Development of a Nation How France became France,
and how the French became French.
French as a people, and the country of France as a nation-state,
evolved and materialized into current form, in terms of ancestral
bloodlines, the French language, borders, culture, and even how they
received their name.
Begin with Celts in ancient times. Celts were
descendents of original inhabitants of central Europe which
developed the Celt language (sub-branch of Proto-Indo-European
language – the ancestral language of nearly all European languages)
and Celt culture. A trace Greek/Phoenician component in southern
France was added, due to colonies they settled along Mediterranean
coast during ancient times.
Celts in the area approximating modern France
would come to be known as Gauls by the Romans, who would conquer the
region by 51 BC, naming it “Gaul” by 51BC.
Especially after the withdrawal of the Romans
from the territory in the 5th century, western and
central Europe would be overrun by Germanics. The territory
modern France was dominated by the Franks, a confederation of
Germanic tribes originating in the modern Netherlands, who would
become the ruling class of the region corresponding to modern
France. The Germanic peoples would intermix with the Romano-Gauls
(Celts who inhabited the Roman province of Gaul). This represents
the primary genetic composition/lineage of what we consider to be
“French” people today.
Other groups would provide minor contributions
to the genetic composition of the Franks (“French”), such as the
Norse that would settle in the north during the 10th
The Roman language of Latin becomes the
language of the Roman province of Gaul (modern France) during the
Roman era. The Gallic language, which evolved in Gaul, is
essentially a dialect of Latin, as it developed along its own
individualistic linguistic path as Latin in other regions of the
After Roman withdrawal, the Franks
(confederation of Germanic tribes) consolidate rule in Gaul,
becoming the ruling class. However, they adopt the Gallic language
(branch of Latin), but place their mark upon it, introducing new
words and pronunciations to the Gallic language. This would serve as
the basis of modern French.
Pyrenees Mountains form natural
boundary between modern Spain and France, causing separate “nations”
to form on either side. This natural barrier separated the
Celtiberians from the Gauls before the Roman Empire. During the
Roman Empire, it served as the border between the provinces of
Hispania and Gaul. During the Medieval Ages, it separated the
Frankish Empire from the Visigothic Kingdom. The mountains deterred
the Muslim Moors in the 8th century from conquering France, keeping
them contained in the Iberian peninsula. Upon the end of the
Frankish Empire, the Pyrenees remained as the border between France
and the Spanish petty kingdoms of Spain. Officially recognized as
the France/Spain border in 1659.
Empire. In 493, the Franks convert to Christianity, aiding into
their crystallization into a tangible political entity. The empire
continued to expand, reaching its height under Charlemagne (771),
thanks to the premature (and suspicious) death of his brother,
preventing a division of the kingdom. Charlemagne has just one son,
Louis the Pious, who assumed rule in 814, upon the death of
Charlemagne. But Louis has three sons which are heirs to the
kingdom. According to Frankish custom, the personal estate of a
leader is divided equally among his sons, and the Frankish Kingdom
was considered the personal estate of the king. It was divided
according to the Western Realm (“Western Francia” – predecessor to
modern France), the Central Realm (Netherlands in the north to Italy
in the south), and the Eastern Realm (predecessor to modern
eastern border would go through several transformations throughout
the Middle Ages. Due to marriage and war, regions along the eastern
border would switch back and forth between “France” (or petty
kingdoms under the banner of the French king based in Paris), and
the Holy Roman Empire (German states & principalities).
France would annex Duchy of Burgundy, which
had been independent, in 1004.
In 1246, France annexes Lower Burgundy,
permanently establishing SE border. It was viewed as traditional
In 1295, County of Burgundy gained by France
from HRE through marriage. It would be passed around between various
nations/kingdoms, over the next few centuries, until France regained
it permanently in 1678.
In 1532, France finally annexes Brittany, the
peninsula extending out from the northwest corner of modern France.
In 1601, France annexes modern Dept of Ain
from Kingdom of Savoy, forming permanent border with Italy along
30 Years War, ending in 1648, France captures territory along
current border with both Germany and Switzerland, including Alsace.
1770 – France purchases the island of Corsica,
off the western coast of Italy, still part of France to this day.
During Napoleonic Wars, France gains the
region forming the modern Department of Moselle, along current
Luxembourg/Germany border. Allowed to keep it after the war, to
avoid an enclave carved into France, in order to reduce future
In 1860, Italian revolutionaries cedes modern
Dept of Haute Savoie in exchange for support in War of Independence
against Spain and Austria, forming permanent French/Italian border
in this area.
1860, France annexes more territory (County of Nice), permanently
forming extreme SE corner.
At conclusion of Franco-Prussian War in 1871,
Prussia takes Alsace-Lorraine from France.
At conclusion of WWI in 1918, France would
regain Alsace-Lorraine from Germany. Nazi Germany would occupy it
during WWII, but would be returned to France at the end of the war.
comes from Latin term for “Land of the Franks”, named after the Franks
(confederation of Germanic tribes) which conquered Gaul after
withdrawal of the Romans in the 5th century. When Germany
became the Holy Roman Empire in the 10th century, only West
Francia (modern France) used Francia to identify themselves, keeping the
namesake from that time forward.
France has long been a patchwork of diverse
localized cultures, bound by a common language, heritage, and French
identity. Paris is the heart of French culture, known for its debonair
quality, and multi-cultural acceptance. On one hand, France is
customarily very contemporary in its views, but on the other hand
traditional and even anti-progressive.
Despite its sophistication, France has historically
been an elitist, aristocratic society, where the top of the hierarchy
enjoyed consumption of the finest the world had to offer, along with
top-flight educational opportunities. Yet, much of society has been left
to toil in the lower social classes, supporting the upper class in labor
and disproportionate taxation.
This pent-up conflict eventually boiled over into
the French Revolution in 1789, which established many of the tenets of
modern, egalitarian civilizations, including equal human rights. Yet,
with the defeat of Napoleonic France, the revolution ended, with some
principles surviving in France, and others surfacing in only other
To this day, France resides a little further toward
the socialistic end of the sliding scale than the laissez-faire (free
market) end, compared to other western nations. France's duality also
helps explain the paradox relating to religion in the country, with both
a substantial non-religious and piously Catholic population. Catholicism
has a long history of importance in France, beginning with the Frankish
Empire, which established itself as the protector of the church. France
has consistently fought for the Catholic cause throughout history,
opposing Protestantism at almost every turn. Even to this day,
Catholicism enjoys the favored position as the state religion, a taboo
concept among advocates of church and state separation.
Economy: Fairly socialized
(high tax rate, gov’t ownership of many companies, banks, etc.), but
working toward greater privatization and open market policies. Since the
90s, economy has grown at a more sluggish rate than other EU nations,
but remains one of the largest economies in the world. Government: Democratic Republic. Religion: 83-88% Roman Catholic, 5-10% Muslim, 2% Protestant, 1%
Jewish. Strong Catholic tradition which is still in force today, long
the official religion of the state. With modern secularism trend, most
Catholics are not active church goers, likely claiming religious
affiliation based on family tradition. Only 34% in recent poll claim to
believe in God. 27% other ID, 33% atheist. Demographics: Majority French, with sizable Arab/Muslim (former
colonies in ME and N Africa) and Black African population (African slave
trade) Foreign Policy: Participated in Afghanistan invasion, but
denounced invasion of Iraq. Population: 64,057,790 (2008)