Paris: politics and economics


Roman Influence: As he mentions in De Bello Gallico, circa 52 BC Julius Caesar established a base of operations at Lutetia, a village of the Gallic Parisii tribe, from which to stage his assault on another Gallic tribe. The city, eventually renamed to its modern designation, remained under Roman occupation until sometime before the fifth century, when Clovis and his Salian Franks “captured Paris from the Gauls” and made it his capital [4]. Clovis expanded his kingdom to include much of modern-day France. Clovis admired the Roman style and attempted to “enhance his kingship by associating with Roman imperial tradition”[6].

Image result for clovis

The Baptism of Clovis. Image source: a familiar book cover…

Salian Law: Sometime before his death in 511, Clovis commissioned Pactus Legis Salicae, a code of laws that combined “customary law, Roman written law, Christian ideals, and royal edicts” and went on to influence future law codes in nearby regions. The code encompasses a wide range of laws, from the minute (the fine incurred by falsely accusing another of witchcraft) to the realm-shaping (inheritance and succession law)[3]. Written in Latin, the code shows a great deal of Roman influence.

Upon the death of Clovis, he split the kingdom among his sons, with the rule of Paris going to Childebert. The kingdom was briefly reunited when Clothar survived all his brothers and inherited their land, but he then divided it among his own sons. Clothar II, a descendant of Clovis’s Merovingian line, moved his capital away from Paris in 613. The rest of the Merovingians and then the following Carolingians likewise ruled from other cities. Paris would not again be the political capital of the Frankish kingdom until the establishment of the Capetian dynasty in 957.

When Charles Martel became king of the Franks in the early eighth century, he maintained the legal code originally written under Clovis, though it had been continuously amended since its first draft. Though Paris was not the Carolingian capital, it was still a politically important city and the count of Paris was a prestigious powerful throughout the dynasty’s rule.

The establishment of the Capetian dynasty began with the election of Hugh Capet, a Parisian count, to the Frankish throne. Hugh ensured that power would stay within his dynasty by crowning his son Robert as successor to the throne, a tradition that would continue for more than a century of Capetian rule from Paris.

Coronation of Hugues Capet 2.jpgCoronation of Hugh Capet. Image source:


Economy under the Merovingian Dynasty: When the Carolingians shifted political power away from Paris, economic prosperity in the region also declined. There are various factors indicating that under the Merovingian Dynasty, Paris was prospering rather heavily. One such factor is the numerous different basilica’s and religious buildings created during this era [5]. Clovis I, after having taken control of the kingdom would make Paris a political hub, and construct various buildings throughout the city[1]. Furthermore, Saint Denis Basilica was modified by Dagobert I, another Merovingian King. He incorporated a golden shrine, and was eventually buried in the Abbey of Saint Denis following his death C. 639. In Saint Eligius’ hagiography he described the basilica as, “Above all, Eligius fabricated a mausoleum for the holy martyr Denis in the city of Paris with a wonderful marble ciborium over it marvelously decorated with gold and gems” [1].

Another indication of the prosperous economy under the Merovingian Dynasty, specifically in Paris, was the trade fair Dagobert implemented [5]. This allowed Paris to grow into a social and commercial hub. Though it would no longer be a center of political power under the Carolingian society, it would continue to be a commercially active area. However, due to it’s location and commercial activity, it would become a somewhat wealthy city, leading it to be raided by Vikings during the 9th century.

The Seine: One factor that allowed Paris to prosper economically is its location. Paris is situated on the Seine river, providing access to the English Channel. Waterways such as the Seine provided an array of benefits to the growth of Paris. For one, it allowed Paris to become a central spot for commerce and trading. It’s access to the Channel allowed merchants from all over to enter the city’s premises and trade, further boosting the city’s economy. Another benefit of being close to a body of water, is the fertility of the soil. Flooding of large bodies of water such as the Seine cause nutrients, sediment, and other organic matter to fertilize the lands surrounding. This made Paris’ land prime from an agricultural perspective as well.

Though the Seine provided many benefits for Paris, allowing easy access to visitors and merchants, it also lead to unwanted peoples entering their lands– namely Vikings In the 9th century there were a series of Viking raids that hurt Paris. C. 845 A.D. was a particular time in which Vikings raided Paris [9]. The Franks, unable to build a successful defense system against the Norsemen, were forced to pay a ransom in order to save their lands. This payment was called a Danegeld, a “Danish tribute” [2]. This would continue at various times throughout the 9th century, forcing Charles the Bald and other Frankish leaders during the time to pay heavy ransoms in order to protect Paris. However, in 885-886, perhaps the biggest raid was done by Viking raiders known as the “Siege of Paris” [9]. This, though, unlike past raids would end not in a Danegeld, but rather the Imperial Army under Charles the Fat scattering away all of the remaining Vikings.

