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Plato An Early Influential Thinker Essay Research

Plato: An Early Influential Thinker Essay, Research Paper

The Conquests, Coronation, and Rule of Charlemagne

Jamie L. Wood

Western Civilization Paper #2

Tuesday, November 10, 1998

Charlemagne one of the most ambitious, aggressive, and noble kings of medieval

times. He ruled the Franks from 768 to 814 and became Emperor of the Romans from

800-814. During his tenure as Emperor of the Romans Charlemagne created an empire

that would be the envy and model for many ambitious monarchs to follow. The

coronation of Charlemagne as emperor goes beyond the conflict between Church and

state. It is a symbolic event. Charlemagne?s coronation marks the union of the Roman

and the German civilizations, and the union of the Mediterranean and the northern


Charlemagne was born in Northern Europe on April 2, 742. He was born the first

of two sons to the Mayor of the Palace and Frankish King, Pepin the Short, and

Bertrade (?Bertha Greatfoot?). Charlemagne?s father, Pepin the short, was elevated by

decree of the Roman Pope Stephen II, from the rank of Mayor of the Palace to that of

King and ruled alone over the Franks from 752 to 768. On September 24, 768, Pepin

died of dropsy. At that time he was in Paris. It was towards the end of the Aquitanian

War, which he had undertaken with William, Duke of Aquitania, for nine consecutive

years. Following the death of Pepin his two sons, Charlemagne and Carloman

succeeded him, ?upon whim, by the grace of God, the succession devolved. (Einhard

par. 3).?

October 9, 786, the Franks appointed Charlemagne and Carloman each as kings.

The kingdom was equally divided between them. Ultimately, Charlemagne ruled the part

that had belonged to their father, Pepin the Short, and Carloman ruled the part which

their uncle, Carloman had governed. However, shortly thereafter and in 771, Carloman

died, and Charlemagne became sole ruler of the entire kingdom.

Charlemagne was reportedly tall, powerful, and tireless. His secretary, Einhard,

wrote that Charlemagne had fair hair and a ?face laughing and merry . . . . his

appearance was always stately and dignified (Einhard par. 22).? He had a ready wit ,

but could be stern. He was typical of the Franks in his love for hunting and for feasting,

but Einhard notes that his king drank in moderation– a mere three cups of wine with a

meal. Charlemagne was a ruthless king. However equally notable was his

perseverance, his ability to organize, and his ability to carry through a plan. One more

important attribute of Charlemagne was his physical energy. He was able to work longer

and more arduous hours than his commanders or his secretaries.

Charlemagne?s character was contradictory. ?All the rest of his life he was

regarded by everyone with the utmost love and affection, so much that not the least

accusation of unjust rigor was ever made against him (Einhard par. 20).? Notably, in an

age when the usual penalty for defeat was death, Charlemagne was known to spared

the lives of his defeated opponents. Yet in 782 at Verden, after a Saxon uprising, he

ordered about 4,500 Saxons beheaded. He forced kings and princes to kneel at his feet,

yet his mother and two of his favorite wives often overruled him in his own household.

He obliged the clergy and nobles to reform, on the other hand, but he divorced two of his

four wives without any known cause being reported therefore.

During Charlemagne?s reign, he was determined to strengthen his realm and

bring order to Europe. He launched a thirty-year campaign to accomplish this objective.

More than fifty military expeditions were sent out by Charlemagne to increase the Frank

kingdom by almost doubling it during his forty-seven years of reign:

?The authority of the Franks was formerly

confined to that part of Gaul included between the Rhine and

the Loire, the Ocean and the Balearic Sea; to that part of

Germany which is inhabited by the so-called Eastern Franks,

and is bounded by Saxony and the Danube, the Rhine and

the Saale- this stream separates the Thuringians from the

Sorabians? and to the country of the Alemannir and bavarians

. . . . he first made tributary Auitania, Gascony, and the whole

of the region of the Pyrenees as far as the River Ebro, which

rises n the land of the Navarrese, flows through the most

fertile districts of Spain, and empties into the Balearic Sea,

beneath the walls of the city of Tortosa. He next reduced

and made tributary all Italy from Aosta to Lower Calabria,

where the boundary line runs between the Beneventans and

the Greeks, a territory more than a thousand miles long; then

Saxony, which constitutes no small part of Germany . . . . in

addition both Pannonias, Draca beyond the Danube, and

Istria, Liburnia, and Dalmatia . . . . he vanquished and made

tributary all the wild and barbarous tribes dwelling in

Germany between the Rhine and Vistula, the Ocean and the

Danube (Einhard par. 15)?

After bringing the war begun by Charlemagne?s father with Aquitania to an end,

Charlemagne was persuaded in 773 by Hadrian, Bishop of the city of Rome, to declare

war on the Lombards of Italy. Charlemagne was married to the sister of the Lombard

king, Desidrius. However, Charlemagne was no longer interested in maintaining the

marriage so he repudiated her and sent her away claiming the marriage was not valid.

The enraged Desidrius immediately began plotting to rebel against Charlemagne. When

this conspiracy was discovered, Charlemagne had all the reason needed to justify an

invasion of Italy in order to dethrone Desiderius. Charlemagne sent the captured king off

to a monastery and proceeded to claim the royal title for himself, thus, ending the age of

the Lombards.

The conquest of the Saxons was a much more lengthy mission. Saxony was still

ruled by Saxons, who had remained pagan. ?No war ever undertaken by the Frank

nation was carried on with such persistence and bitterness, or cost so much labor,

because the Saxons, like almost all the tribes of Germany, were a fierce people, given to

the worship of devils, and hostile to our religion, and did not consider it dishonorable to

transgress and violate all law, human and divine (Einhard par. 7).? In 772, Charlemagne

decided that it was in the best interests of both the realm and Church that he end all

Saxon rule.

