Metropolitan France was settled during the Iron Age by Celtic tribes known as Gauls. Rome annexed the area in 51 BC, leading to a distinct Gallo-Roman culture that laid the foundation of the French language.
In the High Middle Ages, France was a powerful but highly decentralised feudal kingdom. Philip II successfully strengthened royal power and defeated his rivals to double the size of the crown lands; by the end of his reign, France had emerged as the most powerful state in Europe.
From the mid-14th to the mid-15th century, France was plunged into a series of dynastic conflicts involving England, collectively known as the Hundred Years’ War, and a distinct French identity emerged as a result.
France reached its political and military zenith in the early 19th century under Napoleon Bonaparte, subjugating much of continental Europe and establishing the First French Empire.
The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars shaped the course of European and world history.