Charlemagne

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Charlemagne (742-814), or Charles the Great (Carolus Magnus in Latin, and hence the adjective form 'Carolingian'), king of the Franks, nominally King of the Lombards and Roman Emperor. Arguably the founder of a Frankish Empire in Western Europe. Charlemagne was the elder son of Pepin the Short, and on the death of Pepin in 768 the kingdom was divided between Charlemagne and his brother Carloman. Carloman died in 771, leaving Charlemagne with a reunified Frankish kingdom.

In 800 at Mass on Christmas day in Rome, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor, a title that had been out of use in the West since the death of Romulus Augustulus in 476. He was succeeded by his only son to survive him, Louis the Pious, after whose reign the empire was divided between his surviving sons according to Frankish tradition. Much of it would later be reconstructed as the Holy Roman Empire, however.

It is difficult to undertand Charlemagne's attitude toward his daughters. None of them contracted a sacramental marriage. This may have been an attempt to control the number of potential alliances. After his death the surviving daughters entered or were forced to enter monasteries. At least one of them, Bertha, had a recognized relationship, if not a marriage, with a member of the court circle. She had at least 2 sons by Angilbert, a member of Charlemagne's court.

cultural significance

Charlemagne's reign is often referred to as the Carolingian Renaissance because of the flowering of scholarship, literature, art and architecture. Most of the surviving works of classical Latin were copied and preserved by Carolingian scholars. The pan-European nature of Charlemagne's influence is indicated by the origins of many of the men who worked for him: Alcuin, an Anglo-Saxon; Theodulf, a Visigoth; Paul the Deacon, a Lombard; and Angilbert and Einhard, Franks.


Charlemagne enjoyed an important afterlife in European culture. One of the great medieval literature cycles, the Charlemagne cycle centers around the deeds of Charlemagne's historical commander of the Breton border, Roland. Charlemagne himself was accorded sainthood inside the Holy Roman Empire after the 12th Century.

unification legacy

The greatest European unifiers: Frederick Barbarossa, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Jean Monnet, and present leaders such as Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schröder have all mentioned Charlemagne's name in the context of unification.