The Salian Franks or Salii were a subgroup of the early Franks who originally had been living north of the limes in the area north of the Rhine. The Merovingian kings responsible for the conquest of Gaul were Salians. From the 3rd century on, the Salian Franks appear in the historical records as warlike Germanic people and pirates, and as Laeti (allies of the Romans). They were the first Germanic tribe from beyond the limes who settled permanently on Roman land. In 358, they came to some form of agreement with the Romans that allowed them to settle in Toxandria (roughly the area of the current Dutch and Belgian provinces of Noord-Brabant, Antwerpen and the northern "Kempen" (French Campine) part of Belgian Limburg).
The Salians fully adopted the Frankish identity and gradually ceased to appear by their original name from the 7th century onward, when they evolved into the Franks par excellence. The Lex Ripuaria originated about 630 around Cologne and has been described as a later development of the Frankish laws known from Lex Salica.
From the early 6th century on, the name Salian Franks (or Salii in Latin) is used to contrast with the Ripuarian Franks. Salii may have derived from the name of the medieval lakeland Sall zee area, or to the IJssel river, formerly called Hisloa or Hisla, and in ancient times, Sala, signalling this as the Salians' original residence. Today this area is called Salland.
The Salian Frank language belongs to, and is ancestral to, the family of Low Franconian dialects. The Salian Franks are one of the peoples who formed the foundation for early Dutch culture and society (along with other Frankish groups, Frisians and native Belgian tribes). According to modern scholars such as Robinson, their language evolved from Franconian into Dutch. After settling within Roman territory, they developed an organized society that tilled the land and did not pose a threat to the neighboring Romans.
The Salian tribes constituted a loose confederacy who stood together to negotiate with Roman authority. Each tribe consisted of extended family groups centered around a particularly renowned or noble family. The importance of the family bond was made clear by the Salic Law, which ordained that an individual had no right to protection if not part of a family.
Mythology and religion 
While the Goths or the Vandals had been at least partly Christianised since the mid-4th century, polytheistic beliefs are thought to have flourished among the Salian Franks until the conversion of Clovis to Christianity shortly before or after 500, after which paganism withered slowly.
The Salian Franks' original proximity to the sea is attested in the first historical records. In about 286 Carausius was put in charge of defending the coasts of the Straits of Dover against Saxon and Frankish pirates. This changed when the Saxons drove them south into Roman territory. Their history is attested by Ammianus Marcellinus and Zosimus, who described their migrations toward the southern Netherlands and Belgium. They first crossed the Rhine during the Roman upheavals and subsequent Germanic breakthrough in 260 AD.
When peace had returned, Roman Emperor Constantius I Chlorus allowed the Salians to settle in 297 AD amongst the Batavians, where they soon came to dominate the Batavian island in the Rhine delta. The backgrounds of the seafaring Franks whose story was written down during the reign of emperor Probus (276-282), are not clear: it is not known whether this people were unwillingly obliged to serve the Roman army as had the Batavians before them, or if they were assigned another territory close to the Black Sea. The story tells of a large group who decided to hijack some Roman ships and return with them from Eastern Europe – reaching their homes in the Rhine estuaries without large losses through Greece, Sicily and Gibraltar, although not without causing mayhem. Franks ceased to be associated with seafaring when other Germanic tribes, probably Saxons, drove them to the south. The Salians received protection from the Romans and in return were recruited by Constantius Gallus – together with the other inhabitants of the Batavian isle. This did not prevent the onslaught of the Germanic tribes to the north, especially by the Chamavi. The subsequent "insolent" settlement of the Salians within Roman territory in Toxandria (between the Meuse and the Scheldt rivers in the Netherlands and Belgium) was rejected by the future Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate, who attacked them. The Salians surrendered to him in 358 AD and accepted Roman terms.
One particular Salian family comes to light of Frankish history in the early fifth century, in time to become the Merovingians – Salian kings named after Childeric's mythical father Merovech, whose birth was attributed with supernatural elements.
From the 420s onwards, headed by a certain Chlodio, they expanded their territory to the Somme into northern France. They formed a kingdom in that area with the Belgian city of Tournai becoming the center of their domain. This kingdom was extended further by Childeric and especially Clovis, who gained control over Roman Gaul, i.e. France, whose current name was derived from the Franks.
In 451, Flavius Aëtius, de facto ruler of the Western Roman Empire, called upon his Germanic allies on Roman soil to help fight off an invasion by Attila's Huns. The Salian Franks answered the call and fought in the battle of the Catalaunian Fields in a temporary alliance with Romans and Visigoths, which de facto ended the Hunnic threat to Western Europe.
Clovis, king of the Salian Franks, became the absolute ruler of a Germanic kingdom of mixed Roman-Germanic population in 486. He consolidated his rule with victories over the Gallo-Romans and all the other Frankish tribes and established his capital in Paris. After he had beaten the Visigoths and the Alemanni, his sons drove the Visigoths to Spain and subdued the Burgundians, Alemanni and Thuringians. After 250 years of this dynasty, however, marked by internecine struggles, a gradual decline occurred. The position in society of the Merovingians was taken over by Carolingians, who came from a northern area around the river Maas in what is now Belgium and southern Netherlands.
In Gaul, a fusion of Roman and Germanic societies was occurring. During the period of Merovingian rule, the Franks reluctantly began to adopt Christianity following the baptism of Clovis I in 496, an event that inaugurated the alliance between the Frankish kingdom and the Roman Catholic Church. Unlike their Goth and Lombard counterparts, who adopted Arianism, the Salians adopted Catholic Christianity early on; they had an intimate relationship with their ecclesiastical hierarchy, subjects, and conquered territories.
The division of the Frankish kingdom among Clovis’s four sons (511) was a precedent that would influence Frankish history for more than four centuries. By then the Salic Law had established the exclusive right to succession of male descendants. However, this principle turned out to be an exercise in interpretation, rather than the simple implementation of a new model of succession. No trace of an established practice of territorial division can in fact be discovered among Germanic peoples other than the Franks.
By the 9th century, if not earlier, the division between Salian and Ripuarian Franks had in practice become virtually non-existent, but continued for some time to have implications for the legal system under which a person could go on trial. The adjective Salian, as applied to the Frankish people, is the origin of the name of the Salic Law.
See also 
- Dr.D.P.Blok, De Franken in Nederland, Holland: Bussum, 1979. ISBN 90-228-3739-4, p.17
- The ethnonym is unrelated to the name for the dancing priests of Mars, who were also called Salii.
- Perry, p. 48.
- K. Fischer Drew, The laws of the Salian Franks. Translated and with an Introduction by Katherine Fischer Drew (1991), 6
- Eutropius, Abridgement of Roman History Book IX:21
- Zosimus 1814; Musset 1975:68.
- Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae, Book XVII-8
- Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress
- Ammianus Marcellinus, History of the Later Roman Empire.
- Chisholm, Hugh (1910). Franks, In The Encyclopædia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information, V. 11, pp. 35–36.
- Gregory of Tours, Decem Libri Historiarum (Ten Books of Histories, better known as the Historia Francorum).
- Musset, Lucien : The Germanic Invasions: The Making of Europe, Ad 400-600,1975, ISBN 1-56619-326-5, p. 68.
- Orrin W. Robinson, Old English and its closest Relatives – A Study of the Earliest Germanic Languages.
- Perry, Walter Copland (1857). The Franks, from Their First Appearance in History to the Death of King Pepin. Longman, Brown, Green: 1857.
- Wood, Ian, The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751 AD. 1994.
- Zosimus (1814): New History, London, Green and Chaplin. Book 1.