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France Ancestry Myth: Did Clovis Ancestors Come From Troy?


In a Chronicle from the end of the 7th century AD, we find, for the first time, the mention of a filiation between the Franks, barbarian invaders of Gaul in the 5th century, and the city of Troy mentioned in the Iliad, the epic poem of Homer.

A first myth ...

The anonymous authors of the Chronicle are obviously inspired by the Aeneid of Virgil, this epic account of the founding of Rome by Aeneas, a hero who was able to flee Troy during its sacking by the Greeks. They also seem to develop a few sentences from Saint Jerome, one of the Fathers of the Church, on a legendary theme born in the 1st century AD, that of a common origin of the Gauls and the Romans, and they transposes this myth to the Frankish people.

We discover a character named Francus, son of Friga, brother of Aeneas, who, after having left Troy, founded a kingdom in Germany between the Rhine and the Danube. The people of his descent remained rebellious both to the Roman Empire and to other barbarian tribes, until their final settlement in Gaul.

Then a second

This first hypothesis is challenged around 727 by another version that appeared in the work of a monk from Neustria (one of the divisions of Gaul), the Gesta Francorum. The migration is this time guided by Antenor, a Trojan chief whose name is mentioned in the Aeneid. He betrayed King Priam, created the famous horse in the walls of Troy, then went into exile and went to found Venice and Padua. Antenor finally finds himself at the head of the kingdom - considered at the time to be legendary - of the Sicambri. In 376 AD, at the request of the Emperor Valentinian II, his descendants gave battle to the barbarian people of the Alans and obtained, as a reward for their victory, a ten-year exemption from the tribute due to the Empire. Thus, the name of the Frankish people would not derive from Francus, but would mean "free of tribute", because, after the end of the ten years of exemption, the Sicambri refused to take back the payments and left their lands to found a city that would one day become Paris.

When the Middle Ages rewrote myths

To these two narrative frames, late medieval historiography makes corrections and modifications. In the 13th century, Francus was notably adopted by the Grandes Chroniques de France. The character becomes a member of the Trojan royal family, the son of Hector or the son of a second marriage to Andromache. It obviously offers an immense advantage: the etymological relationship of its name with that of the country. But it also has the big drawback of being linked to the English and the Turks, whose mythical genealogy dates back to the first cousins ​​of Francus, Brutus and Turcus. However, in the Middle Ages, England was not precisely a country friendly to France ...

As for Antenor, he enjoyed great success with other authors, especially in the 14th and 15th centuries: its historical authenticity is better attested and its links with Venice a source of additional prestige. Sadly, he is not related to the famous King Priam and owes his fame to betrayal, which is hard to forget, even for a founding hero.

From "our ancestors the Trojans" to "our ancestors the Gauls"

From the 15th century, however, Italian historians displayed a certain skepticism in front of the thesis of the Trojan origins of nations. But the reality is not easy for the French to accept: how to admit that the Franks were Germanic barbarians when with the wars in Italy a merciless struggle is emerging between the France of Francis I and the Germany of Charles V ?

The true renewal of the tradition did not come until the 16th century. It consists in incorporating the Gauls into the original myth and in anchoring the French nation in an entirely Christian tradition.

In 1513, Jean Lemaire de Belges affirmed that the history of the Gauls is essential, because they constitute the original population of the French territory since biblical times and are attached to the race of David: they simply welcomed an exiled Trojan population, whose installation is a twist.

The Franks are almost evacuated; those who keep them, like Nicolas Viguier in 1579, recognize their Germanic origins. The old Trojan myth, however, experienced a final and ephemeral fortune in the 17th century, thanks to a great anti-German outburst from the France of Louis XIV.

Finally, the France of the Third Republic will place its sources in a homogeneous Gallic nation, human resources barely affected by the Roman conquest and the Frankish invasions. It was a way of pushing back to the limits of historical time the Franco-German antagonism, so vivid at the time.

The political significance of the myth

The obvious function of the myth is to anchor national unity in blood ties. All the French provinces, all social categories of the population thus become united: from a common ancestor, they discover a kinship. Filiation enshrines the continuity and consistency of national history, but also values ​​the greatness of France over other kingdoms, and even its superiority.

The epic of Francus and Antenor parallels that of Aeneas, therefore of the Roman people, whose glorious destiny is to dominate the world. The "barbarism" of the Franks is denied and the French people receive their letters of nobility: the Trojan blood which flows in their veins is nobler and richer in virtues than any other. It makes it enter the legend.

But the political use of the myth can be more ad hoc. It becomes anti-English during the Hundred Years’ War. It is then pointed out that, if Brute of Troy is indeed the ancestor of the Bretons, they were driven from the Big Island by the Saxon invaders and took refuge in French Brittany: therefore, the English of the fourteenth century were not a pure race and cannot count on the strength of the Trojan blood to ensure their victory.

The myth is still used to prove the independence of France from the papacy and the Holy Empire, theoretical heirs of the Roman Empire: from Philip the Fair (1268-1314), the episode of the Alans and of the tribute is exploited so as to prove that the Franks were never subjected to Rome. The kingdom of France therefore has no reason to swear allegiance to one or the other of the two powers.