The Imperial Coronation of Charlemagne

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History Essay

‘The Age of Charlemagne: Power and Religion in the early Medieval West'

‘Who planned Charlemagne's imperial coronation and why?'

The imperial coronation of Charlemagne has been a source of dispute between scholars of this era for a period of time, perhaps due to the fact that the sources available are often biased and the historical information, often vague. Historians have argued that perhaps it had been Charlemagne himself who instigated the coronation possibly as a means to consolidate his power and place himself and the Frankish empire on a par with the model in place in the Byzantine regions. Others have suggested that it was in fact the doing of the papacy at the time. Charlemagne had offered great support and interest in religious affairs and could be suggested that it had been a pre-emptive strike to ensure that the ruler did not take advantage of the weakening state of the papacy in this period. Also, Charlemagne offered to the papacy a strong figure of protection, some one that would defend their interests and aid a shift of religious power from Constantinople to Rome. However, the events leading up to his imperial coronation can not be established without first examining the relations between Charlemagne and the religious section, nor can either argument as to how the coronation came about, be dismissed without establishing the background to the event.

Charlemagne is known to be one of the most notable leaders from the Frankish reign and era. After Pepin the Short died in 768, his lands, the Frankish kingdom which he established had been divided by tradition between his two sons, Charlemagne and Carloman. However, after Carloman's death and the quick disposition of his two sons, the heirs to his portion of the kingdom, Charlemagne soon became the sole leader of the Franks. This consolidation of power on Charlemagne's part soon left him in a position of great supremacy and soon he began the military conquests that would mark his reign. By doing so, he not only was able to extend his control by establishing a supreme Frankish empire but also elated him into the realm of a ‘great' leader. The first ten years of his reign were marked by the traditional business of his house- fighting and military conquest. However, soon afterwards his military campaigns took on another role, not only that of conquest, expansion and plunder but now could be seen within his campaigns a growing sense of his Christian mission. One of the most notable crusades of this era is perhaps his fight against the Saxons, whom to Charlemagne were a fierce pagan people, settled along the course of the Wiser and Elbe rivers and east of the Rhine. At first these took the appearance of punitive expeditions to protect the Carolingian homeland of Austrasia and the territories between the Meuse and the Rhine rivers, which were rich trade routes. However as the Rhineland grew richer in trade, it was more imperative to defend it and coming hand in hand with this was the Christian idea of conquering a pagan people. It was as much a missionary effort as it was a military campaign. It was connoted by the church to Charlemagne that he was a Christian leader and as so it was his duty to eradicate paganism and convert the heathens. Also his campaigns against the Avars took on heavy religious undertones, elating Charlemagne into the realm of the Christian warrior. A series of rebellions brought the central period of Charlemagne's reign to an end. In order to prevent such events taking place again, Charlemagne ensured all took an oath of loyalty in the presence of his advisors. This was a serious undertaking and had significant religious overtones. His subjects had to swear complete loyalty to him, stating that they "will be most faithful man of the most pious Emperor, my lord Charles…May God and the saints that lie before me grant me their help; for to this end I shall devote and consecrate myself with all the intelligence that god has...
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