Charlemagne, Emperor of the West

Charlemagne    When Pépin the Short died in 768, the Frankish lands were divided according to ancient Frankinsh law and tradition between Pépin's sons Carloman and Charles.  During the next three years until Carloman's death in 771, relations between the two brothers were sometimes strained.  In 774, Charles "the Great" or Karolus Magnus, more widely known as Charlemagne, conquered Lombardy and confirmed his father's donation of the Papal States. Charlemagne added Bavaria to his realm, and eventually defeated the Saxons and forced them to convert to Christianity.  Charlemagne also waged war in Spain.  He was returning from an expedition there in 778 when a mountain people called the Basques ambushed and wiped out his rear guard.  This incident became the subject of the famous epic poem The Song of Roland.  In the poem, however, the ambushers were the Moors, a Muslim people who ruled Spain.

    Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day, 800.  For further details of Charlemagne's conquests and contributions, see the references below.

Coronation of Charlemagne
The Coronation of


by Pope Leo III
December 25, 800

    More is known about Charlemagne than most mediæval rulers because of a biography written by Einhard, a friend of his son Louis the Pious.  This biography describes Charlemagne as more than six feet tall, with piercing eyes, fair hair, a thick neck, and a potbelly.  He was strong, fond of exercise, and had an alert mind and a forceful personality.  Charlemagne could read and speak Latin, the language of educated people of the time.  However, he never learned to write it.

Charlemagne and the Scholars
and the Scholars

     Charlemagne also improved education and culture by establishing a school at his palace in Aachen.  This palace school attracted the best teachers and students in Europe.  It educated clergymen, thus strengthening the church, and trained teachers for schools throughout the empire.  Scholars at the schools collected and copied ancient Roman manuscripts, which otherwise would have been lost forever. 

Map of Charlemangne's Empire
The Frankish Empire

at its greatest extent
circa 814

(shown coloured blue)

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This summary was written in July 2006 by Robert Sewell using sources including the following:

World Book Millenium 2000 Deluxe Edition, © 1999 World Book Inc., © IBM Corp.
Barnes and Hudson, The History Map of Europe, New York, 1998
Microsoft Encarta Encyclopædia 99, © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation
Norman F. Cantor (ed.) The Encyclopædia of the Middle Ages, New York, 1999
Berhard Grun, The Timetables of History, New York, 1991
The Book of History (18 Volumes), London, 1914