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Charlemagne: Dream of a Unified Chrisendom

Charlemagne is the name given to Charles, Son of Pepin, by later generations who would admire him. Charles was born in 742 (the location is still disputed), and was, as biographer Will Durant put it,

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Charlemagne: Dream of a Unified Chrisendom

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    1. Charlemagne: Dream of a Unified Chrisendom a thoughtful endeavor by Emily Ehrlich

    3. The Donation of Constantine In 754, Pepin came to the aid of the Christian Church in Rome by defending them against the imposing Lombards, and by donating land to the papal states. In return, Pope Stephen II bestowed translatio imperii upon Pepin, by decree of a false document the churched forged. The Donation of Constantine proclaimed that whoever was the recipient of the Donation would be King of the Christian Empire, and more importantly, would be responsible for the protection and expansion of the Christian World. The Donation was a step towards the Christianization of the Barbarian peoples of Western and Northern Europe. With this new responsibility disguised as a Papal honor, Pepin now believed it his duty to organize and expand the Christian Empire which he now ruled. When Pepin died in 768, Charles (who would later be named Charlemagne) and his brother inherited the Kingdom. When his brother died soon there after, Charlemagne accepted his father’s role of protector of the Church, and felt that it was a decree from God that he create a unified empire in His name.

    4. Pepin’s Acceptance of the Donation of Constantine

    5. The First Stages of Expansion Charlemagne’s first campaign for expansion was in Italy, where he immediately defeated Desiderius, King of the Lombards, and was crowned by Rome the new Lombardian King. Not only did this secure the independence of the papal states, it also brought new wealth and new people to Charlemagne’s ever-growing Christian kingdom. More of a threat than the Lombards were the Saxons, who continually struggled against and resisted Christianization. After 32 years of battle, Francia finally annexed Saxony on it’s northeastern fronteir. Whilst subduing the Saxons to the north, Charlemagne also campaigned in Spain in 778. This campaigne is particularly remembered for the Basque ambush on Charlemagne’s guards after a victory March), commemorated in the epic poem, The Song of Roland (Count Roland being the Breton leader of the March). The location of the ambush would later be called the Spanish March, representing a buffer zone between Muslim Spain and Frkanish Gaul.

    6. European Map Displaying Saxony, the Kingdom of the Lombards, and The Spanish March

    7. the Drang nach Osten (“Push to the East”) The Slavic Kingdom of the Avars (Huns), an Asiatic tribe along the upper Danube, had always been a a terrifying and powerful threat to Charlemagne’s growing Kingdom. The two were ultimately polarized: one was an assimilated collection of tribes under a standardized religion that rejected tribal customs and heritage, the other reveled in just that, and it’s nomadic barbaric people were Chrisendom’s antithesis. Charlemagne finally defeated the imposing power of the Avars, and over the period of 791 to 795 converted their Kingdom into a tributary state. The victory over the Avars opened up the Danubian Plain to Christian (and, more importantly, German) culture and colonization. This marked the beginning of Christianity’s eastern expansion, known as the Drang nach Osten, or the Push to the East. Another eastern victory occurred when Charlemagne defeated Tassilo, Duke of Bavaria, the duchy of Bavaria now joined Chrisendom. Another protected march (border-zone)was formed, this one called the Ost Mark, also known as Austria.

    8. Map of Bavaria and Danube River

    9. Unified West, Estranged East: The Birth of the Holy Roman Empire In 800, what had once been unified territory of the Roman Empire was once again under a central authority, that of Charlemagne (with the exception of the British isles, which Charlemagne never reached). His Kingdom extended from the Elbe River to the Pyrenees, from the North Sea to southern Italy. Charlemagne ruled and protected the Christian Kingdom, and since the Church was in Rome, it could be said that he had the utmost authority in Rome, surpassing that of the papacy. When religious differences in Christianity between Irene, Empress of Byzantium and the Roman Church (primarily over the issue of iconoclasm, or image worship) came to a head, the Church relied on Charlemagne for protection and leadership. On Christmas Day, 800, he was crowned as the first Holy Roman Emperor, naming him the divinely appointed leader of the earthly Christian world (as far as Latin Christianity was concerned). “Hail to Charles the Augustus, crowned by God the great and peace-bringing Emperor of the Romans!” His head was annointed with holy oil, the Pope renamed Charlemagne (again) as Emperor and Augustus.

