Biography of King of los francos y Emperador del Sacro Imperio Carlomagno (742-814)

King of the Franks (768-814) and Emperor (800-814), born in place unknown, around April of the year 724, and deceased in Aachen, 28 January of the year 814. The greatness of his figure represents several milestones of importance in European history, factors which, from his own time, they have helped to make the aura of grandeur and importance surrounding Charlemagne as impressive that greatly hinders any approach to his biography. Firstly, Charlemagne represents the culmination of his dynasty, the pippinids, maneuvers to get rid of the Merovingian monarchy to rule alone; on the other hand, the huge number of territories that came to control, thanks to his military conquests, kicked the Carolingian Empire, where many saw the resurgence of the Western Roman Empire, and that was, in essence, the greater power of the medieval Europe at a time when the scourge of the Islam, threatening presence, seemed to put an end to the hopes of Western Christendom. At the same time, Charlemagne, with the head of the Empire, initiated models of social, economic, and military institutions that, with the passage of the centuries, become the system of joint social par excellence of the middle ages: feudalism. In this way, its Government converge, on the one hand, the triumph of the barbarian monarchies, in this case of Germanic origin, that to join, on the other hand, to the Roman imperial reminiscence, would end up forming the breeding ground for the birth of the Empire, one of the two core axes of medieval Europe.

The relative abundance of sources of Carolingian, there are several works that are vital to the study of his biography. The main one is the Vita Karoli Eginardo, written around the middle of the 9th century. In it, the medieval monk, fully consistent with the Carolingian renaissance, it was imitation of another well known classical biography, the Vita Augusti, of Suetonius, to write the most complete biographical approach to the real Charlemagne, especially by its description and physical details of the private life of the emperor. Other important sources are the Vita Karoli anonymous (attributed to a monk of Saint Gall), as well as the Annales Regni Francorum, spuriously attributed to the own Eginardo but that, despite not being written by his pen, containing valuable information about Charlemagne. The vast majority of these sources, as well as almost all the documentation of the Carolingian Chancellery (mainly chapter members, laws and conventions), can be studied today thanks to the extraordinary work (and almost never recognized) transcription and editing carried out by a team of researchers Germans, towards the end of the 19th century, led by Theodor Mommsen. The result, in more than twenty volumes, are the Monumenta Germaniae history (usually referred as MGH), bibliographical reference of inexcusable consultation for any researcher or hobbyist to the Carolingian theme.

The rise of the pippinids to franco throne

In the historiography of the 19th century, frequently Liege, is alluded to a date, April 2, 742, and a place, as most probable temporal coordinates of the birth of Charlemagne. During the 20th century, both were discarded by modern critics, as the tradition that made the natural Emperor of Liège started rumors during the twelfth century; In contrast, offered as an alternative to the birth the Bavarian city of Salzburg, or else the two cities to which Charlemagne professed more love: Aachen and Ingelheim. However, unless a finding spontaneous documentary, the place and date of birth of Frank Emperor never will be known, although in what Yes agree the majority of researchers is that, of course, Charlemagne was born in a city of the ancient Kingdom of Austrasia (territorially, the current northern France and southwest of Germany), so their mother tongue was the Germanicdetail this not-too-familiar, usually.

Charlemagne was one of two children in the marriage between the King of the Franks, Pepin III, better known as Pepin the short, and his wife Bertrada, daughter of Charibert, count of Laon. After a long tradition as stewards of Palace, pipinida dynasty had reached, first, glory and fame as military, especially by Carlos Martel, grandfather of Charlemagne, winner of the Arabs at the battle of Poitiers of 733 shortly afterwards, the father of Charlemagne, Pepin the short, with the clerical establishment franco tacit support (in particular, San Bonifacio) and the own Pope ZacharyHe deposed the last Merovingian King, Childeric III, citing the already famous cause inutilitatis, which Pepin passed to title rex francorum. Despite this, it was Charlemagne the culmination of this process, since the Kingdom hereditary transmission was done without major problems, and came to legalized an anomalous situation in terms of Royal succession. For this reason, Charlemagne represents the culmination of this process, while his extraordinary personal worth was able to take advantage of the possibility of projecting that power over much of Europe. The Pepin himself laid the first stone when, in 754, Pope Stephen III travelled to the Abbey of Saint Dennis to anoint him with divine oils, thus corroborating the former regia anointing. Pepin made the Pope also anoint their two sons, Charlemagne and Carloman, to make head of the Franks, from those moments, hereditary and approved by the Catholic Church.

