The untold stories of the Merovingian dynasty

The history of France begins in the middle of the 5th century AD with the Merovingians. They were a royal dynasty that ruled the Franks for almost three centuries. The tales of this dynasty were popular during the middle ages, and we know quite a few things about them. But still, the Merovingians remain one of the most mysterious European royal bloodlines.

Who were the Merovingians?

Some of the facts are:

  • Merovech was a semi-legendary founder of the dynasty. His father was a sea god according to the legend – a quinotaur with bull’s head.
  • Merovingians are known as “reges-criniti” – long-haired kings. This long hair was a very unusual trait. It distinguished them from the rest of the Franks, who commonly cut their hair short.
  • Their burial mounds were rich with grave goods and horses. This style is quite reminiscent of the steppe cultures and very unusual in Western Europe of the period.
  • They themselves claimed to have Sicambrian (presumed to be Scythian or Cimmerian) origins. This topic was very popular in the earliest historical accounts.
  • They claimed Troyan ancestry.

Merovingians and Troy

The earliest accounts of the origins of the Merovingians come from “L’Historia Francorum” (660 AD) and “Liber Historiae Francorum” (727 AD). Both sources connect Franks with the fall of Troy. More precisely, the text from the later work goes like this:

“The other chiefs, namely Priam and Anténor, with what was left of the Troyan army (12,000 people) went on their ships, sailed off and arrived on the banks of Don river (Tanaïs). Penetrating with their ships to the Azov sea (Palus-Méotide,) they had crossed it and arrived in the region of Pannonia, not far from there. There they had constructed a city, in their memory, by the name of Sicambria. They settled there for many years and developed into a big nation.”

Of course, this could be just a mythological tale, as modern historians tend to see it. It was a common practice in the Middle ages to relate the royal bloodlines to the Troyan origins. However, this story comes from the time when Merovingians still ruled France. So let us analyze it a bit further.

Pannonian Sicambria – on Don or Donnau?

It seems that what we have here is a case of misplaced geography. The text claims that Sicambrians had ended their journey in Pannonia. And there are no historical records of a region with such name, except from the one in the Balkans. But it wouldn’t be logical to make a trip from Troy, trough Bosphorus, and the Black Sea, all the way to Don river… and then sail back to Balkans.

Could it be that the author had confused the river Don with the river Danube? (Donnau – same etymological root) Indeed, this river is easily accessible directly from the Black sea and leads straight to Pannonian plains?

I am not the first person to propose this theory. It is a reasonable explanation, of course, if the story is true, to begin with. And really, there is little doubt that the author was talking about Balkan Pannonia. In the next passage, he claims that the Roman emperor Valentinian named them Francs, meaning “savages” in Attic Greek.

There is no doubt that this emperor was Valentinian I. (ruled from 364-375AD) He was born in southern Pannonia, on a territory of modern Vinkovci, Croatia. His seat was in the biggest Pannonian city – Sirmium (modern Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia) From there, he undertook many campaigns against Sarmatians, Allamani, and Quadi.

According to the author of our chronicle, our heroes, Sicambrians left Pannonia because of his attacks. The story then continues:

“Exiting Sicambria, they had arrived at the end of the Rhine river, in Germanic towns, and it is here where they lived with their princes, Marcomir, son of Priam, and Sunnon, son of Anténor. They had lived there for many years.”

Here we encounter another serious problem. Just as we got used to the idea of misplaced geography the author tells us that the events described here had happened in only two generations of fathers and their sons. Meanwhile, the officially accepted date for the fall of Troy is 1184 BC. As the Roman Emperor Valentinian lived in the 4th century AD, we have a gap of almost 16 centuries!

This is evidently the main reason why this and similar chronicles are nowadays taken as pure mythological tales. But take into account the availability of information in those days and obvious flaws of oral tradition. We should not be so quick to dismiss all of these statements as a fairy tale. I will now present you with a few facts that will go in defense of the author’s theory.

The Franks of Germany

We will now rewind the story backward. The forefathers of the Franks “lived for many years in Germanic lands”, as the chronicle states. This theory fits nicely with modern archaeological findings that have discovered many “Germanic elements” in the grave goods of the Merovingians.

The first historical Franks were the Salian Franks. Their homeland was on the mouth of the Rhine river. But on this French map “Gaule Ancienne”, from 1860 we see Sicambri and Mervingi as two separate tribes. They both live on German territory, but not all the way north, where the Salian Franks once were. We see them further down the Rhine – between the Black Forest and Cologne, or in other words, the area of Frankfurt. Those Franks who lived here were the Ripuarian Franks.

This is a part of history that nobody disputes. And so far, the information we got from the chronicles is quite correct.

Some Slavic historians claim that there is a connection between Merovech, founder of the Merovingian dynasty, and the Moravians of Czech Republic...

Merovech or Moravich?

The texts also mention that one of the Merovingian princes was Marcomir. He could have been a real person, but also could have been the mythological forefather of the tribal confederation known as Marcomanni. They were presumably a Germanic tribe, although the name Marcomir sounds rather Slavic. According to Pausanias, “marka” was the Celtic name for a horse, so Marcomanni could mean “horsemen”. The territory of Marcomanni was around Bohemia, modern-day Czech Republic.

Now, in this same area of Bohemia, flows the river Morava. Moravia is the name of the whole region around it. This is very important for our story. Slavic sources, most notably the Russian ones, relate the name Moravech (Latin: Meroveus or Merovius) to this river.

Indeed, in Slavic language, a person descending from Morava would be known as Moravich. Moreover, there is very little doubt that the river Morava bears the name of the ancient river god or goddess. The river gods of Indo-Europeans almost exclusively had bull’s heads. (See Potamoi). And we saw that Merovech was an offspring of one such bull-headed water deity.

