rulers probably maintained their elevated positions by their "charisma" or Heil, their legitimacy and "right to rule" may have been based on their supposed divine descent as well as their financial and military successes.[4][18] The concept of "charisma" has been controversial.[19]

Fredegar tells a story of the Frankish king Chlodio taking a summer bath with his wife when she was attacked by some sort of sea beast, which Fredegar described as bestea Neptuni Quinotauri similis, ("the beast of Neptune that looks like a Quinotaur"). Because of the attack, it was unknown if Merovech, the legendary founder of the Merovingian dynasty was conceived of Chlodio or the sea beast.[20]

In later centuries, divine kingship myths would flourish in the legends of Charlemagne (768–814) as a divinely-appointed Christian king. He was the central character in the Frankish mythology of the epics known as the Matter of France. The Charlemagne Cycle epics, particularly the first, known as Geste du Roi ("Songs of the King"), concern a King's role as champion of Christianity. From the Matter of France, sprang some mythological stories and characters adapted through Europe, such as the knights Lancelot and Gawain.


  1. ^ For cicadas, cf. Joachim Werner, "Frankish Royal Tombs in the Cathedrals of Cologne and Saint-Denis", Antiquity, 38:151 (1964), 202; for bees, cf. G. W. Elderkin, "The Bee of Artemis", The American Journal of Philology, 60:2 (1939), 213.
  2. ^ a b Fabbro, p. 5.
  3. ^ Perry, p. 22.
  4. ^ a b c Schutz, 153.
  5. ^ Perry, p. 22-23, paraphrasing Tacitus.
  6. ^ Perry, p. 23.
  7. ^ Perry, p. 24.
  8. ^ Fabbro, p.17
  9. ^ J.M. Wallace-Hadrill - Early Germanic Kingship in England and on the Continent. London, Oxford University Press.1971, p. 18.
  10. ^ Fabbro, p. 16
  11. ^ Fabbro, p.14
  12. ^ a b c Wood, p. 33-54.
  13. ^ a b Alexander Callander Murray, 'Post vocantur Merohingii: Fredegar, Merovech, and "sacred kingship", in: idem ed., After Rome's Fall: Narrators and Sources of early medieval history. Essays presented to Walter Goffart (Toronto 1998) p.125
  14. ^ Wallace-Hadrill p. ???
  15. ^ Gregory, II.31.
  16. ^ Tessier, p. 427.
  17. ^ Daly, pp. ???.
  18. ^ Wallace-Hadrill, 169.
  19. ^ Schutz, 232 n49.
  20. ^ Pseudo-Fredegar, III.9.



  • Pseudo-Fredegar. Historia, in Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores Rerum Merovingicarum, Tomus II. Hannover: 1888.
  • Gregory of Tours. The History of the Franks. Lewis Thorpe, trans. Penguin Group. ISBN 0-14-044295-2.
  • Publius Cornelius Tacitus. Germania.


  • Daly, William M. "Clovis: How Barbaric, How Pagan?" Speculum, vol. 69, no. 3 (July 1994), pp. 619–664.
  • Fabbro, Eduardo. "Germanic Paganism among the Early Salian Franks." The Journal of Germanic Mythology and Folklore. Volume 1, Issue 4, August 2006.
  • Murray, Archibald Callander, and Goffart, Walter A. After Rome's Fall: Narrators and Sources of Early Medieval History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.
  • Nelson, Janet L. "Royal Saints and Early Medieval Kingship." Studies in Church History, 10 (1973), pp. 39–44. Reprinted in Politics and Ritual in Early Medieval Europe. Janet L. Nelson, ed. London: Hambledon Press, 1986. pp. 69–74. ISBN 0-907628-59-1.
  • Perry, Walter Copland. The Franks, from Their First Appearance in History to the Death of King Pepin. Longman, Brown, Green: 1857.
  • Prummel, W., and van der Sanden, W. A. B. "Runderhoorns uit de Drentse venen." Nieuwe Drentse Volksalmanak, 112. 1995. pp. 84–131.
  • Prummel, W., and van der Sanden, W. A. B.. "Een oeroshoren uit het Drostendiep bij Dalen." Nieuwe Drentse Volksalmanak, 119. 2002. pp. 217–221.
  • Raemakers, Daan. De Spiegel van Swifterbant. Groningen: 2006.
  • Schutz, Herbert. The Germanic Realms in Pre-Carolingian Central Europe, 400–750. American University Studies, Series IX: History, Vol. 196. New York: Peter Lang, 2000.
  • Tessier, Georges. Le Baptême de Clovis. Paris: Gallimard, 1964.
  • Wallace-Hadrill, J. M. The Long-Haired Kings. London: Butler & Tanner Ltd, 1962.
  • Wood, Ian. The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751 AD. 1994.

