Charlemagne and The Carolingians (750–987 AD)

Charlemagne was an 8th-century Frankish king who became Emperor thanks to the Roman Church’s support. He was depicted as a character of mythical proportions. Among other things, he was able to unite most of Central Europe’s scattered reigns derived from the fall of the Roman Empire. He imposed his dominion on these territories under his severe martial rule.

Portrait of charlemagne

Image source: by CircaSassy

After the fall of the Roman Empire in Western Europe, Charlemagne built an empire that stretched more than 800 miles from east to west. Although he ruled in an era referred to as a “Dark Age,” Charlemagne made his kingdom’s capital a center of learning.

The Holy Roman Empire

The Imperial Orb of the Holy Roman Empire

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The term Sacrum Romanum Imperium dates back to 1254, while the term Holy Empire dates back to 1157, and the term Roman Empire was used from 1034 to indicate the lands under the dominion of Conrad II. The term “Roman emperor” is older, it dates back to Otto II (died in 983). This title was not used by Otto II’s predecessors, from Charlemagne (or Charles I) to Otto I, who used the phrase imperator augustus (“august emperor”) without any territorial appendix. The first title used by Charlemagne, immediately after his coronation in 800, is “Charles, the most serene Augustus, crowned by God, great and peaceful emperor, who rules the Roman empire.” This clumsy formula was soon discarded.

Charlemagne Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire

Albert Durer, Portrait of Charlemagne in imperial regalia

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Charlemagne was crowned “emperor of the Romans” by Pope Leo III in 800 CE, thus restoring the Western Roman Empire for the first time since its dissolution in the 5th century. Charlemagne was chosen for a variety of reasons, including his long-standing protectorate over the papacy. His status as a protector became explicit in 799 when the pope was attacked in Rome and fled to Charlemagne for asylum. Subsequent negotiations ended with the reinstallation of Leo as pope and the coronation of Charlemagne as emperor of the Romans.

Charlemagne reign

The Holy Roman Empire between 972 and 1032

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The first three decades of Charlemagne’s reign were marked by a vast military campaign against the Saxons, which submitted in 804, after thirty years of struggles, betrayed truces, and bloody reprisals by the Franks. Among the activities of Charlemagne in Saxony were also simultaneous campaigns in Italy, Bavaria, and Spain where the latter ended in the defeat of the Franks and was later mythologized in the 11th-century French epic The Song of Roland. Charlemagne’s reputation as a warrior king was well deserved, he was able to extend his rule to much of Western Europe.

Carolingian Renaissance

Charlemagne facilitated an intellectual and cultural golden age during his reign known as the Carolingian Renaissance, after the Carolingian dynasty, to which he belonged. Charlemagne along with renowned intellectuals and religious created a series of goals designed to uplift the declining Christian people of Europe. Improving Latin literacy was primary among these goals, with the aim of improving administrative and ecclesiastical efficiency in the kingdom. A completely new writing system called Carolingian minuscule was established; libraries and schools proliferated, and new forms of art, poetry, and biblical exegesis flourished. The effects of Charlemagne’s cultural program were evident during his reign but especially later when the education infrastructure he created became the foundation upon which subsequent cultural and intellectual revivals were built.

Alcuin (pictured centre), was one of the leading scholars of the Carolingian Renaissance.

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