Pannonian connections

But there is more to this. There is another Morava river. It flows through the Balkans, just below the plains of Pannonia. Nobody disputes that these two rivers are related to the same group of people. The problem is that we don’t know which river name is older.

The Balkan river divides into Eastern and Western Morava. On the Western Morava lies a city of Cacak, in whose vicinity flows a tributary river Moravica (a diminutive of Morava). And on the banks of Moravica lies a very interesting archaeological find, “unique in the Balkans”…

Namely, archaeologists have discovered dozens of mound burials, rich with grave goods and horse chariots, dating to 6th-5th century BC. One of the most important findings is the set of golden bees, of exquisite craftsmanship. They obviously decorated the garments of an important figure, but their symbolism is not clear.

Curiously, archaeologists have determined that most of the findings come from ancient Greece and Italy. Meanwhile, a village where they are discovered is called Atenica in Serbian (a diminutive of Athens). Is it possible that this name has really survived for 1,000 years until the supposed arrival of Slavs to Balkans, or there was never any break in continuity?

Apparently, these bees have very little parallels with the findings from other regions, but I will now show you the striking resemblance to the 300 bees that once adorned the cloak of Merovingian king Childeric I. One possible parallel with other “bee objects” of the ancient world is with those of Artemis of Ephesus. Artemis was the “bee goddess”, whose worship had spread across the whole of Mediterranean and particularly ancient Greece and Thracia (Balkans). This was the Bronze age or the time when Troy still existed.

Balkan Sicambria

These Balkan bees are probably relics of the Artemis cult. Or the one of Dionysus, who according to the myth reincarnated as a bee. But they almost certainly belonged to the Tribalians, a Thracian tribe.

This is interesting because “Sicambria”, the mythical Pannonian homeland of Merovingians, has never been identified. Neither it was possible for scholars to explain its etymology. However, in the Thracian language, the words “skumbras” meant “mountain, hill”. For example, this was the ancient name of mountain Vitosha, which rises over Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.

Skumbras – paleolexicon.com

Moreover, the fertile lowlands of Pannonia used to be an ancient seabed. There is only one single hill on the whole Serbian part, near the Roman city of Sirmium. This hill is Frushka gora. It means literally “Frankish hill” and its German name was “Frankenwald”, “Frangochoria” in medieval Greek. Nobody’s really sure where the name comes from. Some historians claim that it marked the southern border of the Charlemagne’s empire, and hence the name. But perhaps the connections are more ancient than that?

And as for the connections with Troy, there are indeed many such ancient toponyms on the course of the Danube river – from the Black sea to Pannonia. Such examples are the ancient Troesmis as well as many others that survived to this date in variations Tria, Troa, Troi all over Bulgarian and Romanian banks of river Danube. Moreover, this region was conquered by the Roman emperor named Marcus Ulpius – Trajan. The Roman emperors usually took titles based on the conquered nations. (Germanicus, Sarmaticus, Africanus…) And even as the Troyan myth goes – virtually all of the Troyan allies came from the Balkans. Most of them were Thracians.

Revisiting the chronicles

Could there be some truth behind the claims of medieval Frankish chronicles? Do they speak of Thracians who lived on a mountain (Scumbria – mountain) in the region between Morava and Pannonia? Or Frushka Gora? Pushed by the Roman forces of an emperor Valentinian I, they migrated north – to Moravia of the Czech republic. (Marcomir – Marcomanni). From there, they crossed to the region of Frankfurt, and finally France. And all this time, they preserved their long hair, tumulus burials, and the horseriding culture.

In short, was the author of the chronicle familiar with the basic facts, even though his geography and timeline are way off? In fact, most important Slavic medieval chronicles claim exactly the same – that there were Slavs on the Balkans in pre-Roman times. And that from there, Romans forced them towards the north. They too settled around the Bohemia and Moravia regions. See more here.

Conclusions

The German Franks lived in proximity to the Slavic tribes who fought with Charlemagne, a successor of the Merovingians. One of his first campaigns was against the neighboring Polabian Slavs, These Slavs were bordering France, and the name of this border was Sorbian March. And in fact, many French toponyms could have been originally Slavic.

For example, the original name of Paris, Lutetia, has connections to the Lutici tribe of Polabian Slavs. There is no other etymology for this important city. The French town Brest is also one of the most common Slavic toponyms. Next, we have the French villages Sorbon and PéronPerun was the Slavic god of thunder, and this mountain village stands very close to what once was the Sorbian March.

There are even other linguistic similarities – such as the personal pronouns: Je-Ja, Tu-Ti, Vous-Vi, or the general sound of the French language that parallels only in Polish… What was this “Indo-European” base before the Latinization of French, if not Slavic?

Numerous names of the “Gaulish tribes” have clear Slavic etymologies too. That is a whole topic for itself, and you can read it in a separate article below.

And even though Franks undoubtedly had a Germanic origin, the word Frank – “free”, could relate to one of the etymologies the word “Slav”. (See here). But the parallels between names Merovech and Moravich seem quite plausible, and they could only be Slavic. The same goes for the strange name of the dynasty – Merovingians. The strange “ng” sound could be a substitute of Slavic “zh”, as the Slavic name would be “Merovizhiani”.

Of course, this article is pure speculation that will probably never enter the realm of mainstream history, especially in light of modern geopolitics. But the “official” fact is that throughout all of the recorded history, Slavs of Western Europe were only losing their lands, rarely occupying those of others. (except for plunder) Besides the Frankish wars between Charlemagne and the Polabian Slavs, we also have examples of the Sorbs and Rani of Germany, to name a few.

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