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Introduction

Charlemagne (c. 74?-814), also known as Charles the Great, was the eldest of two sons born to Pepin the Short and Bertrada of Laon on April 2, 74? It is unknown the exact birthplace of Charlemagne, “although historians have suggested Liege in present-day Belgium and Aachen in modern-day Germany as possible locations” (history.com Staff, 2009). Upon Pepin’s death in 768, the Franks kingdom was divided between Charlemagne and his younger brother Carloman. Charlemagne ruled solely following the untimely death of his brother Carloman in 771. Never taking into consideration Carloman’s heirs, Charlemagne took control of the entire Frankish empire. Charlemagne was from the Carolingian dynasty. “The family consolidated its power in the late 8th century, eventually making the offices of the Mayor Of the Palace and dux et princes Francorum hereditary and being the de facto rulers of the Franks as the real powers behind the throne. By 751, the Merovingian Dynasty, which until then had ruled the Franks by right, was deprived of this right with the consent of the Papacy and the aristocracy, and a Carolingian, Pepin the Short, was crowned King of the Franks. The Carolingian Dynasty reached its peak with the crowning of Charlemagne as the first emperor in the west in over three centuries” (wikipedia.org volunteer, 2014).

Coronation of the Emperor

Charles the Great ruled from 771 to 814 and sought to unite all Germanic tribes into one kingdom thus converting his subjects to Christianity. Charlemagne’s father, Pepin the Short formed alliances with Pope Stephen II to protect Rome in return for papal sanction of the right of Pepin’s dynasty to the Frankish throne. Pepin did restrain Lombard threats upon Rome. He also granted the papacy a block of land across central Italy (Donation of Pepin, in 756) which formed the basis of the Papal States, over which the pope ruled. Charlemagne served as an inspiration for Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler, who had visions of ruling a unified Europe. Charlemagne was the new ruler of the Roman Empire, which had not been accomplished since the previous three centuries. Charlemagne was crowned as the “emperor of the Roman Empire in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Christmas Day A.D. 800 by Pope Leo III, in the first imperial coronation in the West since the late 6th century” (Cunningham, Reich, 1985, p. 158). Leo had good reason to be grateful to Charlemagne. Leo had been driven from Rome by conspiracy and riot in 799, and took refuge with Charlemagne. Charlemagne restored calm to the holy city as he had a buffer between the Christian West and Spain’s Muslims. He destroyed the Longobard’s of northern Italy, which were a long-term threat to the independence of papal rule.

Accomplishments

Charlemagne, the new ruler of Rome, also had a great desire to model his Palace at Aachen on that of ancient Rome. His crowning ceremony at Saint Peter’s Basilica as the emperor of Rome symbolized the fusion of the ancient imperial ideal with the notion of Christian destiny. The entire palace, excluding the chapel, was replaced with the Aachen city hall. The palace itself was a long one-story building; its main room was the large royal hall, which measured roughly 140 by 60 feet. Richly decorated with Byzantine legates, the room had focal points at the western end, the emperor’s throne. In the front of the palace was an open courtyard surrounded by outbuildings and apartments for the royal family. Around the year 800, the courtyard held a great bronze statue of Theodoric, once king of the Ravenna Ostrogoths, that Charlemagne brought back from Ravenna to adorn his palace. The royal hall was joined to Charlemagne’s chapel by a long wooden gallery. The central-planned chapel, based on an octagon, was modeled after the San Vitale in Ravenna, a church visited and admired by Charlemagne. The chapel’s octagon formed the main nave of the church, surrounded by cloisters; the building was two stories. At the eastern end of the chapel was an altar dedicated to Christ, with a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary directly below it. The central space was crowned with an octagonal cupola, the lower part bursting with light from numerous windows, the main source of light in the church.

Long Lasting Affects

Charlemagne, Charles the Great, was the beginning and end of the Frankish rule under one rule as once held by Caesar of the Roman Empire. Very little is known about Charlemagne, the man, or his education but he spoke Latin, and understood Greek but could barely write his own name. He felt there was a need for trained men in government. He did a great deal to promote education, and he drew many scholars to his court in Aachen. The revival of learning which took place is sometimes called the Carolingian Renaissance. “John the Scot, who studied in Ireland, was one of the few men in the empire at the time who knew Greek. He wrote the most original work on philosophy in the entire early Middle Ages in the West (Judd, 1966, pg. 132). Alcuin, who studied in Ireland, hailed from York in northern England, came to direct Charlemagne’s palace school. “Other scholars developed a clear script, with small rather than capital letters, which became standard in Europe” (Judd, 1966, pg. 132).

Death and Aftermath

Soon after the death of Charlemagne, his grandsons divided the territory into three domains at the Treaty of Verdun in 843. He married four times and had numerous concubines. Of his eighteen children, he only had four legitimate grandsons. In addition, Charlemagne had an illegitimate grandson, Bernard, son of Pippin of Italy, who was included in the line of inheritance. It does not appear that the new leaders possessed the political fortitude as Charlemagne. Even these three huge kingdoms were only considered as states. The effective power of government was already changing hands from the kings to the great landed nobles. Crowned as the emperor of Rome and King of the Franks, his kingdom fell as did its predecessor, the ancient Roman empire.

References

Cunningham, L., & Reich, J. (1985). Culture And Values. CBS College Publishing History.com Staff (2009). Charlemagne. History.com. Retrieved March 27, 2014 from www.history.com/topics/charlemagne Judd, G. (1966). A History Of Civilization. The MacMillan Company Wikipedia.org Volunteers (2014). Carolingian Dynasty. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved March 27, 2014 from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolingian_dynasty#References_and_sources History


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