Archaeological excavations suggest that France has been continuously settled since 50,000 B.C. Celtic tribes migrated into the area in 1000 B.C. Between 59 and 52 B.C., the Romans under Julius Caesar conquered the region, which they called Gaul. Gaul remained under Roman domination until Germanic tribes, including the Franks under King Clovis I, invaded in the 5th century A.D.

Clovis founded the Merovingian dynasty of kings, who reigned until 751, when the last Merovingian king was deposed by a leader called Pepin, who founded the Carolingian dynasty. His son, Charlemagne, extended the kingdom into what are now parts of Germany, Italy and Spain.

In 987, Hugh Capet came to power. The Capetian dynasty consolidated royal authority over the feudal lords who controlled the regions of France. In 1328, Philippe VI became the first king of the Valois dynasty. Under the Valois, France and England fought the Hundred Years' War over land claimed by both countries. The war ended in 1453, and France reclaimed part of northwest France that had been occupied by the English.

In 1562, religious wars between the Catholics and the Huguenots (Protestants) divided the country. Henri IV, the first king of the Bourbon dynasty, brought an end to the conflict in 1593. During the reign of his grandson, Louis XIV (1643-1715), known as the Sun King, France became the most powerful country in Europe and established colonies in North America.

France lost its North American colonies in the Seven Years' War (1756-63). The war almost bankrupted the country. At the same time, the middle class was demanding an end to feudalism, which gave power to the nobility and the clergy. Economic problems and political unrest led to the French Revolution in 1789. During the Revolution, the king and many nobles were executed by guillotine. France became a republic.

When other European countries intervened to restore the French monarchy, Napoleon Bonaparte led the French armies to victory over Prussia, Austria, Italy and Spain. Napoleon declared himself emperor in 1804. He was defeated by the British and Prussians in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo. The French monarchy was restored in 1815, but was finally abolished in 1870.

   Did you know?
Paris gets its name from the Parisii, a Celtic tribe that lived on the banks of the River Seine in the 3rd century B.C.
In the 19th century France acquired colonies in East Asia and North Africa. In the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), France lost the regions of Alsace and Lorraine to Germany. During the First World War, northern France became a battlefield. After the war, Alsace and Lorraine were returned to France. In the Second World War, the Germans occupied northern France from 1940 to 1944. Southern France was governed from Vichy by Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain. The Free French, led by General Charles de Gaulle, carried on an active resistance to the German occupiers.

After the war, a new republic was established. In the 1950s, France lost its colonies in Indochina and North Africa. Massive student and labour protests in May 1968 led to widespread social reforms. Today, France is a member of the European Union.