Carolingian Empire: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Carolingian Empire at its greatest extent, with the three main divisions of 843.

Carolingian Empire is a historiographical term which has been used to refer to the realm of the Franks under the Carolingian dynasty. This dynasty is seen as the founders of France and Germany. Depending on one's perspective, this Empire can be seen as the later history of the Frankish Realm or the early history of France and of the Holy Roman Empire.

The term emphasizes Pope Leo III giving the coronation of Charlemagne as Emperor in 800.[1] Because Charles and his ancestors had been rulers of the Frankish realm earlier (his grandfather Charles Martel had essentially founded the empire during his lifetime), the coronation did not actually constitute a new empire. Most historians prefer to use the term "Frankish Kingdoms" or "Frankish Realm" to refer to the area covering parts of today's Germany and France from the 5th to the 9th century.


Buildup and defense of the Frankish Realm

Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours, where he stopped an Umayyad invasion force.

Though Charles Martel chose not to take the title King, as his son Pepin III would, or Emperor, as his grandson Charlemagne would be titled, he was absolute ruler of virtually all of today's continental Western Europe north of the Pyrenees. Only the remaining Saxon realms, which he partly conquered, Lombardy, and the Marca Hispanica north of the Pyrenees were significant additions to the Frankish realms after his death.

Martel was also the founder of all the feudal systems that marked the Carolingian Empire, and Europe in general during the Middle Ages, though his son and grandson would gain credit for his innovations. What is more, Martel cemented his place in history with his defense of Christian Europe against a Muslim army at the Battle of Tours in 732. The Iberian Saracens had incorporated Berber lighthorse cavalry with the heavy Arab cavalry to create a formidable army that had almost never been defeated. Christian European forces, meanwhile, lacked the powerful tool of the stirrup. In this victory, Charles earned the surname Martel ("the Hammer"). Edward Gibbon, the historian of Rome and its aftermath, called Charles Martel "the paramount prince of his age."

Pepin III accepted the nomination as king by Pope Zachary in about 751. Charlemagne's rule began in 768 at Pepin's death. He proceeded to take control over the kingdom of his brother, which was also inherited from Pepin, and was crowned Roman Emperor in the year 800.[2]

The Empire during the reign of Charlemagne (768–814)

A coin of Charlemagne with the inscription KAROLVS IMP AVG (Karolus imperator augustus)

The Carolingian Empire at the death of Charlemagne covered most of Western Europe like the Roman Empire had before. Unlike the Romans, who had rarely ventured beyond the Rhine after the disaster at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (9 AD), Charlemagne crushed all Germanic resistance and extended his realm completely to the Elbe, and influenced events almost to the Russian Steppes.

The Empire of the Carolingians had been divided among various members of the Carolingian dynasty. From the inception of the Empire, these included: King Charles receiving Neustria, King Louis the Pious receiving Aquitaine, and King Pepin receiving Italy. Pepin died with an illegitimate son Bernard in 810, and Charles died without heirs in 811. Although Bernard succeeded Pepin as King of Italy, Louis was made co-Emperor in 813 and the entire Empire passed to him with Charlemagne's death in the winter of 814.[3]

The Empire until the Treaty of Verdun (814 - 840)

Louis the Pious on a sesquisolidus

Louis the Pious often had to struggle to maintain control of the Empire. King Bernard of Italy died in 818 in imprisonment after rebelling a year earlier, and Italy was brought back into Imperial control. Louis' show of penance for Bernard's death in 822 greatly reduced his prestige as Emperor to the nobility. Meanwhile in 817, Louis had established three new Carolingian Kingships for his sons of his first marriage: Lothar was made King of Italy and co-Emperor, Pepin was made King of Aquitaine, and Louis the German made King of Bavaria. His attempts in 823 to bring his fourth son (from his second marriage), Charles the Bald into the will was marked by the resistance of his eldest sons, and the last years of his reign were plagued by civil war.

Carolingian Empire

Lothar was stripped of his co-Emperorship in 829 and was banished to Italy, but the following year his sons attacked Louis' empire and dethroned him in favour of Lothar. The following year Louis attacked his sons' Kingdoms, stripped Lothar of his Imperial title and granted the Kingdom of Italy to Charles. Pepin and Louis the German revolted in 832, followed by Lothar in 833, and together they imprisoned Louis the Pious and Charles. In 835, peace was made between the family and Louis was restored to the Imperial throne. When Pepin died in 838, Louis crowned Charles king of Aquitaine whilst the nobility elected Pepin's son Pepin II, a conflict which was not resolved until 860 with Pepin's death. When Louis the Pious finally died in 840, Lothar claimed the entire empire irrespective of the partitions.

The dispute sparked another war, this time with Charles and Louis the German allied against Lothar. After losing the Battle of Fontenay to his younger brothers, Lothar fled to his capital at Aachen and raised a new army. The new forces were inferior to that of the younger brothers. In 842, the Oaths of Strasbourg Charles and Louis agreed to declare Lothar unfit for the imperial throne. The Oaths of Strasbourg, marked, before the Verdun Treaty the East-West division of the Empire between Louis and Charles. Considered as a milestone in the European History, the Oaths of Strasbourg is a symbol of the birth of France and Germany[4]. The empire was finally partitioned in 843 by the Treaty of Verdun.[5]

The Empire after the Treaty of Verdun (843 - 877)

Carolingian Empire after the Treaty of Verdun partition of 843.

Lothar received the Imperial title, the Kingship of Italy, and the territory between the Rhine and Rhone Rivers, collectively called the Central Frankish Realm. Louis was guaranteed the Kingship of all lands to the east of the Rhine and to the north and east of Italy, which was called the Eastern Frankish Realm which was the precursor to modern Germany. Charles received all lands west of the Rhone, which was called the Western Frankish Realm.

