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The Merovingians were a dynasty of Frankish kings who ruled a (frequently fluctuating) area in parts of present-day France and Germany from the 5th to 8th century AD. They were sometimes referred to as the "long-haired kings" by contemporaries, though the significance of their long hair is not clear.

The Merovingian dynasty (see List of Frankish Kings) owes its name to Merovech (sometimes Latinised as Meroveus or Merovius), leader of the Salian Franks from about 447 to 457, and emerges into wider history with the victories of Childeric I (reigned about 457-481) against the Visigoths, Saxons and Alamanni. Childeric's son Clovis I went on to unite most of Gaul north of the Loire (486), to adopt Roman Catholicism (496), and to decisively defeat the Visigothic kingdom of Toulouse in the Battle of Vouillé (507).

In the early 7th century, the Merovingian kings began to allot more and more day-to-day administration to a powerful official in their household called the maior domo. This Latin title literally translates to "big man in the house"; the usual English translation is Mayor of the Palace, although this official was not a mayor in the modern sense of the word. The office of Mayor of the Palace itself became hereditary in the Carolingian family. Soon the Mayors were the real military and political leaders of the Frankish kingdom, a fact that became manifest when, in 732, an invading Arab army from Spain was defeated by an army led not by the King, but by the Mayor Charles Martel. The contemporary Merovingian kings of this period are by comparison shadowy figures who did not travel beyond their palaces or have much influence over government.

Charles' son, the Mayor Pippin III, gathered support among Frankish nobles for a change in dynasty. When the Pope appealed to him for assistance against the Lombards, he insisted that the church sanction his coronation in exchange. So, in 751, Childeric III, the last Merovingian, was deposed. He was allowed to live, but his long hair was cut and he was sent to a monastery.

Merovingian coins are on display at Monnaie de Paris, (the French Mint) at 11, quai de Conti, Paris, France.

According, however, to the esoteric version of history promulgated by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln in their book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, the Merovingian kings were direct descendants of Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ once they arrived in southern France following Christ's crucifixion and "resurrection." The authors further claim that the Roman church killed off all remnants of this dynasty -- the Cathar heresy of Languedoc and the Templars -- during the Inquisition, in order to gain power through the "spiritual" dynasty of Peter instead of the "holy blood" (i.e. Sangreal) of Mary Magdalene's descendants. Most historians do not accept these theories.

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The Merovingian is also a character in the Science Fiction films Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.