Guilds: In the 11th century guilds began forming in Paris. Guilds were a group of artisans or craftsmen under the same trade (e.g. weavers, masons, bookbinders, etc…) created in order to a set of regulations and rules to lower unemployment and competition [8]. These were extremely important in influencing the Parisian economy for centuries after. Guilds were a merit based system so if one was a weaver they’d initially begin as an apprentice weaver simply learning their craft, then a journeymen working and earning a wage for their craft, then eventually a master. This was beneficial to Paris and society as a whole because it allowed for a mastery in many of the important jobs and roles of the time. It helped influence the level of technology, provided consumers with a safer, reliable way to purchase the objects from these guilds, and generally helped boost the economy.



[1]“Basilica of Saint-Denis.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Mar. 2019,’s_church.

[2]“Danegeld.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Jan. 2019,

[3]Drew, Katherine Fischer. 1991. “Pactus Legis Salicae: The 65-Title Version of the Code Ascribed to Clovis Plus the Later Sixth-Century Additions.” In The Laws of the Salian Franks, 57-168. University of Pennsylvania Press.

[4]Ehrlich, Blake. 2019. “Paris.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica.

[5]Frassetto, Michael. “The Early Medieval World: From the Fall of Rome to the Time of Charlemagne [2 Volumes].” Google Books,

[6]Geary, Patrick. 1988. “Romans and Franks in the Kingdom of Clovis.” Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World;cc=acls;view=toc;idno=heb01507.0001.001

[7]“History of Paris.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Mar. 2019,

[8]“Paris in the Middle Ages.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Mar. 2019,

[9]“Viking Invasions.” Indiana University, The Lilly Library, Indiana University,


  1. ericksonw

    I know that you guys don’t have much down yet but my group “landscape and urban environment” has been organizing information under various periods of rule. I realize that the way that we have structured things means that there might be some duplicate information between our two groups. Perhaps we could communicate about this going forward.

    Another note:

    I found a good source that might be helpful to you in your research. Especially this section I thought would be a good addition to the politics section.

    “Despite the not unimpressive (if slow-coming) trappings of Romanitas, Lutetia was never more than a second-rung city throughout the period of Roman rule — until Julian fleetingly associated it with imperial rule. The Romans allowed the existing tribal network to subsist throughout Gaul, and the Parisii had no primacy of any sort over the sixty-odd tribal groupings — now renamed civitates (‘city-states’)-which made up ‘Hairy Gaul’. Lutetia was merely the capital city of one civitas within the more extensive province of Gallia Belgica. It had little strategic importance. It was quite a distance, for example, from the limes, the fortified frontier which was erected to prevent incursions by Germanic tribal groupings across the Rhine and Danube and which guaranteed the pax romana throughout north-western Europe. Even when, in the fourth century, the tripartite division of Gaul was replaced by a system of smaller units, Lutetia failed to win administrative promotion: nearby Sens was made capital of the Fourth Lyonnais Division.”

    1. connelln

      Jones, Colin. Paris : Biography of a City. 1st American ed. New York: Viking, 2005.

  2. christiansonk

    Hey guys,

    I found a source that might be helpful for you:

    “Pro-Caroligian sentiment was still strong-Charles’s cause was eloquently pleaded; but north-west Francia was in imminent danger of Viking assault, a danger made yet more threatening by Alfred of Wessex’s victories against the Danes in England, which narrowed future Viking options. In the circumstances, a king who could command armies seemed the first necessity. So, at Compiegne on 29 February 888, an assembly of bishops, counts, and lords elected Eudes, count of Paris and lay abbot of St Denis, to the throne of West Francia.
    That the event was momentous was recognized by contemporaries. Regino of Prum, meditating on the consequences of choosing a king from within the aristocracy, concluded that it ‘was the cause of long wars; not that there were lacking Frankish princes worthy of dominion by their noble birth, their courage, and their wisdom, but because their equality in origin and dignity…was a fresh cause for discord. None of them was sufficiently raised above the rest to make them willing to submit to his authority.’ This succinct analysis explains much about the political history of West Francia from 888 to 987. To those historians whose interests have concentrated on the development of central institutions of government, the period is a depressing morass of failures and rebellions, lit only by occasional flashes of ryal initiative. But, Regino’s comment suggests, West Francia’s problems sprang from an excess of organizational talent, not an absence. For the historian of provincial government, this is a period of experiment and modification, in which a real, though very patchy, consolidation of the Carolingian inheritance was achieved. ”

    Dunbabin, Jean. France in the Making, 843-1180. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Pages 27-29.


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