Brittia (Βριττία), according to Procopius, was an island known to the inhabitants of the Low Countries under Frankish rule (viz. the North Sea coast of Austrasia), corresponding both to a real island used for burial and a mythological Isle of the Blessed, to which the souls of the dead are transported.

Procopius's Brittia lies no farther than 200 stadia (25 miles) from the mainland, opposite the mouth of the Rhine but between the islands of Brettania and legendary Thule, and three nations live in it, Angiloi, Phrissones and Brittones, that is, Angles, Frisians and Britons. Procopius mentions a wall in Brittia, which he distinguishes from Bretannia, however, and fertile lands. "It is perhaps only the apparently authentic combinations of names, Angles, Frisians and Britons, which demands hard attention to this interlude in serious Byzantine discussions of the Gothic wars," H. R. Loyn warns.Procopius relates that

They imagine that the souls of the dead are transported to that island. On the coast of the continent there dwell under Frankish sovereignty, but hitherto exempt from all taxation, fishers and farmers, whose duty it is to ferry the souls over. This duty they take in turn. Those to whom it falls on any night, go to bed at dusk; at midnight they hear a knocking at their door, and muffled voices calling. Immediately they rise, go to the shore, and there see empty boats, not their own but strange ones, they go on board and seize the oars. When the boat is under way, they perceive that she is laden choke-full, with her gunwales hardly a finger's breadth above water. Yet they see no one, and in an hour's time they touch land, which one of their own craft would take a day and a night to do. Arrived at Brittia, the boat speedily unloads, and becomes so light that she only dips her keel in the wave. Neither on the voyage nor at landing do they see any one, but they hear a voice loudly asking each one his name and country. Women that have crossed give their husbands' names.

"A garbled account", observed Loyn "possibly an echo of a report by a Frankish ambassador or an Angle in the ambassador's entourage".

Pursuing geographical accuracy beyond the capacity of Procopius himself, there have been suggestions as to at which point exactly these boats left the Gallic coast, Villemarqué placing it near Raz, Armorica, where there is a toponym baie des âmes/boé an anaon "bay of souls".Jacob Grimm reports that on the river Tréguier in Brittany, in the commune Plouguel, it is "said to be the custom to this day, to convey the dead to the churchyard in a boat, over a small arm of the sea called passage de l'enfer, instead of taking the shorter way by land".

Procopius's account is repeated by John Tzetzes in the 12th century; but long before that, Claudian at the beginning of the 5th had heard of those Gallic shores as a trysting place of flitting ghosts.

and not far from that region are Britain, the land of the Senones, and the Rhine. Grimm compares this account to the airy wagon of the Bretons, and to bardic traditions which make out that souls, to reach the underworld, must sail over the pool of dread and of dead bones, across the vale of death, into the sea on whose shore stands open the mouth of hell's abyss.

The name may arise from the Breton name of Brittany, Breizh.

Continental Germanic mythology

Continental Germanic mythology is a subtype of Germanic paganism as practiced in parts of Central Europe during the 6th to 8th centuries, a period of Christianization. It continued in the legends, and Middle High German epics of the Middle Ages. Traces of these stories, with the sacred elements largely removed, may be found throughout European folklore and fairy tales.

Germanic paganism

Germanic paganism refers to the ethnic religion practiced by the Germanic peoples from the Iron Age until Christianisation during the Middle Ages. From both archaeological remains and literary sources, it is possible to trace a number of common or closely related beliefs throughout the Germanic area into the Middle Ages, when the last pagan areas in Scandinavia were Christianized. Rooted in Proto-Indo-European religion, Proto-Germanic religion expanded during the Migration Period, yielding extensions such as Old Norse religion among the North Germanic peoples, the paganism practiced amid the continental Germanic peoples, and Anglo-Saxon paganism among the Old English-speaking peoples. Germanic religion is best documented in several texts from the 10th and 11th centuries, where they have been best preserved in Scandinavia and Iceland.

List of religions and spiritual traditions

While religion is hard to define, one standard model of religion, used in religious studies courses, was proposed by Clifford Geertz, who defined it as a

[…] system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic."

