(also called Carolus Magnus, Carlus Magnus, Karl der Grosse, or Charles the Great.)

A king of the Franks who became the first Holy Roman Emperor. Born in the early 740s (traditionally April 2, 742 but that date has been questioned); died 814. His father, Pepin the Short started out as "Mayor of the Palace" to the last Merovingian king of the Franks but eventually gained the title for himself. In 768, Pepin divided his kingdom between his two sons, Charles/Charlemagne and Carloman, and the two had quite a lot of conflict until Carloman died. After that, Charles tried to unify Europe and bring back some of the order of the Roman Empire; he conquered until he ruled what is now France, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, half of present-day Italy and Germany, and parts of Austria and Spain. In 800, Pope Leo III crowned him "Emperor" with the ceremonies that had been used for the Roman emperors (Charles claimed not to have known in advance this would happen).

He was dedicated to the church, and a supporter of culture and learning, doing a lot to promote them in his territory. And since he ruled for over 40 years, he had time to build up a structure of administration. (Unfortunately, much of it crumbled after his death in 814.)

Charlemagne defeated many people between the years of 768 and 769 in order to expand his empire. These people included the Avars of Hungary, the Muslims of Spain, the Saxons of northeastern Germany, and the Frisians of the North Sea coast. He also expelled the Lombards from Italy while seizing their lands.

Charlemagne had a respectful and friendly relationship with Pope Adrian and Pope Leo. Charlemagne expelled the Lombards from Italy freeing the Pope Adrian from their threat. In return Pope Leo crowned Charlemagne as the “Holy Roman Emperor”. This coronation was important because it not only increased Charlemagne’s power but it also increased the papal power because it implanted the notion that the crown was the gift of the papacy, therefore increasing papal power.

Charlemagne subdued the Frisians and the Saxons by forcing them into a position where they had to choose between conversion or death. Most of the barbarians decided to convert to Christianity. Charlemagne’s attempts to rid the world of pagans were very similar to the attempts made by the Nazis in the twentieth century to eliminate all traces of Judaism because both governments based conquest of people upon religious beliefs.

Charlemagne accepted the title of “Holy Roman Emperor” on the basis a woman could not rule in her own name. At the time Empress Irene was ruling under her own name and therefore most people did not accept her rule. When Charlemagne was crowned most people decided that his rule was more valid that Irene’s rule. This loophole in the law was later invalidated when an indisputable emperor claimed power. This caused Charlemagne to lose his control over the entire empire and he was eventually granted the title of “imperial brother”.

With incentives and rewards from the king the scholars of Charlemagne’s empire sought out rare ancient works. These classic works were smuggled out of other empires into Charlemagne’s. Once back in Charlemagne’s empire these works were studied and transcribed before being passed onto another group of scholars who would then do the same thing. The multiple copies of books created by this process ensured that the works would most likely be preserved. These attempts by Charlemagne’s scholars to preserve ancient texts were very similar to the attempts made by the scholars of the Islamic Empire.

When the Muslims gained control of the Mediterranean Sea they interrupted trade between Europeans and the Egyptians who produced papyrus, an inexpensive type of paper. The Europeans were forced to rely on much more expensive types of paper. To reduce the cost of transcribing books and writing, scholars began to write in minuscule script to save space. However, this script was very non-uniform and sometimes indecipherable. The head of the scholars perfected a type of minuscule script which was also very readable called Carolingian Miniscule. This script became the standard script so that books could be written in a neat and cost effective manner.

Charlemagne gave the Jews legal protection because they were an invaluable resource to his empire's wealth. They were an important part of the economy because they were the middlemen between Muslim and Christian merchants who were not on good terms at the time. In order to prevent the interruption of trade, the Jews were used as middlemen. Because they filled this important role, Charlemagne gave them legal protection. Jews were dhimmis in the Muslim empire and had to pay tax because they were not Muslim. Except for a lack of legal protection and paying tax, the Jews were treated the same by Charlemagne and the Muslims.

Charlemagne reformed the economic system by fixing prices on grain and by prohibiting trade at night to prevent unfair trade. In addition he replaced the various local currencies with a standard currency to make trade easier. To keep the economy strong Charlemagne changed the tax system so that tax was paid in service or goods and soldiers were paid in land instead of money. All of these reforms were similar to the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s economic reforms.

When Charlemagne came to the throne he became emperor of a state with dismal education. The illiteracy rate was high and secular education had practically disappeared. To fix the state of education in his empire Charlemagne offered incentives to scholars and teachers within and outside of his empire. Soon royal schools were founded, public schools were founded, and many people had become literate and were busy preserving ancient works of literature. The rulers of West Africa educated their people through the introduction of Islam and therefore the creation of intellectual cities such as Timbuktu. The motives of the Kings in west Africa were similar to Charlemagne’s for they educated people to strengthen their economy through trade.

Charlemagne’s military exploits led to his empire's demise because he left the areas that he had conquered unprotected, thus leaving gaping holes into his empire that the Vikings and the Magyars would find and exploit. His unnecessary conquests exposed him to people who were worth fighting but his military had weakened and he was unable to protect his empire.

Charlemagne’s empire extended to Rome, the Pyrenees, and to the beginning of the North Sea continuing to the Adriatic Sea. The main part of his empire was centered around what is now France.

The Frankish Empire’s economy was heavily agrarian because they were highly efficient. Through the use of rediscovered tools such as the heavy plow and the three field system Charlemagne’s empire was able to produce so much agriculture that they profited from it. In fact the agriculture was so efficient that Charlemagne was able to eliminate monetary tax because he made more profit from his royal fields than from conquest and gifts combined.

The Byzantine Empire influenced the Frankish Kingdom culturally in the field of architecture. Carolingian architecture, the architecture of Charlemagne’s empire, was based upon Byzantine architecture.

Charlemagne was considered a holy barbarian because of his attempts and success at converting and unifying Europe with Christianity. His determination, loyalty and relationship with the church which were all demonstrated through his conquests gave him holy status. His barbarian status probably came from the fact that he seemed to be obsessed with warfare, preformed unnecessary slaughter, and the fact that Charlemagne could not speak Greek.

The true cause of Charlemagne’s death around 72 years of age is unknown. However, historians have suggested several causes of death; famine, depression over the death of his two sons, loss of will after many years of arguing for the title of “Holy Roman Emperor”, senility, and suicide caused by fear of invasion. Charlemagne’s burial was quite unusual because he was buried sitting upright on a throne.

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