Early Merovingian Gaul (c.450-650)
with Professor Guy Halsall (University of York)
at Sutton Hoo, Saturday, 26th September, 2015.


An exploration of Anglo-Saxon England’s nearest mainland neighbour, Frankish Gaul, to the mid-seventh century.  In spite of this proximity and of the fact that it was the most successful post-imperial realm, Merovingian Gaul remains understudied in the UK.

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15:                Coffee on arrival

10.15 – 11.15:                The Origins of the Franks: Clovis

Who were the Franks and where did they come from? This lecture examines Frankish origins, looking at where and when they appeared and what might explain their emergence. It will look at their relationships with the later Roman Empire and how they came to control the north of Gaul during the middle of the fifth century before, under their first great king, Clovis (real name: Chlodovech, d.511), expanding to dominate all of Gaul and the territories beyond.

11.15 – 11.40:                Coffee break

11.40 – 12.40:                The History of the Franks to 614

This second lecture will look at Frankish politics under Clovis’ descendants until Chlothar II’s reunification of the Merovingian kingdom in 613/4. Clovis’ sons divided their father’s kingdom between them, putting in place a feature of Merovingian Frankish politics that endured for centuries: divided kingship. This led to a bewildering series of conflicts at home and abroad, which eventually found their chronicler in the form of Gregory of Tours, one of the early medieval world’s most interesting and prolific writers.

12.40 – 14.00:                Lunch break

14.00 – 14.50:                 Archaeology and Frankish Society

The third session will describe the archaeology of the early Franks in the fifth and sixth centuries, looking at evidence from cemeteries, rural settlements and towns. Much of this evidence will look quite familiar to students of early Anglo-Saxon England: grave-goods, post-built-halls and sunken-featured buildings. It has, however, distinctive features. We will then consider how this evidence can be combined with written sources to discuss earlier Frankish society.

14.50 – 15.10:               Tea break

15.10 – 16.00:                Early Merovingian Art, Culture and Religion

The final session will continue the exploration of the evidence from sixth-century Gaul to look a little more closely at the culture of the region in this period. We will briefly examine decorative arts before exploring sculpture and architecture. The largely ecclesiastical focus of the latter will lead us into a consideration of the Gallic church in the earlier Merovingian period. By the end of the day, then, a fairly thorough introduction to early Anglo-Saxon England’s nearest and most powerful neighbour will have been presented.

c.16.00:                            Thanks and Close

About Professor Guy Halsall

Guy Halsall took his BA in History and Archaeology at the University of York and stayed at York for his D.Phil, on the archaeology and history of the region of Metz (north-east France) in the Merovingian period (c.450-750). After a fellowship at Newcastle, he taught at the University of London between 1991 and 2002 before returning to York in January 2003 and being promoted to a chair there in 2006. He has published widely on late Roman and early medieval western Europe, covering themes like social structures, age and gender, war and violence, ethnicity and barbarian migration, and humour. He is currently working on a major study of Western Europe around 600 and a book on history itself, entitled Why History Doesn’t Matter.

Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

The following books provide an excellent and thorough overview of early Merovingian Gaul, especially Wood (1994) and James (1988).

Patrick Geary, Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World (OUP; Oxford, 1988).

Edward James, The Origins of France. From Clovis to the Capetians, 500-1000 (Macmillans; London, 1982)

Edward James, The Franks (Blackwells; Oxford, 1988)

Ian N. Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751 (Longmans; Harlow, 1994)


When asked ‘What was best about the day?’ at a previous Study Day on Anglo-Saxon Migration participants said:

  • Guy was brilliant – more please
  • Thought provoking
  • Appreciate the handout.  Appreciate the pace of the lectures (often too fast for me).  Appreciate the chance to ask questions.  Appreciate historians view of the texts
  • New updated ideas, clear explanations and new information
  • The range of knowledge particularly when answering questions
  • A new outlook on the subject
  • Content of the lectures.  Overall ambience
  • The thorough research and use made of it during the day
  • Interesting to hear a new take on established historical views
  • Presentation of a new way of thinking about the saxon migrations. Excellent speaker.