A critique of Geertz's model by Talal Asad categorized religion as "an anthropological category." Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws, or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world.The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with "faith" or "belief system", but religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect. Most religions have organized behaviours, including clerical hierarchies, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, congregations of laity, regular meetings or services for the purposes of veneration of a deity or for prayer, holy places (either natural or architectural) or religious texts. Certain religions also have a sacred language often used in liturgical services. The practice of a religion may also include sermons, commemoration of the activities of a god or gods, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, rituals, rites, ceremonies, worship, initiations, funerals, marriages, meditation, invocation, mediumship, music, art, dance, public service or other aspects of human culture. Religious beliefs have also been used to explain parapsychological phenomena such as out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences and reincarnation, along with many other paranormal and supernatural experiences.Some academics studying the subject have divided religions into three broad categories: world religions, a term which refers to transcultural, international faiths; indigenous religions, which refers to smaller, culture-specific or nation-specific religious groups; and new religious movements, which refers to recently developed faiths. One modern academic theory of religion, social constructionism, says that religion is a modern concept that suggests all spiritual practice and worship follows a model similar to the Abrahamic religions as an orientation system that helps to interpret reality and define human beings, and thus religion, as a concept, has been applied inappropriately to non-Western cultures that are not based upon such systems, or in which these systems are a substantially simpler construct.

Mythology in France

The mythologies in present-day France encompass the mythology of the Gauls, Franks, Normans, Bretons, and other peoples living in France, those ancient stories about divine or heroic beings that these particular cultures believed to be true and that often use supernatural events or characters to explain the nature of the universe and humanity. French mythology is listed for each culture.

Mythology in the Low Countries

The mythology of the modern-day Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg has its roots in the mythologies of pre-Christian (e.g. Gaulish (Gallo-Roman) and Germanic) cultures, predating the region's Christianization under the auspices of the Franks in the Early Middle Ages.At the time of the Roman Empire and in the Early Middle Ages, the Low Countries' some of the resident peoples included:

Germanic tribes north of the Rhine River (with a lot of exceptions like the Eburones or the Celtic Nervii,...)Low Franconians





the decidedly more Celtic and Gallo-Roman Belgae tribes of Gallia Belgica south of the Rhine (also mainly but with many exceptions).Old Dutch mythology can mean the myths told in Old Dutch language specifically, however many of the myths in this language are ancient and part of larger movements across Europe, such as Roman mythology that spread through the Roman Empire, and Continental Germanic mythology.

Pre-Christian traditions of veneration of trees (particularly the oak, see Donar's oak), springs and woods native to the Low Countries survived in Christianized guise into the Middle Ages.

Sources for the reconstruction of pre-Christian traditions include the accounts of the Anglo-Saxon missionaries to the region, medieval and modern folklore and legend, and local toponymy.


The Quinotaur (Lat. Quinotaurus) is a mythical sea creature mentioned in the 7th century Frankish Chronicle of Fredegar. Referred to as "bestea Neptuni Quinotauri similis", (the beast of Neptune which resembles a Quinotaur) it was held to have fathered Meroveus by attacking the wife of the Frankish king Chlodio and thus to have sired the line of Merovingian kings.

The name translates from Latin as "bull with five horns", whose attributes have commonly been interpreted as the incorporated symbols of the sea god Neptune with his trident, and the horns of a mythical bull or Minotaur. It is not known whether the legend merged both elements by itself or whether this merger should be attributed to the Christian author. The clerical Latinity of the name does not indicate whether it is a translation of some genuine Frankish creature or a coining.

The suggested rape and subsequent family relation of this monster attributed to Frankish mythology correspond to both the Indo-European etymology of Neptune (from PIE '*nepots', "grandson" or "nephew", compare also the Indo-Aryan 'Apam Napat', "grandson/nephew of the water") and to bull-related fertility myths in Greek mythology, where for example the Phoenician princess Europa was abducted by the god Zeus, in the form of a white bull, that swam her to Crete; or to the very myth of the Minotaur, which was the product of Pasiphaë's, a Cretan Queen's, intercourse with a white bull, initially allotted to King Minos, Pasiphaë's husband, as a sacrifice for Poseidon.


The Sicambri, also known as the Sugambri or Sicambrians, were a Germanic people who during Roman times lived on the east bank of the Rhine river, in what is now Germany, near the border with the Netherlands. They were first reported by Julius Caesar.

Whether or not the Sicambri spoke a Germanic or Celtic language, or something else, is not certain, because they lived in the so-called Nordwestblock zone where these two language families came into contact and were both influential.

By the 3rd century the region, in which they and their neighbours had lived, had become part of the territory of the Franks, which was a new name that possibly represented a new alliance of older tribes, possibly including the Sicambri. Many Sicambri had however been moved into the Roman empire by this time.

History of the Germanic peoples
Pagan society
(until about
Early Middle Ages)

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