(frăngkō'nēӘ), Ger. Franken, historic region and one of the five basic or stem duchies of medieval Germany, S Germany. The region was included in the Frankish kingdom of Austrasia, becoming in the 9th cent. a duchy and the center of the East Frankish (or East German) kingdom. It stretched from the western bank of the Rhine eastward along both banks of the Main and included the cities of Speyer, Worms, Mainz, Frankfurt, Würzburg, and Fulda. The name of the duchy survives in three administrative districts of Bavaria.
Ger. Unterfranken, 3,277 sq mi (8,487 sq km), is a hilly region in NW Bavaria, famous for the forested Spessart hills. It is traversed by the Main River. Agriculture is widely pursued, and industry is centered at Würzburg (the region's capital), Schweinfurt, and Aschaffenburg. Bad Kissingen is a noted resort.
Ger. Mittelfranken, 2,941 sq mi (7,617 sq km), in N central Bavaria, is a hilly, fertile region located in the Franconian Jura Mts. It is drained by the Altmühl, Rednitz, and Pegnitz rivers. Ansbach is the capital; Nürnberg, Fürth, and Erlangen are important industrial and cultural centers.
Ger. Oberfranken, 2,896 sq mi (7,501 sq km), in NE Bavaria, is a hilly, forested region, drained by the Main and Pegnitz rivers. It includes the Frankenwald and the Fichtelgebirge near the Czech border. Bayreuth, the capital, and Bamberg, Coburg, and Hof are the chief cities and industrial centers.
After the demise of the German Carolingian house with the death of Louis the Child, Duke Conrad of Franconia was elected (911) German king as Conrad I, but was unable to keep the royal crown in his family. As a result of the rebellion of Duke Eberhard, King Otto I seized the duchy in 939 and partitioned it; vast territories passed to the loyal clergy, notably to the bishops of Würzburg and Bamberg and to the abbot of Fulda.
Two nominal duchies—that of Western or Rhenish Franconia and that of Eastern Franconia—emerged. Rhenish Franconia, which gave the empire the Franconian or Salian dynasty (1024–1125; Conrad II, Henry III, Henry IV, and Henry V), broke up into the free cities of Frankfurt and Worms, the ecclesiastical states of Mainz and Speyer, the Rhenish Palatinate, the landgraviate of Hesse, and other territories. Eastern Franconia, which Emperor Henry V had awarded to his nephew Conrad of Hohenstaufen in 1115, came increasingly under the control of the bishops of Würzburg, who were given legal title by Emperor Frederick I in 1168.
The title of duke of Franconia fell into disuse until it was again assumed (15th cent.) by the bishops of Würzburg, who continued to use it until their bishopric was secularized at the beginning of the 19th cent. The margraviates of Ansbach and Bayreuth, under the Franconian branch of the house of Hohenzollern, were the main secular territories in Eastern Franconia. The division (16th cent.) of the Holy Roman Empire into circles resulted in the creation of the Franconian circle, which included the bishoprics of Würzburg and Bayreuth, the free imperial city of Nuremburg, and the margraviates of Ansbach and Bayreuth. Most of Eastern Franconia passed to Bavaria between 1803 and 1815, and in 1837 King Louis I of Bavaria revived the name Franconia by creating the administrative districts of Lower, Middle, and Upper Franconia.