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Charlemagne, 742-814

charlemagne.jpg (11639 bytes)Carolus Magnus, Charles the Great, king of the Franks and Roman emperor, was born perhaps at Aachen, and was the eldest son of Pepin the Short (c.715-768) and grandson of Charles Martel (c.688-741). Upon the death of Pepin in 768, Charles and his brother Carloman (751-771) jointly succeeded to the throne and on Carloman's death in 771, Charles became sole king.

At the request of Pope Adrian I, he crossed the Alps in 773, and overthrew the Lombard kingdom, confirming Ravenna to the papal see. In 775 he was again reducing the Saxons (having already fought them in 772). In 776 he suppresses an insurrection in Italy; and in 777 secured the submission of the Saxon chiefs. From Spain, to which he had gone to fight to Moors and the Arabs (778), he was summoned to crush the Saxons. In 778 he was in Rome. The Saxons, rising once in arms once again, destroyed a Frankish army in 782, which Charlemagne fearfully avenged. A more general uprising followed, but in 783-785, the Frankish monarch persuaded the chiefs to submit to baptism and become his faithful vassals. In 788 Bavaria was absorbed into his dominions, and next the country of the Avars to the Raab; the eastern "mark," the nucleus of the Austrian empire, being established to defend the frontier there (798).

aachen.jpg (64129 bytes)In 800 Charlemagne marched into Italy to support Pope Leo III against the rebellious Romans, and on Christmas Day 800, in St. Peter's Church, Charlemagne was crowned by the Pope, and saluted as Carolus Augustus, emperor of the Romans. The remaining years of his reign were spent in further consolidating his vast empire, which extended from the Ebro to the Elbe. Bishoprics were established in Saxon country and many of the Slavs beyond the Elbe were subjugated.

The emperor zealously promoted education, agriculture, arts, manufactures and commerce. He built sumptuous palaces, particularly at Aachen and Ingelheim near Bingen, and many churches. Learned men were encouraged to come to his court, and he himself could speak Latin and read Greek. His fame spread to all parts of the Continent. The emperor, who was of most commanding presence, was buried at Aachen. His reign signified the noble attempt to create order and Christian culture among the various nations of the west, but as his successors were at best weaklings, Charlemagne's empire fell to pieces in the 9th century.

Einhard's Life of Charlemagne remains one of the greatest biographical works of the early medieval period. The Catholic Encyclopedia has excellent short biographies of both Charlemagne and Einhard.

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