Government and Politics

Carolingian Empire

Why is Charlemagne so well known?

Charlemagne’s popularity with history students is due not only to the ruler’s great accomplishments during his lifetime, but also to the fact that these accomplishments were documented: His biography, titled Vita Caroli Magni (The Life of Charlemagne) was written by a fellow named Einhard (c. 770–840), who was his adviser.

Charlemagne (742–814), or Charles the Great, became king of the western Franks when his father, Pepin the Short (c. 714–768) died in 768. Upon the death of his brother, Carloman, in 771, Charles became king of all the Franks. He then went on to conquer much of western Europe, including Saxony, Lombardy, northeastern Spain, and Bavaria. He sometimes employed brutal tactics in bringing people and regions under control: During the last two decades of the eighth century, he used mass executions to subdue Saxon rebellions. Charlemagne succeeded in uniting all of these areas under one empire, and on Christmas Day 800, he had Pope Leo III (c. 750–816) crown him Emperor of the West, thus initiating the Holy Roman Empire. As a patron of the arts, literature, and science, Charlemagne revived western Europe, which had been in decline since the fall of the West Roman Empire (in 476). He is credited with laying the foundation for the Holy Roman Empire and the European civilization that developed later in the Middle Ages. He ruled until his death in 814.


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