Stone tools indicate that early man was present in France at least 1.57 million years ago. The first modern humans appeared in the area 40,000 years ago. The first written records for the history of France appear in the Iron Age. What is now France made up the bulk of the region known to the Romans as Gaul. Roman writers noted the presence of three main ethno-linguistic groups in the area: the Gauls, the Aquitani, and the Belgae. The Gauls, the largest and best attested group, were a Celtic people speaking what is known as the Gaulish language.
Over the course of the first millennium BC the Greeks, Romans, and Carthaginians established colonies on the Mediterranean coast and the offshore islands. The Roman Republic annexed southern Gaul as the province of Gallia Narbonensis in the late 2nd century BC, and Roman forces under Julius Caesar conquered the rest of Gaul in the Gallic Wars of 58–51 BC. Afterwards a Gallo-Roman culture emerged and Gaul was increasingly integrated into the Roman Empire.
In the later stages of the Roman Empire, Gaul was subject to barbarian raids and migration, most importantly by the Germanic Franks. The Frankish king Clovis I united most of Gaul under his rule in the late 5th century, setting the stage for Frankish dominance in the region for hundreds of years. Frankish power reached its fullest extent under Charlemagne. The medieval Kingdom of France emerged out of the western part of Charlemagne's Carolingian Empire, known as West Francia, and achieved increasing prominence under the rule of the House of Capet, founded by Hugh Capet in 987.
Louis XIV (5 September 1638 – 1 September 1715), known as Louis the Great (Louis le Grand) or the Sun King (le Roi-Soleil), was a monarch of the House of Bourbon who ruled as King of France and Navarre. His reign of 72 years and 110 days is the longest of monarchs of major countries in European history.
Louis began his personal rule of France in 1661 after the death of his chief minister, the Italian Cardinal Mazarin. An adherent of the theory of the divine right of kings, which advocates the divine origin of monarchical rule, Louis continued his predecessors' work of creating a centralized state governed from the capital. He sought to eliminate the remnants of feudalism persisting in parts of France and, by compelling many members of the nobility to inhabit his lavish Palace of Versailles, succeeded in pacifying the aristocracy, many members of which had participated in the Fronde rebellion during Louis's minority. By these means he became one of the most powerful French monarchs and consolidated a system of absolute monarchical rule in France that endured until the French Revolution.
During Louis's reign, France was the leading European power and it fought three major wars: the Franco-Dutch War, the War of the League of Augsburg, and the War of the Spanish Succession. There were also two lesser conflicts: the War of Devolution and the War of the Reunions. Louis encouraged and benefited from the work of prominent political, military and cultural figures such as Mazarin, Colbert, the Grand Condé, Turenne and Vauban, as well as Molière, Racine, Boileau, La Fontaine, Lully, Marais, Le Brun, Rigaud, Bossuet, Le Vau, Mansart, Charles and Claude Perrault, and Le Nôtre.