Western Civ Paper on Charlemagne

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Brittany Hall
May 4, 2009
Professor Drummond
Western Civilization

Charlemagne the Great Military Leader

Charlemagne's reign was consumed with wars in which he was successful. He never had to confront a first-class enemy in battle. Charlemagne inherited a well-trained Frankish Kingdom from his martial father and grandfather. His wars, however, were of high importance for history; especially the conquest of the Saxons and the Lombards which implied the bringing of much of Germany and Italy into the circle of "The Holy Roman Empire," and of medieval civilization. Through a careful reading of Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne and Einhard’s The War of Charlemagne, I will demonstrate that Charlemagne was a great, powerful, and strategic military leader, through the conquest of the Saxons and Lombardy, his control of his military forces, and the influence of the church. Although some of the territory in Charlemagne’s empire came to him through inheritance and through diplomatic negotiations and alliances, he won other parts by conquests. During the early years of his reign, Charlemagne conquered lands in all directions. He invaded Italy, and seized the crown of the Lombard kings and took over northern Italy. Charlemagne’s conflict with Lombardy expanded his empire and strengthens the Frankish military. Charlemagne was usually victorious with the battles he fought in, especially the conquest of the Saxons and the Lombards. As recorded in Einhard’s The Wars of Charlemagne, “The King, however, pressed them with unvarying purpose despite great difficulties and either took the field against them himself, or sent his courts against them with a host to wreak vengeance and exact due satisfaction. The war that had lasted so many years at last terminated when the Saxons gave way to the terms proffered by the King; namely, the renunciation of their native religious cults and devil-worship, the acceptance of the Christian sacraments, and union with the Franks into one people”

Charlemagne conquered these battles because he never backed down. By winning these battles he was able to expand his kingdom. His armies dominated the battlefield and their victories led to the uniting of the Franks, which became the cornerstone of European Civilization. By uniting his empire, he was able to keep order and control many peoples. The most dangerous and protracted struggles of Charlemagne’s reign came when he invaded Saxony in 772. From 773 on, the Saxons launched periodic attacks on Frankish lands, once penetrating as far as Cologne under their leader Wittekind. While their raids inflicted great destruction, Charlemagne responded with fire and sword, and eventually Charlemagne achieved total conquest and forced the people of Saxony to convert to Christianity. He prescribed death for any Saxon who refused to be baptized.

Charlemagne made smart attacks that enabled him to protect the empire. Charlemagne conquered the Saxons which shows how he must have been a smart, great, and strategic military leader. As recorded in Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne, “Charles himself fought but two pitched battles in this war…The enemy we so routed and overthrown in these two battles that they never afterwards ventured to take the offensive or to resist the attacks of the King, unless they were protected by a strong… So many and grievous were the wars that were declared against the Franks in the meantime, and skillfully conducted by the King, the one may reasonably question whether his fortitude or his good fortune is to be more admired. … The King, who excelled all the princes of his time in wisdom and greatness of soul… for he trained himself to bear and endure whatever, came, without yielding in adversity, or trusting to the deceitful favors of fortune and prosperity.”

Charlemagne never gave up and endured whatever came his way, which demonstrates how he was a great military leader. Charlemagne undertook many successful campaigns which show...
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