See Merovingian dynasty.

First years of Government

Nothing is known of Charlemagne's childhood, although presumably his military education at the Court of her father, next to his brother Carlomán. His first participation on the battlefield, by Pepin the short, took place in campaigns that, between the years 761 and 762, made by Aquitaine francs. Shortly afterwards, following the death of Pepin (24 September 768), both brothers handed out is parental possessions, as was the usual custom of the Germanic peoples. Thus, Charlemagne took control the aquitanian part controlled by the Franks, while Carloman they did correspond the territories of Neustria and Austrasia. However, fraternal problems began almost shortly after produced the solemn coronation in Noyon, 9 October 768. The rupture between the Frankish Kings took place the following year, when Carloman (seems to be influenced by the advice of his wife, Gerberga), refused to make troops available to Charlemagne, who was about to start a campaign of punishment for Aquitaine, where the old Duke Hunaldo, abandoning the religious habits, had resumed power and was challenging with the new King of Austrasia. The confrontation was favorable to Charlemagne, forcing Hunaldo to take refuge in the territory of the southwestern Gaul dominated by the Basques. However, the Duke of Vasconia, Lupus, to the impending invasion of their territories free, preferred to pay allegiance to the new King and deliver to Duke Hunaldo. The provision of Lupus vasallatico tribute would be the first in the list, and this incipient aquitanian campaign would constitute the basis of the foreign policy of Charlemagne throughout his life. Despite the success, Charlemagne did not return in a very good mood by the lack of respect by his brother, which was used by Frank aristocracy to attempt the invasion of Neustria. In this realm, on the other hand, the aristocracy, confused and excited by the denial of Carloman, sought to do exactly the same thing: invade Austrasia and unify the throne in the person of the King.

An unexpected event ended with the climate of hidden civil war: death of Carloman, the 4 December 771. After the death, Charlemagne was elected King of the Franks, which led to the expulsion of Gerberga, the widow Queen, and all his children, who took refuge at the Court of the King of the Lombards, Desiderio, then very angry with Charlemagne, because this, after marrying his daughter, Desideria, had repudiated it. The Lombard attempted to put pressure on the Pope Adriano I invading Roman territories, by what the Pontiff called Charlemagne in their support. This, at the head of a considerable army, went to Italy through the Alps in 773, and the entry into the peninsula, divided his troops into two groups: the first, under his command, besieged Pavia, the Lombard Kingdom capital, while the second group, headed by his uncle Bernard, ran to besiege Ravenna, defended by the son of Desiderio, Adelchis, and where it was Gerberga and her children. Adelchis fled to Constantinople, disguise, before Bernardo conquered the city and forced to Geberga, or rather their children, which waive any right of succession to the throne of Neustria. Despite the opinion of the Pope, Charlemagne proclaimed himself King of the Lombards, maintaining their positions of preeminence to the local aristocracy in Exchange for allegiance. Thus began the great territorial expansion Carolingian, unstoppable from the 774.

