Before the first century, many different tribes lived in the territory that is now known as France. A tribe called the Parisii lived in an area where the city of Paris was later established.
In about 50 B.C.E, after much fighting, Gaul (the former name of the French territory) was conquered by Roman Emperor Julius Caesar. This area progressively adopted the culture and habits introduced by the Roman colonies. In the fifth century C.E., tribes considered “barbarian” by the Romans put an end to the Roman domination of Gaul.
The Middle Ages
By the sixth century C.E., a tribe called the Franks was ruling over most of the territory now known as France. Its first king, named Clovis, converted to Catholicism.
In the 16th century, France saw the development of the Protestant movement. In 1534, fervent Protestants put up posters denouncing the Catholic Mass as idolatry. They even nailed a poster on the door of the king’s bedroom. As a result, King Francis I, who had tolerated criticism of the church only as long as it did not threaten public order and national unity, launched a fierce campaign of suppression. This led to a series of eight religious wars between Catholics and Protestants.
The Later Monarchy
The reign of Francis I introduced a period of consolidation of the territories of modern-day France.
In 1539, French replaced Latin as the official language of the country.
Of the kings of France, the most famous is probably Louis XIV, “the Sun King.” He ruled from 1643 until 1715. By the time of his death, his wars of conquest had produced a territory very similar to a map of modern-day France. During his reign he had the magnificent palace of Versailles built, at considerable expense.
The French Revolution
Perceived abuses by the royalty lead to revolts among the famished people. On July 14, 1789, angry mobs seized the Bastille fortress in Paris.
The resulting revolutionary government gradually introduced a vast plan for dechristianization of the country. The French Republic was eventually established. A period of upheaval led to the crowning of Napoleon Bonaparte (by himself) as emperor in 1804. An efficient organizer, he was involved in the writing of the Civil Code that is still in force today.
In 1889 and 1900, Paris hosted two Universal Exhibitions. These deeply influenced the way Paris looks today. Many famous monuments were built for these occasions, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Orsay museum. At the same time, a large underground transportation system was developed throughout Paris.
In 1905, a law separating Church and State was voted in. According to this law, “The Republic does not recognize, remunerate, or subsidize any religion."
During the second world war, much of France was occupied by the German army. Many of Jehovah’s Witnesses were deported to concentration camps in Germany.
France later became one of the six founding countries of the European Union. It adopted the Euro as currency in 2002, abandoning the French Franc.