Austrasia

Austrasia

[aw-strey-zhuh, -shuh]
Austrasia, northeastern portion of the Merovingian kingdom of the Franks in the 6th, 7th, and 8th cent., comprising, in general, parts of E France, W Germany, and the Netherlands, with its capital variously at Metz, Reims, and Soissons. It originated in the partition (511) of the realm of the Frankish king Clovis I among his four sons after his death. Austrasia was constantly troubled by dynastic rivalries between its rulers and those of the neighboring kingdom of Neustria. These struggles, both political and cultural, reached their climax in the fierce fights between Queen Brunhilda of Austrasia and Queen Fredegunde of Neustria. During the reigns of Clotaire I, Clotaire II, and Dagobert I, Austrasia was temporarily reunited with Neustria. This rivalry was only part of the regionalism that eventually brought an end to Merovingian rule. With the decline of the royal power in Austrasia, the office of mayor of the palace developed into the real seat of power and finally became hereditary in the family of the Carolingians. Austrasia became part of the Carolingian empire.
or Ostrasia

Early medieval European kingdom. During the Merovingian dynasty (6th–8th centuries AD), it was the eastern Frankish kingdom and Neustria was the western kingdom. Austrasia covered present-day northeastern France and areas of western and central Germany; its capital was at Metz. The region was the power base of the early Carolingian mayors of the palace, one of whom, Pippin III, deposed the last Merovingian king in 751 and founded the Carolingian dynasty. The dynasty's heartland, Austrasia, was an important region in the empire established by Charlemagne.

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Austrasia (rarely Austria, both meaning "eastern land") formed the north-eastern portion of the Kingdom of the Merovingian Franks, comprising parts of the territory of present-day eastern France, western Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Metz served as its capital, although some Austrasian kings ruled from Rheims, Trier, and Cologne also. Austrasia was also used as a term for northeast Italy, as opposed to Neustria, which meant the northwest.

History

After the death of the Frankish king Clovis I in 511, his four sons partitioned his kingdom amongst themselves, with Theuderic I receiving the lands that were to become Austrasia. Descended from Theuderic, a line of kings ruled Austrasia until 555, when it was united with the other Frankish kingdoms of Chlothar I, who inherited all the Frankish realms by 558. He redivided the Frankish territory amongst his four sons, but the four kingdoms coalesced into three on the death of Charibert I in 567: Austrasia under Sigebert I, Neustria under Chilperic I, and Burgundy under Guntram. These three kingdoms defined the political division of Francia until the rise of the Carolingians and even thereafter.

From 567 to the death of Sigbert II in 613, Neustria and Austrasia were almost constantly at odds, with Burgundy playing the peacemaker between them. These struggles reached their climax in the wars between Brunhilda and Fredegund, queens respectively of Austrasia and Neustria. Finally, in 613, a rebellion by the nobility against Brunhilda saw her betrayed and handed over to her nephew and foe of Neustria, Chlothar II. Chlothar then took control of the other two kingdoms and set up a united Frankish kingdom with its capital in Paris. It was during this period that the first majores domus or mayors of the palace appeared. These officials acted as mediators between king and people in each realm. The first Austrasian mayors were drawn from the Pippinid family, which was to experience a slow, but steady ascent until it eventually displaced the Merovingian on the throne.

In 623, the Austrasians asked Chlothar II for a king of their own and he appointed his son Dagobert I to rule over them with Pepin of Landen as regent. Dagobert's government in Austrasia was widely admired. In 629, he inherited Neustria and Burgundy. Austrasia was again neglected until, in 633, the people demanded the king's son as their own king again. Dagobert complied and sent his elder son Sigebert III to Austrasia. Sigebert is widely regarded by historians as the first roi fainéant or do-nothing king of the Merovingian dynasty. His court was dominated by the mayors. In 657, the mayor Grimoald the Elder succeeded in putting his son Childebert the Adopted on the throne, where he remained until 662. Thereafter, Austrasia was predominantly the kingdom of the Arnulfing mayors of the palace and their base of power. With the Battle of Tertry in 687, Pepin of Heristal defeated the Neustrian king Theuderic III and established his mayoralty over all the Frankish kingdoms. This was even regarded by contemporaries as the beginning of his "reign". It also signaled the dominance of Austrasia over Neustria which was to last until the end of the Merovingian era. In 718, Charles Martel, with Austrasian support in his war against Neustria, each struggling to unite Francia under their hegemony, appointed one Chlothar IV to rule in Austrasia. This was the last Frankish ruler who did not rule over all the Franks. In 719, Francia was united permanently under Austrasian hegemony.

Under the Carolingians and subsequently, Austrasia is sometimes used as a denominator for the east of their realm, the Carolingian Empire. It has been used as a synonym for East Francia, though this is somewhat inaccurate.

Rulers

Merovingian kings

Mayors of the palace

Sources

  • Charles Oman. The Dark Ages 476–918. London: Rivingtons, 1914.
  • Thomas Hodgkin. Italy and Her Invaders. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1895.

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