Franks (Lat. Franci, OFr. Francs) is probably the most common term used in medieval sources and modern scholarship to designate the ruling and privileged classes in the various principalities of Outremer, Cyprus, and Greece that were established in the course of the crusades. The Franks who occupied and settled these countries were of western European origin; they belonged to the Latin (Roman Catholic) Church and were predominantly French-speaking, key characteristics that were retained by the descendants of the original settlers, thus distinguishing them from the subject populations of the lands they controlled.
The term Franks in this sense most probably derives from established Byzantine and Arabic usages. During the migration period of Late Antiquity, the Franks, a Germanic people, conquered much of western Europe, expanding their dominion under the Merovingian and Carolingian (751-987) dynasties. Although the Frankish Carolingian Empire had fragmented into various successor kingdoms by the beginning of the crusade movement, the Byzantines continued to use Frangoi, the Greek word for Franks, as a generic designation for all Westerners. Similarly, Arabic speakers used the word al-Ifranj to refer to Western Christians in distinction to the Greek-speaking Byzantines. The Latin chronicles of the First Crusade (1096-1099) reveal a diverse use of the Latin term Franci (sing. Francus). In some contexts the word is applied only to those crusaders who were originally subjects of the king of France. However, it is also used to refer to all members of the crusader armies, irrespective of nationality or origins, particularly with reference to the later stages of the crusade and the beginning of the Latin settlement in Syria and Palestine. It seems likely that the chronicles, some of which were composed by eyewitnesses, reflect actual linguistic usage; having become familiar with Byzantine and Arabic terms for “Franks” in the course of the crusade, the crusaders themselves and, increasingly, their descendants who remained in the East adopted the name as a convenient self-designation to reflect the realities of life in a region where their own diverse origins were far less important than the crucial social and legal distinctions between dominant Latin Westerners on the one hand and the various native peoples on the other. The Arabic, Syriac, and Armenian sources that touch on events in Outremer generally refer to its Latin Christian inhabitants as Franks in their own languages.
This usage, which first developed during the conquest and settlement of Outremer, extended to the Westerners who ruled Cyprus after the Third Crusade (1189-1192), and to those who established their own principalities in Constantinople and Greece after the overthrow of the Byzantine Empire by the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204). The Greek term Frankokratia (“rule of the Franks”) is often encountered in modern scholarship with reference to the period of Frankish domination in former Byzantine territories.