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Clovis was the son of Childeric I, a Merovingian king of the Salian Franks, and Basina, a Thuringian princess.

In 481, at the age of fifteen, Clovis succeeded his father.

While the theology of the Arians was declared a heresy at the First Council of Nicea in 325, the missionary work of the bishop Ulfilas converted the pagan Goths to Arian Christianity in the 4th century.

By the time of the ascension of Clovis, Gothic Arians dominated Christian Gaul, and Catholics were the minority.

Clotilde had wanted her son to be baptized, but Clovis refused to allow it, so Clotilde had the child baptized without Clovis's knowledge.

Shortly after his baptism, their son died, and his death further strengthened Clovis's resistance to conversion.

Gregory of Tours recorded the systematic campaigns following Vouillé to eliminate the other Frankish "reguli", or sub-kings, including Sigobert the Lame and his son Chlodoric the Parricide; Chararic, another king of the Salian Franks; Ragnachar of Cambrai, his brother Ricchar, and their brother Rignomer of Le Mans.

He secured an alliance with the Ostrogoths through the marriage of his sister Audofleda to their king, Theodoric the Great.

A few years later, he killed Ragnachar, the Frankish king of Cambrai, along with his brothers.

Another victory followed in 491 over a small group of Thuringians to the east.

Clovis is also significant due to his conversion to Christianity in 496, largely at the behest of his wife, Clotilde, who would later be venerated as a saint for this act, celebrated today in both the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church. The adoption by Clovis of Catholicism (as opposed to the Arianism of most other Germanic tribes) led to widespread conversion among the Frankish peoples, to religious unification across what is now modern-day France, Belgium and Germany, and three centuries later to Charlemagne's alliance with the Bishop of Rome and in the middle of the 10th century under Otto I the Great to the consequent birth of the early Holy Roman Empire.

Numerous small Frankish kingdoms existed during the 5th century.

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