Carolingian Empire and Charlemagne History

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Charlemagne

History 101 - Fast Forward
Fall 1996
PREPARED BY:
SUBMITTED: September 30, 1996

Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, King of the Franks (742-814), was a strong leader who unified Western Europe through military power and the blessing of the Church. His belief in the need for education among the Frankish people was to bring about religious, political, and educational reforms that would change the history of Europe.

Charlemagne was born in 742 at Aachen, the son of Pepin(or Pippin) the Short and grandson of Charles Martel. His grandfather, Charles, had begun the process of unifying western Europe, in the belief that all people should be Christian. Charlemagne's father, Pepin, continued this process throughout his rule and passed his beliefs on to Charlemagne. All three, in addition to the political unification, believed that the church should be reformed and reorganized under the Pope, which helped their rise to power as the Carolingian Dynasty. (Holmes 74)

Upon Pepin's death in 768, Charlemagne and his brother, Carloman, each inherited half of the Frankish kingdom. Pepin, in the Merovingian tradition of the time, split his kingdom between his two sons. Three years later Carloman died and Charlemagne took control of the entire kingdom. He inherited great wealth and a powerful army, built by his father and grandfather. Charlemagne used the army and his own skillful planning to more than double the size of the Frankish Kingdom. (Halsall 15)

The world of Charlemagne was a heathen one, with many warring tribes or kingdoms. Many of these tribes were conquered by Charlemagne, among them the Aquitanians, the Lombards, the Saxons, the Bretons, the Bavarians, the Huns, and the Danes. The longest of these battles was against the Saxons, lasting thirty-three years. Charlemagne actually defeated them many times, but due to their faithlessness and their propensity to return to their pagan lifestyle, the Saxons lost many lives in the prolonged battles with the Franks. With each conquest the Frankish kingdom grew, and with growth came additional power and responsibility for Charlemagne. In each area of Europe that was taken over by Charlemagne, he removed the leaders if they would not convert to Christianity and appointed new ones, usually someone with high position in the Church. Those people who refused to convert or be baptized in the church were put to death. (Holmes 75)

The Church played a vital role in the kingdom of Charlemagne. It gave a sense of stability to Charlemagne's rule, and he in turn provided stability in the Church. The people conquered by Charlemagne, after being converted to Christianity, were taught through the Bible a unified code of right and wrong. It was necessary for the Church to play a role in this education of the people, because only the clergy were educated. (Boussard 92) The Church also guided Charlemagne's hand as a ruler, for he took on many conquests as a necessity to spread the Christian religion throughout Europe. (Ganshoff 19) Indeed, it appears that Charlemagne's desire to spread his kingdom and government was intertwined with his desire to spread the Christian religion and have the people live according to the Word of God. (Ganshoff 25)

At the beginning of the Carolingian dynasty the Church was suffering from many problems. Paganistic peoples, a degradation of the Latin language, and the decline of power of the Pope or Papacy all contributed to the need for a leader to bring about reformation. Charles Martel, Pepin, and ultimately Charlemagne all took as their personal responsibility the reorganization of the Church. Each one, as king of the Franks, saw it his duty to better the state of his churches. (Ganshoff 205) Charlemagne, through the monasteries and ultimately the "Palace School", required all priests to learn classic Latin. His purpose was to insure that church services were always conducted in the proper...
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