The war with the Saxons lasted for thirty-three successive years because of the

Saxon?s faithfulness. Many times they were defeated and humbly succumbed to

Charlemagne. However, the next year he was pre-occupied by the war with Lombardy,

and the Saxon chiefs ignored their oath to receive missionaries and to send tributes

payments to the Christian King.

Saxons continued to rebel by killing Christian priests, rebuilding their pagan

temples and refusing to pay the tribute money. In 783, Charles himself fought in two

battles with the Saxons on Mount Osning and the other battle on the bank of the Hase

river. He once again devastated the land, defeated their armies, and converted their

chiefs. In return the Saxons rebelled, yet again. Lead by a war chief named Widukind,

the Saxons were so thoroughly destroyed by Charlemagne?s army that further Saxon

resistance was impossible. After finally conquering the Saxons, Charlemagne took ten

thousand of the residents living on the banks of the Elbe and resettled them into other

lands. The Saxon culture was destroyed to the point where it would not rebel again.

In the middle of the vigorous and nearly continual struggles with the Saxons

Charlemagne covered the frontier by military forces at the proper points and marched

over the Pyrenees into Spain leading all the forced he was able to assemble. All the

towns and castles that he attacked surrendered, and until the time of his homeward

march he endured no loss. However, on his return through the Pyrenees he had cause

to be sorry for the disloyalties of the Gascons. The great threat from Spain were the


Charlemagne?s march over the Pyreness enabled him and his armies to win back

a couple of cities and establish the territories of his realm. This venture was known as

the Spanish March. During his retreat over the mountains, Charles had in his trail his

booty of goods and winnings. The Pyrenees were a perfect place for an ambush for the

reason that the area was densely populated with both Moslems and Basques, neither of

whom cared for the Franks. Charles set a rear guard to cover his retreat. The theory of

having this rear guard was that it would ensure that no Moslem army would advance

suddenly and catch Charlemagne on the march. Once his army safely crossed over the

mountains the rear guard was to catch up and rejoin the main force. The young Brenton

prince, Roland, was the captain of the rear guard. Roland?s force was ambushed and he,

along with the rest of his men, died while sacrificing himself and his men for their king.

Many of Charlemagne?s men fell due to this ambush, including Eggihard, the King?s

steward; Anselm, Count Palatine; and Roland, Governor of the March of Brittany.

Charlemagne had conquered many other lands as the result of several

campaigns during his rule, such as: the Brentons in 787, the Bavarian in 788, the Slavic

War in 789, The war with the Huns in 791, and the Danish War in 805. These

conquered territories had a significant affect on the shape of politics throughout the rest

of the Middle Ages. The campaigns tied northern Italy to the Empire; claimed French

kings to Navarre (the Spanish March); eliminated the Saxons, Lombards, and Avars;

and claimed French kings to parts of what would later be Germany. By establishing a

central government over Western Europe, Charlemagne restored much of the unity of

the old Roman Empire and paved the way for the development of modern Europe.

?Having thus established Frankish rule over so many other peoples, Charlemagne

had in fact built an empire and become an emperor. It remained only for him to add the

title (Little, par. 5).? On Christmas Day in 800, while Charlemagne knelt in prayer in

Saint Peter?s Basilica in Rome, ?Pope Leo III placed upon his head the imperial crown,

did him formal reverence after the ancient manner, saluted him as Emperor and

Augustus and anointed him, while the Roman?s present burst out with the acclamation,

thrice repeated: ?To Carolus Augustus crowned by God, mighty and pacific emperor, be

life and victory? (Shahan, par.25).?

Charlemagne administered the Frankish realm by appointing counts to rule

particular regions within France. Above the counts were dukes, who were the provincial

governors whose duty it was to govern the principal divisions of the realm. However,

Charlemagne found this system to be inefficient. He knew that there was a constant

tendency for his dukes and counts to act independently of him and ignore

Charlemagne?s order. To change this tendency, Charles appointed missi dominici, or

servants of the lord. The court officers would act as inspectors who investigated the

behavior of royal officials and reported back to the court. They carried all the prestige of

Charlemagne and, therefore, could imply the threat of his power.

Charlemagne created two main bodies of law; imperial law and local law. The

different peoples that made up the Carolingian empire continued to live according to

their own national laws. In order to rule the conquered peoples, Charlemagne sent out

scholars to study the laws and interview those who knew the laws of the individual

tribes. He then had the laws published and enforced. The imperial laws were superior to

the local laws. Charlemagne issued these laws which affected everyone and were

imposed throughout his realm.

Charlemagne believed that government should be for the benefit of the governed.

He was a tireless reformer who tried to improve his people?s lives by working to spread

education and Christianity in every class of people. However, most importantly, the

coronation of Charlemagne marks the beginning of European history, for only now do we

begin to see a formation such as Europe. His many campaigns and conquests unified

the land by establishing a system of government and rule.


Einhard. ?The Life of the Emperor Charles.? (Samuel Epes Turner, trans.) n. pag.

Online. Internet. August 1996. Available


Little, Lester K. ?Charlemagne.? Microsoft Encarta Encyclopaedia. 1998

Pirenne, Henri. Mohammed and Charlemagne. New Jersey: Barnes and Noble

Books, 1980.

Riche, Pierre. Daily Linfe in the World of Charlemagne. (Jo Ann McNamara, trans.)

Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978.

Shahan, Thomas S. ?The Catholic Encyclopedia: Charlemagne.? n.pag. Online.

Internet. 1996. Available http://www.knight.org/advent/cathen/03610c.htm.