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Roman Cologne, chief city of the Ripuarian Franks

Ripuarian Franks (Latin: Ripuarii) were one of the two main groupings of early Frankish people mentioned by a number of 6th-century sources. The Ripuarii originally lived on the right bank of the Rhine in what is today western Germany. Under pressure from their northern enemies the Saxons, starting from 274 AD they were able to infiltrate the left bank of the Rhine. In the chaotic years after the definitive collapse of Roman power in western Europe, in the last days of 406, the Ripuarians were able to conquer and more importantly hold the strategically important river valleys of the Meuse and the Moselle. They managed to occupy the lower and middle Rhineland in present-day North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Luxemburg, Wallonia, the modern Belgian and Dutch provinces of Limburg, and the northeastern part of France. On the right bank of the Rhine, the Ripuarian Franks had control over the river basin of the Main, in later years also called Franconia, one of the five stem duchies, from which in the middle of the 9th century the kingdom of Germany was formed.

The other main group of Franks were the Salii, or "Salian Franks", who lived to the west of the Ripuarii in what is today the southwestern part of the Netherlands, the western part of Belgium and the northern and central part of France above the Loire river. The border between the area of the Salian and the Ripuarian Franks was roughly the Silva Carbonaria and the land between the Seine-basin (mostly Salian) and the upper Meuse river (Ripuarian). It's not clear that the whole Seine-basin was Salian, maybe some northern and eastern parts of the Seine-basin were settled by Ripuarian Franks.

The division of the Franks into Ripuarians and Salians would have taken place in the later Roman Empire. By the time the Ripuarians are mentioned in the historical record, they had already lost their independence to the expanding power of the Merovingians, but they kept a separate identity. In the 7th century their traditional laws were recorded as the Lex Ripuaria. After the reign of the last capable Salian Frankish king, Dagobert in 639, the Carolingian Austrasian mayordomos gradually took over power, transforming the Ripuarian area of Austrasia into the heartland of the Carolingian empire.



The name Ripuarii clearly has a meaning of "river people", but the exact origin of the name is unclear. The regular Latin form would be Riparii, meaning "[men] of the river bank"; the Ripuarian Franks are so called by Jordanes. Other attested forms of the adjective are Riparenses and Riparienses.

The form Ripuarii is irregular, however, and has been explained by a hypothetical native (Germanic) name underlying the Latin. This hypothetical self-designation might be restored as either *hreop-waren, *hrepa-waren "river[-bank] people".[1] or *hreop-wehren, *hrepa-wehren "river[-bank] defenders".[2]

Conversely, the form Ripuarii may also be due to a loan of the Latin Riparii into Germanic.[3] This view is based on a word-pair given in the Summarium Heinrici, an 11th-century revision of Isidore of Seville, stating the Old High German equivalents of some Latin words, including Ripuarii: Riphera. The latter is textually reconstructed to *ripfera, except that "phonetically *ripf- cannot come from rip-;"[4]

A third possibility is that the name Ripuarii was a mixed word to begin with, perhaps *ripwarjoz.[5] It seems to be analogous to the later formation, Ribuarius, in which Gallo-Roman *ribbar replaces Roman ripa. From the Gallo-Roman came the French rive, "bank," and a group of words based on it.


The confederacy of the Franks had come into being by the 3rd century on the right bank of the Rhine. Tribes who had lived in the same area in Roman times included the Sicambri, Chamavi, Bructeri, Chattuarii, and Tencteri. The Franks replaced those older tribes in the record and most probably represent a new alliance of all or some of them.

These independent Franks crossed the Rhine frequently to establish bases there from which they raided further into the Roman empire. The Romans eventually bought peace by exchanging freedom to settle on the left bank for cooperation in maintaining the peace. Many of these Franks rose to high office in the empire.

Agrippina, mother of Cologne

In the area of the Ripuarii, the Rhine had been defined as a border of the Roman empire under the early emperors. The Romans created two provinces: Upper and Lower Germany. The dividing line was marked and maintained by a major base at Mainz. Lower Germany, which faced the Ripuarii, later became Germania Secunda. Roman cities in this region included Castra Vetera (Xanten), Cologne, and Bonn.

The Ubii had been the main Germanic people within Lower Germany since early Roman imperial times. They had been allowed to move from the other side of the Rhine. Colonia Agrippinenses (Cologne) was placed among them as Roman colony to assist them "keep the gate against intruders."[6] While the Ubii had moved under pressure from the Suebi to their east, other related tribes under similar pressure from more distant neighbours had moved in to replace them on the right bank of the Rhine, including the Bructeri, Tencteri, Sicambri and Usipetes. These remained in contact with the province of the Ubii, as is described by Tacitus concerning the Batavian revolt. It is thought that all of these relatively Romanized Germanic tribes may have contributed to the origins of the Ripuarii in later centuries.