The Carolingian expansion

As a result of its relations with Rome, Charlemagne always paid special attention to Lombardy; in fact, your effective domain soon achieved. In 776, the escaped Adelchis, with help from Byzantium, started a new Lombard uprising led by Hrodgaud, the Duke of Friuli, and Hildebrand, Duke of Spoleto. For four years, 777-780, the struggle between Franks and Lombards was bloody, the tenacity of the past, but, finally, the Duke of Spoleto lent obedience to the King of the Franks, and the following year was annexed the wayward Duchy of Benevento. Starting this year, Charlemagne turned his attention to the eastern border of his Kingdom, where the Saxon feared dominated the vast land between the rivers Weser and Elbe. Although since the times of Carlos Martel had been subjected to taxes, one of their pagan leaders, Widukind, launched a series of attacks against free fittings which led to an invasion. Charlemagne reacted and, at a meeting held at Padreborn (777), took an oath fidelity to the vast majority of Saxon, who also abandoned their Pagan beliefs and converted to Christianity. Widukind, however, fled to the peninsula of Jutland (today Denmark), and returned to battle the following year, when Charlemagne was in his expedition to the North of Hispania. The sacking of Cologne (779) and the defeat of frank in the Süntel fittings (782) forced to Charlemagne to return to Saxony. The hosts of Widukind were defeated in Werden (783), and rey franco himself ordered the execution of most of them, indictment back to the tireless Widunkind to a new fight. Only with the defeat of the Saxon warlord, in 785, and its subsequent conversion to Christianity, Charlemagne attained peace with the warlike Germanic people, achieved through the combined action of the weapons and the spread of Christianity (Foundation of several Episcopal, as those of Münster, Osnabrück, and Paderborn locations). Still some rebel nuclei resisted until the 804, but the area could be considered pacified twenty years earlier.

Secured the obedience of Saxon, Bavarian and Danish, as well as the area of Bavaria through his marriage to Hildegard, Charlemagne had only complications in the Bavarian zone of the interior, controlled by his cousin Tasilón, a territory which stretched to the basin of the Danube. While Tassilo had sworn fidelity in the 781, he revolted, with help from other minor, the 787 tribes, forcing the intervention of franco in the 791 monarch, just after recovering from the defeat in Spanish territory, in the famous pass of Roncesvalles, which resulted in the epic narrative of the Chanson de Roland. The Carolingian Empire, even with progress and constant setbacks, occupied much of the current Central Europe, and extended its boundaries from the Garonne to the Danube, from the Mediterranean to the North Sea, and from Britain to Bohemia. Charlemagne was, without a doubt, the most powerful monarch since the disappearance of the Roman splendor.

See Chanson de Roland.

His future heir, Luis, King of Aquitaine, was in charge of direct operations on Spanish territory, maybe, at the end and after the, they were its territorial jurisdiction. From, approximately, the final years of the 8th century, gained consistency Carolingian territorial organization system, commonly known as the Carolingian marks. In essence, the method was simple: a small border mandacion between the actual Carolingian territory and the conquered, was put under the tutelage of a count (comes), maximum authority in the mark, with the aim of enforcing the order and the authority of Charlemagne. Thus claimed entity Carolingian brands: Hispanic, Saxon, wenda, Slavic (Friuli and Carinthia), greedy (Austria germ), Norgovia, Thuringia and Eider (or brand of the North, in the current Denmark). Despite weak system, exposed to the arrival of any strong enemy, the situation remained for several years by the progressive strength of the feudal vassalage as predominant form of joint social, economic, and military.

Relations with the Papacy, Byzantium and Islam

It seems logical that the first beneficiary by the Carolingian expansion was, in the end and after the power that had soared to the dynasty pipinida Frank power, i.e., the papacy. Above other considerations, notably agreement and mutually supportive relationship established in earlier times was treated with loving care by the tenant of Aachen, strengthening thus the divine bonds of his power. Already during the first Lombard campaign (773-774), Charlemagne had abandoned the site of Pavia in April to attend the celebration of Easter, officiated by the Adriano IPope in Rome. The rumor mill has considered this time the refutation, by the future emperor of the former territorial donation to Pope (Patrimonium Petri) made by Pepin the short, by means of which the temporal power of the Supreme Pontiff of Christianity extended over a large number of territories in the Centre and North of Italy. Some years later, the 780, their first-born sons, Carloman (baptized again and called Pepin) and Luis, were crowned as Kings of Italy and Aquitaine, respectively, by the own Pope Adriano. In addition, the territorial conquests of Charlemagne had always been blessed by the Church, which could not be but proud extension of faith made by Frank King.

