History of France

The history of France is long and colourful, as befits a nation of such importance. It all began with early civilizations, few traces of which exist for the period before 50,000 BC, but after that time there are plenty of remains to examine, especially in Périgord where there is a Cro-Magon site from the Stone Age at Les Eyzies. Carnac in Brittany has Neolithic sites, which may or may not be a sophisticated way of telling the time, dating from around 5000 BC, before the Egyptian pyramids.

The Greeks founded Marseille France > (Massalia) in 600BC but at that time the rest of Gaul was not completely left in the dark ages. The early Gauls may have been rural but archaeologists have found towns with separate merchants' quarters from as early as 100 BC (near Autun, for example), and burial grounds near Vix have shown that there were refined trading relations between Greeks and Gauls.

The Romans defeated the Gauls in 52 BC when Julius Caesar came to complete his empire. For five centuries after Vercingétorix's defeat at Alésia, Gaul reaped the rewards of peace by learning Latin, farming, and becoming experts in trade, manufacturing and urbanization. The border with Germany was established at the Rhine and these foundations made France capable of withstanding century upon century of conflict after the fall of the Roman Empire.

The Franks followed with King Clovis establishing Paris and Christianity as two important influences on what was now called France. The divine right of kings was established in 754 when the pope crowned Pepin, and his son Charlemagne extended Frankish rule over the old Roman territories, only for it to diminish again until, by 987 only the Paris area was under Frankish rule.

Centralization of power began in 1000 as the French kings gradually consolidated power and lands. Louis VII's marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine was to mark a great step towards unity within France, but when they divorced and she remarried Henry II of England in 1152, the west of France became a longstanding English threat to French rule. Philippe Auguste (1179-1223) set France apart from the Catholic church by not taking part in the crusade against the Cathars in the Languedoc.

The rest of France's history is better known and took place in the following order: Hundred Years War, Wars of Religion, Louis XIV ("Sun King") and the court of Versailles, Louis XV and the parlements, Louis XVI's reign from 1774, the Revolution of 1789, the Terror that followed under Robespierre and the guillotine, Napoléon's rise to fame, his defeat at Waterloo in 1815, the restoration, Second Republic, Napoléon III, Commune, Third Republic and so on until the present day. It is only in the last century, however, that the socialist party has come to power and various presidents have had so many monuments and roads named after them!

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