Understanding Historical Change: Medieval History



King of the Franks,

Emperor of the Romans

Coin of Charlemagne: inscription reads KAROLVS IMP AVG


Charlemagne’s wars of expansion, diplomatic contacts and new administrative techniques brought great wealth to his court and enabled an intellectual revival

(the “Carolingian


At the same time, his realm reimagined the Western Roman

Empire; Charlemagne is the first “Roman Emperor” in the

West since Romulus

Augustulus in 476

Charlemagne is regarded as the “founder” of both France and Germany and his legacy as a builder and shaper of

Europe is especially noteworthy this year, the

1200 th death.

anniversary of his

The Rise of the Carolingian Family

Merovingian Kings lose power and authority (late 7 th /early 8 th cent)

Charles Martel (Charles the Hammer): 686-

741 (Battle of Poitiers/Tours in 732)

Pepin the Short: 714-768 (crowned K. of

Franks in 754)

Carolus (Charles) and Carloman, sons of

Pepin: Share power in 768; kingdom reunited under Charles in 771

Charles: r. 768-814.

Reliquary for Charlemagne’s skull, Aachen Cathedral, c. 1350

“New Rome” built in

Aachen, modeled on


Palatine Chapel, like a miniature Hagia Sophia

Dome, Palatine Chapel

Rome, Christmas Day 800: Charlemagne’s Imperial Coronation

Crowned “Roman Emperor” by

Pope Leo III in Rome, on Christmas

Day, 800

Title used exclusively by Byzantine

Emperors; Charlemagne was first western ruler to be “Roman

Emperor” since 476

Popes needed protection

Issues with Byzantine Emperors

Byzantines were surrounded by enemies of their own (Islamic

Empire, Slavs)

Popes wanted to assert independence (by “creating” their own emperor)

From the perspective of the Pope, the Byzantines were becoming odd

The “Carolingian


Intellectual Revival

International movement of scholars:

Einhard (Frank), Alcuin of York


Palace School founded at Aachen under Alcuin; Monastic schools founded at Fulda, Tours, St. Gallen

Emphasis on writing and literacy in service of religion

Intellectual Trends

Copying of Texts (done as part of daily labor at monasteries): 50,000 books copied during ninth century

Encyclopedic accounts (massive compilations of everything known,

Hrabanus Maurus)

Monastic reform and regularization

(promotion of the Rule of St. Benedict)

Ivory Plaques

Left: Carolingian,

Aachen, early 9 th century

Right: Byzantine, early 6 th century

Coronation Gospels,

Gospel of Matthew

(Aachen, 800-810)

Ebbo Gospels

(Hautvillers, 9 th cent)

Gospel of Mark, below

The Empire after Charlemagne

Charlemagne dies in

814, Empire passes to only surviving son, Louis the Pious

Louis the Pious


Oaths of Strasbourg

(842) and Treaty of

Verdun (843)

Next Class

Monday: Second Short Essay is due (assignment is on


Read Bald’s Leechbook and Bede’s Life of Cuthbert

(both on Eres and Blackboard)