Similarly, it should be noted the relationship between Charlemagne and the other two great powers of the time: Byzantium and Islam. The East Roman Empire, at the beginning, suspicious and Sharp-witted power Carolingian, even reaching support several Lombard rebellion against the authority of Aachen. Subsequently, the relationship is sweetened by the religious link, which led to Charlemagne to allow the evangelization work of Byzantine monks in certain territories in Central Europe. Finally, relationships ended up cooling completely after that, according to their own convictions but also defending the Pope Leo III, Charlemagne condemn the adopcionismo and other religious quarrels occurred in Constantinople.

See iconoclastic wars.Herejia.Imperio Bizantino.Islam.

With regard to Islam, was also religious first approximation, as Charlemagne established relations of peace with the Caliph of Baghdad, Harun al - Raschid, to defend the Holy places of Saracen harassment, negotiations that were well seen by the Caliph. In any case, the direct relationship between Charlemagne and the Empire formed around the preachings of Mahoma, central theme of the prestigious medievalist Henri Pirennethesis, must be reinterpreted in other terms. Pirenne explaining the emergence of the Carolingian Empire as a counterweight to the enormous economic, social, and military power of Islam, he explained. The wealth generated by the Muslims was absorbed in self-dealing by Christianity, represented in the figure of the franc King, and thus with many other socio-economic issues. While the most extreme ideas have correctly been tinged by later historiography, evocative reading of the pireniana hypothesis is widely recommended for anyone interested in the future of Charlemagne.

The year 800 imperial Coronation

Tensions with Byzantium concerning the defence of Pope Leo III were on the rise when, expelled from Rome, a free trade delegation, led by their three clergymen of confidence (Arno of Salzburg, Hildebaldo of Cologne and Jesse of Amiens), set up back to Leon in the throne of San Pedro. Taking advantage of the Eastern throne was occupied by a woman, the Empress Irene, León III, it gave a speech which orphan a right defender of Christendom, named Charlemagne Emperor. The ceremony, accompanied by popular acclaim, was held on December 25, the year 800 in the basilica of San Pedro, it has been interpreted in many ways by historians, but, obviating lengthy questions, certainly meant the salvo of prestige needed to sustain vast power. Charlemagne sought to be recognized as such by Byzantium, although he achieved only in part, and rather as a nominal dignity, because Constantinople followed by choosing their leaders in the meetings of the Hippodrome despite Carolingian many embassies received to unify Christianity.

Again as in the previous case, the imperial Coronation of Charlemagne was the culmination of the journey by her father, who had previously been appointed patricium romanorum and protector of the Holy See. Charlemagne was chosen, with the imperial title, to protect the Church of Rome, and had to swear him homage and fidelity all the vassals of his Kingdom, contributing to strengthen the medieval theocracy: the temporary Government was only God's design, through his vicar on Earth, the Pope. This action, the ideological foundation of the later Empire, would also be cause of the future between emperors and pontiffs clashes, although, of course, cannot in this case blame almost anything to Charlemagne, who, like King and fervent Christian, gladly accepted the imperial title. The change provided by the Prestige had its maximum expression in one of the most valid documentary elements for the analysis of the Carolingian period: coins. Ignoring the various vicissitudes suffered by the coinage of the time and monetary reforms, artistic types ranged from the Epigraphic legend (of the Karolus Rex Francorum joined the Karolus Imperator), as well as representations of his effigy, which squandered a taste classic, representing Charlemagne with the attributes of a Roman Emperor of the old.

Institutions and cultural work

Even today, scholars most never cease to be amazed by the high degree of internal cohesion achieved by an empire that, in essence, lacked entirely from their own institutions. Classic Merovingian Palatium, or curia of counselors and domestic charges (established in Aachen, Carolingian capital), only was accompanied at times by the conventus, a kind of Assembly of notables, heiress of the older Germanic traditions but which, in the 8th century, had lost much of its prestige and power. With these conditions, were the missi dominici ('envoys of the Lord') who played the role of galvanize the Empire. In essence, the envoys were often two, a cleric and a layman, chosen for the occasion by the emperor. Its mission was to carry letters, tips, laws and administrations of the own Charlemagne towards all that character who, reporting directly to the emperor by vassalage, was likely to receive instructions. The supervision of the missi dominici, as well as the increasingly settled relationship of feudal vassalage, were unusual factors of cohesion that allowed to govern vast territory just seamless. However, it should be download to Charlemagne this for two main reasons: first, because, in reality, it was the only thing that could be done, given the precariousness of communication of his time; Secondly, the cohesion is to a greater extent, due to the progressive establishment of linkages of personal fidelity as joint social system, at all levels, but mainly as a relationship with a military component. All these factors are closely related to the concept of feudalism, and this, obviously, was not due to the action of a single person, but interactivity of many in many areas.