Lothar retired Italy to his eldest son Louis II in 844, making him co-Emperor in 850. Lothar died in 855, dividing his kingdom into three parts: the territory already held by Louis remained his, the territory of the former Kingdom of Burgundy was granted to his third son Charles of Burgundy, and the remaining territory for which there was no traditional name was granted to his second son Lothar II, whose realm was named Lotharingia, or Lorraine.

Carolingian Empire after the Treaty of Meerssen.

Louis II, dissatisfied with having received no additional territory upon his father's death, allied with his uncle Louis the German against his brother Lothar and his uncle Charles the Bald in 858. Lothar was reconciled with his brother and uncle shortly after. Charles was so unpopular that he couldn't raise an army to fight the invasion and instead fled to Burgundy. He was only saved when the bishops refused to crown Louis the German King. In 860, Charles the Bald invaded Charles of Burgundy's Kingdom but was repulsed. Lothar II ceded lands to Louis II in 862 for support of a divorce from his wife, which caused repeated conflicts with the Pope and his uncles. Charles of Burgundy died in 863, and his Kingdom was inherited by Louis II.

Lothar II died in 869 with no legitimate heirs, and his Kingdom was divided between Charles the Bald and Louis the German in 870 by the Treaty of Meerssen. Meanwhile, Louis the German was involved with disputes with his three sons. Louis II died in 875, and named Carloman, the eldest son of Louis the German, his heir. Charles the Bald, supported by the Pope, was crowned both King of Italy and Holy Roman Emperor. The following year, Louis the German died. Charles tried to annex his realm too, but was defeated decisively at Andernach, and the Kingdom of the eastern Franks was divided between Louis the Younger, Carloman of Bavaria and Charles the Fat.

The Empire until the death of Charles the Fat (877 - 888)

Charles the Bald died in 877 crossing the Pass of Mont Cenis, and was succeeded by his son, Louis the Stammerer as King of the Western Franks, but the title of Holy Roman Emperor lapsed. Louis the Stammerer was physically weak and died two years later, his realm being divided between his eldest two sons: Louis III gaining Neustria and Francia, and Carloman gaining Aquitaine and Burgundy. The Kingdom of Italy was finally granted to King Carloman of Bavaria, but a stroke forced him to abdicate Italy to his brother Charles the Fat and Bavaria to Louis of Saxony. Also in 879, Boso, Count of Arles founded the Kingdom of Lower Burgundy in Provence.

In 881, Charles the Fat was crowned the Holy Roman Emperor while Louis II of Saxony and Louis III of Francia died the following year. Saxony and Bavaria were united with Charles the Fat's Kingdom, and Francia and Neustria were granted to Carloman of Aquitaine who also conquered Lower Burgundy. Carloman died in a hunting accident in 884 after a tumultuous and ineffective reign, and his lands were inherited by Charles the Fat, effectively recreating the Empire of Charlemagne.

Charles, suffering what is believed to be epilepsy, could not secure the kingdom against Viking raiders, and after buying their withdrawal from Paris in 886 was perceived by the court as being cowardly and incompetent. The following year his nephew Arnulf of Carinthia, the illegitimate son of King Carloman of Bavaria, raised the standard of rebellion. Instead of fighting the insurrection, Charles fled to Neidingen and died the following year. The Empire of the Carolingians was divided: Arnulf maintained Carinthia, Bavaria, Lorraine and modern Germany; Count Odo of Paris was elected King of Western Francia (France), Ranulf II became King of Aquitaine, Italy went to Count Berengar of Friuli, Upper Burgundy to Rudolph I, and Lower Burgundy to Louis the Blind, the son of Boso of Arles, King of Lower Burgundy.[6]


It has long been held that the dominance of the Carolingian military was based on a "cavalry revolution" led by Charles Martel in 730s. However, the stirrup, which made the 'shock cavalry' lance charge possible, was not introduced to the Frankish kingdom until the late eighth century.[7] Instead, the Carolingian military success rested primarily on novel siege technologies and excellent logistics.[8] However, large numbers of horses were used by the Frankish military during the age of Charlemagne. This was because horses provided a quick, long-distance method of transporting troops, which was critical to building and maintaining such a large empire.[7]


See also


  1. ^ "Carolingian Empire". A Dictionary of World History. Retrieved 2008-04-07.  
  2. ^ Rosamond McKitterick, Charlemagne: The Formation of a European Identity, Cambridge University Press, 2008 ISBN 9780521886727
  3. ^ Joanna Story, Charlemagne: Empire and Society, Manchester University Press, 2005 ISBN 9780719070891
  4. ^,,3840415,00.html
  5. ^ Eric Joseph Goldberg, Struggle for Empire: Kingship and Conflict Under Louis the German, 817-876, Cornell University Press, 2006 ISBN 9780801438905
  6. ^ Simon MacLean, Kingship and Politics in the Late Ninth Century: Charles the Fat and the End of the Carolingian Empire, Cambridge University Press, 2003 ISBN 9780521819459
  7. ^ a b Hooper, Nicholas / Bennett, Matthew. The Cambridge illustrated atlas of warfare: the Middle Ages Cambridge University Press, 1996, Pg. 12-13 ISBN 0521440491, 9780521440493
  8. ^ Bowlus, Charles R. The battle of Lechfeld and its aftermath, August 955: the end of the age of migrations in the Latin West Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2006, Pg. 49 ISBN 0754654702, 9780754654704


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