    10. Charles the Augustus, Holy Roman Emperor

    11. Aachen in the Holy Roman Empire Charlemagne decided to create a capitol for the Holy Roman Empire, much like Constantinple wasfor Byzantium. Ironically, he chose Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle), not Rome, where he constructed the Palace Chapel, obviously mimicking the Byzantium style and architecture.

    12. Administration of a Vast Kingdom Charlemagne’s kingdom stretched between the Vistula and the Atlantic, between the Baltic and the Pyrenees, including almost all of Italy and the Balkans. It’s seems almost incomprehensible that one man could rule such a vast empire, but Charlemagne’s administration was the most enlightened government in Europe since Theodoric the Goth. Charlemagne created a centralized state ruled by royal authority. However, he employed a system of vassals in a court to maintain order in the Kingdom. Each district was under the watch of a count who became the primary link between the local and central governments. To prevent a count from gaining too much power, Charlemagne created the missi dominici, a group of envoys who inquired into the abuses of power throughout the Empire. They worked in conjunction with an elite group of guards called the vassi dominici, Perhaps most essential to the government were the sixty-five Capitularii, written legislature that imposed law.

    13. Capitularii and the Assimilation of Barbaric Codes The Capitularii were not necessarily an organized system, but rather a reinvention of and extension of old “barbarian” codes to fit the new Christian Kingdom. Included were the old wergild, ordeals, trial by combat, and punishment by mutilation. Relapse into paganism was punishable by death. So was eating meat during Lent. Some Capitularii were moral counsels, or answers to questions that had been addressed. For example, one stated, “It is necessary that every man should seek to the best of his stregnth and ability to serve God and walk in the way of His precepts; for the Lord Emperor cannot watch over every man in personal discipline.” Capitularii also governed sexual and marital relations In essence, the Capitularii were meant to convert Barbarianism to a more docile, easily controlable Christian civilization. Interesting Fact: Charlemagne was against slavery and serfdom, for it was a Barbarian practice that resulted from the battles between pagan tribes. He worked for the cause of free peasantry and against the spread of serfdom, because he believed it to be a relapse into uncivilized Barbarianism.

    14. Internal Improvements and Education For public lands, Charlemagne issued a Capitulare de villis, a ridiculously detailed plan for all state income. It explained how forests, wastelands, ports, and propery of the state should be maintained. It also encouraged and protected commerce by standardizing weights and measures and prices. Roads and bridges were maintained or repaired. To improve literacy and overall education, Charlemagne imported scholars from Ireland, Britain and Italy. From these schools would spring the future universities of Europe. It is important to note, however, that while literacy improved, there was no renaissance in literature, and no great works from this time period were produced, with the exception of Einhard’s Vita Carogli Magni, a biography of Charlemagne.

    15. The Carolingian Legacy of Charlemagne Literacy is a major part of Carolngian culture, because of the impact it played on sustaining Charlemange’s centralized Christian Empire. An educated(literate) clergy could undertake many of the administrative tasks of government, thereby sealing the bond between government and religion. An educated clergy also ensured the acceptance of orthodox doctrine as a uniform liturgy. The uniform script, known as the Caroline minuscule, achieves the publication of a uniform Mass book, book of lessons, and overall study of the liturgy and gospel. Barbaric tribes lacked a written language for the most part. Literacy unified them under a common language. Besides the strategic reasons above, a literate culture raised the prestige and authority of Charlemagne, who painted himself as the defender of the Church, of orthodoxy, education, and western civilization

    16. Bibliography

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