However, the influence of the personality of Charlemagne in the cultural achievements of his reign Yes can point as vital; through the Vita Karoli, according to Eginardo, has information of the commitment that the Emperor in learning to write, put longing that could be hard. Consider that writing, in the 9th century, was a true work of craftsmanship and ingenuity, which greatly hindered their learning. However, Charlemagne knew read, both German (his mother tongue), as the primitive French and latin, the official language of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Precisely the cancilleresca documentation would be the first change of importance: Charlemagne ordered the existence of copyists in all meetings, in such a way that virtually the majority of documents (laws, councils, polyptychs, inventories...) have been preserved, either original or in later copies. Carolino alphabet, established to unify the type of writing, spread throughout Europe as preferential letter at least until the 13th century. In the Palace of Aachen, Charlemagne built the largest library of his time, and, although it was not comparable to Islamic splendor of Baghdad or Cordoba, his books were the cultural reserve of Western Christendom during much of the middle ages, work by the work of the palatal copyists responsible for multiplying the number of books. With regard to the work of cultural patronage, Charlemagne protected more profitable men of letters of his time, including Alcuin, Juan SCOTUS Erigena, Hincmaro of Reims, Ferrières Lupo, Jonás of Autun or Rantramno of Corbie, among other makers of so-called Carolingian renaissance.

The private life of the Emperor

It is generally not too frequent chronic or medieval biographical narratives highlighting any physical characteristic of the narrated characters. However, the Vita Karoli Yes presents evident signs of that, perhaps by sympathy for his mentor, Eginardo portrait can be called Idealist:

"It was high and sturdy, and of an high stature provided, as happened in height seven times the size of his foot. He also had round head, eyes big and bouncy, slightly large nose, beautiful hair, the graceful physiognomy and Nice [...] I used to work out regularly with entertainment by cavalry and swimming "(Eginardo, Vita Karoli, trad. deel autor)."

One of the essential features of the Vita Karoli is the description of the private life of Charlemagne. It offered, for example, the first statement of the future emperor, with a concubine named Humiltruda, result of which would be born Pepin, history that has called Pepin the hunchback to distinguish him from his namesake brother legitimate. The cohabitation of the caste leader, honda custom in the Germanic peoples, did not prevent that Charlemagne enter into marriage, in the year 770, with Desideria, daughter of the King of the Lombards, Desiderio. For unknown reasons (and should not be too positive, silence Eginardo accomplice in his narration), Charlemagne repudiated the Lombard Princess in 771, to marry Hildegard, daughter of the Duke of Swabia, Geoffrey, and mother of his sons Pepin and Luis (in addition to Carlos, died in 811), and her daughters Rotruda, Gisela and Berta. Once deceased Bavarian Princess (783), Charlemagne returned to marry the Germanic Fastradia, union of which were born two daughters: Teodoreda (future Abbess of Argenteuil) e Hiltruda. He even met a fifth marriage, with the German Princess Lutgard, although he had no children. Had them, instead (and in huge number), with a different Palace concubines, and some of them, despite being removed from succession by decadence, yes occupied positions of relative importance, especially in paragraph ecclesiastical. So it was with Regina, his best-known manceba, which were born Drogon (Bishop of Metz) and Hugo (Abbot of St Quentin). In total, Charlemagne had 18 stems, although only the made with Hildegard, i.e., Pepin, Carlos and Luis, were heirs. Charlemagne survived two of them, Pepin and Carlos, to his death, which occurred from Pleurisy in Aachen, his son Luis the pious (Louis the pious), inherited all the territories, except for the part of the Italian Lombardy, which was left to his nephew Bernardo, son of Pepin, King of Italy.