The Ripuarian Franks are of much lesser prominence than their western cousins, the Salian Franks, who formed the Merovingian Frankish Empire beginning in the 5th century. The Ripuarian Franks lose their independence almost as soon as they enter the historical record, being subsumed in the Frankish core province of Austrasia. Apart from mention of some unknown Riparii by Jordanes in Getica who fought as auxiliaries of Flavius Aetius in the Battle of Chalons, 451,[7] the first mention of the Ripuarii comes from Gregory of Tours, in Historia Francorum. He says that the Salian Frank Clovis, first king of all the Franks and first king to convert to Christianity, subjected the previously independent Ripuarians. Gregory says[8] "after the death of Theudebald (ca. 555), Lothar took over the lands of the Ripuarian Franks." Evidently Theudebald had possessed them. He was the son of Theudebert,[9] who was the son of Theuderic,[10] a son of Clovis,[11] as was Lothar. Clovis (died 511) had left his kingdom to his four sons, Theuderic, Chlodomer, Childebert and Lothar. Part of that inheritance was the country of the Ripuarian Franks. The fact that it was attacked by Saxons,[12] who entered it from their own country and "laid waste as far as the city of Deutz," identifies the country around Cologne as being in their territory.

After the death of Lothar (561) his four sons inherited the kingdom jointly. Sigibert received the share formerly Theuderic's (the Ripuarii) and set up a capital at Rheims. Presumably, the Ripuarians at that time occupied the country between Cologne and Rheims, both banks of the Rhine, as they had been attacked from well north of the Rhine.[citation needed]

Gregory of Tours in researching material for the Historia Francorum found the topic of Frankish kingship puzzling. In his time (6th century) the Franks had Roman-style kings. They were known to have had war-leaders in earlier times, according to either Sulpicius Alexander or an otherwise unknown historian, Valentinus.[13] Gregory uses the Latin titles duces and regales[14] explicitly with regard to Sunno and Marcomer (ca. 388), observing, concerning Sulpicius,

"When he says 'regales,' or royal leaders, it is not clear if they were kings or if they merely exercised a kingly function."

Regarding the pursuit of Sunno and Marcomer to Cologne in 393, Sulpicius is still calling them regales. Arbogast, nephew of the emperor, not only restored Cologne to the Romans but subdued all the rest of the Ripuarian Franks, while Marcomer watched from the hills. Gregory states that subsequently Sulpicius refers openly to the king of the Franks (Latin rex) but does not state who the first one was.

Without naming the people as Ripuarian, but referring to Cologne and its vicinity, Gregory explains how they voluntarily gave up their sovereignty to Clovis. Gregory evidences a certain dualism. Acts that he finds reprehensible when committed by other Franks, when practiced by Clovis to spread the authority of the Catholic Church, are saintly.

The region of Cologne was under the rule of Sigobert the Lame, an old campaigner who had fought side by side with Clovis in the wars against the Alamanni. He was called "the lame" because of a wound he had received at the Battle of Tolbiac, 496, the same year as Clovis' conversion to Catholicism. Clovis believed he had won by calling on the name of Christ and now had a mandate from God to Christianize all Neustria. This was a long process not free from resistance.

In 509 he sent a messenger to Chloderic to state that if his father, Sigobert, were to die, he, Clovis, would ally himself to Chloderic. Whatever Clovis may have meant, as Sigobert was sleeping at noon in his tent in the forest across the Rhine from Cologne after a walk, Chloderic's hired assassins killed him. Chloderic sent to Clovis offering some of Sigobert's treasury as enticement. Clovis sent messengers refusing the treasure but asked to see it. Complying with their request to sink his arms into it so that they could see how deep it was, Chloderic was dispatched by the blow of an axe, unable to defend himself.

Arriving in person Clovis assembled the citizens of Cologne, denied the murders, saying "It is not for me to shed the blood of one of my fellow kings, for that is a crime ...." He advised them to place themselves under his protection, after which he was shouted into office by a voice vote and raised up on their shields in a ceremony of installation.[15] Thus the independent kingdom of the Ripuarian Franks was voted out of existence by the people at a single assembly in 509.


There are no direct attestations of the early Frankish language. Of some 1,400 Latin inscriptions in Roman Germania Inferior a little over 100 are from the rural lands of the Germanic Ubii, into whose lands the Ripuarii would move. The inscriptions are most frequent in the 3rd century. Most are from the major cities of Germania Inferior.[16] The right bank of the Rhine, where the Ripuarii originated, does not have such a wealth of Latin inscriptions. The High German consonant shift occurred south of an east-west zone called the Benrath Line. The Rhine crosses it in the vicinity of Düsseldorf. The section of the Rhine including Cologne forms the so-called "Rhenish Fan", where dialects are found which form intermediate stages between Dutch and High German.[17]

Ripuarian lawsEdit

In the first half of the 7th century the Ripuarians received the Ripuarian law (Lex Ripuaria), a law code applying only to them, from the dominating Salian Franks. The Salians, following the custom of the Romans before them, were mainly re-authorizing laws already in use by the Ripuarians, so that the latter could retain their local constitution.[18]

List of rulersEdit

This list of early rulers is incomplete, as our sources leave open many gaps.