Charlemagne was buried in the Palatine Chapel of Aachen, in a sarcophagus representing a classical scene. His body was exhumed two times, in 1001 and 1165, until his remains were encerrasen in a box of silver deposited on the altar of the Chapel (1215). For many centuries, the French clerical establishment pursued the canonization of Charlemagne, but the ruminations came to fruition, who knows if, precisely, for having been the Emperor franco the maximum development of a Western Christian Church which, from their donations, became the most formidable power of the centuries to come.

Charlemagne: history of the European Union?

French and Germans love equally to the pipinida Emperor, because first you have as its first monarch, Carlos I, although, strictly speaking, France was not configured yet as United, while for the Germans, Charlemagne is the founder of the first Reich. In very recent times, several of their performances have been claimed for lesser-known events. As proof of this, is that the famous French protectorate over Palestine, established in the 19th century and that such importance would have for the development of this country in the century XX, was established under the historic base, claimed by French diplomats, of the agreement between the Caliph Harun al - Raschid and Charlemagne in 802, which the Emperor had become protector of Christian pilgrims of the Holy land. Another example, something far away temporarily but equally known, is that European territorial redistribution effected by the Congress of Vienna (1815) after the defeat of Napoleon, was based, if not claimed, at least ideological, Carolingian brands organization. To do this, simply check, shallow comparison of maps, the almost exact correspondence of the border districts devised by Charlemagne and those small and contrived nuclei created by European leaders of the 19th, which historiography has called, somewhat dismissively, with the name of estados-tapones. And to finish with the most Royal Carolingian legacy, although little known, it should be noted that the State of the Vatican, although negotiated in various international conventions of the 19th and 20th century, keeps gravitating in the Patrimonium Petri donated by Pepin the short and confirmed by Charlemagne, but not the existence of the documents allegedly signed by the Franks has been demonstrated.

However, the latest sign of Charlemagne has to do with the construction of the European Union, the long-awaited political binding macrostate of the old continent, consisting of the supranational union of all States. In this sense, it seems logical to the vindication of that ruling which, more than thousand years ago, had managed to unite under its mandate at least 65% of the territories that made up the European Union of the 21st century. Annually, the "Charlemagne Prize" is awarded to that European ruler who has shown more merits in this sense, i.e., to promote the construction of Europe which Charlemagne United ideally under his tutelage, germ of the medieval world, and why not say it, more immediate predecessor of the European Union. In this regard, it should be noted that not only Germans and French were to claim his figure, but, more broadly, all Europeans are debtors of their achievements and scopes.


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BLOCH, M. The Kings spellcasters. (Mexico, Fondo de Cultura Económica: 1988 [orig. 1924]).

FICHTENAU, H. The Caroligian empire. (Toronto, University Press: 1978).

FOSSIER, R. Polyptyques et censiers. Typologie des sources du Moyen Age Occidental. (Paris, Turnhout, Quincy 28: 1978).

GRIERSON, Ph. "Money and coinage under Charlemagne". (In Karl der Grosse, H. Braunfelds, Dusserldorf ed., 1965, I, pp. 537-608).

HALPHEN, L. Charlemagne and the Carolingian Empire. (Madrid, Akal: 1992).

ISLA FREZ, TO. The Europe of the carolingians. (Madrid, synthesis: 1993).

PIRENNE, H. Mohammed and Charlemagne. (Madrid, Akal: 1978).

ULLMAN, W. The Caroligian Renaissance and the Idea of Europe. (London, Blockmans: 1962).

Links on the Internet; French educational initiative to explain the history of Charlemagne and the Carolingian Empire to young students.; Website of the Museum of the currency of France, making a virtual tour through the rooms. Good photo selection of coins and successful reviews of Carolingian monetary reform.; Biography of Charlemagne (language: French) with interesting links.; English translation of the Vita Karoli's Eginardo. It is part of the Internet Medieval Sourcebook, edited by the Centre for medieval studies of the Fordham University (New York).