Ruler Description
Pharamond son of Marcomer, semi-legendary king. (Pharamond reigned with Chlodio 420–448)[19]
Chlodio (Chlodio reigned with Pharamond 420–448)[19]
Theudemeres son of Richomeres, King circa 422
Sigobert the Lame King 483–507, killed by his son Chloderic the Parricide
Chlodoric the Parricide son of Sigebert, King 507, dethroned by Clovis

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Zoepfl, Heinrich (1844). Deutsche Staats- und Rechtsgeschichte: Ein Lehrbuch in zwei Bänden (in German). Erster Band (2nd expanded & improved ed.). Stuttgart: Verlag von Adolph Krabbe. p. 30. ; Larned, Josephus Nelson; Reiley, Alan C. (1895). History for ready reference. Springfield, Ma.: The C. A. Nichols Co., Publishers. p. 1435. ; corresponding to an Anglo-Saxon word, hreopseta, "settlement on a bank (or river)." The -waren would be from Germanic *weraz, "people" Köbler, Gerhard (2000). "*uei-(3)" (PDF). Indogermanisches Wörterbuch (in German) (3rd ed.). 
  2. ^ The -wehren would be from Germanic *warjan, "defend," Köbler, Gerhard (2000). "*uer-(5)" (PDF). Indogermanisches Wörterbuch (in German) (3rd ed.). 
  3. ^ Köbler, Gerhard (1993). "Rifera" (PDF). Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch (in German) (4th ed.). 
  4. ^ Springer, Matthias (1998), "Riparii - Ribuarier - Rheinfranken", in Geuenich, Dieter, Die Franken und die Alemannen bis zur "Schlacht bei Zülpich" (496/97) (in German), Berlin; New York: De Gruyter, p. 211  "Lautergesetzlich kann *ripf nicht aus rip entstanden sein."
  5. ^ Springer, M. (1968–2007) [1900], "Ribuarier", in Jankuhn, Herbert; Hoops, Johannes, Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde (in German), Berlin: de Gruyter, p. 570 
  6. ^ Germania, Section 28.
  7. ^ Paragraph 191.
  8. ^ IV.13.
  9. ^ III.27.
  10. ^ III.20.
  11. ^ II.28.
  12. ^ IV.16.
  13. ^ In 1886 Omont and Collon noted 28 manuscripts of Historia Francorum, all different. Translations from them and other lost manuscripts had been ongoing for centuries before then, each unique: Gregory of Tours; Lewis Thorpe (1974). London: Penguin Books. pp. 53–54.  Missing or empty |title= (help). Gregory published two editions, an earlier 6-book and subsequent 10-book, which differ from each other in some of the detail: Poole, Reginald L (July 1887). "Reviews of Books, on Omont's edition of Gregory's 6-book edition". The English Historical Review. London: Longmans, Green and Co. II (VII): 606. . Consequently, there is no standard Historia Francorum nor any universally valid translation. The 6-book edition names Valentinus; the 10-book, Sulpicius. Neither can be verified as the histories of both authors are lost.
  14. ^ Book II, Section 9.
  15. ^ II.40.
  16. ^ see also Derks, Ton; Jefferis, Christine (1998). Gods, temples and ritual practices: the transformation of religious ideas and values in Roman Gaul. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. pp. 86–90. 
  17. ^ Wiggers 2007, p. 26.
  18. ^ Rivers 1986:_?.
  19. ^ a b William Deans; Frederick Martin (1882). A History Of France: From The Earliest Times To The Present Day. 1. Edinburgh & London: A. Fullarton & Co. pp. 420-1792, Table Of Sovereigns Of France, vi-ix. 


  • Greenwood, Thomas (1836). The First Book of the History of the Germans: Barbaric period. London: Longman, Rees, Orne, and Co. .
  • Howorth, Henry H. (1884). "XVII. The Ethnology of Germany (Part VI). The Varini, Varangians and Franks. - Section II". Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. London: Trübner & Co. 13: 213–239. doi:10.2307/2841727. 
  • Perry, Walter Copland (1857). The Franks, from their first appearance in history to the death of King Pepin. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts. 
  • Pfister, M. Christian (1911), "(B) The Franks Before Clovis", in Bury, J.B., The Cambridge Medieval History, Volume I: The Christian Roman Empire and the Foundation of the Teutonic Kingdoms, London: Cambridge University Press 
  • Rivers, Theodore John. (1986) Laws of the Salian and Ripuarian Franks. New York: AMS Press, 1986.
  • Wiggers, Heiko (2007). Reevaluating diglossia: Data from Low German (Dissertation). Ann Arbor: ProQuest. 

External linksEdit